When it comes to art books, there’s no real middle ground for me. I either absolutely love it and want to make it a part of my library OR there’s something about it that infuriates me. Maybe the art book turned out to be a ‘screenshot book’ with little to no art in it. Or maybe it showed off incredible concept art and designs; but the book itself ended up being so absurdly tiny, that is feels more like a ‘pre-order bonus’ after thought. As far as I’m concerned, a good art book needs to check off at least 2 of following 3 questions: (1) Does it have any actual artwork from the creative/ art team? (2) Does it contain any commentary about their process/ direction? (3) Does the book feel like a celebration of all their hard work and imagination?
A couple months ago, I got to review The Art of Spyro: Reignited Trilogy; and it not only surpassed all of my expectations of what an art book could be, but it also helped me quantify those 3 above criteria. As such, when I learned that Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time was also getting an art book, I was beyond excited. For starters, unlike Spyro: Reignited, Crash 4 was going to be a completely new entry into the franchise. That would mean loads of artwork for ‘alternate’ and – potentially – ‘cut’ content! Though the biggest draw for me was that the majority of those associated with The Art of Spyro book – both on the artist/ creative end and on the author/ publisher end – were working on this project as well!
So here I am, with an early review copy of The Art of Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time in hand. Does it live up to these expectations? Does it match – or even outshine – The Art of Spyro book? And most importantly, does it fulfill those previous 3 criteria I gave? The short version: N. Sanely so! The full answer/ review: Keep reading!
Seeing as the Art of Crash Bandicoot only deals with a single game, one might think it’ll be smaller than the Art of Spyro: Reignited Trilogy. WRONG! At over 300 pages and 11.75 x 10.25 inches, this art book is actually larger than its predecessor. Again, as this is the first new game for franchise in years, there’s a lot more in this book in terms of conceptualization and unused designs. The first few segments of this book are all about how the team approached adding a new canon installment to this decades-old franchise and how they took inspiration from Vicarious Visions’s N. Sane Trilogy, the cartoons that originally inspired Crash, as well as what they learned from making the Spyro: Reignited Trilogy.
“We wanted to take that core aesthetic direction of Spyro and dial things up to eleven! Where Spyro’s world was whimsical and playful, Crash’s world would be wild and chaotic”
– Josh NadelBerg, Art Director
The next section dives into the designs of the new Quantum Masks; and whereas there’s only 4 in the game, there’s loads of unused mask designs in here. While Kapuna-Wa, Ika-Ika and Akano all had pretty solid direction from the start, our favorite little 4th-Wall-Breaker Lani-Loli went through quite a few different looks before his final form was settled upon. Though the true highlight of this section are all the unused mask designs. Ghostly masks, forest masks, mechanized skull masks and what I can only describe as a ‘bearded banana mask’! Seeing these unused designs are fantastic; and there’s a surprising number that I’d love to see make an appearance in a future game – if only to be a snack for the “giant mask-eating monster from beyond the stars” Kupuna-Wa teased in her opening cutscene.
The next section goes into the remaining Heroes & Villains of the game while the remainder of the book – over 250 pages – is a massive exposition of commentary, creature designs, environmental art and even storyboards all broken down and arranged Level-By-Level. For comparison, ‘The Art of Spyro’ book largely kept Creature and Environmental art separate; but now having seen both, I think I actually prefer this organizational method. It just tells a much better story and really does a wonderful job of detailing everything that inspired a specific world. This is especially true for a worlds like Mosquito Marsh, which just feel like a pure celebration of everything Mardi Gras/ Carnival.
Similarly, the commentary offers a wonderful insight to each aspect of a level. For example, the moment I saw a screenshot of Crash running past what appeared to be an alien janitor in the reveal trailer, I immediately freaked out because it looked like they were extrapolating Nitros Oxide’s design from Crash Team Racing to come up with his actual race of aliens. So reading Nicholas Kole’s commentary on how he went about creating this Gasmoxian race was an absolute treat!
All in all, this is another home run in terms of art books. It’s not only filled to the brim with stunning and inspiring art, but also gives load of insights into the team’s process. Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time definitively showed that the franchise’s glory days aren’t confined to solely remakes; but rather lie ahead of it as it transitions into the modern era. As such, The Art of Crash Bandicoot is a pure celebration of what the Toys for Bob team did and how they brought Crash Bandicoot into the future while still holding onto all the love of the past!
The Art of Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is available for Pre-Order where most books are sold and will be released on December 8th!