The original Crash Bandicoot was a difficult game, but it was linear enough you could conquer it with enough time and practice. Crash Bandicoot 2 ramped up the difficulty with brand new worlds, hidden gems and harder bosses but even with the added frustrations of polar bear riding and jet packing, it was a fun game. There was plenty to do, but it felt manageable. Crash 3 continued in a similar vein — some challenges mixed with fun collectibles, gimmicky levels and great bosses. While Crash Bandicoot 4 keeps the spirit of the original games, it’s a lot harder to find the ‘fun’ that buoyed the original games.
At its core, Crash Bandicoot 4 is a solid sequel. It understands exactly why people love the originals, modernises the controls and packs in more fantastic content. But it’s hard. And I’m not saying that to encourage a million ‘get good’ replies. It’s a hard game and it’s stuffed with secrets that take multiple attempts (and failures) to uncover. Even when you think you’ve finished a level and discovered every secret, you’ll likely wind up with at least one box missing, if not 10. Even the three-death gem is near-impossible to get in some levels.
This is the original Crash Bandicoot trilogy on acid. Where before there were linear pathways, easily understood challenges and boxes hiding just in the corner of your vision there’s now big open worlds, multiple pathways, boxes hiding in places you’d never look and extremely well-hidden paths you can run past multiple times without spotting.
The original Crash games were products of their era. They were simpler and more linear, but had enough challenge to make every goal seem achievable. Crash 2’s ‘Road to Ruin’ is a hard level but with enough practice and care, you can complete it easily — gems and all.
Meanwhile, I trudged through Crash 4’s ‘Off Beat’ five times without grabbing any of the boxes I was missing. Whatever secrets the level is hiding are a complete mystery to me that only the internet or dumb luck can solve.
Crash Bandicoot 4 is a game requiring patience. It requires skill. You’ll need to learn every crack and crevice in the game and then look beyond those crevices for hidden rooms, boxes and gems. Then you have to do it all backwards with the same amount of skill and precision. As difficult as the original Crash Bandicoot games could be, they’ve got nothing on Crash Bandicoot 4, particularly if you were raised to be a completionist.
Playing the Crash Bandicoot trilogy when I was growing up was a family affair. We’d sit down together, chug through levels, swap controllers when it got hard and collect everything in sight. We had a guidebook for the later games (remember the pre-internet times?) and eventually, we undercovered every mystery. As much as I’m enjoying Crash Bandicoot 4, I can’t see myself ever having enough hours or skill to grab every collectible this game has to offer.
One gem, one crystal and one relic (with the potential for a special gem) was a winning combination. It was doable. Crash Bandicoot 4 levels have 12 collectibles per level (six in normal mode, six in N. Verted mode). It feels like a mountainous task. It’s not impossible, but it does require a time investment that adults who grew up playing Crash Bandicoot no longer have. Many of the boxes are also so well hidden you need a combination of luck, trial and error, and YouTube videos to find them. (The very first level has a cheap hidden box hiding invisibly behind a log.)
It’s a very different sport to playing Crash Bandicoot in the early 2000s.
Sitting down to Crash Bandicoot in 2020 is mostly a lone sport. It’s a few hours after work or a family get-together on a weekend. It’s nice, but there’s a sense of rush about playing games when you’re older. This goes doubly so when you write about them. There’s no time to stop and smell the roses, particularly when there’s over 100 levels in a game each requiring hours of investment. Every time you sit down to play a game, there’s a layer of guilt and responsibility hiding in the back of your mind. For me, it means I want to play through games as quickly as possible, squeezing as much enjoyment as I can out of the free time I have.
As a kid, I lived for that magic 105% completion label in Crash. It was a badge of honour. Now that badge seems unattainable, and it’s hard to let that go.
This isn’t the game I grew up playing.
Crash Bandicoot 4 makes me feel ancient. It makes me wonder if the youths are having a better time than I am. On more than one occasion, it’s made me feel like giving up. But the more I learn to let go of what I think Crash Bandicoot should be, the more I’m enjoying the game. Missed boxes still sting. Completing levels without earning a single gem sucks. Dying over 50 times in a level because a single enemy won’t move is also pretty shitty. But the more I ignore the completionist inside me, the more I enjoy the game. Blasting through levels without a care is pure joy. There’s no responsibilities and no stress involved. If something’s too hard, you can just skip it. It might go against everything you’ve ever learned about games, but what does it matter if you’re enjoying it?
Sometimes, all it takes is letting go.
Crash Bandicoot 4 is a hard game. But ‘hard’ doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. Learning to let go feels unfamiliar, but it means I’m enjoying the game so much more.