Three years ago Toys for Bob and Vicarious Visions revived Crash Bandicoot in the N*Sane Trilogy, bringing Crash Bandicoot back to his roots. With the success of the remaster many hoped that it meant that Crash Bandicoot was back. Toys for Bob just released Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time continuing the story from Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped (ignoring the events of Wrath of Cortex and Twinsanity from the PlayStation 2.) This new sequel expands the scope of gameplay adding new characters, new mechanics, and new powers, but how good is it?
Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time picks up from the ending of Crash Bandicoot 3 with the banishment of Aku-Aku, N. Cortex, and N. Tropy from time. Aku-Aku does manage to break them out tearing a hole in Space-Time that causes different periods to begin to combine together as reality breaks around it. Seeing these cracks Crash, Coco, and Uka-Uka head off to find the Quantum Masks to save the day. As far as Crash Bandicoot stories go it absolutely nails it, short and sweet throwing the player into action as soon as possible.
In contrast to previous games where Crash hops from Jungle, to Icy Tundra, and into Space, the breaking down of Space-Time lends a fun and plausible reason for these different environments to be so close together. It's not just different times that intersect with one another but also alternate dimensions, as evident by a Tawna from a parallel dimension. Tawna's appearance as a kick-butt flying solo kind of character is an interesting reimagining of the character whose only canonical appearance has been as the damsel in distress.
From start to end, the story is filled with the perfect amount of Crash Bandicoot humor, and by that I mean there's a lot of it. Sight gags, double entendre, and slapstick fill the short cutscenes between levels as new characters get introduced and the plot progresses. One of the most interesting parts of the story is the information shared about Cortex's original plan for Crash.
The core gameplay of Crash Bandicoot is still very faithful to its roots as a hallway 3D platformer. As Crash or Coco you will be running, jumping, and spinning your way through the different levels. Along the way avoid enemies and traps while breaking boxes, collecting wumpa fruit, and looking out for secrets. For returning fans of the franchise Crash's movement has had a few tweaks that might take some getting used to. Crash's slide now stops his momentum pretty rapidly. It still works to get under obstacles and attack enemies, it doesn't chain into his jumps as cleanly. What used to be the fastest way to move as Crash might now be the slowest. Another small tweak is that Crash's double jump also resets his momentum somewhat. Differences in pacing between the first and second jump can throw off your platforming and will certainly take some time to get used to.
Other playable characters like Tawna, Dingodile, and Cortex each have their own unique mechanics changing up their level layouts. This variety in gameplay was a welcome shift, they were unique enough to keep the game interesting, but not far enough from the norm that it felt like I was playing a different game. Tawna's gameplay has the least variation, mostly putting boxes in harder to reach places to force you to use her grappling hook to reach them and throwing in a wall jump every now and then.
Dingodile and Cortex however were the biggest deviations. Instead of a double jump like Crash or Tawna Dingodile uses a Yoshi-like flutter move when holding jump, and Cortex has a single jump and dash. Another big departure from the formula here is both of their use of weapons. DIngodile has a vacuum canon, while you'll primarily use it to suck up hard to reach boxes it can load and fire TNT. You can then use the TNT to clear a path in front of you. Cortex's weapon, on the other hand, is a lazer gun. On contact with a box it will destroy it, but hitting an enemy once will turn them to stone, twice for a bouncy pad. This added interesting mechanics to levels where you'd have to plan out where you freeze enemies to create your own path. What Dingodile and Cotrex suffer from most how imprecise it is to aim a projectile in 3D space. When firing TNT at an enemy I felt like half the time it would miss requiring me to take them out using other means. Not the end of the world, but certainly a frustrating feeling after a few missed shots.
Level scoring has had the largest change. In previous Crash Bandicoot titles you earn the Crystal through the level, a Gem if you destroy all boxes, and a Relic when you complete the levels time trial. Crash Bandicoot 4 takes the collectables to a level never before seen in the franchises history. The role of wumpa fruit is now a percentage collectable of a level. Depending on how many fruit you collect you can earn one to three Gems, breaking all the boxes nets you a gem like normal, there is also a secret gem hidden in every level, and a gem you earn for completing the level without dying more than three times.
The gems earned all go towards unlocking different costumes for Crash and Coco to head into levels with but each level having a minimum of six of the same collectable for different criteria honestly feels like overkill. The gems for collecting different levels of fruit, and by destroying all boxes are all just an escalation of one another. Why have four gems you can collect when only one is needed? The superfluous collectables, does add some level of replayability re-entering a level to focus of not dying vs collecting all boxes, but also made the game feel like a chore at times.
The biggest gameplay changes come from the Quantum Masks themselves. Lani-Loli the Mask of Phase, 'Akano the Mask of Dark Matter, Kapuna-Wa the Mask of Time, and Ika-Ika the Mask of Gravity. At certain points during levels the masks will appear to you and attach themselves to Crash or Coco giving them armor in the theme of the mask. Phase allows you to alternate between two realities where object are solid or not. You'll be forced to time jumps between platforms, through non-corporial objects, and even onto boxes while alternating betwen the two realities.
Dark Matter gives Crash an unlimited spin that can break any box, it also has the added effect of granting extra heights on jumps and slowing your fall using the spin like a helecopters propellors. When spinning Crash will immediately break TNT boxes though. Toggling it at the right time will allow you to carry great momentum, but also not destroy any required boxes along the way (and yourself with them.) This power was not only used fantastically, but also felt the best to use.
The Mask of Time simply gives you the ability to slow down the world for a short period of time, aside from a few timing puzzles there wasn't really much else for this ability to be used for. The Mask of Gravity turns Crash into Gravity Guy allowing him to toggle gravity from falling down to rising up. Like the Mask of Time it's a simple concept and while it's used well it just doesn't have the capacity for expansion and development like the other two masks.
The time that the masks really shine is in the last few levels of the game where you begin to get their abilities in quick succession. In a single sequence you'll need to phase between lazers and a platform, drop onto TNT with Dark Matter, spin jump to set off other TNT before picking up the Mask of Time to make it through a small window. While it's a complete shame that this kind of mask synergy wasn't introduced earlier into the game the few moments that really trip you up with it are absolutely fantastic. Most levels I was able to clear under 10 deaths, the first level that required this amount of precision and mask swapping I finished with 40 deaths. It was frustrating, and I always knew what I was doing wrong, and finally completing it felt so right!
Crash Bandicoot 4 looks and runs great and adds a lot of new content to the franchise. New levels, playable characters, mechanics and more for people to get their hands on. Some aspects like the additional playable characters worked fantastically well making slight variations on the formula to keep players interested and the gameplay fresh, but some core parts of the gameplay experience such as Crash's jumping were changed for the worse. Even the expanded collectables, while potentially a good idea on paper, got ahead of itself by changing a bit too much. With so much being added it's understandable that not everything would be a success and Toys for Bob definitely nailed the large majority of Crash Bandicoot 4. While it might not become your favorite Bandicoot outing it's one any fan should experience.
TechRaptor reviewed Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time on Xbox One using a copy purchased by the reviewer. It is also available on PlayStation 4.
- Platforming Goodness...
- Interesting New Characters
- Pure Crash Humor
- ...What Did They Do To His Slide?
- Mask Combinations Underutilized
- Overcomplicates Collectables