Platforms: PS5, Xbox Series X, PS4, Xbox One
Crash Bandicoot has never been above dipping his toes into genres beyond his action-platforming roots. Certainly, one of the character's biggest success stories was Crash Team Racing, a shamelessly brazen spin on the Mario Kart format that went on to become one of the defining titles of the original PlayStation.
It's not a problem, then, for developer Toys For Bob to try something different in its continued handling of the iconic, anthropomorphic marsupial; the studio has certainly earned the right to experiment following its incredible work with 2020's Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time. The problem, instead, is that in leaning towards the live service competitive multiplayer scene with Crash Team Rumble, they may have picked one of the few formats that Crash just isn't well suited for.
That's because, at their core, Crash games are inherently straightforward. Players have a few simple attacks at their disposal, alongside the trusty jump button, and that's it. In a platformer built around taut, dynamic level design, that makes perfect sense – but when transferred to the context of a chaotic PvP arena, these actions lose their sense of purity, and instead just feel inadequate. That unfortunately ends up leaving Crash Team Rumble as an experience marked largely by repetition, lack of balance, and surface-level conflict.
In each match of Crash Team Rumble (and there is only one core match type), two teams of four players compete for Wumpa Fruit, which they must collect around the stage before banking at their base. Earning enough Wumpa Fruit wins you the game, but get killed by another member of the opposing team, and any fruit carried on your person (or creature) is lost to your slayer. It's a familiar format, but one that Toys For Bob does at least attempt to enrich via a roster of different playable characters, each with their own unique attacks and class-based traits, alongside environmental power-ups that can be acquired via special Relics found across the map.
A mostly chaotic free-for-all bereft of any strategic muscle.
Unfortunately, these extra layers aren't enough to elevate Crash Team Rumble from playing like a mostly chaotic free-for-all bereft of any strategic muscle. This is largely a symptom of the combat itself, as hits never connect in a way that feel satisfying or even particularly accurate, often leaving you unsure as to which enemy you damaged at any one time. As a result, fights almost always descend into anarchic and unintelligible button-mashing, making it difficult to apply much in the way of tactical thinking to any encounter.
And with most players typically gravitating towards the pandemonium of combat, anyone who wants to simply play the objective is usually free to do so quietly in the background. The result is that Crash Team Rumble is either a very simple collect-a-thon, a messy scrum of awkward slapstick, or a mixture of the two depending on your preference, yet none of these options hold much entertainment value beyond the first few hours of play.
The game's maps, at least, are vibrant and full of colour, offering plenty of visual variety in their whistlestop tour across the Bandicoot universe (‘Bandi-verse?’). And, aside from a surprisingly long entry queue every time you boot it up, Crash Team Rumble is notably well-optimised at launch, which is not something you can say for the majority of live service titles these days. Maintaining a smooth framerate that never buckles under the chaos of its brawls, the game's bright and welcoming production value is one of the best things about it.
Toys For Bob has already committed to supporting Crash Team Rumble long after launch with seasonal content, including new characters, maps, and premium battle passes full of cosmetics for those who want to make the extra purchase. It suggests the studio (or perhaps, more accurately, its publisher Activision) has its sights on the long game, preparing the ground for an active player base of Crash Bandicoot loyalists.
It's certainly a business model that has proven lucrative for Activision's other properties, but where the likes of Destiny and Call Of Duty hold enough depth and breadth in their multiplayer offerings to justify keeping players around, the feeling of shallow randomness that marks Crash Team Rumble's gameplay just doesn't hold the same staying power. For now, this marsupial mash-up is fun for a few matches here and there, and will likely please the younger ones for even longer, but beyond that? Crash should probably just stick to the kart racing.