|Developer||Toys For Bob|
|Platforms||Playstation 4, Xbox One|
|Release Date||October 2, 2020|
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, developed by Toys for Bob, is a new installment in the Crash Bandicoot series. Canonically taking place after Crash Bandicoot: Warped, Cortex and N. Tropy shatter the dimensions to escape their isolation and swear revenge on the heroic, orange marsupial. Crash, his sister Coco, and some friends travel through colorful lands and treacherous traps to keep the bad guys from prevailing.
Language: Only one word. Dingodile says B****** when some guys blow up his restaurant. Hearing a curse word in Crash 4 is like being a parent and hearing your kid curse for the first time.
1998. Christmas. My first game is Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back. The 3D, forward-running collect-a-thon platformer video games for me. A spinning, box-smashing, wacky Bandicoot made his mark in a time of Sony taking off, and his mark in my heart. Not a bad start, all things considered.
2020. Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time (CB4) is announced. I have a hunch it is going to be good, and I’m more than excited. Toys for Bob explains they take great care looking into the original trilogy to draw their inspiration into the next game’s core gameplay. As I play the game, I realize the balance between inspiration and originality is better than I could have imagined.
The platforming genre has gained a lot of traction in the past three years. In 2017 alone, the indie scene exploded with Hat in Time, Hollow Knight, Skylar & Plux, and Yooka-Laylee. And then the Crash N. Sane Trilogy heralded the unofficial Sony mascot’s return, and assisted in bringing forward the wave of remasters.
With this revitalization, platform games bask in evolution. Thankfully, Crash Bandicoot did not fall back, but transformed as well. CB4 brings classic elements players have seen before like time manipulation and changing gravity, and adds Crash’s signature box-bouncing and fruit collecting on top of it.
Crash’s familiar tunnel level design stays, but now the paths go everywhere. The layout relies more on side-scrolling than in the past, but it’s not an unfamiliar aspect, and for all of the aesthetics and gameplay, it’s welcome.
Seeing a return to an overworld map like the first Crash game already brings excitement. Progression is separated into various time dimensions, with most having three to four levels. Each individual dimension pocket has that theme park look and feel, like Kraken tentacles splashing out of water next to a pirate ship, and fireworks over skylines, next to a mom and pop joint in the swamp. Every map, level, and object displays vibrant colors and little details that players may not notice at first.
CB4 introduces four unique masks with quantum abilities. Phase shifting, time altering, gravity flipping and matter producing may sound complex with big words, but for a Crash game it means lots of fun. The masks let Crash bounce on Nitro crates, run along the ceiling, fly across ravines, and shift objects in and out of reality at will, all easily controlled with the press of a button. That’s right, no Infinity Stones needed here.
The on-foot gameplay is clean, as Crash and Coco both respond quickly to your inputs. The jetboard and other vehicles are tricky, however. The jetboard in particular feels loose. Making a slight change in course could mostly fall between nothing happening and veering completely away. This goes for the analog stick and the D-pad. It can be a problem when grabbing every box while going down a swampy rapid.
Tawna, Dingodile, and Cortex also get miniature levels, and a couple of full levels to play around in. All three control easily and respond well with jumping, running and attacking. Tawna’s grappling hook can reach grapple points and boxes from afar, but it may not always work depending on the player’s exact location. Cortex has a head dash move with a small stagger at the end that may be jaunting, but his ranged gun attack can turn enemies into stone platforms or bouncing platforms.
Finally, Dingodile plays like a heavy Crash. He can spin and jump and run, as well as use his vacuum gun to draw in distant crates. Using the gun on a TNT crate or barrel gives him the advantage to fire it at blockades or far away enemies. Lastly, he can hover using the gun to pass over gaps and obstacles. I was a little interested in why he didn’t use a flamethrower, but this is a different dimension Dingodile. Maybe the future game will have a water gun Dingodile!
The sound and music is a dynamic experience. While the new tracks play in the background, small things like hitting checkpoints and hitting enemies insert an accompanying jingle. The masks, too, chime in their own way. The Akano mask adds a stringed, synthetic tune to the track. For the brief moment Kapuna-Wa slows down time, the music slows as well.
In addition to the experience, the soundtrack brings back some familiar selections from the original trilogy. The Piston it Away track and the Pinstripe Porteroo are ones I’ve run into. Composer Walter Mair took pieces from the trilogy score to make new songs as well. In the level Stay Frosty, the music starts with a chill beat, and fused with the Cortex fight tune in Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped, and then uses the melody of Snow Go from Crash 2.
And that’s not the end to the references. Toys for Bob drew from the trilogy as well as other games. Classic levels, the jetboard from Crash 2, and characters like Polar, N. Brio and N. Gin, and Pura the Tiger all make appearances in one way or another. Even the cancelled title Crash Landed gets a shout out, with its name used for one of the levels in the space region. My favorite reference, in fact, is at the beginning of Crash Landed, with a box placement exactly in the style of Snow Go from Crash 2. They thought we wouldn’t notice. But we did.
There are some hiccups, though. With the aforementioned handling of the vehicles, the rail grinding portions challenge your depth perception. Sometimes Crash can get stuck in the crouch mode and won’t get out of it. The double jump simply won’t activate at times, and I’ve never been able to find out where it happens, or why. The loading times are terrible, lasting thirty to fifty seconds, so if you need to reload because of a cheesy death, the wait gets aggravating.
And the biggest note of them all: this game is hard. The final level alone took sixty-four lives from me. Precise platforming, no-mercy box placement, no death requirements, time trials, and secrets can test every inch of your patience.
But it’s not completely without mercy. I believe the game is plenty fair. If the player is paying attention the game will show you how to play. But I have no defense for their sneaky positioning of crates. Lots of sections require death as a reset. That ploy makes up most of the difficulty. The levels are challenging enough to get through.
However, this game has improved upon the old Crash Bandicoot. It has brought out the best in platforming, and has everything to love about a series growing after a few years of mediocrity. If this is the future for Crash, I am all for it; bring on Crash 5!
The Bottom Line
The game is a superb time for veterans, and amazing for newcomers.
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