'Crash Bandicoot 4' Gameplay Impressions: Modern Graphics, Retro Pain

Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time was revealed last month as the triumphant return of a platforming icon in a brand-new game that straddles the line between modern and classic. From my experience with two levels from Crash's new adventure, it seems like the development team at Toys for Bob will achieve that goal quite well.

In a special gameplay demo provided by the game's publishers at Activision, I played through Dino Dash and Snow Way Out, both situated near the midpoint of the game. While the former served as an excellent showcase of the Quantum Mask feature, the latter largely acted as a love letter to classic Crash action from decades past.

Given that the base platforming of the game will feel immediately familiar to those who've played the series before, the Dino Dash level was an interesting experiment. Crash has the same sense of floaty heft he's always had, which will remain divisive to those who prefer a more precise platformer like Mario. But, once you master those base mechanics, I found a lot to love about Dino Dash's detailed environments, wacky enemies and impressive level length. In fact, both levels in the demo felt massive compared to their '90s counterparts.

Dino Dash features the same well-timed jumps and camera-swapping T-Rex chase sequences that longtime fans will appreciate, but the level shined the brightest during the brief tree grinding sequences with Lani-Loli, a Quantum Mask that phases oncoming threats out of existence while Crash speeds along. It's About Time succeeds most when it blends retro concepts with new mechanics, so that section in particular wound up being lots of fun.

crash bandicoot 4 time mask
'Crash Bandicoot 4' brings Quantum Masks to the game, and they're super interesting. Players cam slow down time at key moments. 'Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time' is available October 2 on PS4 and Xbox One. Toys for Bob/Activision

Snow Way Out takes Crash and Cocoa to a snowy landscape set in 1954, where the nefarious Neo Cortex waits atop a chilly mountain. The star of the stage was Kupuna-Wa, the time-based Quantum Mask that slows down the action at the press of a button. Unlike the standard Aku Aku Mask, which still appears and disappears after getting hit, this powerup shows up and leaves at specific times dictated by the level.

Make no mistake, however, these Quantum Masks certainly aren't just a get-out-of-jail-free card designed to make harrowing sections of a level easier. These masks exist because, for the most part, you'll absolutely need to use them to progress. In our playthrough, for example, we leveraged Kupuna-Wa to stop falling icebergs that would've otherwise been moving way too fast to use as platforms. The mask was also used to avoid Nitro blasts and getting crushed by speedy, spider-like enemies.

crash bandicoot 4 tree grind
Grinding on trees is just as satisfying as it looks. Toys for Bob/Activision

At first glance, the Crash Bandicoot faithful may look at Quantum Masks as a gimmick, but it quickly becomes apparent they're anything but. When Quantum Masks are in play, you're presented with mini puzzle-like scenarios that just didn't exist in the original Crash trilogy. If you press the button to use a mask too early or too late, you'll likely miss a jump or get squashed by a hazard. In that sense, Quantum Masks act as an interesting third way that your playable character can meet their demise.

And speaking of death: In Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time, you should be prepared to die a lot. While it's possible to play the game in Retro Mode with standard fruit collection and limited lives, I felt way more comfortable in the Modern Mode that merely keeps track of deaths. For perspective, as a seasoned Crash Bandicoot player, I still died on each of these levels dozens of times before reaching the goal. So, if you were at all concerned about this new game not holding up to a retro standard, don't be.

crash bandicoot 4 lava jump
In some sections, avoiding lava felt too challenging to be fun. Toys for Bob/Activision

However, while many of the deaths I experienced simply required me to "get gud," I will tacitly say that some portions of these levels felt maybe a little too devious to be enjoyable. A particularly challenging section of Dino Dash requires chaining Crash's slide ability to make it over lava, and the precise nature of timing the slide versus accidentally belly flopping into the fiery liquid felt too tight. There was also a section of Snow Way Out in which I took control of Neo Cortex that required being at the very top of a jump to progress. Instances like that were a hair too common and may stand in the way of recommending this game to newcomers, despite its modern accoutrements.

That Cortex section in particular, though, whets my appetite for Crash 4's promise of additional content beyond the standard world map. In that brief section, players see the story behind an exploding ship previously encountered while playing as Crash.

Standing apart from Crash, Cortex doesn't have a double jump and can instead turn enemies into either static or bouncy platforms. He also has a dash for when extra jump distance is necessary. This totally new set of abilities turns that small section of the level into something a lot less Crash Bandicoot and something entirely unique. It requires figuring out which type of platform fits a given situation, and dashing between tight gaps of Nitro Crates presents a new challenge and frustration. After a few screens, though, it was back to Crash to finish the rest of the map.

crash bandicoot 4 playable cortex
Playing as Cortex presented a totally new experience that was lots of fun. Toys for Bob/Activision

Given these two levels, Crash Bandicoot 4 seems like it accomplishes much of what it sets out to do. The courses are long, colorful, diverse and full of unique platforming challenges with retro thrills. While I personally have some reservations about the difficulty level potentially hindering the game's mass appeal, it's possible the full adventure will have a more stable challenge curve. Beyond a few odd frame dips and some long load times that will likely be ironed out by release, I enjoyed what I played.

Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time comes to PS4 and Xbox One October 2.

What do you think of Crash Bandicoot 4 based on our impressions? Will you buy this game on day one? Tell us in the comments section!