Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time Review: Incredible ambition and immense challenge create Crash’s best outing ever
Played On: PS4 (Original)
When Vicarious Visions brought one of gaming’s most iconic characters, Crash Bandicoot, back from the dead in 2017 with the N. Sane Trilogy, the next big question on everyone’s minds was: Are we going to get a new Crash game? I mean, it was pretty big deal to get a remake of the original games and there hasn’t been a mainline game since Warped in 1998 – if you don’t count games like Twinsanity (2004) and Crash of the Titans (2007). So, when the news finally dropped that Toys for Bob, the developers behind Skylanders and the Spyro remakes, was finally going to right this historic wrong with the aptly named Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time.
The game finds our favorite characters still reeling from the effects of Warped with Crash Bandicoot (voiced by Scott Whyte) sleeping on the beach and Coco (voiced by Eden Riegel) still chilling with her tech as well as Neo Cortex (voiced by Lex Lang) and N. Tropy (voiced by JP Karliak) finally growing up from the baby forms they were left in. Bitter about losing to Crash once again, Cortex and Tropy are plotting new ways to take the Bandicoots down and ultimately find new inspiration when Uka-Uka opens up an interdimensional portal. While taking over time was cool and all, Cortex and Tropy have new plans to take over time and space as they travel through different dimensions for ultimate power. With his old foe back and more powerful than ever, Crash and Coco must get back into action to stop old enemies and make some powerful new friends along the way.
Just seeing Crash, Coco, Cortex, and plenty of old characters back in action in a new adventure would be pleasing enough, but It’s About Time contains a really fun and funny story that fans will love. The dialogue and cartoonish actions in cutscenes are absolutely hilarious and it’s great seeing how much has changed over the years with the characters. Dingodile (voiced by Fred Tatasciore) is now retired and owns a diner that doesn’t exactly have the best health code, N. Tropy and Cortex don’t exactly have a great working relationship, and N. Gin (voiced by Corey Burton) and N. Brio (voiced by Roger Craig Smith) are back working for Cortex. With the game being more focused on interdimensional travel, there’s also some great doppelganger moments and the ones between Cortex and Tropy and their lookalikes had me dying with laughter.
Interdimensional travel also means new kinds of locations to play around in and the visuals of this game are easily the best of the franchise. With players traveling to the time of pirates, a futuristic city obsessed with snacking, a major Mardis Gras celebration, prehistoric times of dinosaurs, and plenty of other environments across space and time, Crash and Coco’s new adventures are truly all over the place. There’re plenty of new enemy types and obstacles that fit perfectly within their environments and are excellently designed. Timing and creating a rhythm for players to figure out is a key part in making a Crash game and Toys for Bob absolutely nails it. Honestly, there were a lot of times where I just stood there in awe of the environments because of how vividly detailed and gorgeous they were and I can’t that that a Crash game has ever done that to me before. It was pretty crazy to see what old Crash games looked like in a modern engine with the remakes, but now seeing what a modern Crash games looks like, the bar just got raised to new heights.
Aesthetics and graphics aren’t the only way that Toys for Bob takes Crash into the modern era as the gameplay contains the perfect mix of old and new. The basic mechanics of running, sliding, and spinning are pretty much the same, but do feel a little finer tuned and easier to handle. They’re especially easier to handle with the great inclusion of a little circle tracking underneath you so players will know exactly where they’re landing. It’s an inclusion that I didn’t even know I wanted, but truly changes everything. The level designs continue to mess with your depth perception in challenging and satisfying ways and the new addition of rail slide sequences challenge players in a totally new way that constantly keeps your pulse pounding. There’s also the return of chase sequences where players will running towards the camera to escape a giant beast that follows them and riding sections where players hop on a jetboard or strange animals to make their way through deadly areas. It’s a bit of a shame to see the jetpacks and motorcycles be put away for now, but it’s great that Toys for Bob can put new spins on classic aspects of Crash games while it adds in some modern updates of its own – especially with the new masks.
That’s right, Aka-Aka (voiced by Greg Eagles) and Uka-Uka aren’t the only masks anymore as Crash and Coco’s interdimensional travels have them comes across some new faces that offer players new abilities. Lani-Loli (voiced by Richard Steven Horitz), who some might know as the voice of Invader Zim, is a spastic neon blue mask that allows players to phase object in and out of reality with the tap of a button. Akano (also voiced by Tatasciore) is a strong and silent type purple match that allows players to execute a Dark Matter spin that makes them endlessly spin and gives them the ability to jump farther. Kupuna-Wa (voiced by Cherise Boothe) is an ancient gold mask that gives players the ability to slow down time and traverse fast moving platforms and even walk on Nitro crates for a short period of time. Last, but definitely not least, there’s also Ika-Ika (voiced by Tatasciore/Zeno Robinson) a two-faced green mask that allows players to shift gravity and play on the ceiling. Having all of these masks and abilities radically changes everything with how players traverse levels and brings the franchise into the modern era of platforming.
Want more new additions that change everything. Not only is Coco available as a playable character from start to finish, but there’re three other playable characters with their own special playstyles. Cortex now has some levels of his own and although he his jumping doesn’t match other characters at all, his ability to use his transform gun to turn enemies into moving platforms is incredibly surprising and adds a lot of depth to the challenge of his levels. An alternate version of Crash’s old girlfriend Tawna (voiced by Ursula Taherian), that looks like a blue-haired version of Rufio from Hook, is striking out on her own to save the day and her grapple hook is a blast to use. The biggest surprise though, is that players can now take control of Dingodile for the first time in the series. Although he’s put his flamethrower away, his air cannon is a blast to use as grabbing TNT crates and throwing them back at enemies. Having many characters to play and different ways to play really shows Toys for Bobs’ efforts to create a fresh and always surprising experience for fans and even expand the Crash universe.
There’re even local multiplayer modes, up to four players, added in that have players play against friends in unique ways. Checkpoint Race has friends race across levels to reach checkpoints to claim ultimate victory and Crate Combo follows the same concept of racing to checkpoints but adds in benefits to smashing crates. There’s also an added cooperative mode to the single-player campaign called Pass N. Play where friends can help progress through levels by passing the controller at checkpoints. Time trials also makes a strong return to test players speed in completing difficult levels and although crystals don’t make a return, gems do in an entirely new way. Hidden colored and clear gems are still around in levels, but players will have to do a little more in order to acquire other gems. To get all the gems in each level, players going to have to collect as much Wumpa fruit as possible, smash all of the crates, and even keep their death count to under three lives. Doing so not only earns you a lot of street cred since it’s quite a feat, but also earns some great alternate outfits for Crash and Coco.
Frankly, I didn’t think it was possible for a game to outdo Marvel’s Spider-Man for having incredible alternate outfits, but It’s About Time does it with ease. There’s literally no limit to what Toys for Bob brings in giving Crash and Coco different looks. We’re talking balloon animal versions, them as superheroes, Wombat versions of themselves, robotic versions, and so many other options. One of my favorites, though, is a costume called 360 No Scope that has them dressed in gaming attire, headsets included, as it’s a great nod to Activision’s other big property, Call of Duty, and it’s just funny as hell. It’s even great to see that the pixelated original versions of the characters are still playable, and they add such a nostalgic boost to the experience. It’s incredible to see the amount of work Toys for Bob put into creating unique looks for the characters and it’s well worth the works players are going to have to put in to get them since this game is hard as hell.
If there’s one other thing that Crash games are known for, it’s definitely being hard, and this entry is no exception with the level of challenge that it offers. Although players can simply play the game in modern mode and respawn at the last checkpoint no problem, players looking for a deeper challenge, like myself, won’t be able to resist retro mode – where lives are back and losing them all means starting the whole level over. It’s mind-boggling how crazy things get in this game and how your heart rate is always building up with every jump you hope you land and new obstacle you see in your path. There’s this overwhelming sigh of relief when you finally make it to a checkpoint or reach the end of level that speaks to the challenge you’ve just overcome. There were definitely times where I questioned if things were just too ridiculously hard as levels seemed unnecessarily long, the N. Tropy boss battle seemed overly ridiculous, and certain sequences felt way to sped up. There was even a point in the second to last level where I was ready to throw in the towel because I was just so frustrated, annoyed, and simply tired of dealing with the game.
However, I didn’t because the game’s challenges always seem obtainable and it’s so addicting to play that when it seems like you’re ready to call it quits, the idea of giving it one more shot stays stuck in your head. Crash is always one of those games that offers a rich challenge to players that they can see the path of victory ahead of them but go through a trial and error process to figure it out. It’s About Time challenges players in this same way and still finds ways to up the ante through surprises and new level designs and Toys for Bob shows true mastery in challenging players to push past their limits and see what they’re capable of. It’s what ultimately makes the game so satisfying to play and it’s great that this sense of challenge can even be explored in different game modes. Players can find Flashback Tapes I levels that take them back to Crash’s early days as Cortex’s experiment to play through some of the incredibly challenging tests he had to go through.
Toys for Bob’s true dedication to challenge is its take on a mirror mode with N. Verted versions of the campaign levels that are artistically beautiful and add a whole new layer to gameplay. Just seeing some of the crazy filters and gameplay alterations to levels was just absolutely mind-blowing and show Toys for Bob as a developer in a whole new light. In N. Verted mode, players will have new experiences like using sonar to see the area around them, hitting crates and enemies to add color to the blank canvas of the environment, and even traverse levels underwater – which changes your jump and speed. Even seeing the filters they’ve added like a colored pencil look to the prehistoric levels, old black and white film reel with film grain to give the gameplay an older look, pixelated sprites and sound effects to give the game a retro feel, and even a cell-shaded art style that emulates traditional Japanese art is just gorgeous. N. Verted mode is truly an embodiment of how ambitious this game is and how Toys for Bob gives fans something more than just a traditional Crash experience.
It’s About Time not only is the most ambitious and, dare I say, best Crash game in the franchise, but it showcases Toys for Bob’s skills in delivering a game that harnesses everything that made the original games great and treads new ground that takes the series in the modern era of platforming. Toys for Bob is undoubtedly a rising talent in the gaming world that people should keep their eyes on – especially if they come back with a new Spyro game or the next installment in the Crash franchise that they hint at here.