Crash Team Rumble is probably not the Crash game you want. It’s not a platformer, it’s not even a kart racing game, it’s a team-based multiplayer game that’s structurally comparable to a MOBA. That label may scare some people off, but after playing a few rounds of it at Summer Game Fest, it’s clear to me that Crash Team Rumble is actually pretty good. I just hope that doesn’t get lost in the noise of people clamoring for a different Crash game.
While it plays like a Crash platformer, complete with running, jumping, and wumpa fruit hunting, Crash Team Rumble is an objective-based brawler that pits two teams of four against each other as they race to gather more fruit than the opposing team. Each stage is adorned with objectives like territory to claim for boosts, materials to gather and exchange for perks like a spiky rolling cage to run over your opponents with, and game-changing mechanics like a sandstorm you can summon to hinder your opponents’ sight and movement, or airstrikes you can call down from a UFO. Just from a map design standpoint, Crash Team Rumble is deceptively complex. What could easily be dismissed as frantic, mindless brawling has a lot going on in its varied objectives, obstacles, and how much coordination it requires within teams.
I played as Catbat, the cat-bat hybrid (and the Crash Bandicoot series’ first non-binary character) who acts as a Scorer. This is the role meant to gather and dunk wumpa fruit, so I was able to fly around collecting resources, occasionally slamming onto the ground to help my team in a scrap. My team had my back, with our Blocker Dingodile keeping our goal safe from our opponents, and Crash also gathering wumpa fruit on the ground level. Each role felt well defined, and each character’s special abilities, like Catbat’s flight which lets them quickly disengage from a fight to score points and Dingodile’s crowd-control techniques that give him command of the area around a goal, make each character feel like a worthwhile option.
Each character has a baseline kit they work with, but there are also customizable perks and equipment that allow you to tailor them to your liking. With Catbat, I equipped a jump ability that immediately propelled me into the air while also dealing damage to opponents under me. Doing this let me escape a bad situation while also leaving my opponents in the dust, and got me more air time without using any of my own stamina. This was one of several options I had, and these customizable loadouts give each match an air of unpredictability, because you never know what your enemies will have equipped.
Even after just a few matches, it’s clear that Crash Team Rumble has a lot of potential for cool plays with a coordinated team. Knowing when our group would push to score and overwhelm a Blocker or fall back to dump resources into objectives and temporary perks changed how we played and led to some satisfying moments worth popping off for. After we’d all gotten a chance to learn each other’s playing habits in a brutal defeat in our first match, we managed to overcome the opposing team in the second, and then bulldoze over them in the third. As disorienting and confusing as a game like Crash Team Rumble can be in the beginning, moments when a team manages to pull something off together feel great because you’ve overcome something together, rather than lone-wolfing it.
I spent a lot of time in the air as Catbat, but the best moments of my time with Crash Team Rumble were when I came back to the ground and made a game-changing play alongside my team. It may not be Crash 5 or that new Crash kart racer you’ve been pining for, but it’s also much more than just a mindless repurposing of a beloved property, and it seems to have some strong, team-oriented design elements that make it fun to play with others. I don’t know what kind of lifespan Toys For Bob’s new take on the franchise will have, especially because it’s a $30 game rather than a free-to-play one with fewer barriers to entry, but I do know it deserves better than being blindly dismissed just because it’s not what we’ve played before.
Kotaku is covering everything Summer Game Fest, from the main show on Thursday to other events happening throughout the next week. Whether you’re into larger-than-life triple-A games or intimate, offbeat indies, you can keep up with all things SGF here.