Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time Review
N. Sanely Good
When Crash Bandicoot made his triumphant return in 2017 in the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, it was fair to say that fans were joyous to be able to play remastered versions of the revered trio. It sold like hotcakes and nostalgia ran rampant, paving the path for Crash Bandicoot to make a comeback in the form of an all-new and original adventure. While a new Crash game sounds like a great idea, a huge question remained. Can developer Toys for Bob make a Crash Bandicoot game worthy of sitting alongside the originals? The answer to that question is a resounding “hell yeah”. Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time isn't just the best Crash Bandicoot game, but also one of the most impressive games to release this year to date, taking the foundations of what made the originals so loved, whilst garnishing it with a sprinkle of originality in the form of new playable characters and challenges.
Since being defeated by the titular marsupial at the finale of Crash Bandicoot: Warped, Uka Uka, Neo Cortex, and N. Tropy have tirelessly attempted to escape the time prison they were sucked into. Uka Uka finally manages to tear open a rift in time, causing him to pass out, allowing for Cortex and N. Tropy to finally escape. The rift has granted them access to all dimensions, and in a typical villainy fashion, they desire to conquer all of them. Sensing something isn't quite right, Aku Aku prompts Crash to see what's happening. Crash then finds Lani-Loli, one of the four Quantum Masks, that grants the user the ability to manipulate space and time. It's quickly established that in order for Crash, Coco and friends to save the multiverse from Cortex and N. Tropy, they must embark on a dimension-trotting journey through time to rescue the Quantum Masks and stop their foes from assuming control of all realities.
The narrative throughout Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time isn't going to have you quivering on the edge of your couch awaiting the next twist and turn, but that isn't what it's trying to do. The plot feels like that of a Saturday morning cartoon, and the quality cast of characters further solidify this claim. Crash, while not speaking, is still the loveable clutz he always has been, and Neo Cortex despite being an antagonist is such an endearing idiot. New playable characters Tawna and Dingodile also get more screen time than they've arguably ever had before and they are awesome also. The story on display is executed extremely well, with plenty of humour and references to prior Crash misadventures that will be appreciated by series diehards and newcomers alike.
Speaking of diehards and newcomers, you can tackle the journey of Crash 4 in either Retro or Modern mode. Retro mode offers you the ability to play in the usual Crash Bandicoot fashion, with a finite number of lives that when depleted will result in a game over, kicking you back to the start of the level. Modern mode caters to those who would rather not have the stress of losing lives and getting a game over weigh them down. You can die as many times as you want, resulting in an immediate respawn at the last activated checkpoint. If you're a stickler for a traditional by the books Crash experience play Retro mode, otherwise just stick to Modern mode.
Gameplay in Crash Bandicoot 4 is what you'd expect from a new entry in the Crash Bandicoot series. You make your way through countless levels across multiple different worlds, smashing as many crates and collecting as much Wumpa fruit as you possibly can. The somewhat finicky controls of the N. Sane trilogy are all but gone here, with Crash and Coco controlling far better than they arguably have before. Jumps are easier to time thanks to the refined controls, and the addition of a more pronounced jump shadow also makes it simpler to judge where you are going to land. The Quantum Masks also spice the gameplay up a bit, providing Crash and Coco with some interesting abilities, such as being able to slow down time to jump on fast moving platforms and nitro crates, or the ability to phase those objects in and out of existence. While these masks sound gimmicky, they fit in well with the design of each level and don't overstay their welcome. They also provide a fun challenge toward the end game in levels where you must make use of multiple masks in quick succession.
As mentioned earlier, Crash and Coco aren't the only playable characters here, with Tawna, Dingodile and Cortex all along for the ride. Their levels aren't as enjoyable as the bread and butter Crash and Coco experiences, but they are pretty damn close. Tawna makes use of a grappling hook to attack enemies and smash crates from afar, Dingodile makes use of his trusty vacuum gun to hover over gaps and suck up crates, while Cortex uses his Raygun to turn foes into whatever platforms permit at the time, such as solid and bouncy. Cortex's levels are the weakest in part due to his gun being somewhat frustrating to aim, but even then they are still a fun time. The fact that Toys for Bob added new playable characters with unique play styles and made them feel like they belong amongst the more traditional levels is truly commendable, and a testament to the solid gameplay and level design present throughout.
The valuable crystals Crash once collected in prior quests are gone, replaced instead by six clear gems that can be attained throughout each main level. Clear gems can be earned by collecting 40%, 60%, and 80% of Wumpa fruit, breaking all crates, dying less than 3 times, and finding the hidden gem somewhere in the level. Although you may feel confident in your ability to 100% a level on your first attempt, you likely won't because this game is damn hard. The Wumpa fruit gems will come to you quite easily, but the cleverly obscured crates and hidden gems are tricky to net on your first run. The gems for dying less than 3 times are some of the hardest to obtain, especially towards the end of the game as the difficulty ramps up even more. Each main level also contains an N. Sanely Perfect Relic that can be earnt by collecting all but the hidden gem in a single run without losing a life. These suckers are going to be the bane of completionists, but they offer up a thoroughly engaging and rewarding challenge for those who dare to try. Some levels even have Flashback Tapes for you to collect, which grant you the ability to play through tapes of the tests that Cortex ran on Crash prior to the events of the first game. These levels are smaller and also have different tiers of relics that can be unlocked depending on what criteria you satisfy.
When it comes to content and replayability, it's abundantly clear that Crash Bandicoot 4 has it in spades. Alongside the 38 levels with 228 clear gems and bevy of other collectibles, there are also 38 N. Verted levels with another 228 clear gems to collect. While they are essentially just mirror mode versions of the existing levels, the new visual filter adds a neat little gameplay twist that makes levels feel new and engaging. One style of N. Verted levels sees the map devoid of colour other than items such as crates and enemies. In order to easier see the path ahead, Crash can spin and fling paint on the surrounding area, bringing colour back to the level. The N. Verted levels serve as welcome additional content, padding out the game with even more fun.
There is even more content to toy with in the form of the multiplayer. Pass N. Play isn't exactly a mode, but it can be enabled from the main story mode. Up to 4 players take turns completing levels and must pass the controller to the next player when a pass condition is met, whether it be a death, a checkpoint, or both. The feature keeps track of how much Wumpa fruit each player has collected, how many crates they have destroyed, and how many times they've died, before tallying them up at the end of the level to reveal a winner. The mode isn't anything special, but it does allow you to take part in some friendly competition.
Bandicoot Battle serves as the more traditional multiplayer mode, containing two types of competition in the form of Checkpoint Race and Crate Combo. Checkpoint Race pits up to 4 players to race as fast as they can to the next checkpoint in the level. The player with the fastest time to the checkpoint is given a star, and the player with the most starts at the end of the level is crowned the victor. Crate Combo tasks you with destroying as many combo crates as you possibly can whilst keeping the combo chain going as you run to a checkpoint. The combo meter lasts for 5 seconds so you must be quick to destroy a set of crates before swiftly moving on to the next. The player with the most points at the checkpoint will be given a star, and the player with the most stars will win. While these modes will probably get overlooked by many, they provide decent fun if you want to play the game locally with family and friends.
At the end of the day, Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time is an extremely enjoyable game. It takes the characters and gameplay that made the franchise so beloved to begin with and manages to craft an experience that is arguably the Bandicoot's best yet. While its difficulty may be a detractor for some, it's a joy to play, the story is silly and amusing, and it's filled to brim with so much quality content that will keep completionists enthralled for a long time. If the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy wasn't proof enough that the Bandicoot is back, Crash Bandicoot 4 all but proves that the marvelous marsupial is deserving of more games yet.