I'm not sure what I expected Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time to be but I can tell you one thing: I didn't think it would be nearly as good as it is. Gorgeously animated, continuously fun to play while being both challenging and controlling so tightly, the first true sequel in the Crash Bandicoot saga in over 22 years is a monumental success and hopefully paves the way for further excellent installments.
Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped was the first video game I ever owned. Actually, scratch that, it was the first game I ever played! It’s been just under a score since I first played the Crash Bandicoot series and while it may have fallen into ill repute with some of those less than stellar (and actually really bad) PS2 games, those first three games back on the original PlayStation stand the test of time as really engaging, tough-as-nails platformers. Helped along by a zany cast of characters, I’d argue that genetically altered bandicoot, equipped with cargo shorts for that perfect 90’s look, is maybe the second most recognisable video game character outside of Mario.
What this all means is that returning to that franchise, one that holds so much nostalgia and was largely ruined by games that didn’t actually know what made the original trilogy so good, was a bold move. Yet considering the remake of that trilogy, 2018’s N.Sane Trilogy, was such a success it seems like the perfect time to build on that framework.
Thus, there’s an unimaginable weight riding on the shoulders of Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time largely because it was sold as a true return to form. A celebration and a continuation of the Original PS trilogy that expanded on the gameplay yet retained the familiar roots we all remember so well. Fortunately for everyone, developer and publisher included, Crash Bandicoot 4 delivers on all fronts and is maybe one of my favourite games of the year so far.
Running in the 2020s
My biggest concern when it was announced that Crash was getting a proper, long-awaited canonical sequel was that it would be too much of a deviation from the originals. All those PS2 games like Twinsanity and Crash of the Titans attempted to continue the franchise moving forward but changed so much that they played like fundamentally different games. That’s not the case with About Time, a game made by people who very clearly adored the original trilogy.
You’ll switch back and forth between the side-scrolling camera, behind-the-back camera and the front-facing camera for when Crash is running toward the screen. The levels, all themed around different periods in history, have wildly different aesthetics unified by the copious amounts of crates strewn about the place, hidden areas and a handful of different masks to spice things up (more on those in a second).
Every level essentially has the same goal: Make it to the other end and smash every crate along the way. You’ll also need to collect as much wumpa fruit as you possibly can and finish out the stage with as few deaths as possible. It sounds like a straightforward series of objectives but I certainly won’t be the first to go on record and say how hard this game can be. Again, sticking close to the series’ roots, Crash Bandicoot 4 is challenging to complete, let alone 100%. It’s… actually really refreshing. While kids can still play it and probably do alright, older players looking for a game that will push them just a bit further than they’re used to will get loads of value out of About Time.
Under the mask
The big mechanical hook of Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is the introduction of Quantum Masks. The villainous Dr N. Tropy and Cortex have hatched a plan to capture and control a group of Quantum Masks, entities so powerful they can control time and space. Crash and his sister Coco have to work together and stop them before they find and contain those all-powerful masks.
In doing so, you’ll be able to don different masks at certain points of the game’s levels. These are the main mechanical differentiators you’ll encounter as they give you certain abilities that fundamentally change up the gameplay. For example, Lani-Loli allows Crash and Coco to phase objects into and out of existence, making for some intense segments of leaping into nothing and hoping you’re fast enough to create a platform below yourself. Another mask, Akano, allows our heroes to spin attack indefinitely, making for areas that require long periods of precision gliding.
While they might seem like gimmicks, the Quantum Masks offer a solid spread of variation in terms of the Crash Bandicoot 4′s mechanics. You can see the developers allowed themselves to get as creative as possible when designing the game’s levels, spurred on by the ridiculous new abilities afforded to the player. While certain masks feel more prominent than others, they all work together to create a platformer that’s never boring.
Yet the best thing I can say about Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time isn’t the varied gameplay, quirky story or gorgeous animation; the crowning achievement is how well it handles. Crash Bandicoot has always had some of the more… memorable controls, with the original games improving the responsiveness and tightness of character with each iteration.
The latest game is no exception as platforming in Crash 4 feels exceptional. The controls are tight and fluid, never resulting in a poorly timed jump or awkward landing. Everything feels precise which is exactly what you want for a platformer as challenging as this. It’s further helped along by a small yellow reticle that’s always under the player character’s feet, indicating exactly where you’ll land when you come down from a jump. It’s a small addition to the UI but it helps the game feel more accurate.
Crash Bandicoot 4 may be challenging but it’s never frustrating. At least, the game isn’t. It felt like every death was my own fault and not down to the game screwing over, so the frustration experienced was all on me. That’s a difficult line to walk as a platformer and yet this game does it fluidly.
I’m not sure what I expected Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time to be but I can tell you one thing: I didn’t think it would be nearly as good as it is. Gorgeously animated, continuously fun to play while being both challenging and controlling so tightly, the first true sequel in the Crash Bandicoot saga in over 22 years is a monumental success and hopefully paves the way for further excellent instalments.