In my humble gamer opinion, it feels like we’re in a generation of endless remakes, reboots, and reimaginings. They’re seldom done right. For every Ducktales, there’s a Powerpuff Girls; for every Final Fantasy 7, there’s a Secret of Mana. Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is a unique case in that it’s not a remake and it’s not technically a reboot, it’s a resurrection of a long-dormant series. Crash 3 released all the way back on Halloween of 1998, so it’s been a hot minute. Crash isn’t the only series we’ve seen with long wait times between installments—take Kingdom Hearts, or some of the new indie continuations like Streets of Rage 4 or Windjammers 2—but considering the momentous effect Crash has had on the game industry, the pressure was on for a big comeback.
Crash 4 picks up right after the events of Crash 3, but what you really need to know is all the tubular ’90s cartoon comedy is back, and the plot follows that same zaniness. The gang includes Crash, Coco, Cortex, Aku Aku, Doctor N. Gin, and Uka Uka. The plot is a good ole dimension hop that follows Crash and Coco as they try to stop Dr. Neo Cortex, who’s conquering the entire universe and multiverse and all the verses, because of course he is. The classic Crash gameplay is back, but also new, but also the same. And while that sounds jarring, it’s meant as the utmost compliment for a reboot.
Crash 4 perfected the remarkably challenging tightrope walk we’ve seen so many reboots and remakes absolutely bomb off of. It’s that ability to create something new and continuing for a franchise, while still allowing it to be old hat. From the moment you take control of Crash, you get it. It’s the same thing. The game eases you into new mechanics using Miyamoto-esque design, but preserves the core 3D platforming style. Crash can now do slides, double jumps, double high-jumps, and body slam, and in a way that makes the game the cleanest and smoothest title the series has seen yet. In addition to the physical abilities, Crash can also collect masks that integrate with new level design—like allowing gravity shifts, time shifts, object phasing, and more. And the game masterfully pulls from classic platforming techniques (both from Crash and general platformer history) for really deep and inventive level design.
While Crash 4 has great gameplay, few things are more important than feel and aesthetic with a resurrection of this caliber, and that’s really where Toys for Bob and Activision strut their stuff. Activision has been on a high of nostalgia lately, what with the release of the mind-blowingly good Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater remaster last month, but to bring that same sense of nostalgia to a whole new title is a completely different feat. Crash 4 took on a new art style, which can be the death of a reboot. Regardless of how good it is, fans will clamber for the old. Take the new Ducktales, for example: It’s a phenomenal show with a wonderfully creative look, which still had fans in a tizzy over the newness. Crash 4’s look leans into the ’90s cartoon of it all, like it was pulled out of a semi-late-running Nicktoon. Crash is exaggerated further, he’s softer and cuter, his colors are brighter, and his proportions are more cartoony—an embrace of the earlier art style, just with better technology and graphical enhancements. The cut scenes, the gameplay, and just about every animation in this game feel like they were fawned over, enveloping players in the core of what we want from a Crash installment, while giving us an experience that’s suitable for 22 years later.
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Reboots, remakes, and long-awaited continuations so often fail because they are cheap shots at cashing in on timely trends that often change the source material and opt for shallow, dishonest recreation of the characters. Like the fumble in Crash of the Titans, which gave Crash dumbass spiked hair and tribal tattoos, because, well, it was 2007. Or how, after Teen Titans strayed from a killer cartoon to a random comedy with chibi design, everything followed, whether it fit or not. Powerpuff Girls, ThunderCats, and so many more became generic skinnings of subpar products. The difference with Crash 4 comes down to timing. The ’90s are cool again, and so Crash’s original vibe is, too. He can be wildly, newly, and naturally successful while faithfully embracing his roots, instead of trying to fit into some inauthentic, cookie-cutter trend. It’s a shining example of how retro resurrections should be handled across all mediums.
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