Mobile tie-ins of popular video games have always been seen as lesser entities, with many being cynical cash grabs or little more than playable advertisements. Crash Bandicoot: On the Run – which finally brings the bandicoot to smartphones – clearly avoids that immediate pitfall, both looking and sounding like a proper Crash game. The characteristic running-into-the-screen platforming and Wumpa fruit collecting familiar to Crash Bandicoot fans clearly influenced the long popular Temple Run series so in many ways Crash Bandicoot: On the Run feels like a natural evolution for both.
The backstory for Crash Bandicoot: On the Run involves time travel (shocker, I know) but mainly serves as an excuse to bring together a rogue’s gallery of the Bandicoot’s most fearsome foes. In order to defeat these enemies, Crash must run and jump through a seemingly endless number of levels, collecting and crafting potions and weapons to send the baddies back to their own timelines. This basically translates to a lot of grinding through procedurally generated levels that all follow a similar template. This is both a blessing and a curse as it means a massive amount of content but it runs the risk of getting repetitive all too quickly.
Making your way across the world map has you following a linear path through various battles with Crash’s rivals but defeating them requires you to stock up on the aforementioned potions. The ingredients for these need to be collected through separate runs with specific items for each recipe available at different locations. Early on this gameplay loop settles in to a natural rhythm but later enemies require more and more potions, necessitating longer and longer grinds for materials, unless you pay for the premium crystal currency that speeds things up. These crystals can be used to circumvent the grind, buy extra skins for Crash and Coco, and even speed up the brewing of the potions themselves.
Just playing Crash Bandicoot: On the Run for a bit each day is entirely possible without spending real money but making any kind of genuine progress would take many hours of grinding. King provided us with a large number of crystals to enable a fuller playthrough which was welcome but the sheer number of menus and pop ups encouraging you to spend crystals to speed things up was ridiculously intrusive. I quickly came to resent even spending the free crystals as the game seems so cynically designed around the pay to play mechanics. As a King (and therefore, an Activision) joint this was not a surprise but I was taken aback by how embedded the premium crystal currency was.
Fortunately, the game involves more than just a string of story levels. As you unlock more of the game you’ll have access to timed runs, challenge runs and gem runs, all of which will push your running skills to the max. These have potential to be a reason to continue returning to the game but at the moment often feel too much like trial and error as there is no chance to react in many situations.
In conclusion, Crash Bandicoot: On the Run is pretty much exactly what you’d expect it to be, for better or worse. The basic game mechanics suit the bandicoot perfectly and it looks and sounds much like the recent Crash 4. If you’re prepared to deal with the endless demands to spend money or grind for hours then there is a ridiculous amount of content here. Alternatively if you just want to drop in now and again for a quick run then there will always be something for you to do here.