I'm not as familiar with Crash Bandicoot as I am with Mario, but I still have a soft spot for the goofy orange marsupial. I generally respect long-lived mascots, of which Crash is one; many '90s kids first met Crash when he heckled Mario and Nintendo in the commercial for his first game. It wasn't as bloody a fight as the "Mario versus Sonic the Hedgehog" wars that shaped the 16-bit era, but the kid who sat behind me in grade 11 English still muttered "Hey plumber boy, mustache man" whenever he thought I was listening.
During an online event for Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time, Design Producer Lou Studdert explains that Toys For Bob is aiming to bring Crash back to the unique brand of platforming that made him special on the PlayStation long ago. That means "hallway" platforming that shifts on a dime from a 2D perspective to an over-the-shoulder view of the action. It means occasionally running toward the camera and jumping over traps while some manner of monster tries to bite Crash on his butt. It also means Crash fans can look forward to a challenge that's tougher than surviving for a week in the Outback with a single canteen of water.
"For us, we want to come out of the gate and call it Crash 4 because we're not just continuing the storyline from where it left off, but also using the original trilogies' gameplay kind of as our inspiration and as our base," Studdert told Senior Editor Caty McCarthy during an interview last month. "After the original trilogy, the franchise diverted a bit to more open-world exploration type things. For us, what we wanted to do was go back to what we found really lovable and are just huge fans of the original trilogy."
After going hands-on with the demo myself, I can say Crash 4 is teeming with Bandicoot power. The levels I saw are bright, lively, and full of unique character—very much what you'd expect from a Crash game. I appreciate how the "Dino Dash" level has Crash use the swaying heads of grazing sauropods as platforms. Oh, and put aside any fears the game might baby you. It won't—unless your idea of being "babied" involves being ripped out of the womb and slapped around.
Interestingly, Crash 4 offers two options for futzing around with the game's difficulty. First is the ability to toggle between "Modern" and "Retro" gameplay. The former does away with lives and continues, and if you suck especially hard [cough], it will power you up with an Aku-Aku mask that lets you absorb an extra hit. The latter option lets you play with finite lives, finite continues—all that good Crash stuff. It's the "classic Crash challenge," according to Studdert.
The second way to beef up your Crash challenge involves a new feature: The ability to play through certain sections of levels as the sinister Dr. Neo Cortex. Dr. N has a different moveset from Crash and his sister, Coco (who's also playable). Since Dr. N lacks the nimble movements of the Bandicoot siblings, he relies on his head—literally and figuratively. His ray gun can turn enemies into gelatinous platforms that fling him skyward, and he can also execute an air-dash that flings him into foes head-first.
Dr. N's platforming challenges are intense on their own, but the fun really begins when he reaches the trigger point that lets him interact with the game's narrative. When Crash completes the demo's ice level, "Snow Way Out," on his own, a frozen ship detonates some meters away from him. Confused but otherwise unharmed, he carries on. Playing through the same level (albeit on a different path) as Dr. N, we learn the ship was supposed to explode as Crash neared it, but the good doctor's device failed to detonate in time.
However, Dr. N's fire traps are still triggered without incident. The player is thrown behind Crash again, who now has to finish "Snow Way Out" with Dr. N's traps activated. It's a unique way to beef up Crash 4's narrative while bumping up its difficulty—which, as noted earlier, is no cakewalk to begin with. Grit your teeth, Crash fans: you're about to go home in more ways than one.
The demo didn't offer additional instances of Dr. N (or anyone else) meddling with Crash 4's narrative and difficulty, but according to Studdert, there's a lot going on behind the scenes. At the end of the "Dino Dash" chase, a rockslide finally brings the beast to its knees. The rockslide is clearly triggered by someone, but who? And why? Studdert says we'll find out soon enough.
Indeed, you won't have to wait much longer to see who's trying to trip up Crash, why they're doing it, and why they're messing around with time to begin with. Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time comes to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on October 2, 2020.