Tom Quirk plays a lot of video games, but when he isn't, he is reading fantasy novels and watching way more television than is healthy.
Xbox One, PS4
October 2, 2020
Toys for Bob
Crash Bandicoot is back with a new adventure, promising to be the true successor to Naughty Dog’s original platformer trilogy. Crash’s new developers, Toys for Bob, had some big shoes to fill to not just recapture the old Crash Bandicoot spirit, but to bring a new dimension to the spinning marsupial and reinvent him for a modern audience. Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time does a lot to keep Crash Bandicoot’s mechanics relevant, without sacrificing the series’ charm (or notorious level of difficulty).
Crash Bandicoot 4 opens with Crash and Coco savouring their victory over the villainous Dr. Neo Cortex in Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped. Unfortunately, Cortex has managed to escape his interdimensional prison with the help of N. Tropy, and has managed to tear holes in space and time . What follows is a cartoony romp through various different worlds as the Bandicoot siblings seek to prevent the end of time itself. There is somewhat more of a focus on the plot compared to the barebones setups of previous games. but not so much that it distracts from the action.
What I love about Crash Bandicoot 4’s presentation is how expressive everyone is. Although the graphics were modernised, the Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy felt held back, having to be faithful to the often-stiff and limited animations of the PS1 originals. Crash 4’s cutscenes go full on with the Looney Tunes-esque nonsensical physics and slapstick comedy. This isn’t even mentioning the special N.Verted levels, which utilise various out-there art styles for each level to make them especially visually stunning.
Regarding the way it plays, if you’ve played the N. Sane Trilogy, a lot of Crash Bandicoot 4 will feel quite familiar. You still are travelling through mostly linear levels, breaking all the boxes and likely dying a lot. The player also starts with the Double Jump ability from the start, so there are more complex platforming challenges earlier on. Crash and Coco (both of whom are fully playable this time) have a few new moves in their repertoire, such as Ratchet & Clank-style grinding sections, wall-running and swinging on ropes across gaps. Special masks in later levels provides temporary abilities, allowing the player to phase between two states of reality, slowing down time, reversing gravity and becoming a flying tornado of death. It definitely shows a desire to be recognisable to fans, while still taking notes from 24 years of evolution in the 3D platformer genre.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time still captures that classic sense of challenge, but some measures have been taken to make the game less frustrating. The lives system is now optional, allowing the player to throw themselves at challenges as many times as they like without fear of getting a Game Over. There is a small yellow reticule below the player character, making it much clearer where they will land after a jump. Also, there are now mid-boss checkpoints, finally ensuring players don’t have to take the whole fight from the top every time they die.
On the other hand, what one hand giveth, the other taketh away. Levels are now substantially longer than in previous games, with crate counts of around 200 being close to the norm. It is even more aggravating than normal if you get to the end and are only one or two crates short. Admittedly, the only benefit to breaking crates, collecting Wumpa Fruit and minimising the number of deaths is unlocking Gems. Gems can be used to unlock neat, but purely cosmetic, skins for Crash and Coco. The game is manageable if you just want to get to the end. Indeed, I was able to enjoy the experience a lot more when I let go of my perfectionist instincts and allowed myself to ignore difficult optional objectives. However, anyone attempting to 100% complete the game is likely looking at a frustrating time.
“It is almost always clear what sequence of moves is required to get through an obstacle; all you need to do is master the timing and reflexes.”
The lack of a lives system ensures the game is difficult, without being unplayable and frustrating. It is almost always clear what sequence of moves is required to get through an obstacle; all you need to do is master the timing and reflexes. It didn’t always feel entirely fair, mind; Crash and Coco are not quite as responsive as you might prefer, and the hit-boxes on some enemy attacks and stage hazards can often feel arbitrary as to whether you are damaged or not. The fact that multiple crates are placed below TNT crates is particularly aggravating, as whether your sliding into the bottom crate detonates the explosive above it and kills you often feels left up to chance.
As a diversion from the regular Crash and Coco levels, Crash Bandicoot 4 has semi-optional extra levels where you play as other characters. Dingodile, Tawna and Dr. Cortex all play fairly similarly to the main duo, but have their own special gimmicks. Dingodile can glide, as well as suck up and shoot out crates and explosives. Tawna has a grappling hook which lets her attack at a distance and reach distance ledges. Finally, Cortex can turn enemies into floating platforms to make up for his lack of a double jump. I enjoyed the way these characters mixed up the gameplay, without it feeling too unfamiliar, unlike the annoying jet-ski or bike levels in Crash Bandicoot 3. That said, considering all of them specialise in projectile attacks, it would be good if there was a way to reliably aim at a target without the finnicky auto-aim. Even a manual aim mechanic, like how the Wumpa Bazooka worked in Crash 3, would at least have made Tawna’s grappling hook or Cortex’s blaster more helpful against distant enemies.
Overall, I finished the main story of Crash Bandicoot 4, and have only scratched the surface of what it has to offer. There are bonus levels I missed, as well as hidden Coloured Gems unlocked via secret means in certain levels. The Time Trial mode is still here, and more challenging than ever for those looking to earn Platinum Relics. Every level has a mirrored N. Verted mode, which has a cool art style, wonky physics and their own share of Gems. I don’t think I will have the patience to 100% complete the game, but there is still a lot more I want to try out.
While the Crash Bandicoot franchise has seen a lot of ups and downs after the original trilogy, it finally seems to have found a great home with Toys for Bob. With Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, they have proven that they understand what makes a great Crash Bandicoot game, and that there is plenty of potential in this franchise yet. There is tons to do, with more variety and content than any of its forebears. If you’re looking to unlock every Gem and relic, you’re going to have your work cut out for you. It’s not for the faint of heart, but Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is a ton of fun for those looking for a challenge. Fans of the franchise can rest assured that Crash is in safe hands.