There's one level in Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time that might well be the game version of 2020. Just when you think you've gotten through one crisis, another one comes along to kick you in the ass. Welcome to Cortex Castle, the Crash Bandicoot 4 level where I died 258 times.
Now, don't get me wrong, I can see what the level is trying to do, but the difficulty spike on this – the very last level of the game before the final boss fight – frankly feels like a slap in the face. Cortex Castle asks you to repeatedly chain together the powers the masks provide you with, all the while bouncing on TNT blocks, avoiding lasers and enemies, and you know, not dying. Seemingly, this is the level that shows your mastery of all the skills you've accumulated so far like some kind of ultimate dog agility class, but with far more accidents and fewer treats.
The level starts off easily enough, although the fact that the carpet in Cortex Castle is adorned with little skulls feels like a prophecy. Initially, it's a little tricky platforming here with the dimension-shifting mask Lani-Loli, some horrible spinning blades to avoid with the help of time mask Kupuna-Wa there, followed up by some Dark Matter mask antics with TNT boxes and some heavy-sworded knights to bounce around. After that, you'll need to wrestle with some laser beam gravity gymnastics, followed by more gravity flipping but this time with spinning spikes and lasers.
And after that is when things get really interesting. And by interesting, I mean 'come on now' hard. All those areas you just about scraped through get combined into flowing sections where there's very little room to breathe, and mask switching is constant and stressful. It becomes a space where a single missed absolute precision landing means starting the whole sequence all over again. Miss a mask swap point by millimetres and there's basically no room for course correction. Let the death count rise!
There are three of these fast-action mask swapping sections to navigate, with the last being the one I got stuck at for most of an evening. Everything you do has to be perfect: every jump, spin, slide, mask swap, button press. Perfect. And I'll admit that a good handful of those deaths were down to sheer frustration and silly mistakes, but dear god Toys for Bob. Are you okay?
Just, Git Good?
'Git Good' I hear you cry. Well, dear reader, that's just the problem. I thought I was, but then apparently this level was created purely to prove that's not the case, pulling the rug so firmly out from underneath you that you're left with a concussion. Where previously I was pirouetting through the air in between perilously placed platforms with precision, this level had me some 150 deaths in and feeling such the noob.
Just to put the rotten cherry on the shit cake, just when I think I can't take any more, I spot a spinning silhouette of a replay tape just ahead. You know, the one that you can't grab unless you reach it without dying? Yeah. I glance up at my just shy of 200 death count and find myself telling the TV to fuck off. So loudly, in fact, it wakes the cat who's been slumbering sweetly next to me the entire time, completely oblivious to the expletives foaming from my mouth with every death.
To all of those out there that dream of a Crash 4 Platinum on PS4… I salute you, brave soldiers. Let me know how you get on. I'll still be here, weeping into my buckling gamepad with the memory. Although I did just complete the level again with a mere 56 deaths, so maybe there's hope for me yet. Sigh.