Although it wasn’t overly surprising (but very welcome) to see Activision release the Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy back in 2017 to properly capitalise on nostalgia for the IP that it acquired in 2008, I’ll admit I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see the manic marsupial continue to star in his own titles in the years since. We had another re-do in the form of Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled, followed by a wholly original (and shockingly punishing) platforming sequel with Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, and now yet another new and original Crash game has arrived – Crash Team Rumble.
Despite its initial reveal summoning my deepest desires for a return to the Crash Bash/Crash Boom Bang! party game school of mayhem, Crash Team Rumble is instead a competitive, multiplayer online battle arena-style effort where players compete to collect and deposit Wumpa fruit for the team across a variety of maps. As someone that’s largely steered away from even the most basic of MOBA-esque games, it’s certainly not something I would’ve considered dipping my toe into were it not for a lingering penchant for its mascot. That said, after spending a solid amount of time with Crash Team Rumble I can genuinely say I’ve been having a fair amount of fun with it – though glaring, foundational issues with its content offering and structure make it sadly difficult to recommend.
Let’s start with what works though, because my initial experience with Crash Team Rumble has been surprisingly positive. The basic premise is fairly easy for players of all ages to grasp (if I can do it, so can your kids), pitting two teams of four against each other to run around the selection of nine unique maps and collect Wumpa before bringing it back to their team’s scoring area and depositing it as quickly and completely as possible.
Nuance, and opposition, comes from the opposing team’s ability to interfere with that process. Players can attack each other, causing their opponent to drop Wumpa, activate score-boosting gems around each map, use unique character-based abilities and special items, and spend collected relics on game-changing powerups unique to each map in order to get a competitive edge and reach a total of 2000 points before the other team.
Like any good game of this ilk, it’s all about each player in a team working in tandem to manage these various mechanics and become a well-oiled machine of mayhem and Wumpa-hoarding. The included roster of eight recognisable Crash Bandicoot characters is divided into three categories – the Scorers whose characteristics and abilities make them the best fit for zipping around the map to pick up and deposit Wumpa, the Blockers who are more capable of attacking players and obstructing their goal zone to prevent scoring, and the Boosters who want to be activating boost gems around the map and otherwise acting as a support.
The synergy between these classes, even when a team is stacked in one direction or missing one of the three entirely, is pretty remarkable most of the time. In my many, many matches so far I’ve rarely seen anything get too one-sided with the majority of my bouts turning out to be thrilling nail-biters right up the finishing score. The game seems to do a pretty good job of matching and sorting players into appropriate teams before each round, which is great. All of the maps, though on the smaller size, feel unique in their layouts and the various power-ups they offer and are well-designed overall. Coupled with the fact that special abilities are charged by performing the actions your chosen class is intended for, it makes it easy to jump in with randoms and feel assured that everyone’s going to play their part.
I’m embarrassed to admit that on more than one occasion I’ve found myself yelling at teammates and opponents alike through my TV screen (not into any actual comms, of course) as things got particularly heated. I haven’t managed to convince any of my mates to get into a game with me for some genuinely strategic play but my experience playing with silent strangers so far has been excellent. I have run into the occasional instances of particularly nasty Neo Cortex duos from players clued into the meta but those are few and far between and rarely soured my enjoyment.
So it’s a success on the gameplay front then, but the issues with Crash Team Rumble exist in just about everything outside of the matches themselves. For starters, there’s just that one game type to play. With nine maps and eight characters, repetition can set in pretty quickly. I’ve been playing a maximum of a couple hours a day since just before the game officially launched and I’m already feeling bored with the content on offer. The only thing keeping me going currently is the game’s Battle Pass-style progression, which in a game that’s boxed up and priced on shelves is also a disappointing choice. Between an anemic content offering and the slog of grinding out character levels on top of a timed, seasonal pass, Crash Team Rumble feels like it should’ve been a free-to-play game and not something that you’d pay up to $69.95 for.
At present, there isn’t any way to spend real money on anything, which is nice. But I also don’t know how that’s all going to shake out as far as future content goes, as much as I’ve enjoyed unlocking a heap of character skins and even iconic music from across the franchise that plays when I put the opposing team in the ground. It feels wrong to suggest, but I honestly might have been more optimistic about Crash Team Rumble’s future had Activision decided to make it a freemium release with a paid battle pass. It could have meant more people willing to give the game a go with friends, and as a paid product in the state it’s in right now I just don’t see it garnering the kind of audience to justify a continued investment in Toys For Bob putting out regular content updates.
Crash Team Rumble is a surprisingly competent online multiplayer arena game that's easy to get into and well-balanced, leading to some tense and exciting games. It's let down hugely by a lack of modes and content though, and I seriously doubt its longevity in the long term.