I didn’t grow up playing Crash Bandicoot. I didn’t even really play console games when it released, much preferring computer games. When I finally got a PlayStation a few years after release, Crash Bandicoot was definitely a game I tried—at least in demo form. I was extremely unimpressed, and turned away by its difficulty. Sometime in the intervening years I started to really appreciate difficulty in video games, and when I got a hold of the N’Sane Trilogy, I found a new favorite game series. When I found out Toys for Bob was making a Crash 4, my hype was extremely real.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is a 2D/3D platformer. It takes place after the original trilogy, completely ignoring the titles that came after. There’s even a cheeky reference to it in one of the later levels—which was also featured in the pre-release demo. Uka Uka, the bad younger brother of Aku Aku, attempts to free himself from his time prison, opening a rift into the multiverse in the process. N. Tropy and Neo Cortex use this opportunity to escape, and continue their bandicoot hatin’ ways–or something. All I know is it’s an excuse to get to spinning and jumping across time and space. Your goal is to retrieve the four masks that have been captured—all of which have a different ability.
In Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, you mostly play as Crash or Coco—both interchangeable through the main story levels. Jump, spin, dodge, and double jump. The four masks make appearances through the game, but they work more like level-specific items than power-ups. You can’t even avoid these masks if you wanted, as they’re required to complete the level. One mask phases items in and out, another mask inverts gravity, one mask slows time, and another gives Coco and Crash the ability to do a gravity defying dark matter spin. I enjoyed the change of pace that these different masks provided, each adding their own layer to the gameplay. But it’s not just the masks that change up the normal Crash formula.
Familiar faces return to Crash Bandicoot 4, and some of them are newly playable: Tawna, Dingodile, and Neo Cortex. Tawna, usually relegated as “eye candy” for the previous Crash titles is an absolute badass in It’s About Time. She has a grapple to grab items, and pass certain expanses—and can spin kick enemies. Dingodile is armed with a vacuum gun that can grab items and shoot them off. Dr. Cortex has a gun that changes enemies into different types of blocks that can help him navigate—he can’t double jump, but he can dash. Out of the villains you can play as, Dingodile manages to be sympathetic, something I never thought possible. But Neo Cortex is still a jerk.
The Crash Bandicoot series has always been known for its difficulty, and Crash 4 doesn’t shy away from that at all. If you don’t want the punishment of losing lives and having to restart levels, you can opt out of “retro” mode in favor of “modern.” Retro mode is as it sounds: you have a finite amount of lives, and if you lose them mid-level, you have to start all the way back at the beginning of that level. In modern mode, you get a death counter for the level—and the more deaths you suffer, the easier it gets. First you’re given complimentary Aku Aku Masks—which allow your character to suffer one hit before dying—and eventually they even throw in extra checkpoints to make the longer, harder stretches more manageable.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is a pretty extensive Crash experience. Its main story takes place over ten different zones, each with about four levels each, with exceptions. But that’s over 40 levels, including the alternate perspectives you get when you play as Tawna, Dingodile, or Cortex. Your actions as these characters have a direct impact on Crash’s story, not that you can change the outcome–it’s just neat to see the other side, so to speak. But even with all of the content in the main game, there is still lots to do in Crash 4 once you’re done.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is very replayable. Smashing boxes is still important, and you’ll get a tally at the end to show how successful you were at clearing out each level’s collection of wooden crates—replay levels to try and get them all. But that’s not the only collectibles or secrets to look out for. There are various hidden gems that can be found to unlock new cosmetic outfits for Crash and Coco. VHS tapes can be found to unlock bonus levels, too. If you’ve played through the game and want more challenges, there’s the N. Verted mode which sometimes significantly switches things up—as well as having you the levels play in reverse. If you want another type of challenge, you can always play multiplayer.
Multiplayer in Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is all couch centered—which means local only—but it’s a perfect fit for Crash. Whether you’re playing the up to four player Bandicoot Battle, or through the main story with a friend, you’ll be passing along your controller. It’s reminiscent of how many used to play retro single player games, even when they didn’t’ have multiplayer modes. Crash 4 regulates it, but it’s the same style of action. Once a player dies at a checkpoint in the story mode, or their turn is done in the head to head mode, you pass along the controller. You can choose to pass it along at new checkpoints, at death, or checkpoints and death.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is the sequel to Crash Bandicoot: Warped that should have been. Developer Toys for Bob have an obvious reverence for the original trilogy, and that love and respect shows. It’s the same Crash experience you’ve had, modernized, but not so much that it doesn’t feel like Crash. The new characters and mechanics are welcome additions, and if anything, I’d like to be able to play as them more often. Despite its difficulty, I never had a moment that I wanted to quit playing—it’s a nearly perfect game.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is available now on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
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