Crash Bandicoot is a franchise that has been twisted, spun and thrown around carelessly for the best part of a decade. For a long time, it seemed that we would never get another truly fantastic entry for what was once a PlayStation icon. Horrid spin-offs and strange departures like Crash: Mind over Mutant certainly didn’t help, killing the marsupial before he even got a chance to stretch his legs in the modern gaming landscape.
But finally, a true sequel to Naughty Dog’s fantastic original trilogy is finally here in the form of Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time. Coming from the developers of the excellent Spyro Reignited Trilogy, Toys for Bob certainly had their work cut out for them. Can it live up to the lofty expectations of hardcore Crash fans (like myself), or is the series doomed to mediocrity? Let’s take a detailed look at the long-awaited follow-up!
Story – Basic but Fun
Unsurprisingly, Crash Bandicoot 4’s story is, well, about time. The game jumps right off of where Crash Bandicoot: Warped ended, as Uka Uka accidentally rips a whole into space and time. Neo Cortex and N. Tropy both escape, and the rest of the game see Crash and Coco bouncing around different worlds and times, attempting to collect all 4 Quantum Masks to fix the multiverse and defeat the villains. Along the way, they meet other characters such as Tawna and Dingodile, who assist them on their quest.
The story is simple and comedic, but it works for this kind of game. It’s not going to blow anyone’s minds, but the meta-references to past titles and Saturday morning cartoon vibe to the writing all combine to make for an enjoyable story. While it is mostly aimed at kids, it’s entertaining enough for all ages and does its job well. The game doesn’t take itself seriously at all, and with all of the different characters, at its best moments, it feels like a celebration for all Crash fans.
Gameplay – Linear Platforming Refined
I’m going to split this section into two parts because of my praise and issues with the game fall under two different categories:
The actual gameplay itself and the way the game is structured as a whole.
Controls & Level Design
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time controls fantastically well, even better than the N-Sane Trilogy’s often inconsistent physics and hit-boxes. Crash and Coco move fluently, quickly and precisely with controls that will be familiar to any Crash veteran, yet easy to learn for a newbie. Unlike other titles, Crash/Coco has all of their moves right off the bat, with his trademark spin, slam, slide-jump and double jump all available from the first level of the game. The game even has an optional shadow highlight, which puts a yellow ring underneath Crash. This makes it much easier for newer plays to get accustomed to Crash’s jump arc.
Crash 4’s great controls all translate to its new playable characters, but to varying degrees of success.
Dingodile and Cortex both control vastly different to Crash and provide a healthy dose of variety to help spice things up. Dingodile is weighty and has a vacuum that he uses to suck up crates, enemies and help him hover over obstacles. Cortex also feels heavier than Crash and has a ray gun that transforms enemies into platforms and a dash move that can quickly move him across the stage. I really enjoyed both of these characters, and I never felt like they were ever over-used. Most of their levels are also optional, too, although the optional levels are akin more to filler rather than fantastic new content.
Tawna, on the other hand, doesn’t fare as well. Her move set is extremely similar to Crash, and her new moves like the grapple hook and wall jump are mostly contextual. As a result, she doesn’t really add anything to the gameplay and just plays like a slower, less nimble Crash.
Luckily, the game’s level design remains stellar throughout the whole main story. The linear levels of the past are back, and they are better than ever.
All of the classic Crash staples are still here; smashing boxes, Aku-Aku, and collecting gems all make their comeback into the modern era but are freshened up with Crash 4’s excellent levels. There is fantastic variety in the way the levels are structured, with some gimmicks that never overstay their welcome, but they are also challenging. This is one aspect I was afraid would be ignored due to a potential focus on children and a new audience. But Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is surprisingly just as (if not more so in some instances) difficult as Naughty Dog’s original trilogy. From prehistoric romps to space-ship escapes, Crash 4 always freshens things up with fun and frenetic levels. Whenever the game introduces a new mechanic or level quirk, it always pushes the concept to the limit, leading to a satisfying and earned difficulty curve.
However, there are quite a few of Crash 4’s levels that drag on for far too long. There are 43 levels in the game, and when some of the levels can last 10-15 minutes on a first attempt, it can make it extremely frustrating to realise you missed 1 box out of 500. Luckily the game doesn’t punish death as hard as the other titles, instead offering a recommended ‘Modern’ mode, which disables lives entirely. If you’re a nostalgia lover, you can still turn on ‘Retro’ mode, which treats lives the same as previous entries; you run out, it’s game over.
Crash 4’s 100% Quest is Almost Impossible
Getting 100% in any of the original three Crash games is almost another entire game in itself. You’ve only truly scratched the surface of those games if you just bee-lined it to the end. While it was always incredibly difficult, attaining that coveted 100% in those games was always achievable and not overwhelming, with a fair amount of boxes and relics to collect.
Unfortunately, Crash 4 does not fare the same fate. In fact, its 100% quest is so poorly structured, it weighs the game down for me.
It is obvious Toys for Bob knew this was an important aspect of the game, but they have gone about it in an absolutely horrific way. For one, not only is there a gem for each level for breaking every box, but those come in addition to wumpa collection gems, a gem which requires you to beat a level with 3 deaths or less, and hidden gems. That may not seem bad until you realise that you have to do all of these gems all over again in ‘N-Verted Mode.’ Oh, and all N-Verted Mode does is slap a Photoshop filter on top of the game.
It is a ridiculous decision and means that you will have to play every level over and over and over again if you want to fully complete it. As a result, getting 100% is extremely mundane, frustrating, and unrealistic. And I haven’t even mentioned that there are Flashback tapes, which have to be acquired by getting to a certain point of a level (usually about 2 thirds of the way through) without dying once. There are 21 of these levels and also alternate timeline levels, which makes you replay an alternate version of a level with a different character (like Cortex or Tawna).
When you combine all of these, along with the fact that some of the levels are overly long, it makes Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time’s 100% quest the equivalent of slamming your head against a Nitro crate.
Graphics & Audio – Eye-Popping Perfection
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is absolutely stunning. The art style is cartoony and vivid, with fantastic settings and colours. The characters all burst into life with bouncy and fluid animation, and the backgrounds are also great. Every little enemy and obstacle has their own personality, and even tell their own small stories in a similar way to the recent Donkey Kong Country games.
To top it off, while many were skeptical of the new designs changing from the N-Sane Trilogy, the modern takes on these classic characters are great. It’s About Time truly brings Crash and his compatriots into the new age with excellent re-designs that remain faithful to the vision of Naughty Dog.
The audio in Crash 4 is also great. While the game retains classic sounds like Aku-Aku and crate bashing, Toys for Bob has created all new music of its own. There’s an excellent variety of tunes that all match their setting fantastically. The weird and wonderful New Orleans’ styled level is a particular highlight.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time was reviewed on PS4 Pro.