Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time
More than two decades later, a continuation to the mainline Crash Bandicoot trilogy has finally arrived! Activision and Toys for Bob released Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time. As you might’ve guessed from the title, it’s a wacky, wild adventure through time that stays true to everything we’ve come to love from gaming’s favorite Bandicoots. This is our official review of Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time!
Crash & Coco Are Back for an All-Time Great Adventure
If you’ve read any of my previous video game reviews or news stories you’ll know that, of the many games that shaped my childhood, Crash Bandicoot was one of the more prominent ones (The Legend of Zelda, Spyro, and Final Fantasy round out the rest). Everything about this legendary platformer was so enjoyable to my impressionable young mind. The simplistic stories, the goofy jokes, the eye-catching colors, the fast-paced puzzles and challenges, all of it. Like many, I was a huge Crash fan.
Of the original trilogy, developed by Naughty Dog, my favorite was the third Crash Bandicoot game, Warped. It introduced a lot of really fun features, gameplay mechanics, and mind-blowing levels. Plus, you finally got to play as Crash’s sister Coco, who had one of my all-time favorite Crash levels, riding a baby tiger on the Great Wall of China-like level.
After Warped, when Naughty Dog moved on to different projects and the Crash rights went to Activision, I fell out of touch with the series and never bothered to play the four strange titles that came after. That is, until Vicarious Visions brought the series back to life with the N. Sane Trilogy. Now, the studio behind the fantastic Spyro: Reignited Trilogy, Toys for Bob is having a go at the Crash Bandicoot IP in Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time and I’m happy to say it’s everything an old Crash fan like me ever wanted.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time takes place a few years after the events of Crash Bandicoot: Warped. Unlike the post-Naughty Dog games, (which let’s call the Extended Universe) the game fully acknowledges what happened at the end of Warped. The well-known villains Dr. Neo Cortex, Dr. N. Tropy, and Uka Uka are trapped in the lost dimension of space and time, trying to return to exact revenge on the Bandicoots. Somehow, Uka Uka manages to rip open a portal, allowing the villains to escape and simultaneously create dimensional rifts, which threaten time and space. It’s up to Crash and Coco to collect the Quantum Masks, stop the nefarious villains, and save the multiverse.
What makes Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time so wonderful is it’s a true Crash sequel. It feels like a worthy entry in the Crash series by staying true to the goofy, over-the-top humor, well-known characters, and simplistic story design of saving the world from a mad scientist, or in this case, mad scientists. That said, they add a ton of story elements and character development that I didn’t see coming.
An unexpected theme of Crash 4 is surprisingly, “perspective”. The whole game is riddled with moments that provide context and perspective for different characters. Characters like Tawna, Dingo, Dr. Neo Cortex, and even Crash himself.
As you play the game, certain unexplained situations will materialize in front of you. It’s usually an explosion of some sort that bails Crash or Coco out of a sticky situation. Once that mission is complete, you’ll have the option to play that same mission from a different vantage point, through the eyes of another character. In these alternate perspective missions, you get to learn a bit more about Tawna, Dingo, and even Dr. Neo Cortex through their dialogue. Although, the most you learn about Dingo is that he’s really willing to eat just about anything. He is from a swamp, though so… Dingo’s missions are really fun, but we’ll talk more about that in the next section.
Arguably, the characters that had the most development were Crash, Dr. Neo Cortex, and Tawna. For Tawna, she’s been remade from the ground up. Being from a completely different timeline, this Tawna has had to fight to survive what seems to be a hellish timeline. Although, it’s made her into an outright badass. Long gone are the days of her being a damsel in distress.
As for Crash and Dr. Neo Cortex, their development goes hand-in-hand. Through old school VHS tapes, called Flashback Tapes, we learn about what life was like for Crash when he was a test subject in Dr. Neo Cortex’s laboratory. These tapes allow players to play through challenging stages that require you to break all the boxes and survive to the finish. It’s actually a fun, retro gameplay mode. However, the underlying messages in these stages are quite disturbing. Like, Crash really went through some stuff. It’s a surprise he’s not more N. Sane.
It’s all put in a fun, lighthearted light, but every time you fail in Flashback, Dr. Neo Cortex talks about using the Revive-O-Tron or instructs N. Brio to get a mop. So, he was consistently being blown up, flattened, crushed, falling from great heights, etc. only to be revived and put back on the course. It’s a game, so you can’t take it seriously, but it’s really messed up what our favorite Mutant Marsupial went through.
Another aspect of these tapes is that we get to know Dr. Neo Cortex a bit more. We learn this villain began really caring for Crash. There is even a funny stage where he divulges his deep, dark secrets meant only for his diary, but accidentally shares them with Crash. These dark secrets were about how he had grown an attachment to Crash, which makes the subsequent Crash series seem like Dr. Neo Cortex is lashing out from heartbreak. Also, in the background he kills a LOT of sheep, which was kinda weird.
After seeing what Toys for Bob had done with Spyro, and the care they put into reigniting that trilogy, I had every confidence that they would do a good job with Crash Bandicoot. I never expected them to put together a game that would rival that of the original trilogy. Yet, that’s exactly what they did. They made a story so fun, so enjoyable, that I found myself fully invested in everything going on. I was eager to find all the different masks, get to the next dimension, and bring down the evil mad scientists. In fact, I became so ingrained with the game that I broke my own rules for game reviews.
Challenging, Addictingly-Fun Gameplay
When it comes to video game reviews, timeliness is important. We want to get our thoughts on games to you as soon as possible. So, one of my rules when it comes to game reviews is to not get held up on being perfect. By that, I mean if I fail a challenge or I don’t get a perfect enough score to get a certain item, I should just move on to the rest of the game and not get held up. I had a very hard time keeping that rule in Crash 4.
On many occasions, I became so obsessed with smashing all the crates and not losing lives I would sometimes restart the entire level. That would enact a minute or so load time, which you’d think would deter me from restarting levels over and over. Yet, that wasn’t the case.
You see, the reason for this was because Toys for Bob added Skins for Crash and Coco based on the theme of the dimension. In order to unlock these unique skins, you needed to collect six diamonds by finding them in levels or simply performing well enough to earn them, like dying a minimum of three times. Suffice to say, I didn’t perform well enough to earn them on the first try.
The reason for this stems from Crash 4’s unique puzzles and gameplay mechanics. While the game is still a platformer at its core, there are loads of new mechanics that make only getting a minimum of three deaths impossible, at times.
When you begin playing the game, you have two options for how to play. There’s Modern, which simply tracks how many deaths you have, and then there’s Retro, which takes lives from you every time you die, the classic way to play. I primarily played on Modern, but Retro added even more of a challenge, because once you ran out of lives you had to start from the beginning. With Modern, I could die as many times as I liked and still finish the course. Yet, even playing on a more replayable mode like Modern didn’t make the game any easier.
Crash 4 employs loads of new gameplay mechanics like a double jump, high jump, sliding, stomping, wall running, etc. Each course utilizes these mechanics in unique ways. Now, that alone isn’t all that difficult. In fact, they’re all really fun mechanics and make the game feel fresh. What is difficult is when the courses force players to use the Quantum Masks you collect throughout the story. These Quantum Masks each have their own unique ability like phasing objects in and out, spinning and floating with dark matter, stopping time, and messing with gravity.
Each time these abilities were incorporated into the stages, I had to think on my feet, strategize, or rethink every approach. That said, I actually didn’t have a ton of problems with the dark matter ability or stopping time. Those were actually pretty easy to use. On the other hand, phasing in objects and the gravity ability had me all turned around. Phasing objects was all about timing, but i would fail so many times my reaction time would get so frayed. There was one point where I needed to press Triangle two times, but I ended up mashing it six times on the way to my demise. As for Gravity, jumping upside down is the bane of my existence. Poor Crash and Coco got electrocuted, blown up, and dissolved so many times because my feeble mind couldn’t grasp the laws of gravity.
This isn’t to say I didn’t have a good time with these new mechanics. It’s actually the opposite. I was over the moon about the new abilities in Crash 4. What I also loved was how each new character had their own set of mechanics when you played as them, aside from Crash and Coco.
As I mentioned before, you get to play as Tawna, Dingo, and Dr. Neo Cortex. Using a grappling hook and roundhouse kicks, Tawna is an absolute badass. Dingo primarily uses a vacuum to float, suck up crates and bombs, and project those bombs on enemies and environments, which is oh so satisfying. Meanwhile, Dr. Neo Cortex uses his ray gun to turn enemies into platforms and a handy dash ability to get through stages.
Overall, it made the game and its courses feel fresh and exciting. I enjoyed them so much, I had a hard time pulling away. I found myself having six-hour gaming sessions with Crash, which isn’t something a game has been able to make me do in a bit.
Minor Gripes On Multiplayer
I really don’t have many complaints when it comes to Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time. It’s an overall fantastic experience for both new fans and older ones, like yours truly. I’ll get into more of what I enjoyed about the game in a moment, but I wanted to take the time to talk about some questionable decisions Toys for Bob made in Crash 4.
The main issue I had stems from skins in multiplayer. Well, I’m not sure you could actually call it “multiplayer” per se. Crash 4 employs a Pass N Play feature which makes players take turns with one controller to see how well they progress. There is even a Bandicoot Battle mode, which is up to 4 players and is based on either a time trial or how many crates smashed.
I actually had no problem with all these approaches to multiplayer. I really like the Pass N Play model. Would I prefer a split screen version? I mean, I wouldn’t complain about it if I did, but not having it isn’t a deal breaker. It really isn’t missing in the whole of the game. However, what is missing is customizability.
I spoke before about various theme-based skins being in the game. You can use these in the main story easily and they even show up in cutscenes, which I just love. However, in Bandicoot Battle, they aren’t there. You can only play as either Crash, Coco, Fake Crash, and Fake Coco in their base form. That’s it.
Skins aren’t accessible in Bandicoot Battle and they very much should be. What better reason for us to collect all of these skins than to individualize our Bandicoot for party play? It’s just a great incentive. Does it add anything? Not really. It doesn’t let us play any better, but it lets the player attach themselves more to the game if they can customize their character. Win, lose or draw, if my Crash can be a Pirate or my Coco can use the Papercut skin, I’d want to do that.
Another minor gripe I had with the Skins system has to do with not being able to preview skins. When you play a level, the game will tell you what skin you can get if you meet the six diamond requirement. However, it only shows you Crash and Coco’s head in that skin. When you click on the skins page to preview it, you’re unable to do so. So, you could go through all that work to secure that skin, only to realize you didn’t really like it in the first place. As I said, it’s a minor gripe, but it can be quite demoralizing for players.
Level Design is the True Star of Crash 4
Ok back to the things I love. Without a doubt, the best part of Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is the level design. In total, there are 10 dimensions and 43 stages in Crash 4. Each dimension and the subsequent stages within them are so unique, so beautifully detailed, it’s hard not to marvel at the environment.
As you’d guess with a time game, each dimension takes place in a different time period. So in one dimension, you could be at present day. In another, you could be kicking it with dinosaurs. Or, you could be navigating a futuristic society. The stages are diverse, eclectic, and just so much fun.
To make them even better, each dimension includes their own set of villains, hazards, and henchmen native to that dimension. I really appreciate that level of detail and dedication. Each dimension was so awesome, every time I thought I had a favorite, it would change immediately as I jumped through the next wormhole. Although, the pirate, Japan, New Orleans, and dinosaur dimensions were definitely my favorites. Just don’t ask me to name a number one.
N. Sane Amount of Replayability
The harsh truth about Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is that the story only takes about 7 hours to complete. However, Toys for Bob included so much replayability, the gameplay time pushes far beyond the 7 hour story, which is pretty much exactly what you want out of the platformer genre.
Just doing everything necessary to get the six diamonds to get all the skins will add a lot more gameplay time. Furthermore, Flashback Tapes and perspective missions add new challenges and layers to the story, you otherwise wouldn’t have. More than that, though, Crash 4 also includes Time Trials, which net you collectible in-game rewards.
If that wasn’t enough, Toys for Bob also added an N.Verted mode to every single stage, which essentially increases the number of stages from 43 to 86. In it, you can replay each stage, but Wumpa fruits are replaced with a grape-like fruit, boxes switch sides, and the color scheme is all inverted. Plus, there are six more diamonds to collect, which makes gathering enough to gain the unique Crash and Coco skin easier to attain.
While yes the campaign is only 7 hours, that’s only a small part of the story with Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time. It’s actually rich with replayability and addicting enough to keep coming back to it over and over, even if you aren’t a completionist.
Should You Play It?
Regardless of if you’re new to the Crash Bandicoot series or an old vet, Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is an absolute must-play. There aren’t many platformers that would fall into a must-play category, but Crash is the exception. Toys for Bob truly made something special with Crash 4. With the impeccable level design, challenging stages, unforeseen character development, addicting gameplay, and all the goofy, yet lovable Crash charm, Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is some of the most fun I’ve had in 2020 and a game I believe is definitely worth your time.