After over a decade without a release, Crash is back, for real this time.Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time seeks to reestablish the brand as a series of quality platformers. Crash and Coco have had a bit of a rough time ever since Crash Team Racing, the last game developed by series creators Naughty Dog. After the success of the Vicarious Visions developed N. Sane Trilogy, a remake of the original three games, Toys For Bob takes the helm for the next numbered installment, twenty two years later.
It’s About Time picks up about a decade after the end of Warped, with villains Cortex, N. Tropy, and Uka Uka trapped in the past. While Dr. Cortex has given up on any hope of returning to his time, N. Trophy and Uka Uka suddenly succeed in opening a portal back home. Meanwhile, Crash and Coco are relaxing on their home island of N. Sanity when there is a sudden disturbance at the mountain’s peak. Upon investigation, they find one of the four Quantum Masks recently awakened after Cortex stole the other three. The Bandicoots then set off across time and space to stop Cortex once again. While I don’t think anyone is looking for a deep story in a Crash Bandicoot game, I have to say I really enjoyed the dialogue in cutscenes. It never takes itself too seriously and practically every joke sticks the landing. Coco is a highlight, being the speaking half of the siblings, and her new voice actress really captures her smart yet silly personality. The new visual style is more of a Saturday Morning Cartoon vibe and it fits the game perfectly as well. It leans less towards realism than the N. Sane Trilogy and I think makes for a much better looking game; character models especially just fit better in their environments.
While we’re comparing Crash 4 to the Trilogy, those who played that game (or games, as it were) will feel right at home here – it controls almost exactly the same. Crash and Coco (who you can switch between at any time on the Dimensional Map) feel very responsive to control and come equipped with the double jump and slam from the start. While you never acquire any new moves for the duo, the lack of upgrades makes it possible to collect everything in your first run of almost every level. Each stage has six objectives to accomplish to earn gems, which unlock costumes. You can earn the first three gems by collecting 40%, 60%, and 80% of the Wumpa Fruit in the level respectively, another by breaking every single crate, and one more by dying three times or less. Finally, every level has a single gem hidden somewhere to collect. Unlike previous games, you only need to reach the end of a level to progress, there are no crystals to collect. The game also ditches the warp rooms of 2 and 3 in favor of more linear progression on a world map like the first game. While I do miss the freedom of choosing levels in any order and the atmosphere of previous hub areas, the Dimensional Map presented here is visually interesting and lets you choose when to tackle optional levels. Each level also has an N Verted version which is mirrored along with another visual effect, depending on the world, and contains even more gems to collect. Every world has three to four levels in it, so while you’ll never stick with a single theme for very long there is quite a lot to come back and do.
The levels themselves follow the design trends in the original trilogy, while expanding on them with various mechanics such as the Quantum Masks’ powers of slowing time or flipping gravity. It feels like a natural evolution and gets extremely difficult later on; I died about 25 times in one of the final levels and took so long the music stopped looping. Thankfully, you can play the game in two modes: Modern, which simply counts how many times you die, and Retro, which uses the classic lives system where if you run out you start the level over. Even if you’re a veteran of the series having done all the relic challenges and collected every colored gem (both of which return here), I highly recommend playing on Modern your first time around. This game is hard. Like, really hard. It expects you to have essentially mastered your moveset around a third of the way through and doesn’t pull any punches from then on. There were even a few obstacles, especially in bonus stages, that took me a while to figure out what I even needed to do, let alone actually putting that into practice. That being said, it is a ton of fun to have Crash 4 beat you up and take your lunch money. Every level introduces a mechanic and fully explores it by the end, even if overall I felt levels were just a bit too long. The unlockable Flashback levels, which you gain access to by collecting a tape in some levels without dying, are very fun and it is a challenge to figure out how to break every box and still make it to the end.
Some levels will see you playing as characters other than Crash and Coco, like an alternate dimension version of Tawna, a retired Dingodile, and even Cortex. They all have unique mechanics and a different focus in the design of their levels. Tawna has a grappling hook to compliment her more speedy and acrobatic style, Cortex uses his ray gun to turn enemies into platforms, and Dingodile can use his vacuum gun to suck up TNT to fire at enemies or objects. They’re all a lot of fun to play as (Tawna especially, since her levels feel more “3D’ than anyone else’s) but they don’t control as tightly as Crash and Coco. For example, Dingodile can also use his vacuum to hover for a short time by holding the jump button, which can sometimes go off when you don’t want it to or you can miss the opportunity by releasing the button and trying to use it like a double jump. Tawna’s wall jump in particular is difficult to get to work most of the time. Even with these problems, I still hope they come back in future games since they’re just so darn fun to use and break up the more intense levels with Crash and Coco.
Special mention should be made of how much love and care went into this game. I said in my preview that I thought it was a bit disrespectful of previous developers to say that they had only beaten Cortex three times, but I was proven wrong ten times over by the rest of Crash 4. There are subtle references to just about every single game in the franchise, from CTR to the GameBoy Advance titles. The music especially draws from Crash’s past, most notably a leitmotif from the original’s main theme. As someone who grew up playing these games (for context, I was less than a year old when the first game came out), it’s a joy to see that Toys for Bob loves the series as much as I do, even the bad games. It’s About Time not only fits alongside the beloved trilogy, but surpasses it. Aside from issues with the new playable characters, everything feels just right or flat out improved like the way they emphasised drop shadows to help land those tricky jumps. Levels are so well designed that tutorials feel unnecessary, often telling you things you already know or can intuit. The game even has a few accessibility options, such as disabling motion blur, adjusting the subtitles size and font, or adjusting visuals for colorblindness. Whether you’re returning to the series or jumping in for the first time, this is the new best Crash Bandicoot game.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time
Crash 4 will delight fans new and old with its stylized visuals, delightful sense of humor, and hard as nails platforming. While the new characters have a few control issues, the game is an absolute blast from start to finish.