Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time: Good Times
Updated: Nov 20
Side-stepping 20 years of mediocrity to pick things up where Crash 3 left them in 1998, Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time treads a fine line between being a faithful extension of the original trilogy and modernizing or correcting some of the less enjoyable aspects of the '90s platformers.
The result is a fantastic though occasionally frustrating game which adds a few new tricks to Crash's arsenal, expands on the series' colorful cast of characters in a delightful way and gets to the heart of what made the originals so beloved. The Saturday morning cartoon sounds and animation return in full force with a 4K neon-splashed edge here, while the devious levels are more dense, lush and varied than ever before.
At its best Crash 4 is like its predecessors were in their heyday; beautiful and challenging, bursting with personality and balancing the occasional cruel twist with slapstick death animations that make failure at least a little bit funny. On the other hand, for all its updating, the design here sticks so closely to the originals that the old games' biggest flaws have been brought over as well.
As the game opens, villains Neo Cortex and N. Trophy have broken free of galactic prison and torn holes in space and time. Crash and his sister Coco (you can play as either at any point) set out to collect powerful Quantum Masks from throughout the continuum to set things right, travelling to a Mad Max style post apocalypse, a ghostly ancient Japanese village and many more interesting locales along the way. Levels seamlessly blend Crash's traditional movement — away from or towards the camera — with side-scrolling sections and more open 3D areas. As ever, the hilariously goofy enemies operate in wrote cycles or animations, requiring timing and a bit of memorization to get past using your jumps and spins. It's an unapologetic-ally retro approach, but modernized in subtle ways.
For example a new double-jump and yellow landing indicator make it much easier to avoid falls to your doom, in a way that still feels like old-school Crash. That said, imprecise platforming remains the biggest bandicoot-killer in the game. Crash was always hard to control and, in an effort to keep much of the original games' locomotion here, he still has a tendency to become unwieldy under pressure leading to many frustrating deaths. You don't have to worry about running out of lives in the standard game mode, which helps, though purists can turn on "retro mode" to reinstate the old-school tension of limited tries.
A key change in Crash 4 is the Quantum Masks, which appear as powerup suits in set areas and let you invert gravity, spin endlessly like a top and more. Each one expands the bandicoots' capabilities and makes for some really fun segments, but the added complexity also has a tendency to increase the frustration factor. If you thought Crash was loose before, just wait until he's constantly spinning and literally unable to stop.
Thankfully the game takes a page from Nintendo's playbook by making the most difficult and frustrating tasks purely optional. Running through each level is generally a breeze, with a few challenges that might require repeat attempts. But collecting all the gems (by getting all the wumpa fruit, breaking all the crates, not dying, etc) can be a maddening slog, just like in the older games. Collecting all the gems in each level unlocks a cool outfit for Crash or Coco, which may help you decide which levels you really want to finish completely.
Crash 4 is filled with a huge amount of content, with the main levels supplemented by alternate versions that mix things up and radically change the art style, plus challenge rooms you find on hidden VHS tapes. Then there are multiplayer modes, including a traditional pass-the-controller option and competitive play. But my favourite diversions see you take control of other characters, who play quite differently to Crash, in optional parallel side stories. This includes the bizarre vacuum-toting Dingodile, Neo Cortex with a gun that turns enemies into platforms, and the spin-kicking grapple-hooking Tawna; revamped from a sexualised trophy in the original game to a gritty time-travelling action hero here.
Overall this is classic Crash, warts and all, updated for 2020. It looks and sounds phenomenal, is a touch more lenient, injects some new mechanics and takes much more care with the delivery of its story and characters. Given how poorly previous attempts to update Crash have turned out, this is a marvellous effort that should please old fans, their kids, and those just looking for a brilliant if potentially gruelling retro platforming adventure.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time is out now for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 (reviewed).