This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time.
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It must feel weird when somebody else makes a sequel to your franchise, like when the babysitter insists on being called "Mummy"; it must be doubly weird when you thought your franchise died years ago and the babysitter has just shown up at your door in the dead of night with a shovel and a weird smile. I think it's fair to say that Crash Bandicoot didn't exactly leave loose ends untied. It wasn't the fucking Wheel of Time; it was pretty thoroughly explored out as a concept. You don't bring out a fucking kart racing tie-in game when you can't see the bottom of the idea bucket. And yet, here comes Toys for Bob twenty years down the line, clutching its big, shiny shovel going, "Don't worry, Naughty Dog! We will continue the great work in the original spirit you intended!" And meanwhile, Naughty Dog moved on years ago, and are now more concerned with making terribly serious and important games about very unpleasant people fucking each other on smallpox blankets.
Toys for Bob did the Switch port for the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy remaster, so maybe they felt they could make something new with the assets they already had lying around; it's like when you make the Lego Star Destroyer according to the instructions, but then get bored and make your own custom spaceship out of some of the parts and the corpse of the family cat. Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time's plot concerns all of Crash Bandicoot's old villains doing their usual thing, i.e., trying to take over the universe, and Crash Bandicoot has to stop them by doing his usual thing, i.e., failing to land on a narrow perch and falling to his death like a drunk sparrow with no legs 900 million times.
On the whole, it plays very much like Crash Bandicoots 1-3 with their signature linear semi-3D platforming, so congratulations, Toys for Bob; despite coming decades after the fact, you have successfully evoked the spirit of the PS1 platformer by creating what feels like a cheap sequel hacked out inside a year. Well, that's unfair; there are a bunch of new masks you can get that apply a handful of new platforming mechanics - slow-motion, gravity reversal, and a couple of other things very kindly donated from Mario Galaxy's recycle bin - as well as a bunch of different playable characters you control at various times.
One of whom is Tawna, Crash Bandicoot's girlfriend from the first game who mysteriously vanished from the subsequent sequels, probably because she had legs you could ski down and tits like two coconuts in a furry orange pencil case and confused more burgeoning sexualities than the Cadbury's Caramel Rabbit, which was, in its own way, cluttering up the Problem Attic, but the Tawna in Crash Bandicoot 4 is such a massive oversteer in the opposite direction that it's frankly ridiculous. They've dressed her up in every imaginable cliché of the "badass action girl" of modern standards, complete with brightly-colored partial buzzcut and biker jacket and general independent spirit, and she looks like she got hit in the face with with a bucketful of the early 90's. But neither version of Tawna has any actual depth as a character, although they do both have an arse like two bald men trying to escape from a sack.
Tawna and the other non-Crash characters feature as part of a series of optional missions in which we're invited to experience a parallel story from their perspective, but the problem is, there's barely a story, let alone a multifaceted one that benefits from alternate viewpoints. All that happens in these missions is, character inexplicably appears by magic, character does a thing, character inexplicably disappears by magic; not exactly a Christopher Nolan screenplay.
Crash Bandicoot 4 is the kind of game I'd take to a desert island, because with nothing better to do but seek 100% completion, it'd keep me nice and occupied all the way to rescue, and for a good chunk of the boat ride home, and I'll be able to subsist on the froth coming out of all my facial orifices. You can reach the final boss inside of, like, four hours, then look at your mediocre ending and paltry handful of unlocks and use the time you saved to call your dad and tell him how right he was to be disappointed in you. You want your money's worth, you have to repeat every single level over and over again, to break all the boxes, to find the hidden gems, to beat them without dying, beat them while balancing an egg on a spoon, then do all of that again in the "N. Verted" mode, which appears to be exactly the same level, just with a weird graphics filter over it. It'll keep you occupied, but then, so will alphabetizing the contents of a tin of baked beans, and that's not a great deal of fun, either.
The gameplay is full of little mounting frustrations, and the main thing driving you to complete it will probably be spite. You'll want to finish so you can finally lean back, breathe free, carefully remove the hard drive, and punt it through a closed window. The main problem that has always stuck out of fixed-camera 3D platformers like a traumatically botched nipple piercing is depth perception; sure, Crash Bandicoot gets a nice obvious shadow under him, but why doesn't anything else? So if I'm trying to land on a hovering crate or enemy, I'm once again playing bottomless pit Russian roulette. If you're going to demand consistent perfection from me, it'd be nice if the mechanics could be fucking consistent in return, is me point.
Tawna's unique mechanic is a grappling hook gun (because of course it fucking is), but it's contextual, and more than once, I was in midair and the grapple prompt apparently decided I was a couple of nanometers off for its tastes, and so I was cordially invited to eat shit. "Man," I thought, "if I'd been going for the 'no deaths' run, then I'd be frothing like a poorly supervised coffee machine right about now; fortunately, I long ago came to terms with my own mediocrity, as, it seems, have most of my viewership!"
At first, I thought the checkpoints were too far apart, but then I noticed that new checkpoints appear if you die enough times, so I guess it's like the American healthcare system where they'll give you the baseline amount of necessary care, but only if you can prove that you're oozing out of at least three places. And it's not just a matter of high difficulty, because the loading times on the PS4, at least, are slow enough to qualify for handicapped parking. So if you're having to restart a level a lot, then you'll spend a lot of time alone with your private thoughts, and that's how we get serial murderers.
So in summary, again, I must congratulate the developers for successfully recreating what feels like a late-90's PS1 platformer with absolutely none of the conveniences, design innovations, and quality-of-life improvements we've come up with in the meantime. And hey, Crash Bandicoot as a franchise is still doing a hell of a lot better than Sonic the Hedgehog, but that makes me wonder where the difference lies. I mean, they're both 90's mascot platformers about an edgy forest animal in comically oversized shoes fighting a mad scientist with vaguely ecological themes; they both, at various times, featured female characters that left very confused feelings in developing minds. So where did Sonic put his comically oversized foot in it? I thought about it, and I think it's because Crash Bandicoot never nicked any ideas from Dragon Ball Z. Third law of the universe, guys: lightspeed, the gravitational constant, and anime ruins everything.
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