It’s About Time – for a brand-wumping new Crash Bandicoot™ game! Crash fourward into a time shattered adventure with your favourite marsupials. Neo Cortex and N. Tropy are back at it again and launching an all-out assault on not just this universe, but the entire multiverse! Crash and Coco are here to save the day by reuniting the four Quantum Masks and bending the rules of reality.
Reviewed on: PS4 (Pro unit)
Also available for: Xbox One
Cast: Scott Whyte, Ursula Taherian, Zeno Robinson, Roger Craig Smith, Richard Steven Horvitz, Lex Lang, JP Karliak, Jonathan Lipow, Greg Eagles, Fred Tatasciore, Eden Riegel, Corey Burton
Developer: Toys For Bob
Creative Director: Dan Neil
Design Director: Toby Schadt
Art Directors: Amber Long, Josh Nadelberg
Writer: Mandy Benanav
Just like the Halloween sequel from a couple of years ago, Crash Bandicoot has rewound time on the un-loved sequels to instead produce a continuation of the original trilogy. Although it was never going to hit the nostalgia levels that the Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy did in 2017, Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is easily the best Crash game we’ve had since Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped released in 1998.
After years of being locked in an end-of-the-universe prison by Crash and friends at the end of Warped, Doctors Neo Cortex & Nefarious Tropy and the mask Uka Uka finally make their escape. However, in doing so they rip a hole in reality and time itself. So, of course, it’s up to Crash, Coco, Aku Aku and some new friends met along the way to put a stop to the would-be destroyers of the universe as they hop from one timezone to another across 40+ levels of box-jumping and classic Crash Bandicoot action.
The story is surprisingly a lot of fun. The cast of characters are all full of personality and the villains are even hammier with their evil monologues than usual. It’s also the longest Crash game which took me about 7-8 hours to complete and that’s before diving into the bonus levels and attempting to 100% the game (but I’ll come back to that.)
A smile spread across my face as I picked up the controller for the first time and began the game’s first level, “Rude Awakening.” It takes place on N.Sanity Beach and that classic location definitely pulled at the nostalgia strings. This wasn’t the last time either as there are several throwbacks or references to the past games, but It’s About Time doesn’t get bogged down in just wanting to be a nostalgia-board for fans. After all, that’s why we have the N.Sanity Collection.
Boulder running takes a new form in Crash Bandicoot 4
If you’ve played any of the classic Crash Bandicoot games you’ll know what you’re in for with Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time. It’s classic 3D platforming but it feels better than ever, especially on my PlayStation 4 Pro where the game seems to hit a steady 60fps most of the time. In comparison to the locked 30fps of the N.Sanity Collection, this is a huge difference and Crash’s actions feel more precise than ever before. Which is a good thing because this is also the hardest game in the series that requires some pin-point movements and fast decision making.
In conjunction with typical Crash Bandicoot platforming that will see you bouncing on boxes, spinning enemies, and performing platforming either in a 3D space going forward or some side-scrolling sections, you’re given four new masks as the story progress. These four Quantum Masks give you the ability to slow down time, bend gravity, spin like a tornado and play with reality. Each is used in smart ways throughout the campaign and never feel like silly gimmicks just to get more masks into the game. They don’t replace Aku Aku masks, which still appear in crates like previous games and allow you to take an extra bump, but instead appear at key segments of levels you need them for. These masks are the core reason for the difficulty of the game as they each add an additional precision input needed from players on top of the usual jumping, and spinning. This is especially true in the later levels where you need to perform fast and precise platforming in tandem with the Quantum Masks abilities.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time does give you two difficulty options to pick from. A ‘Classic’ mode that will see you getting a game over screen if you run out of lives and have to start the level all over again, or the ‘Modern’ mode which lets you restart from a checkpoint an infinite amount of times. The game suggests the ‘Modern’ mode and it’s what I played on and the game is clearly designed with this mode in mind. The game’s most difficult levels are somewhat soft-padded knowing you can try indefinitely, although it does keep a death counter in the corner of the screen so you’re aware how bad you’re playing at all times. Knowing that most players will be playing on ‘Modern’, developer Toys For Bob is able to push the difficulty-up like never before. If they’d made these same levels but only included the classic Crash lives system, I don’t think the game would be received as positively by fans or critics — myself included.
One thing I did notice as well was that the game will add an extra checkpoint just past one set of obstacles if you’re dying too many times. I had it happen in one of the last levels and although I didn’t need the checkpoint to get past the particular obstacle, it was nice to not have to worry about clearing that each time before dying on the section I was stuck on.
Dimension changing action as seen in Crash Bandicoot
You don’t just have Crash alone for the journey this time either. If you want to play as Coco you can at any point and she controls exactly the same as Crash. You can also play briefly as an alternative dimension Tawna (Crash’s ex-GF from the original game), Dingodile and Cortex. Each of them plays in their own unique way and although I’d happily play a full-game as Tawna, I wasn’t as big a fan as the other two.
Cortex levels feature Celeste-like dashing which is fine, but I found his ray-gun, which turns enemies into solid or bouncing platforms, to be rather finicky. Dingodile feels out of place in the game and his vacuum-gun, much like Cortex, was a pain to aim. Both of these weapons have no reticle or control with the second analogue stick, so you’re often pushing these characters towards the edge of ledges to aim at something and quickly spinning back around after firing to save yourself from falling. Tawna has a grappling hook that can be used to stun enemies, break boxes or fling herself across large gaps. She can also wall-jump up areas neither Crash nor Coco could. She’s the most fun to play as simply because her kit of abilities work hassle-free.
For all three characters, you play the majority of their levels in flashback sequences that are unlocked after you’ve beaten a level as Crash. You then get to see how one of them affected something that happened in the level before switching back to Crash to finish the level off again. It’s a neat idea, but it lost its charm on me quickly. I would have rather seen all three characters just worked into the campaign naturally and had their own full-fledged levels rather than a bunch of half-levels.
Bonus levels are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the amount of content in Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time. Each level has 4 clear gems to unlock (find 40/60/80% of fruit in a level and destroying all crates), a relic for dying less than three times and a time trial relic. You then have N.Verted levels which are inverted mode replays of the game’s 43 levels with a new graphics mode that imposes everything with a trippy haze. Each of these has its own set of gems to unlock as well. Then there are 21 flashback tapes to find and complete. Unlocking these is hard enough, but completing them is on another level.
All-up there is a ridiculous amount of stuff to do in It’s About Time and it ruins what made the original Crash trilogy work. If you play all three of those games in the N.Sane Trilogy, it’s easy to wrap your head around what you need to do: grab a crystal, smash all the boxes, and beat a time trial. In Crash 4 there’s so much that it feels unobtainable. The carrot on the end of the stick isn’t as exciting as it was on that trilogy a couple of years ago, or when I played the original games as a kid.
Developer Toys for Bob have played around with a couple of Crash staples to different effect. Adding a yellow circle below crash to help you pull off tight platforming is a much-needed quality-of-life improvement I don’t think I couldn’t go without now. But other small changes like adding in boxes that breathe fire just slow down the pace of the game and seem totally unnecessary. Levels like the boulder-runs and hog-rides still exist, but instead of making them the focus of the entire level, they’re just a portion of a level. This helps the overall flow of the campaign.