Crash Bandicoot is back and Toys For Bob, the studio responsible for likes of Spyro Reignited Trilogy, Skylanders series, and the Switch port of Crash: N.Sane Trilogy has hit yet another home run. But this time, they have outdone themselves with Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time. This new installment of Crash not only pays homage to classics but it also re-writes the history of the franchise.
The studio took a bold move of moving past the likes of Crash Bash, TwinSanity, including the whole extended Crashverse. Now, it’s all a clean slate after Naughty Dog’s Crash Bandicoot: Warped. The payoff has been huge. Vicarious Visions’ N.Sane Trilogy brought back old school goodness and with Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, the formula been refined more than ever before. Still, how well does it stack up with the classics? Is it really a worthy sequel? Well, let’s go down this one heck of a rollercoaster and find that for ourselves.
A Blast to the Past
The game picks right after the events of Warped following the defeat of Uka-Uka, Nefarious Tropy, and Doctor Neo Periwinkle Cortex at the hands of our Wumpa fruit lover hero Crash Bandicoot. The trio is now stuck in a space prison and is continuing their relentless efforts of breaking free. In his latest efforts, Uka-Uka manages to make a tear in the fabric of space-time and loses consciousness.
This opens up a rift – a gateway to the multiverse. Cortex and his partner-in-crime see this as an opportunity to take over the multiverse and escape while leaving behind Uka-Uka. Uka-Uka’s wise brother Aku senses this spatial disruption and teams up with Crash and Coco to find the four Quantum Masks. And thus the adventure begins. Crash, alongside his sister Coco and Aku, set out on an adventure to put a stop to the evil schemes of Neo Cortex and Nefarious Tropy. They are also occasionally joined by Tawna (Crash’s old girlfriend) and Dingodile from alternate dimensions.
Despite the gameplay being the focus of the title, Crash 4 puts a genuine amount of love and care in its story without hampering its gameplay. The cutscenes often contain goofy-ass animations and a hilarious string of one-liners. All this is done through short bursts of cutscenes that last less than a minute or so. As a whole package, everything seems to click here while wrapping up a surprisingly good story. Even if there’s a good amount of material to familiarize you with the story, I would definitely recommend you to play 2017’s N.Sane Trilogy to get a better perspective of everything.
Characters and Playstyles
Crash Bandicoot 4 wears its predecessors’ old school yet timeless gameplay as a badge of honor. In addition to that, there are some new tangible additions that allow us to play with new perspectives without hampering the spirit of the classics. One of the prominent addition to that is the ability to play as five distinct characters, each having their own play style.
First, up are Crash and Coco. They both share the same signature spin and jump attacks to take down foes. They can move around levels by rope-swinging, zip-lining, wall-running, and rail-grinding. In addition to that, both can equip Quantum Masks to bend the rules of space and time in their favor. You can freely swap between Crash and Coco at each level. The entire game can be played as either Crash or Coco. From the gameplay perspective, both play the same. Personality-wise, it’s a whole other story.
Next up is Crash’s ex Tawna and her grappling hook. This babe can jump between walls, grapple onto a distant crate, and features the same spin attack. She’s more agile than others and nothing seems out of reach while you are in her shoes.
After having his restaurant blown to pieces due to the fallout from Cortex’s latest evil schemes, Dingodile is out for revenge. The mammal-reptile hybrid thing can do tail-slapping attacks along with air-gunning crates and TNTs while hover-jumping his way to revenge. Speaking of jumping distances, even the closest thing can seem much farther in his shoes.
Lastly, Crash’s all-time nemesis Neo Cortex is also featured in a few levels with his own timelines like Tawna and Dingodile. The evil scientist can air-dash and use his laser-gun to turn enemies into jelly jumping-pads and platforms.
While Cortex may feel a little restricted in his movements, I did have a great experience playing as these characters. The change in playstyles may hinder your muscle memory for a while though.
Quantum Masks and the Levels
The coolest additions to the bag beside the characters are the Quantum Masks that allow you to bend the rules of space and time. Lani-Loli Phase mask allows you phase in and out of objects, ‘Akano Dark Matter Mask allows to spin immensely while hovering large distances, Kupuna Wa Time Mask lets you slow-down time for few seconds and lastly, Ika Ika Gravity allows you to walk upside-down.
The use of masks does ease up things by a bit, but they demand great reflexes. Crash Bandicoot 4’s gameplay plays out at a really high pace, requiring you to think upon your feet. No matter what powers you are using, you always have to land in the right place. This can be really challenging if you are not acquainted with the camera-angles, especially when it comes to depth-perception and maneuverability. Adding to that is the fast-paced gameplay, the slow and the steady never win any races in a Crash Bandicoot level.
Compared to its predecessors, the levels featured in this game are longer and in total, there are 50 of them. Levels have been divided into 10 different timelines with each timeline consisting of 5 levels in total. The dimensional map that features all these timelines is quite reminiscent of the world map featured in Super Mario 3D World. The levels range from the present timeline to the pre-historic ones.
N.Sane Difficulty and Replayability
Crash Bandicoot 4 never compromises on the difficulty of its predecessors, instead, it elevates upon that. The masks add new variations to its classic and linear levels. For the first half of the game, each level is usually confined to a single mask. But at the latter half, there are multiple masks at each level. Still all that is nothing compared to the boss levels the game throws at you. Each boss has 5-6 levels and difficulty gradually increases from adequate to absurdly punishing. If you are playing for the first time, I would definitely recommend you try modern mode first before you switch to classic mode. Still, dying remains an inevitable part of Crash Bandicoot 4, there are over 50 types of hilarious death animations for you to see.
Crash Bandicoot 4 is brimming with content, solidifying its replayability. While the main story may take anywhere between 5-7 hours to beat, exploring the other modes and trying to get every collectible may stretch those hours past 20 or so. After completing a level, time trial and N.Verted mode get unlocked for you to try out. Similar to its predecessors, the time trial mode features a timer – without dying a single time you have to finish the level within 2 minutes. The newest addition – N.Verted mode offers a refreshing take as a whole. It features inverted levels with different visual filters. Plus there are hidden gems to collect, collecting all of ’em in a level unlocks cool new skins for Crash and Coco. There’s also a secret epilogue that gets unlocked after 100% game completion
Nailing the Classic Look
Crash Bandicoot 4’s visuals preserve the aesthetics of the original by making use of minimalistic character models and luscious environments. It does not feature any fancy fur effects or detailed shadows, instead, it uses the same shadowy circle as its predecessors. If compared to the N.Sane Trilogy, there are some slight yet appreciable changes made to the character’s appearances. Overall it not only looks better but also keeps a better framerate than N.Sane Trilogy on consoles. Instead of running at 30 fps, it manages to keep 40+ fps on the base PlayStation 4 with some minor dips during cut-scenes. On PS4 Pro, the game runs at 60 fps with some minor dips.
The original voice-over cast reprises their roles in Crash Bandicoot 4. The voice-acting is hilarious and quite fitting as usual. The greatest change though remains the new Crash theme. It’s more a re-vamped version of the original and bears the same nostalgic feel to it.
Crash Bandicoot 4 perfectly captures the timelessness of its predecessors and the Quantum Masks as the new addition provides a refreshing take on its platforming without hampering the heart of the classics. It is undoubtedly a worthy sequel. Instead of diluting, it grasps the old-school difficulty and elevates it to a whole different level. If you are a fan of the original trilogy or loved the N.Sane Trilogy, I can recommend the game to you in a heartbeat. As for newcomers, it can be excruciatingly challenging, but it’s certainly worth exploring as it’s one of the best AAA platformers in the last decade or so.