Crash Bandicoot was born as a colorful platforming mascot emblematic of his era, and he’s since been reinvented to suit other genres and moments in video game history. He and his wumpa fruit-chasing cohorts have been given the Mario Party treatment in Crash Bash, they went kart racing on several occasions, and he’s even been dropped into an auto-runner on mobile platforms. The latest appearance for the perma-grinning orange marsupial is yet again fitting of its moment, even as it might be the most unexpected fit to date.
Crash Team Rumble is a 4v4 multiplayer game with a unique ruleset and, it seems after a weekend with the beta, a lot of potential. Rather than reskin something familiar in Crash’s color palette, Crash Team Rumble finds its own competitive angle and match flow, and its depth of strategy gives it vigor, even as I worry about its life expectancy.
Players will load into matches cast as familiar characters split into one of several classes, like scorers, defenders, and more. Similar to something like Overwatch, the full game will offer multiple characters in each class, with heroes and villains spanning all of Crash’s history on the roster. In the beta, only a small subset of the game’s full list of heroes and villains–and their customizable abilities–was available, but it gave me an idea of what to expect.
The primary focus is on wumpa fruit. You’ll collect them like pick-ups spinning in place or bunched inside crates just like the platformers have long featured, only here they don’t net you extra lives; instead, they score points for your team. Each map is shaped by the series’ history and aesthetic and features goal platforms. You’ll take your amassed wumpa fruit to the goal and, after a short but deliberate delay, tally the points. This basic setup makes CTR (no, not that CTR) easy to pick up, and from there, each additional layer adds to its subtly smart design.
In a good round, it’ll never be as simple as moving your wumpas to the goal. It’s a quasi-arcade sport, so standing in your way will be the enemy team who has the same objective as you–hit the score ceiling first–giving each round a Capture The Flag tempo. Learning when to push on offense and when to hang back and keep enemies from scoring is a fun hurdle in the game’s first few hours.
It’s a game that is best played with a communicative team, as the arena maps will, at any one time, host several skirmishes in different areas. Do you drop your scoring chance to aid a teammate out of a jam? Do they even want you to? You can hit enemies and they’ll drop some fruit, or you can even knock enemies out temporarily and they’ll lose everything, but the time-to-kill (which feels like an extreme phrase here, I admit) is very long. And yet, I saw a handful of moments where rivals got so caught up in eliminating each other that they took their eyes off the ball–er, wumpa.
If you’re not directly scoring or defending, you’re likely working to buff your scorers with multipliers or unlocking abilities scattered around the map. Deployable traps such as potted plants that behave as turret guns and unlockable weapons like a spiked hamster ball that lets you move faster and damage enemies are there for the taking, but each ability unlock takes concerted effort, asking you to collect relics rather than fruit.
You can feasibly finish a round without ever using any bonus weapons like these, but the winners will often be those who not only did utilize them, but did so thoughtfully. Crash’s true platformers feature some famously hard levels, but here the difficulty comes not so much in the platforming, but in the execution of a team’s gameplan. It’s a refreshing way to view a character who I’ve already seen in many different contexts over the past 20+ years.
The winning team will usually be the one that displays better teamwork.
Jumping, spinning, and ground-pounding are available in every character’s repertoire, and they’re mapped to the controller just as any series veteran would expect. This gives each round a sense of familiarity, but the chaotic pace and the wide arenas, each with clever elements of verticality on display, make it feel like a classic single-player Crash level has been invaded by other players. There’s a novelty there that I find exciting, and my feeling is the rules and mechanics give Crash Team Rumble an appeal akin to Rocket League. It’s not a sport, but it’s very sporty, and though Rocket League is the standard-bearer in that space, Crash Team Rumble is a game I’ll gladly try again when it arrives later this year.
I still have some reservations, though. A single beta weekend isn’t enough to tell me if the game holds up over the long haul, so I’m not comfortable crowning it quite yet. Its broader appeal is also in question. With a battle pass system confirmed and an in-game shop seeming likely, CTR will need to lean into its unique matches to find an audience and keep them spending. Unlike so many other games with similar economies, CTR isn’t free-to-play.
In a year that has seen so many fun but niche live-service games disappear, I worry Crash Team Rumble’s June 20 debut could be just a year or two away from its eventual closure. Between Fortnite and foreclosure, is there room for this bandicoot to thrive in the middle somewhere, to succeed where Rumbleverse, Knockout City, and many others once tried to? Does the game’s $40 price help it stay afloat longer with more money up front, or does its rejection of a free-to-play model used by games like it make it a tougher ask for would-be early adopters? I fear it’s the latter, which could have CTR in a tough spot right out of the gate.
Crash Team Rumble is arriving at a moment in time when games of its size and stature are struggling to go on, even when a passionate community exists to defend them. With that comes a bevy of questions, and we aren’t likely to get any answers until we’re seeing it play out in real time after the game’s launch. Following the beta weekend, I feel strongly that Crash Team Rumble deserves a fair shot. I just worry those are hard to come by in the current landscape.