Whether you finished Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped way back in 1998 or as part of the remastered N. Sane Trilogy, this is a moment you've been waiting a long old while for. Crash's original trilogy is finally getting a sequel. Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time is more than just a statement about patiently waiting for this game to exist though, it's also a statement of intent. New developer Toys for Bob wants to create something that captures our love of the past while making sure it doesn't feel like a relic of that era as well.
Co-studio head at Toys for Bob and chief creative officer Paul Yan sums up his team's aim with this platforming adventure, telling GamesRadar: "This is a true sequel to the original three games developed by Naughty Dog. We want to go back to the source, where it all began the high point in the whole series both critically and commercially, and stem off of that."
Crash 4 quite literally goes back to that, picking up with Warped's three main villains, Dr. Neo Cortex, Dr. N. Tropy, and Uka-Uka as they manage to free themselves from the planet they've been stranded on and, in doing so, rip a hole in the space-time continuum. You know, typical bad guy stuff. This means that Crash and Coco will need to fix this mess, and that means reuniting the four Quantum Masks that held space and time together.
More importantly, it also means that we're going back to Crash's original style of precision platforming. Early footage shows just how good a job Toys for Bob have done in recapturing that style of gameplay from the original trilogy, with Crash and Coco (Yan confirms to us that you can switch between either character at any time during the game) leaping across platforms, spinning through enemies, and taking on dastardly bosses in levels that look like worthy follow-ups to the original trilogy.
What makes this a step ahead of the recent remaster phase is our marsupial mates have a variety of new tricks to help them get across the wide variety of levels to get through them. For instance, both bandicoots can now wall run, grind rails, and use swinging ropes, which adds extra challenges and variety to the platforming potential. As Yan explains: "I think you know, the first thing is, does the game feel like a classic Crash game? [That] is the constant ask that we are measuring against what we're doing. And then once we meet that bar and we feel comfortable that this feels right, then the next question is how can we make this cooler? How can we make this bigger? How can we make this more exciting?"
When it comes to that, Yan specifically touches on how the team has focused on making a boss battles a bigger and better experience. While the original trilogy had boss fights that could be described as fairly simple (on paper, maybe not so much in practice), expect Crash 4 to test your skills even more. Yan gives us an example of a boss fight with N. Gin, where "he's gonna be throwing these dangerous musical notes at you and you've got to slide and dodge these hazards, and then spin the enemy over to smash into his speakers before you make your way up to use quantum mask in order to get to bop him on the head. And that there's like a series of four escalating phases that get to a place in which you can defeat this boss."
Adding to the sense that this isn't a retread over former glories, Toys for Bob has introduced several new elements to the mix that look to make Crash 4 a worthy successor to those original gems. One of the major additions is those previously mentioned four Quantum Masks, which grant Crash and Coco certain powers. For instance, Ika Ika is the Gravity Mask, and it'll let its wearer flip gravity, so they can run along the ceiling and otherwise inaccessible platforms. In one level we see, Coco almost looks like a YoYo, constantly floating upwards before nipping back down again as she avoids electrified hazards.
Meanwhile, Kapuna-wa is the Time Mask, and is capable of slowing things down to a crawl. However, this mask will also finally give you a respite from one of Crash's greatest foes: the Nitro crate. Yan tells us: "classically, Nitro crates are one touch one kill. But with the power of Kapuna-wa, Crash is able to slow things down so he can touch a nitro crate and [that opens] up a small window in which he can get past before the nitro crate explodes on him." Along with Crash and Coco's new moves, the Quantum Masks feel like a natural evolution of the originals, adding in elements that can expand upon the foundations Naughty Dog's original trilogy built.
However, some of the other additions to the game are a lot more radical. In Crash 4, there'll be overlapping timelines that will let you play as different characters, including villains such as Dr. Neo Cortex. Yep, we're finally going to get to control one of the biggest bads in platforming history. Yan tells us what this addition will bring to the game: "I want to make sure that these new characters present an opportunity gameplay-wise to have new mechanics. [These] new mechanics are reflected not only in the characters movement and what they can do, but also the way that the platforming challenges, the worlds are level designers designed specifically for that character."
So instead of Dr. Neo Cortex playing like a reskinned version of Crash, his sections will feel distinct to him, and in turn, give the game a different flavour, where you'll need to solve your way through a level rather than sprint through. Yan elaborates: "[Cortex] relies on his devices, he's got this ray gun that is able to transmogrify hazards along the path into platforms. And he can transform them into a static platform or a bouncing platform. A lot of the levels that are designed specifically for Cortex will be more puzzle, a little bit more strategic, and that will require a little bit more head scratching to get around."
These changes also mean the way you hop between levels has been tweaked as well. Instead of picking the levels in the world you want to play first, Yan describes how they went back to a style of level selection that is similar to the original Crash Bandicoot to tell a more linear story. "We're introducing what we call the Dimensional Map, and this is like a hub that sits between every one of the levels."
This not only allows the team to tell a chronological set of events, which should help you make sense of all the time hopping, but also create a more rewarding game as well. Yan explains: "in terms of gameplay, we're able to be more precise and focused about the way that we stack our challenges, so that we know reliably that a player has accomplished certain levels and challenges and they're comfortable with that. And then the next level, we can ramp that complexity and the difficulty and the fun of it in a very specific and linear way."
On top of this fine-tuning when it comes to the story, there'll also be two modes to how you can experience it: Retro and Modern. They give you the option of either having permanent lives that can force hard resets if you lose them in Retro Mode or being able to play the game with unlimited lives in Modern Mode. Don't go thinking that this makes the game easier for the sake of it though. As Yan informs us: "Instead of counting how many lives you're using, we're counting how many deaths you've done during the course of the game. If you complete a level with 100 deaths, or you complete it with 40 deaths, that's awesome. You've made it through."
"However, we've also introduced a reward at the end of the level, a new clear gem type of reward. If you can accomplish this level in under [a certain amount] of deaths, you get this new gem. We're still trying to incentivize a certain type of perfection and mastery, but opening it up so that the game is a little bit more approachable for a modern audience." He also confirmed that Retro Mode players will also have the ability to unlock that clear gem as well.
One of the final things we touch on is Crash's tweaked art style, which captures the spirit of the originals while also giving it a modern twist. It's something that the team we're keen to focus on according to Yan, who tells us: "we've got some amazing artists from all over the world and what we've looked at is trying to make sure that there's a distinct look between this new game and the remasters that came before it, so that it sets a new tone and direction for the future to come."
Still, after several remasters from yesteryear, one question felt important to ask. Why make a sequel to that trilogy instead of something entirely new. Yan told us : "from a developer's perspective, Crash's franchise is so rich and it's so colourful. This is the type of aesthetic and world full of personality that our team at Toys for Bob is really attracted to. And the second thing is the fan reception to the remasters, and the almost unanimous clamouring for something new is just such a strong pool and motivation for us to dive right back in."
Yan's enthusiasm to be working on this series is evident from our chat with him, and the direction Toys for Bob are taking Crash 4 in is an exciting one. The features we've seen look to add to the original's experience rather than over-complicate it, while the Modern Mode sounds like a good way of opening the game up to different audiences without sacrificing the ideas that made people fall in love with Naughty Dog's trilogy. Crash 4's title couldn't be more apt.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time is set to release on October 2 for PS4 and Xbox One.