Crash Bandicoot 4, on its surface, is a pixel perfect continuation of the series' legacy. Levels are filled with dazzlingly colourful enemies and obstacles that hide just how difficult it'll be getting past them. Crash remains a jort-wearing buffoon who you'll repeatedly hurl insults towards as he misses the edge of a platform by an orange whisker. And, most importantly, Toys for Bob's sequel is incredibly fun to enjoy with another person on your couch, as you pass the pad and try to crack its levels together.
This is how more of my partner and I's evenings are currently being spent. That's thanks to the ingenuity of taking an informal gameplay agreement from yesteryear - where you'd hand the pad over if you died, no matter how shameful it was - and turn it into an actual mode. The Pass N.Play section in Crash 4's menu allows players to select how many people are playing, and determine the points at which the game will ask you to hand over the pad, with options to set up controller exchanges on every death, every checkpoint, or both.
Pass the pad
Yes, so Pass N.Play sounds incredibly simple, but it's been the sort of nudge that my partner and I needed when it comes to how we play together. We've been together for 8 and a half years, and gaming is very much my passion rather than hers. That's not to say we don't enjoy playing stuff together, but both of us are drawn more to stories in games. That's why we both carve out time for branching narrative experiences such as Telltale's The Walking Dead, Life is Strange, and Until Dawn. It meant we could make decisions together while I controlled the characters because I was more used to using a pad.
Similarly, we also play more story driven games such as The Last of Us Part 2 or Alien: Isolation, where I handle the moment-to-moment action so we can enjoy the twists and turns of the plot together (or in the case of Alien, me screaming like a banshee when the Xenomorph ripped through my stomach). I'm well aware this makes me sound like a controller hog, but it's been a way of both of us getting what we want from a game, with the occasional multiplayer game like Peggle 2, Among Us, or Towerfall: Ascension thrown into the mix.
Crash the party
Crash offered a chance to break that routine though. For one, we both grew up playing the originals, so there was less of a barrier to playing for my partner. Secondly, it would almost certainly be good for my blood pressure, considering that the N.Sane Trilogy made me want to hurl myself into the shark-infested seas that Crash had a habit of dying in. And, like most couples can attest to, lockdown has meant our options have been similarly limited when it comes to what we want to do in the evening, and Bake Off is only on once a week.
For many reasons, Crash Bandicoot 4 has been a joy to play together. From giggling at Dingodile's waddle, which is a frontrunner for animation of the year for me, to both trying to mask our frustrations at particularly gruelling sections (my go-to reaction is to say "Git 'er done", her's is to grip the controller a little bit harder when it's time to hand it over), it's added an extra dimension to the way I'd usually approach a platformer like Crash. Instead of the slightly obsessive hunt for boxes, that can curdle the fun into obligation, my main focus is just on getting from level to level, enjoying whatever the pad-sharing mode flings at us.
It's About Time (I share)
The other reason I've appreciated the way the Pass N.Play mode works is how it's revealed what skills both my partner and I bring to the table. She's incredibly observant, more so than me, and is routinely spotting secret areas that I'm oblivious to. On the flip side, my years of platforming experience and withered wrists have meant that I'm able to navigate us through sections that might have become roadblocks in the past. Even after the usual relationship tests of heading to Ikea, meeting parents, and trying to decide what to watch on Netflix, it's nice to know that we both still find ways to compliment each other after all this time.
It also reiterated how games can sometimes feel like a no-go zone to people who haven't spent years playing them. My partner didn't grow up with games in the same way I did, so things that I take for granted as second nature just aren't for her. The games we've played in the past together don't necessarily make it easy to ease someone in when it comes to learning the concepts that have been ingrained, but Crash Bandicoot 4's Pass N. Play mode is a way for both of us to learn from each other.
Will this change the way my partner and I play games together? Honestly, I'm not sure in the long term, but it certainly has with Crash. I don't think it'll change the types of games we both share an interest in, but I'm hoping that more of these games take a leaf out of Crash's book and find ways to make it easier to share the experiences that we all love.