Back at Summer Game Fest Play Days, one demo seemed to elicit more cheers and shouts from attendees than any other: Crash Team Rumble. Every match played throughout the weekend sounded like the final minute of an NBA Finals game, with loud whooping and anguished cries of defeat echoing through the entire pavilion. If the demo was that fun, surely the full release will be the same, right? Well, yes, Crash Team Rumble can be that entertaining now that it's launched, once the online connection decides to function properly.
Crash Team Rumble is a 4v4 competitive multiplayer game where players select characters from Crash Bandicoot's history and try to gather Wumpa fruit and deposit it at their team's base faster than the other team. Players can attack other players to hinder their progress, as taking damage results in lost fruit. Each stage is an open arena filled with power-ups, obstacles, and activated abilities which teams can unleash against each other. The first team to 2000 fruit through all of this madness wins. It's a clever format for a multiplayer game, one that feels less like serious competition and more party fun.
Matches can be played with bots, in private rooms, or through ranked competitive play. All of these, however, require an internet connection that is tenuous at best and non-functional at worst. The initial connection to the game's online services upon booting up the game is unbearably slow, sometimes to the point where I feel I have to restart the game. One time I was able to get up, use the facilities, and get a bite to eat before the game connected, and while I appreciate the game giving me some time to recharge, it's not supposed to let me do that!
Once connected, the game ran smoothly. I saw very little stuttering, chopping, or anything of the sort while a match was in session. In between matches, I had to say a little prayer, because the game had a tendency to lose connection and kick me out of the session I was in. It's supposed to just load up another match with the same players, but frequently I was sent back to the match menu or the game flat-out crashed. This is easily and obviously Crash Team Rumble's biggest weakness; it doesn't matter how much fun I'm having if I can't stay connected to begin with.
Characters are split into three classes – scorer, blocker, and booster – and each has different abilities based on those classes. Crash himself, for example, is a scorer, with quick movement and attacks which allow him to specialize in collecting and dropping off fruit. Boosters are the "support" class who assist the team indirectly, focusing on activating the gem platform to boost Wumpa collection or collecting Relics to activate the stage abilities. Blockers, as the name suggests, are big bodies like Dingodile who focus less on gathering fruit and more on making sure the other team doesn't. I personally enjoyed playing as a blocker; causing mayhem at my opponent's base by laying traps and flinging enemies off of the stage is very satisfying.
The roster of characters and maps in Crash Team Rumble are pulled from the franchise's entire history, which I wholly appreciate. Classic characters like Neo Cortex and Ripper Roo can be matched up with new-era characters like Tawna from Crash 4, and there's plenty of room to grow. Maps aren't direct adaptations of stages from old Crash games, but instead, they are references to the different settings of those stages. This isn't a problem though, as Tiki Towers, Just Beachy, and the rest all feel like authentic Crash Bandicoot locations. Longtime Crash fans will have plenty of "point-at-the-screen" moments while playing this as they remember enemies and other characters from yesteryear.
The problem I have with the roster right now is how limited it is. Granted the game just came out, but when I first turned the game on I had access to three characters, one from each class. I eventually unlocked the rest of the playable roster through gameplay – the tasks I had to complete to unlock them are thankfully laid out clearly – but I did start to feel some character fatigue. Once the roster is fully available that fatigue wanes, but even then, after a while, I start to get bored again. This is a problem that can only get fixed with time and continued support, I definitely understand that, but for now the variety in character selection is an issue.
The game dives even deeper into Crash history in the battle pass, which offers costumes and other cosmetic items through earned experience points after matches conclude. This is free-to-play after all, so a battle pass isn't wholly surprising, but I will say the pass offers a lot of content variety. Personally, I'm a big fan of collecting music tracks from old Crash games and using them as stage music; that is a nice touch paying homage to a franchise with very good music throughout. One might hear "battle pass" and wince, but the one found here isn't as predatory as some can be.
Crash Team Rumble impressed me more with every completed match. Those hoots and hollers from SGF make a lot of sense now, as it's one of those games where one late-game maneuver can spell victory for your team, and it can happen in an instant. Not being able to connect and play the fun game was frustrating – almost as much as connecting, playing one match, and then watching the game crash – but once I was in, I was having a blast. If Toys For Bob and Activision continue to support this game through building its roster, adding new modes, and offering more silly cosmetics, I can see this game enjoying a long and successful run. They just need to make sure we can log on to play it.