Crash returns in an excellent platformer that expertly marries old ideas with new.
Crash Bandicoot has enjoyed an excellent resurgence over the last few years. Starting with N.Sane Trilogy in 2017 and then with CTR Nitro-Fueled last year, the bandicoot has successfully managed to get all eyes on himself once again. That said, developer Toys for Bob still had a lot to prove with Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, which is not a remake, but the series’ first new mainline game in over a decade.
It’s fair to say that they have done exactly what was expected of them, and then some. Crash Bandicoot 4 is an absolute delight. With its old-school challenge, tightly designed levels, and linear platforming gauntlets, it reminds everyone just what made the original Crash trilogy as good as it was, just as N.Sane Trilogy did a few years ago. At the same time though, Crash 4 introduces several smart new changes while constantly delighting in its own new ways, also making it the perfect evolution for the series.
"Crash Bandicoot 4 is an absolute delight."
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time takes a risky stab at simultaneously acting as a reboot and a sequel. Picking up where Crash 3 left off and essentially rewriting the continuity, the game begins as N.Tropy and Neo Cortex manage to escape the prison they had been sealed away in. In doing so, however, they rip a hole in the fabric of space-time, while kicking into motion a plan to rule over the multiverse. It falls to Crash and Coco to travel through the multiverse, collect four Quantum Masks, and put a stop to their enemies’ machinations.
As you can tell, there’s nothing special about the setup- but in true Crash fashion, it combines humour and charming presentation to win you over with its execution. The characters, their animations, and their dialogue are brimming with personality, and while storytelling is usually reserved for short cutscenes before and after certain levels, those short bursts do their job well enough to make you keep going. There’s also plenty to satisfy longtime series fans. Previous Crash games are by no means required reading for you to enjoy Crash 4 and its story, but there are still enough references and callbacks that series veterans might enjoy the story a little bit more.
Of course, where Crash Bandicoot 4 truly shines, as any platformer should, is with its level design, which consistently builds on tried-and-true series conventions by constantly bringing new twists to them, while also regularly showing off with some of its own new and inventive ideas.
Like the original Crash trilogy, Crash Bandicoot 4 is a pretty tough game- on most levels, I died an enormous number of times. The game frequently asks you to string together long and complex sequences of jumps, spins, and maneuvers, and while getting them right is often a true exercise in skill and patience, when you do get it right, it can be absolutely exhilarating. It would be in these moments, where I would get through one carefully crafted challenge after another, that I would appreciate the level of care with which Crash 4’s levels have been designed.
"Where Crash Bandicoot 4 truly shines, as any platformer should, is with its level design, which consistently builds on tried-and-true series conventions by constantly bringing new twists to them, while also regularly showing off with some of its own new and inventive ideas."
It feels like every obstacle and enemy has been carefully placed, and every hurdle you run into comes across as a meticulously fine-tuned gauntlet designed to put your skills to the test. I’ve always been of the belief that linear, tightly designed platformers tend to be much more enjoyable and rewarding than those that focus more on sandbox design in large and open areas, and Crash Bandicoot 4 is exactly the kind of game that makes me feel that way. Toys for Bob are always in control in terms of where you’re going, but the things that they design and the challenges that they think up are absolutely top-notch and consistently inventive.
Thankfully, Crash 4 also makes improvements to minimize the cheap deaths that were so common in classic Crash games. Judging the depth of a jump, for instance, is much easier now, since whatever character you’re playing as has a yellow shadowy circle that constantly follows them beneath their feet, which you can use to judge jumps and distances more accurately (but you can turn this off if you want). As I mentioned previously, things such as enemy placement and obstacle placement also feel well thought-out in order to avoid any frustrating moments of unfair challenge. Most of the times I died in Crash 4 (which happened a lot), I died through my own mistakes and stupidity.
All levels in the game, nearly down to the last, also have excellent pacing. Crash Bandicoot 4’s levels keep finding ways to keep you on your toes by throwing new and unfamiliar challenges and elements at you. Levels feel expansive and dynamic, keeping a quick pace as they move from one hurdle to the next, all the while asking you to tap into different parts of your skillset. You might go from regular platforming to a side-scrolling section requiring quickly timed jumps to a fast-paced rail-grinding section to navigating across massive chasms while hopping on top of crates back to regular platforming, all in the space of a single level.
Even if Crash 4 had been designed purely with the aforementioned dynamism, level design, and level of challenge in mind, it still would have been an excellent platformer and a wonderful ode to a more old-school kind of game design. But with the four Quantum Masks, it injects completely new mechanics that often prove to be the highlight of the game.
"Levels feel expansive and dynamic, keeping a quick pace as they move from one hurdle to the next, all the while asking you to tap into different parts of your skillset."
There are four Quantum Masks that you gradually get over the course of the campaign, and each gives you unique abilities, from phase shifting objects and platforms to slowing down time to being able to constantly spin like a top for longer and floatier jumps. The game decides the moments when you’re able to equip these masks, but when you do, you’re almost always in for a treat. The sections of Crash 4’s levels that demand you to use one of the Masks to get past new trials are some of the best in the entire game, and they add these new mechanics on top of established ideas so effortlessly, it feels like these mechanics have always been part of the series.
Crash Bandicoot 4’s levels exhibit craftsmanship in other areas of design as well- the visual kind, for starters. This is an excellent looking game, no matter how you look at it. Toys for Bob have put the game’s time-space-hopping narrative premise to great use, and they regularly take you to bizarre new dimensions, from a prehistoric jungle to a pirate cove full of sinking ships to a city that’s always in the midst of a carnival to a desert that has some serious Mad Max vibes going on.
Each world you visit is bursting with charm and personality and tiny little details, which means the game is constantly smacking you in the face with how delightful it is. That beautiful and creative art style mixes with incredible attention to detail to create levels that consistently look amazing and keep showing you fantastic new sights, whether it’s a beautiful piece of the scenery stretching out ahead of you as you stand atop a platform or a massive Spyro the Dragon balloon floating in the background of a city. Hell, even the diorama-esque world maps that you navigate between levels look vibrant and bursting with charm.
Given how packed, dense, and busy every level in Crash Bandicoot 4 is, it is not a surprise that the game suffers from long loading times (extremely long, at times)- but it’s certainly still disappointing. Levels begin and end with load screens that can stretch on for up to a minute at times, and constantly having to sit through these long load times every time you’re hopping in or out of a level tends to be frustrating.
"Each world you visit is bursting with charm and personality and tiny little details, which means the game is constantly smacking you in the face with how delightful it is."
There are multiple playable characters in Crash 4 as well. Crash and Coco are the stars of the show, of course- both have the exact same moveset, and players can play through the main levels of the campaign with whichever of the two they want. Other characters occasionally take the spotlight as well, and each of them plays in completely different ways. For instance, Tawna has more melee-focused combat, while her hookshot and wall-jumping also make her more agile. Her levels were, as a result, some of my favourite.
Not all characters are slam dunks, however. Dingodile joins the roster in Crash 4 as well, but I wasn’t a huge fan of playing as him. Using his suction ability in combat and during platforming can be fun, but his slow movement and measly jumps make his movement feel cumbersome, resulting in occasionally sloppy platforming, while aiming with his suction can also be a bit imprecise. That said, I still appreciated having several characters to play as. Each has their own individual side story with optional dedicated levels. These stories are by no means crucial, but they often intersect with Crash and Coco’s tale in fun and interesting ways, so they do add to the experience in a meaningful way.
With all of this, even on a macro level, Crash Bandicoot 4’s campaign has excellent pacing. Every new level throws you for a loop in different ways, and you’re constantly doing something new and exciting. One level might see you rail-grinding, the next might be designed around wall-running challenges, the next might put you in the shoes of a different character, the next might feature a thrilling chase section, while the next still might be a boss fight. Toys for Bob clearly let their creativity and imagination run wild, and they deserve a ton of credit for managing to maintain a high bar of quality for the level design in spite of such variety to said levels.
And it’s a good thing that the levels in this game are so well designed, because boy is there a whole lot of them. The campaign alone is long enough as it is, longer still if you do the optional levels as well. On top of that, there’s several Flashback Tapes (which are pure and challenging tests of your platforming skills), Time Trials, and N.Verted levels. N.Verted levels in particular are an absolute delight- on top of acting as a mirror mode, N.Verted levels also bring various new visual quirks and twists to levels you’ve already finished. The beautiful art design and visual flair of Crash Bandicoot 4 shines through in these levels just as it does anywhere else in the game.
"It’s a good thing that the levels in this game are so well designed, because boy is there a whole lot of them."
Each level also has six gems for you to collect, each of which is acquired by completing a different objective, such as collecting a certain amount of Wumpa Fruit, smashing crates, finishing a level with three deaths or fewer, or finding hidden gems in the levels themselves- while every N.Verted level also has its own set of gems for you to collect. Unlock six gems for any single level and you unlock a new skin. The gems and skins are sure to keep completionists hungrily coming back for more.
Many developers tried to make Crash Bandicoot games after Naughty Dog moved on, and all of them failed to varying levels. The bar for Crash 4 was low in that regard, so Toys For Bob could have just given us something half-decent, and it would already have been the best new Crash game in 20 years. But they didn’t do that. They went above and beyond, and then some, to deliver a finely crafted platformer that can easily claim to stand among genre greats. Firing on all levels, and missing on practically none, Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is a must play for everyone.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Fantastic level design; Levels are varied and dynamic; Quantum Masks are used in excellent ways; Well-paced campaign with lots of variety; Every dimension is bursting with charm, detail, and personality; A ridiculous amount of content; Multiple playable characters; The game looks beautiful.
Dingodile gameplay is a little sloppy; Long and frequent load times.
Firing on all levels, and missing on practically none, Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is a must play for everyone.