Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time Review
It's been one heck of a rollercoaster for this franchise. Developer Naughty Dog left Crash, there were some less-than-stellar entries, but then there were a couple of awesome remasters. The turning point comes now with Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time, a reboot that will serve as a totemic example of how to bring back a beloved series in style. With a stunning mix of faithfulness and innovation, this is a celebratory synthesis well worth the wait.
Picking up 22 years after the events of Warped, Uka Uka opens a hole in the space-time continuum to break out of interdimensional prison. After passing out, evil doctors Neo Cortex and Nefarious Tropy escape in his stead. They then deduce that the hole Uka Uka made connects to the multiverse, so the baddies plot universe domination. Aku Aku, the good twin brother of Uka Uka, senses the danger and calls upon the Bandicoot siblings, Crash and Coco, for help. You will need to recover four of the Quantum Masks to help mend the fabric of space and time to save the multiverse.
The story stays within the trilogy's timeline but sometimes makes nods to the alternate universes that games like The Wrath of Cortex inhabit. Regardless of the slight confusion caused by the warp-jumping, this is a charming adventure. The half-hour of cutscenes is a joy to watch with their light-hearted humor. Crash himself is more loveable and lively than ever (this is the best character design yet,) and the supporting cast is also well-characterized with faithfully kooky personalities. It's like a Saturday morning cartoon with an ensemble cast of characters and exquisite animation.
Just How You Remember it... Almost
Crash 4 goes full cyclical in its initial presentation. You begin in the N. Sanity's Island and get straight into smashing crates, collecting mask power-ups, and platforming in a 3D (sometimes 2.5D) environment. After completing a couple of levels, you get access to the Dimensional Map, similar to Crash 1's top-down map. Every world takes place during a unique historical period and follows vastly different themes. So far, so familiar... until you get to new awesome abilities and memorable level design. This is not to mention three other characters you get to play as---with each bringing their own spin to the gameplay formula. Whether that may be turning enemies into platforms or using a grappling hook, I'll omit the details to let you play these segments fresh.
The game soon pulls the rug under both veteran and new players with its difficulty spikes and complexity. You will quickly gain access to futuristic, time-bending suits that are gained from the Quantum Masks characters. Lani-Loli, the first such of powers, grants you the ability to phase objects in and out of physical dimensions. Then, you'll find Akano, who gifts the power of Dark Matter. With this, your spin attacks will destroy everything in their path, along with the capability of gliding across vast distances. Crash 4 ingeniously tests your skills in using these masks in increasingly elaborate scenarios. There are two more, and the levels get a little open-ended with different pathways, making you sometimes forget that this is a platformer.
Mascot Animal Characters Sure Do Love Gems
You'll be jumping across rooftop buildings during a colorful urban festival, breaking through an ominous factory built on a canyon, and ascending Chinese castles atop mountains. The conceptual scope of these levels mirrors the replay value that comes with them. You see, the game presents you with a specific list of requirements to fulfill within each level. These include getting a particular percentage of Wumba fruit, breaking all crates, finishing with less than 4 deaths, and finding a hidden collectible. Each of these awards you with a Gem, which unlocks new outfits for Crash and Coco. I wish these unlocks were aggregative, but you will need to typically nab all 6 gems of each level to get a brand-spanking-new Skin.
Heck, almost every time you complete a world, the game presents you with even more reasons to repeat what you just finished. Maybe you'll want to play N.Verted Mode, which opens up new Gems to collect. Or, perhaps, the optional Timelines to see how the supporting characters crossed paths with the marsupial siblings. Moreover, the Flashback Tapes are a treat because they provide backstory on Cortex's experiments on Crash, trialing your mid-air crate-crushing skills. That's not to mention the Time Trials, flawless runs, and more. It can get overwhelming, but you can work around this by naturally getting to grips with a level with the mindset of returning to it later. Overall, it's a challenging treat to get the chance to flex every fiber of your gaming being. Crash 4, then, encapsulates the ideal gaming formula---testing skills, unlocking rewards, and amassing a gratifying collection.
Bandicoot Bragging Rights
Bandicoot Battle lets you play against 3 other players in two different game types. These are Checkpoint Race and Crate Combo. The former pits players against each in a race against time from checkpoint to checkpoint, and the one who achieves the shortest minute marks prevails. The other mode is similar, but how quickly and successively you build your crate-destroying combo meter determines your final score. An important thing to note is that each player passes the controller along with each turn, making for some fiercely competitive but enjoyable sessions. You can also pass N. play during any other level, just like the good ol' days.
Slight Fractures in the Time Warp and Nefarious Boss Phases
The only flaws in this gem are minor ones, but they are still worth noting. The music, while having some funky beats, is not as atmospheric as the original soundtracks. Elements of exotica and techno from Josh Mancell's work from the first 3 games are not implemented as much as they could be. This harms Crash's identity quite a bit, and it is more glaring, considering this is a continuation of the original trilogy. At least the different variations of the original theme are pretty nostalgic.
There's also the overabundance of conditions to be met for collectibles. I wish it were more relaxed like Toys For Bob's previous game, Spyro Reignited Trilogy, which handles completion progress much better by feeling less like a chore and aggregating rewards. It doesn't help your search for secrets when restarting a level takes a lengthy load time. You'll probably have to endure this when you die from a cheap game over---dying from merely touching an enemy or piece of the environment should be abandoned from games altogether. Otherwise, the difficulty feels dynamic and fair, especially during boss fights. These test your timing, platforming, and other abilities in well-thought-out phases.
Toys For Bob Are Toys For All
I just wanted to express some further praise towards Toys For Bob. They near-enough nailed the essence of the platformer genre with this game. It stays true to the foundations of Crash so well that I felt like I was transported back to my childhood. At the same time, however, it shall remind you of the power of modern-day technology. The gameplay is refined to delicate depths not found in previous generations, and the admittedly rocky hurdle towards collectibles is made all-the-more exhilarating for that reason. This game also marks the perfection of the cartoony aesthetic - never have I seen presentation and character expression that matches most animated shows, but here we are---the dawn of a new era. Toys For Bob have outdone themselves with one of the most stellar platformers in PlayStation history.
A Superb Balancing Act
Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time is a testament to old-school gaming and modern sensibilities. It balances the old and the new with grace, offering up a riot of radical changes while keeping the prime platforming appeal intact. All the while, the animation and art style propels the experience, making you feel like you're watching your favorite cartoon. Ultimately, this all results in Crash's most astonishing adventure yet.
You can buy Crash Bandicoot 4 on PSN here.