It is, isn’t it
Crash Bandicoot is a legend in my household.
As a kid, I couldn’t get enough of the ‘lil furball, whether it was via the classic platforming series or Crash Team Racing. When I met my wife, as luck would have it, we would both share a love for Crash-related games, and spent much of our early dating years toiling away taking turns with the trilogy or engaging in late-night Crash runs.
Witnessing the series slowly slip away from Sony’s grasp and into the state of irrelevancy was tough. That all changed in recent years with the N. Sane Trilogy and now Crash 4 thanks to the tireless efforts of developmental stewardship from Vicarious Visions and Toys for Bob.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time (PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)
Developer: Toys for Bob
Released: October 2, 2020
Crash 4 is good. Better than I thought it would be after all these years.
The fun little narrative that involves time-hopping with multiple big bads from the series is a bit much at times (there’s a lot of characters to juggle), but it serves as a good excuse to swap the players in and out of various locales on a regular basis. The tone is extremely cartoony (in a Saturday morning kind of way) and I am very much here for it. There’s lots of exaggerated Tex Avery style animation and plenty of physical comedy. It’s adorable.
Mechanically, level design straddles the line between classic Crash and more modern mentalities. It doesn’t swing too far on the latter side of the pendulum though, instead opting to mostly follow the guided 3D platforming, vehicular riding, and chase scene blueprint laid out in 1996. A few obstacle-course-oriented bosses feel anticlimactic and there are some occasional camera issues (like a hazard coming around the corner when you least expect it), but a quick checkpoint system eases the pain of said mishaps.
It’s natural to worry about the extra characters, but they’re done gracefully, in a way that doesn’t force them into the core loop. Tawna (who sports a hookshot), Dingodile (he has a vaccum cleaner jetpack) and Neo Cortex (who can dash and turn enemies into platforms) only have a few required critical path levels. So if you dislike them, you only need to “suffer” a few stages: the rest are optional if you dig their playstyle. Me? I found all of them to be fun in their own way, but I like that the core focus is on Crash/Coco without getting too out of hand. The same principle applies to the new “mask” power-ups, which are sparingly littered about each level: until everything is ratcheted up to 11 near the end.
You can see Toys for Bob putting in time in each stage to lay out the ground rules of most major mechanics before they become a thing. For instance, during one particular chase scene, the player walks through a patch of mushrooms (which slows them down) and is required to spin through a bone cage to start the sequence. From there, without much fuss, they can pick up on what they need to do while in the heat of the moment before it frustratingly roadblocks them during the chase. Crash 4 can be punishing, but most of the time, not unfairly so.
Crash 4 is also interesting in that it tries to accommodate just about everyone with two difficulty settings (modern, with unlimited lives, or retro, with limits), multiple playable characters from different perspectives, and a ton of extras jam-packed in. It’s totally viable to play the whole thing through on the modern setting and not go for any extras and wholly enjoy yourself. Likewise, you can also jack up the difficulty and try to clear each stage in under three lives — while also locating every single piece of Wumpa Fruit (the Mario “coins” of the Crash world), finding every hidden gem, and smashing every last box. Good luck!
To some extent with its time trial extras, Crash has always been about the high score aspect, but this one takes it to a new level. You can even replay every stage, flipped, for new rewards, or go for broke to try and grab “flashback tapes” by making it through a certain point in the stage without dying once (typically a third of the way through, but sometimes longer). It’s the right amount of balance to encourage players to learn the ropes, but allow them to clear it without jumping through hoops. Given how vicious some of the later levels can be if you’re going for the gold, I can dig that approach.
I was already satisfied with all of the above, but the local Bandicoot Battle and Pass N Play modes are nice touches that tie it all together. The latter is just how it sounds: up to four players pass a controller in-between deaths and/or checkpoints, with individual scores provided for each person. The former is very reminiscent of Activision’s own Tony Hawk series — “HORSE” — but with a Crash Bandicoot spin.
Each person takes turns commandeering Crash or Coco, opting to either clear level checkpoints the fastest or smash as many crates as possible. Whoever bests the other player in the most amount of checkpoints wins. It’s simple, but very addictive, especially if you happen to live near someone who has experience with 3D platformers. I’m going to be going back through the solo challenges to unlock skins for weeks to come (we’re safe from microtransactions for now, knock on wood), but this adds even more excuses to come back. I hope skin selection is patched in at some point, though.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is a strong return for the series, and a showcase of what might have been if we got a true follow-up to Crash 3. I sincerely hope that Activision entrusts Toys for Bob (and Vicarious Visions) with the keys to the Crash kingdom from here on out. I wanna see more of the little guy.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]