I settle in at my desk and click on the game tile on the PlayStation 4’s main menu. It starts to load in, passing by all the various warnings and logos, eventually settling on the main menu. The music kicks in and I’m struck by nostalgia. The office around me fades and I find myself back in that small living room of my dad’s dinky trailer, the PlayStation 1 in front of me, plugged into a massive old television set.
The room is dark, save for the light of the television. It all goes black, the image of Crash Bandicoot circling and then falling flat on his back. The screen fades and is replaced by another with bright yellow words that read “GAME OVER”. I stretch and look at the clock, realizing its almost six in the morning. I’m not feeling all that tired, though, so I navigate to the Yes option underneath the big continue button and press X on my controller. Fast forward almost twenty years and boom, I’m sprinting headlong through N. Sanity Island. The original graphics from the PS1 are replaced by high definition models and smoother colors. Despite the fact that twenty years have passed since I sat in that living room playing through Crash Bandicoot, I feel at home as I dive into the newest adventure in the foolish bandicoot's story.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time does a fantastic job of capturing what I loved about the original games while also adding modern twists that help to push it forward. The introduction of new powers and even new moves like wall-running really help to spice up a game formula that might have grown stale by now. Unfortunately, all the innovation of the title falls short at times thanks to somewhat frustrating puzzles that will leave many players wanting to take a break. If you can push through, though, Crash 4 stands to be an instant classic that we'll remember for a while to come.
Wibbly wobbly, time-y wimey stuff
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time picks up where the story left off. Cortex and N. Tropy are trapped in their prison in the past. Unfortunately, they’re able to break out with the help of Uka Uka. The result is a rift in the very fabric of time and space, allowing Cortex and N. Tropy to escape. Having schemed up a new devilish plan, the two join forces with Doctor N. Gin and Doctor Nitrus Brio to build an army and take over the multiverse.
That’s where everyone’s favorite bandicoot comes in. Having sensed the disturbance in time, Aku Aku rushes Crash and Coco to the top of N. Sanity Peak, where they discover Lani-Loli, one of four Quantum Masks with the power to control various aspects of time and space. Lani-Loli joins them on their quest and thus begins a tromp through various time periods. The campaign itself is a joyous romp through a variety of levels, all of which come with their own unique challenges and encounters.
The classic Crash Bandicoot formula is constantly in effect, though the addition of the new masks does bring some fun powers for players to master. If you enjoyed the challenge and frustration of the original Crash series, then you’re going to feel right at home in Crash Bandicoot 4, though that’s something we’ll talk a bit more about in a moment.
As far as the story itself goes, Crash Bandicoot 4 does a great job of continuing the crazy bandicoot’s legacy. The cutscenes are absolutely gorgeous and the performances from all of the voice actors is commendable. Nothing ever feels off about the visuals or the narrative, and that’s something I can definitely appreciate from a series so grounded in old-school platformer mechanics.
Not for the faint of heart
Of course, one of the most intriguing parts of the Crash Bandicoot formula has always been its difficulty and It’s About Time never disappoints. The levels are challenging and often frustrating – especially as you start using more of the quantum powers that you’ve unlocked. Having to learn to juggle and master the various powers can be difficult, and there are even certain points later in the campaign where you might find yourself racking up multiple deaths just to get through a puzzle sequence.
Thankfully, the super frustrating bits are not too overwhelming, though the ending levels will be the most difficult you come across throughout the game. Everything feels right at home in the formula, and there are even plenty of the iconic “run away from 'x' thing” areas in the game, too. Like the original, these force you to act quickly as you move away from some kind of enemy, and while I did find myself struggling on a few iffy jumps, for the most part it was easy enough to get through.
The most difficult part, though, comes at the end. During some of the last levels you’re forced to move through puzzle areas that require you to quickly adapt and change from one power to the next – which is done by picking up the different masks. There are four powers to work through. One that allows you to swap dimensional items, phasing different things in and out. Another power allows you to flip gravity. A third mask power will give you black hole-like abilities, allowing you to jump much further distances in the air. Finally, the last mask will allow you to slow time down for a few seconds.
The new powers do really well throughout the majority of the game, but the final levels that force you to constantly swap between them could prove overly frustrating for players who aren’t exceptionally skilled at platformers. If you love the Crash Bandicoot series, though, you’re probably going to fair well enough throughout most of the challenges.
I should preface this next portion of the review by saying that I went into Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time fully expecting to fall in love with it. Everything about the game’s reveal – from the surprise debut in June, to the promotion materials leading up to it – felt good and I was excited to see what the series had to offer in its latest incarnation. What I wasn’t expecting, though, was to fall quite as hard as I did.
Despite the frustrations that I might have run into, Crash Bandicoot 4 feels like everything you could ever want in a new Crash game. It builds off the old-school mechanics, adding new features and abilities. On top of that, players will also have the opportunity to play as four other characters, including Crash’s ex-girlfriend Tawna, Dingodile, Coco, and Cortex himself. The additional levels for Tawna, Dingo, and Cortex add even more weight to the narrative and mostly run alongside the main levels that feature Crash and Coco. While they come off as optional, I’d highly recommend anyone playing through the game take the time to play these levels as you unlock them, as they offer a nice additional perspective of the campaign’s events.
Playing as the different characters also grants you a look at some new mechanics to use as well. Instead of double jumping, Dingodile uses a large vacuum-like device to traverse gaps. This allows him to glide for a few seconds before being shot upward by a puff of air. Tawna, who is one of the most enjoyable characters to play as, comes with a new grappling-hook like item. This allows you to shoot onto various walls and break boxes that are far away, granting new means of traversing the levels that you come across. Coco is still a mix of the same mechanics and abilities that Crash has to offer. Finally, Cortex does away with the need for a double jump, instead he uses a block gun that allows him to turn enemies into solid blocks or even gelatin blocks that he can use to jump higher. When you combine this with his dash move you find yourself approaching the levels in ways that you couldn't with other characters.
Everything about Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time feels perfect. Yeah, the game can be frustrating, and there are a few hiccups here and there, but for the most part the formula is still solid. The addition of new mechanics helps to bring the old-school design forward, and the overall design of the game – from levels to characters and beyond – is splendid. It will only take you around 10 hours or so to play through most of the main content (including many of the side levels unlocked for each character), so there’s no real long commitment unless you’re going for 100% completion. Of course, the 10 hour estimate doesn't include the optional content like Flashback Tapes, N. Verted Mode levels, and collecting all of the crates, gems, and other items found throughout the storyline.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time was a big surprise when it was announced back in June of this year. Through all of the trials and tribulations that 2020 has seen, seeing a game that has such a deep and rooted history come back with new ideas was both refreshing and inspiring. Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is a surprise classic that’s sure to delight old fans of the franchise and even make some new ones along the way.
This review is based on a code provided by the publisher. Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is now available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time
- New abilities and mechanics add fresh twists to the gameplay
- Smooth gameplay and cutscenes
- Classic Crash formula still feels great
- Multiple playable characters
- Some puzzles feel overly complex