Crash Bandicoot 4 Its About Time Has Me Dreaming of Spyro 4

Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time Has Me Dreaming of Spyro 4

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Matt Lorrigan

Crash Bandicoot 4 may be a few months old at this point, but with its recent next-gen release for Xbox Series X|S (and the current discount running on the Microsoft Store) I thought I’d finally give the manic marsupial’s latest adventure a spin. A spin. Get it? Because he SPI- oh, ok, you get it. Good. Ahem.

As it turns out, Activision could hardly have chosen a more apt title if they tried - Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time feels like a true successor to Naughty Dog’s much-loved PlayStation 1 trilogy. It’s as if developer Toys for Bob reached through a time portal and plucked the game straight from the turn of the millennium, before polishing it up with some modern quality of life changes and shipping it off to store shelves around the world. As a game, and as a development project, it really is about time - about how video games have evolved and changed in the two decades or so since the release of Crash Bandicoot: Warped, and how turning back the clock can invoke nostalgia even with a brand new experience.

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That is to say, I’ve been having a good time with Crash 4 so far, but the modern-retro approach that Toys for Bob has taken when creating the game does come with a few major downsides. For all of the love that ‘90s kids like myself will have for them, there’s one truth that we often block out: the original Crash Bandicoot games were rock hard and frustrating as hell.

This isn’t just a product of the era they were created in, either, but instead a result of direct design decisions. The behind-the-back perspective that makes that era of Crash Bandicoot so distinctive is also often a nightmare when it comes to depth perception, which can lead to platforming that feels more like trial-and-error than a real test of skill. And the collectibles that require Crash to smash every crate in a stage could often have you pulling out your hair (in big, orange clumps) in frustration, as you finish a level only to find you’ve missed just one breakable box somewhere along the way. 

Toys for Bob has done a decent job of updating these systems for the modern era. A handy marker to show where Crash will land after a jump is a bloody lifesaver, and there are thankfully more ways to measure success at the end of each level than just crates. But it's telling that the brand new features the developer has added, such as the Quantum Masks, are often where you’ll find the most fun. Crash Bandicoot 4 brings back pretty much everything you remember about those original games, for better or worse.

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This is why, despite enjoying Crash Bandicoot 4 for all its foibles, I can’t help but be even more excited by the prospect of a potential Spyro the Dragon 4. It’s surely a matter of sooner rather than later - Activision owns both IPs, and both the Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy and Spyro Reignited Trilogy sold remarkably well. Like Crash before it, Spyro, too, had a beloved trio of titles on PS1 before its developer - Insomniac Games, in this instance - moved onto a new series, leaving the little lavender lizard in the hands of a new team who took it in a different direction. Spyro the Dragon is ready to roar again, and I’d argue it’s even better placed than Crash for a new “fourth” game.

This is because, in many ways, the design sensibilities of Spyro the Dragon, Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage, and Spyro: Year of the Dragon hold up a hell of a lot better by modern standards. This was, unlike Crash, a platformer developed in a post-Super Mario 64 world, and the portly plumber’s inspirations are clear to see from the very first Spyro game. Those large, open levels, with objective-based collectibles that you can tackle in pretty much any order, are a natural evolution of the ground that Mario broke in the 3D space. Like Rare’s Banjo-Kazooie, this is a western developer looking at Nintendo’s best-in-class entry and going “we can build on that”.

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As such, Spyro’s wide-open levels - practically gargantuan when they first released - feel relatively fresh even when played today. Its progression system, in which new levels are unlocked not by finding every gem in the game, but by finding enough, is the kind of 3D platformer design that is still used in more recent titles like Super Mario Odyssey. Playing through all three again on the latest consoles via the Spyro Reignited Trilogy, it’s often easy to forget you’re playing games that were originally released twenty years ago. The same can’t quite be said for the N.Sane Trilogy.

Of course, a possible Spyro the Dragon 4 also offers up the irresistible opportunity to exorcise the games that have come since from our memories, and pretend they never happened - the maligned PlayStation 2 titles, the strange isometric Game Boy Advance titles, and the barely related Skylanders game that dropped Spyro from the name quicker than one of those egg-carrying bastards that you have to chase around. There’s a perverse pleasure - especially in the current climate - in returning to a game that pretends the last two decades haven’t passed, and sinking into the warm nostalgia of the turn of the millennium.

Should the overlords at Activision allow it, Toys for Bob has a much easier task on its hands when looking to create a timeline-smashing fourth entry in the Spyro franchise. Similar to Crash, quality of life improvements and new mechanics are to be expected, but the foundation laid by the original Spyro games is so much stronger, that the possible heights it could achieve are all the higher. A new Spyro game has the chance to not just lean back on nostalgia, but to contend with some of the more current (albeit rare) platforming greats. Come on Activision, give us Spyro 4 already. It’s about time.

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