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6.5
                         

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Toys for Bob

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Action

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Crash Team Rumble (XS)

By Lee Mehr 25th Jul 2023 | 3,441 views 

Crash Team Rumble's different foundation can be N. Sanely fun at points, but annoying live-service elements and design imbalances currently limit its appeal.

Ever since mirroring Sony’s then-CEO Shawn Layden’s steps at E3 2016, Crash has enjoyed a spiritual revival.  The masses flocked back to appreciate his glorious return in remasters for the mainline trilogy and kart racer, which gave momentum for developer Toys for Bob to craft a full-blown sequel: Crash 4: It’s About Time.  Although the more tempting option would’ve been further exploring past nostalgia (e.g. Crash Bash), modern-day templates of other live-service games tempted the team in a different direction.  Although such an experiment away from anything this loveable marsupial previously knew does spur unexpected creativity, he doesn’t avoid bumping into a few TNT crates along the way.


Rumble exists on an interesting plane as something that initially seemed interested in the MOBA space, but shifted course as the project continued to blossom.  The goal is simple: 4v4 brawling that’s primarily focused on scoring Wumpa fruits at your own goal (2000 total to win).  While some fruits are scattered amongst the field, the majority are tucked in – you guessed it – breakable wooden crates.  There are also the series’ penchant Relics scattered about, which can unlock map-specific goodies ranging from low-cost trampolines to high-cost temporary team invincibility.  There are also two or three sets of gem platforms per map, each one temporarily giving a 40% multiplier to whichever team successfully captures it.

All told, it’s a relatively simple setup that’d fit as a new mode in a hypothetical Crash Bash remaster.  Adding a layer of strategy are designated class roles:

  • Scorer: focused on gathering and scoring Wumpas, as the name implies.
  • Blocker: preventing the opponents from scoring – especially by knockout.
  • Booster: hunting down relics and capturing gem sets for the team.

While no one character is disallowed from doing a bit of everything, keeping and succeeding at the character’s primary function accelerates you towards your pre-selected power, be it an AoE healing totem or a big Gasmoxian Guard electrifying the ground around him.  Those are some of the dynamics at play as you measure your team’s needs and how to best pursue them with your character’s abilities. 


I’d argue that the beating heart of Rumble is a simple rule: you only score accumulated Wumpas by continuously planting your feet at the goal for three seconds.  You can run around the circular ring, but any interruption that separates your feet – be it from an enemy or your reflexes – automatically resets that timer.  This basic demand makes the mayhem feel more coordinated.  Sure, every successful hit against an enemy chips away at their Wumpa wallet, but focusing time and powers at scoring hubs brings out the chaos in more creative ways.  A teammate patiently withholding their mortar strike against an enemy’s goal until the right moment can turn the tide of a match.  Of course, enemies know this so they’ll have to find ways of countering.

Past the beating heart, the next order of importance would be the array of characters and how they all fit here.  Crash has his basic template of jumping, spinning, slamming and sliding as one would expect, but virtually everyone has a nice mechanical baseline that complements their main role.  It may not make sense to grapple hook towards nothing, but Tawna’s moveset simply wouldn’t click without it.  Other tricks between characters, like Coco’s holographic wall or N. Brio’s monster transformation, feel distinct and meld with their established identities.

The fusion of these three core elements is a competition that can segue from convivial to hostile in no time flat.  You might breezily stroll across a broad, unmolested expanse just to acquire some extra Wumpas, only to reach your base and have a flood of Vietnam flashbacks resurface: mortar strikes from on high, toxic chemical vials stinging your flesh, bombs continually blasting in your direction.  Nothing can prepare for that first round of all-out mayhem!  Despite that, there's still sense in the madness.  I’ll admit, it looks unsexy to watch; hell, you can probably convince more Twitch viewers to suffer through Brendon Schaub’s latest comedy special than any popular e-celeb playing this.  But when you feel the dynamics flowing together with a controller in hand, when you’re trying to elude someone with a mere sliver of health or desperately trying to prevent the enemy’s game-winning finish, there’s more than meets the eye.


Despite implicitly respecting Rumble’s various cogs, it’s a shame that unbalanced elements crack at the foundation.  These can range from the inherent wonkiness with Cortex’s shooting mechanics, to the more flagrant, like potentially littering the field with Gasmoxian Guards.  While I wouldn’t say any character is severely disadvantaged or overpowered, a select few aren’t as kneecapped by offensive/defensive trade-offs.  As the weeks have gone on, I’ve noticed a slight uptick in mirror matches as a result.  Skilled players can readily sniff out which ones are worth investing in, which doesn’t bode well with a limited eight-character launch roster; plus, there's (currently) no option to change characters mid-match should you feel like altering tactics.

While worth warning about, slim launch content by itself isn’t a killing blow for me – perhaps to a fault; hell, you’re talking about someone effusively gushing about Bleeding Edge at the risk of being dragged across a field of tacks.  What quells that specific criticism, free game or not, is the anticipated quality to counteract it.  Eight launch characters alongside nine launch maps for $30 isn’t bad on its own, but I’m not delighted to replay certain locales.  Just Beachy is mostly a flat sandbar, Rusted Refinery places both Wumpa banks mere feet apart, and City Scrape – though aesthetically interesting – makes it so easy to tumble off the edge from obnoxious enemies.  None of these maps are case examples of dreadful design per se, but they exhibit odd blind spots.  It’s a case of various paper cuts exasperating a value consideration that’s not so ideal.

Though I’d be remiss not to acknowledge – once again – this being a middle-market experiment, it’s still missing that extra bit of presentational flair.  Think about it: what’s one of the series’ best features?  To me, the plethora of fail states captured the right tone; Crash could be squished, vaporized, sliced, frozen into an ice block, and many other Looney Tunes-inspired goofs.  Here, dying results in your character falling on their back or immediately turning into an angel.  Imagine if there were character-exclusive death animations and varied levels of visible damage to spice things up.  That’s not to outright belittle Toys for Bob’s craftsmanship, especially all of the pleasing skyboxes.  From the dynamically shifting soundtrack for certain actions (gem boosts, unlocking ultimates, etc.) to recreating stages from past Crash games, the team clearly cares about the franchise.  It’s just that the missing details, even ranging to a basic UI and supplementary features, reveal Rumble’s budgetary constraints.


What highlights the odd dynamic in both budget implications and value is yet another live-service structure.  Recall where I mention the launch character and map numbers.  Since jotting down early notes, Toys for Bob has added the crazily overpowered Ripper Roo and a decent swamp map.  It’s one thing to withhold some content that needs more playtesting, but these pieces seemed ready for launch.  On top of those strange decisions, the Deluxe Edition ($40) and the Battle Pass reeks of Activision’s nasty claws influencing the rather substandard drip-feed of cosmetic content.  I hate it because, while subtle, you can feel that influence distracting from the game proper.

When you look at it from a bird’s eye view, Crash Team Rumble faces treacherous headwinds.  Release schedule, marketing, invasive live-service shenanigans, and an unfamiliar template for this franchise have all coalesced into this unknown entity; and yet, the template finds firm footing.  There's a genuinely interesting expansion of what’s come before while still capturing the tonal quirkiness of yore.  But even when looking past the nagging corporate elements, there are still enough gameplay frustrations to diminish what are otherwise some pleasant accomplishments.  To translate into Crash’s language: Toys for Bob scraped its way to the finish line, but missed a few crates along the way.


Contractor by trade and writer by hobby, Lee's obnoxious criticisms have found a way to be featured across several gaming sites: N4G, VGChartz, Gaming Nexus, DarkStation, and TechRaptor! He started gaming in the mid-90s and has had the privilege in playing many games across a plethora of platforms. Reader warning: each click given to his articles only helps to inflate his Texas-sized ego. Proceed with caution.


VGChartz Verdict


6.5
Decent

This review is based on a retail copy of Crash Team Rumble - Deluxe Cross-Gen Edition for the XS


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