Review: Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time

The long-dormant Crash Bandicoot franchise received a jolt of life thanks to the N. Sane Trilogy. The remastered trilogy reminded gamers why Crash was so beloved back on the original PlayStation and cries for a proper follow-up quickly amplified after its success. Activision and Toys for Bob heard those cries and answered with Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time. Taking place after the events of Crash Bandicoot: Warped, Crash Bandicoot 4 aims to be a proper sequel that continues the franchise’s legacy. Does Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time forge a future for the Crash series or should it be banished to a place beyond space and time?

Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time follows Crash, Coco and Aku-Aku as they attempt to thwart Dr. Neo Cortex and Dr. N. Tropy’s latest scheme. Trapped in the past, the two villains escape their prison by ripping a hole in the space-time continuum, inadvertently waking up the Quantum Masks. With all of existence hanging in danger, Crash and company must travel through dimensions to reunite the Quantum Masks and restore balance to the multiverse. Crash Bandicoot 4’s story is charming and quirky, providing enough beats to keep players going without weighing them down with weighty exposition. It’s lighthearted enjoyment that’s easy to play through and each of the characters brings an infectious level of charisma to the plot. There’s nothing revolutionary here and it’s short, but it’s enjoyable enough to see players through to the end credits.

What helps sell the story is the snappy writing and clever fourth wall breaking long time Crash fans will pick up. The voice cast does an excellent job delivering high-energy performances. With cutscenes mostly relegated to before and after completing worlds, it feels like there’s not enough time to enjoy the performances thoroughly. What’s there is entertaining, but a longer story would have been nice. Crash Bandicoot 4’s story is short and can be wrapped up in 6-8 hours, depending on how quickly players move through the levels. Thankfully, there’s still plenty to do before or after the credits roll. There are tons of skins to unlock, hidden gems to find and other types of missions to engage with during your playtime.

Overall, the playtime is spread across 10 dimensions with 2-4 story missions apiece. Every dimension comes with its own theme and style, injecting plenty of character into every level. You’ll platform alongside dinosaurs, dodge zombies on ice and infiltrate lairs in space. There’s plenty of variety and the level design is mostly up to par. The game finds a decent middle ground between being too easy and overly difficult. There will be moments where Crash Bandicoot 4 feels like a breeze and other moments where it’s brutally difficult. For the most part, these moments are few and far between, and most of the game is an enjoyable challenge. Outside of the main campaign, there are plenty of additional excursions to play through. Those who want additional story content can play through “alternate timeline” missions. These allow players to play as one of the side characters (Neo Cortex, Tawna and Dingodile) and provide additional context to particular moments. They’re fun additions that give players different movesets to enjoy.

Those looking for additional platforming challenges can find that in the Flashback levels. Unlocked via VHS tapes, these levels occur before the events of the original game and provide insight into Neo Cortex’s experiments on Crash. Meanwhile, extra gameplay challenges come in the form Time Trial modes and the new N. Verted mode, a mirrored mode with unique gameplay twists that add a new way to challenge yourself. So, though the main story can be completed in 6-8 hours, there’s plenty of additional content to keep players hooked. Crash Bandicoot 4 embraces the gameplay mechanics of the past, along with a handful of new mechanics. Many of Crash and Coco’s moveset remains unchanged from past games, allowing players to spin, slide, jump and bounce off crates. Each level involves using these moves to defeat enemies, bust open crates, collect Wumpa fruit and avoid environmental traps. It’s an addicting balance of mechanics that worked back on PlayStation and still manages to work today.

Getting through the game involves plenty of trial and error. Crash Bandicoot 4 encourages players to learn from their mistakes to master each level. Usually, the results leave you feeling great about mastering a challenging platforming section. That isn’t to say there aren’t hiccups, mostly surrounding the camera during rail-grinding sections. While the camera is usually good about providing a preview of upcoming dangers on the ground, it often becomes obscured by other objects during rail sections that can result in frustrating deaths. It doesn’t feel fair, for example, when the camera focuses on a tree rather than showing there’s an incoming boulder.

Crash Bandicoot 4 does throw new mechanics into the mix, including wall running, but the significant changes lie with the new playable characters and the Quantum Masks. While Crash and Coco feature identical movesets, the additional characters bring wildly different play styles to the mix. The closest in style to the Bandicoots, Tawna wields a grappling hook that opens up new platforming opportunities and hit enemies from long distances. Dingodile uses a vacuum gun to help him get over long distances and suck up and throw objects. Finally, Cortex’s ray gun allows him to solidify or jellify objects, increasing his limited mobility. These characters are fun to play as and provide a welcoming break from Crash and Coco.

Quantum Masks are the most considerable change to the established formula, with each throwing in a unique mechanic. Lani-Loli phase shifts objects in and out of reality, Kupuna-Wa slows time, Ika-Ika flips the direction of gravity, and finally, Akano creates a whirlwind of energy that allows Crash and Coco to glide in the air and destroy nearby objects. Of the four masks, Lani-Loli and Kupuna-Wa are the easiest to understand and master. Akano is fun to use but can be a pain in precision platforming due to the physics and sometimes questionable hitboxes surrounding TNT crates. Ika-Ika, however, is the most painful to use due to the change in perspective and the built-in delay between activating the power and when it goes into effect. It’s not uncommon to frustratingly die after activating Ika-Ika and the ability not taking affect in time. When all the mechanics combine, Crash Bandicoot 4 offers fantastic platforming. The Quantum Masks do enough to shake up the Crash formula to where they don’t feel like gimmicks, though there are frustrating moments trying to master Akano and Ika-Ika. While the Quantum Masks aren’t a complete slam dunk, the new characters are. They’re all enjoyable to play with movesets that routinely shake up the formula.

Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy set a remarkable standard for what a Crash Bandicoot game could look like on current-gen platforms. Crash Bandicoot 4 goes above and beyond to deliver a colorful, smooth platformer. The game looks fantastic with gorgeously-detailed levels, beautiful hair rendering on Crash and Coco, and impressive visual effects. Though the game operates at 30fps on base consoles and unlocked on PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, it remains smooth to play throughout. Despite slick graphics fit for today’s consoles, Crash Bandicoot 4 blends new and old seamlessly into the presentation. From the grainy looking VHS-like visual style during Flashback Levels to classic PS1 style skins to the familiar tunes, there’s plenty of retro goodies for longtime fans to look and listen to throughout the game. Crash Bandicoot 4 delivers a visual presentation befitting the current-gen consoles, but doesn’t forget its roots.

Closing Comments:

Crash Bandicoot fans have waited well over a decade for a proper follow-up that honored the legacy of Naughty Dog’s classic trilogy. Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time mostly delivers on that promise, crafting an experience that embraces the mechanics that made the franchise such a hit, while adding its unique spin. The story isn’t anything special, but Crash and Coco’s story is told with such enthusiasm and charisma that it’s hard not to get sucked in for the 6-8 hour duration. The ten dimensions are wonderfully designed, filled with plenty of intricate levels that will test your platforming capabilities. Thankfully, the gameplay for Crash, Coco and the side characters remains excellent, though the new Quantum Masks and camera issues create some frustrating moments. It’s all wrapped together in a colorful and beautiful presentation that takes advantage of this current crop of hardware. It’s about time we got a good new Crash game and Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time delivers just that.