If you’re a completionist struggling through Crash Bandicoot 4, know you’re not alone. Crash Bandicoot 4 is a hard game, and most of that is by design.
While the original trilogy was all about collectibles and hidden secrets, It’s About Time takes this idea to the next level. Hidden around every corner are gems to find, hidden boxes to nab and Easter eggs to spot. You can even take on N. Sanely Perfect relic challenges that require you to grab every box, gem and hidden secret without losing a life. These are massively impressive achievements, but they’re out of reach for most gamers.
Kotaku Australia recently got the chance to chat with Paul Yan, Co-Studio Head and Chief Creative Officer at Toys for Bob about the vision behind Crash Bandicoot 4 and what led to the game’s most devilish ideas.
“The first thing that it [needed] to do was break the dry spell,” Yan explained over Zoom. “Obviously, it’s been over twelve years since we’ve seen an original entry into the series … One of the things we’ve learned, especially coming out of the N. Sane Trilogy and CTR is just the appreciation for authenticity, and this throwback to nostalgia. We wanted to make sure that we struck this balance between honouring that legacy and that nostalgia, but also bringing something new to the table. Bring a new perspective, open up the landscape of characters and new storylines, and to provide more richness to that universe.”
This richness takes many forms in Crash Bandicoot 4 including new mechanics, world-building, abilities and playable characters. While the original trilogy introduced varied gameplay in the form of Coco levels (tiger riding, jet-skiing and plane-bombing) and other novelties, It’s About Time goes to extreme lengths to change up the gameplay.
You can play whole intersecting levels as Dingodile, Cortex or Tawna. Some levels are just giant crate smashathons. In ‘N. Verted’ mode, levels even have additional backwards challenges with some taking place underwater, in black-and-white or in a world painted to life by colour.
“As devs that’s sort of a natural ambition anytime you strike out and do a new project,” Yan said. “It’s how do we dial this up to 11? How do we make this the best possible game we can make? How do we make the biggest possible game we can make?”
Yan told Kotaku Australia the team’s aim was to preserve Crash‘s legacy while providing players the opportunity to keep coming back to levels and discovering new things by changing focus. They also wanted to build on the worlds and action established in the original games.
Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back was looked to as the It’s About Time‘s primary example for balancing ‘gimmick’ levels with traditional platforming.
“The reason why people are coming back to the game is to play as Crash,” Yan explained. “So, yes, there’s a bunch of novelty. There’s a bunch of new masks … there’s new heroes you’re going to be able to play as — they all need to be complimentary, and in support of the main experience, which is classic Crash gameplay.”
Strategy and exploration are as much a part of Crash Bandicoot 4 as precision platforming, and this added a brand new layer to the game. It also made the game supremely difficult for completionists, particularly those wanting to go for the N. Sanely Perfect relics and the game’s secret ending.
“There’s many different layers of hard, right? I would say that if you were a player who wanted to play the game and just get from beginning to end all the way through, that’s one level of hard,” Yan said. “I would personally argue that that’s not terribly hard. If you’re the type of player who wants to pursue 100% crates, okay, that’s a new level of challenge … and if you want to pursue the perfect relics or you if you want to pursue the time trials, now you’re stepping it up.”
“Crash is a uniquely precision platformer, and so it really does matter that you have skill. We want to make sure that it’s not some game where anyone could just go through blindfolded. You’ve got to actually pay attention and understand the rhythm of the game.”
There was a delicate balance to be struck between hardcore challenge and appealing to more ‘casual’ audiences — and while Crash 4 is a ‘hard’ game there’s a lot of fun to be had once you learn to let go.
Everyone who approaches the game comes to it with a different mindset, according to Yan. While some are delighted by the amount of easter eggs, mysteries and collectibles in the title, others find the sheer depth frustrating.
The struggle really culminates in the game’s final world, in a brutal stage called ‘Cortex Castle’. While Yan describes it as one of his favourites, the level has caused much grief online for being far too challenging. Sam Loveridge of GamesRadar+ described the level as ‘2020 in game form’ and it’s by far the most apt description. To conquer the level, you’ll need to master quick thinking, split-second reactions and every innovation the game slings your way.
“Cortex Castle [is] just the pinnacle,” Yan told Kotaku Australia. “You’ve prepared all along this whole adventure and in the very last bit of it … you need to engage every single quantum mask with such precision, in such tight timeframes … That to me, is frustrating, but such a pleasure to get through once you actually learn to get it right.”
Crash Bandicoot 4 is characterised by this balance.
It’s about pleasure as much as it is about pain. Dying for the hundredth time is a frustration, but finally working your way through a difficult level and collapsing on the other side of it is an incredible feeling. The way Crash 4 is designed, death is a simple fact. To discover more, you have to die. Again and again. But it encourages risk taking. It encourages replayability. There’s always more to discover, secrets just out of reach.
Crash Bandicoot 4 is hard, but it rewards patience and effort.
The catharsis of seeing it to the end is well worth the difficult journey the game takes you on, even if you miss a few boxes along the way. The road is long in Crash Bandicoot 4, but you’ll be a stronger person by the end of it. Or you’ll be curled in a ball of rage, weeping over a broken controller. Either way, you’ll have been on an incredible ride.