On paper, Crash Team Rumble doesn’t seem like it should work. It’s a team-based, competitive platformer that breaks a lot of the rules we associate with other multiplayer games like it. For instance, instead of getting ahead by KOing members of the enemy team, you’re racing to collect 2,000 Wumpa Fruit before they do. But while this concoction may seem strange at a glance, it comes together in surprisingly fun fashion thanks largely to its excellent map design. After spending a week with it after launch, I can confidently say Toys for Bob’s multiplayer take on Crash Bandicoot is one unique and tasty fruit – but it only comes in the one flavor and its character balance could use some work.
Rumble’s 4-on-4 matches pit teams of iconic Crash Bandicoot characters against each other. There are currently eight to choose from, each broken into one of three archetypes: Scorers: Crash, Tawna, and Catbat; Blockers: Dingodile, Dr. N. Brio, and Dr. N. Tropy; and Boosters: Coco and Dr. Neo Cortex. It’s a good starting roster – so far I’ve enjoyed playing as every character, and they all feel very different even if they come from the same archetype.
Scorers are, naturally, the best at scoring. They can hold more Wumpa Fruit at one time than the other archetypes, tend to be pretty good at fighting off enemies trying to stop them, and usually have special movement abilities that make them tough to corner. Blockers are good at blocking scorers from scoring. They can sit on the other team’s bank for a long time if played well, with strong offensive capabilities and knack for controlling the space around them. Boosters are a little less straightforward; their job is to support their team, but they do so in a couple of interesting ways.
The first is by capturing groups of Gems scattered around the map by jumping on them. Wumpa Fruit may be the name of the game, but capturing Gems is essential because they provide a significant scoring boost. There’s a big difference between turning in Wumpa Fruit normally and turning them in when you control every group of Gems on the map because that means you’re doubling your score. Even capturing at an additional 30% makes a huge difference, and Boosters are custom-built for capturing fights, which can be won and lost in an instant. They excel at keeping other players away from them (or their location), but they’re not just there to capture Gems.
The real game-changer is when you take your Booster – who can collect Relics more quickly than Scorers or Blockers – to the stage-specific Epic Relic Stations and cash them in for power-ups. There’s only one of these on each of the nine launch maps, and they’re more expensive than standard Relic Station upgrades that only affect your character, but the rewards are enormous. Just Beachy’s is a Bonus Bank that doubles your Wumpa turn-ins as long as it’s up. City Scrape’s summons TNT drones that chase your enemies. Serenity Gardens’ gets you a Big Bonsai, a tree full of Wumpa Fruit. Others summon dragons, spaceships, sandstorms… there’s a lot. Best of all, each one is specifically tailored to its map’s themes and design, which has helped each and every map feel unique.
Matches have an interesting ebb and flow to them. They start out as races to capture as many Gems as possible and build early leads, then turn into ongoing battles over Wumpa, Relic Stations, and Gems when they pop back up again. What each team does often depends on how well the first minute or so plays out: If your team secured most of the map’s Gems, you’ll probably want to cash in your Wumpa advantage; If you didn’t, you’re probably going to need to focus on blocking the other team from scoring or building up a huge Relic cache.
Even then, you have interesting choices to make: do you go all-in on the Epic Relic Station or focus on getting a lot of little ones? If the other team looks like they might snag the Epic Relic Station before you, do you try to catch up or just focus on scoring and playing defense? And how dedicated are you to fighting over the Gems when they come back up? There’s no right or wrong answer here; I’ve seen teams get steamrolled because they couldn’t capture any Gems and make huge comebacks because they focused on scoring while the other team put too much emphasis on getting Relics. It all comes down to your ability to adapt to the way the match is going at any given time, and how well you pull off your gameplan. Each match (which usually lasts about five minutes) is fun because you never know how a game will go, and you’re never truly out of it until you lose.
Crash Team Rumble asks you to make a lot of important decisions on the fly during the action, but picking your team composition beforehand matters more than most because you can’t change your mind once the match starts. My go-to is Dingodile; his vacuum sucks up Wumpas and enemies from afar; his spin attack hits hard, can be charged, and holds an area well; and he’s pretty tanky, which is just my style. That said, a team of four Dongodiles probably isn’t a good idea because his mobility is limited and he can’t keep up with the Scorers in sheer Wumpa collection, so if someone else beats me to him I’d be inclined to switch to someone else.
Locking in a character doesn’t mean you’re stuck doing one thing, though. Sure, Dingodile is a Blocker, but his vacuum lets him suck up Wumpa Fruit quickly and he can hold more of them than the average Blocker or Booster, so he can still score in a pinch. Crash’s speed and ability to carry a lot of Wumpa is core to being a Scorer, but he’s also handy in a fight and his Slam and Super Slam attacks work great if you’re trying to control space or KO another player – ideal for double-duty as a Booster or a Blocker.
Each character is different: Tawna has a grappling hook for zooming around the map and pulling herself to enemies, Dr. N. Tropy can hover and create energy balls that knock opponents away, Coco’s shields can keep other players off of platforms, and so on. Everybody feels useful in Crash Team Rumble, which is awesome because you only start with three of them: Crash, Dingodile, and Coco. You’ll have to unlock the rest. I don’t mind unlocking characters – this system makes it easy to learn each archetype’s ins and outs without overwhelming you – but it does lead to some issues Crash Team Rumble wouldn’t have if you could just pick whoever you wanted from the jump.
The problem is that some characters just seem better than others, largely because of their movement abilities in a game about staying one step ahead of the other team, and a lot of those are the ones you have to unlock. Sure, Crash can do well in just about any match, but Tawna’s grappling hook lets her move faster than Crash can dream of and she has better options in combat. Catbat can fly, heal themself and their allies, and constantly divebomb you from the air. Catbat has the lowest health of the Scorers, but low health doesn’t matter when no one can catch you or knock you off the map.
The other two archetypes have the same issue. Dr. Neo Cortex is fine, but I don’t know why you would use him when Coco has better abilities and more health – unless you just really like him from previous games. There’s a reason you see Coco in almost every match – a good player can take over a game and is almost impossible to KO. Dr. Neo Cortex, on the other hand, is far rarer.
This problem is most noticeable in the Blocker role, however. My beloved Dingodile struggles against characters who have great mobility, like Catbat, and Dr. N. Brio is only really strong when he transforms. The best character of the group is easily Dr. N. Tropy, who has excellent mobility, good damage, and high health – and the only check on her power is that it takes way too long to unlock her by scoring badges by scoring badges as a Blocker. Gathering 15 Scorer or Booster badges is enough to unlock the next character in the other archetypes, but unlocking Dr. N. Tropy means accumulating a whopping 50 Blocker badges, which takes forever and feels unfair given that it puts the most powerful character in the hands of only a few hardcore players. The unlock system isn’t a dealbreaker – again, every character seems viable and they’re all fun to play because of how unique they are – but it is annoying that the bar is set so high to even try out all of them.
Every character also gets a Power that charges up throughout the match. They’re not character specific – you can choose from a list no matter who you’re playing as, but like characters, you can’t switch mid-match – but they can make all the difference in a close game. The Wumpa Stash builds up over time once you activate it, letting you score big when you turn in Wumpa if you can stay alive long enough. There’s also a refrigerator that will heal any allies, the Gasmoxian Guard, whose lightning pulses are great for holding areas or playing keepaway, and the Flytrap Spitter, which attacks enemies from range. My team has stolen several games because I saved my Gasmoxian Guard until the last second – it knocked the entire enemy team off our bank, allowing us to score for the win.
The issue, again, is that some – like the Gasmoxian Guard, which you’ll see in literally every match – are just better than others and the unlock conditions are less than ideal. You earn them over time by turning in Relics at Relic Stations, but some require you to activate Common Relic Stations, and others need Epic Relic Stations. Because most games revolve around fighting over Epic Relic Stations, you’ll turn in a lot of those first. Unlocking the other Powers means focusing on activating Common Relic Stations, often at the expense of Relics that could be better spent on the Epic Relic Stations. So you have a choice: play the long game to unlock Powers like the Wumpa Stash, which are quite good, for use in later matches or spend your Relics in a way that’s more likely to win the game you’re in. It’s rough.
What I like most about Crash Team Rumble, though, is its map design and how it forces you to use your character's skills. The maps here remind me of old-school arena shooters like Quake or Halo in that you’re always able to get to where you want to be quickly – and developing routes that maximize your Wumpa pickups, Relic collection, Gem activation, and drop-offs along the way feels as crucial to winning as knowing where and when weapons will spawn. Most surprisingly, I found that I enjoyed every single one. Usually there’s a stinker or two in any multiplayer game’s map rotation, but every map in Crash Team Rumble is distinct and fun to play.
Some have a lot of tall structures and are cut into different segments, so positioning is key to winning fights. Others are flat and open, inviting all-out brawls. I prefer the more vertical maps like Surreal Summit, N. Sanity Caverns, and City Scrape, but I liked playing all of them because each requires a different strategy. Nine maps may not seem like a lot, but Toys for Bob has done a great job making colorful, creative, and memorable environments to explore in your battle for Wumpa Fruit.
Naturally, there’s a Battle Pass, and each character can also be leveled up individually by completing challenges. Either way, the reward is the same: cosmetics. I’m not normally a fan of stuff like this, but Crash Team Rumble does it better than most games. It’s fun to dress Dingodile up like a hockey player, equip Tawna with a teddy bear backpack, or give Coco a cowboy hat. I’ve spent a lot of time with these characters and I enjoy going into a match knowing they’re mine, not a carbon copy of someone else’s or one of only a few skin options.
I think what truly holds Crash Team Rumble back from greatness, though, is a lack of alternate game modes. There’s a tutorial, practice matches (which don’t allow you to make progress toward unlocking anything), private matches for friends, and competitive matches. That’s it. There are no other game types to fool around in and no distinction between casual and ranked play. While matchmaking is fast and going from one game to the next is a breeze, there just isn’t a lot here. Crash Team Rumble is a lot of fun, and it’s easy to get into the “just one more match” cycle that leads to staying up until three in the morning, but not even the best games can survive a lack of variety for long. Crash Team Rumble is a very tasty bite of Wumpa Fruit. I just wish it was more filling.