From the opening moments of Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time you’ll be sucked into a wave of ’90s nostalgia. It’s been a long time since a new mainline Crash game and fans have longed for a worthy sequel to the excellent originals for two decades. It’s About Time delivers on just about everything you could want from a modern Crash sequel, but it adds in a bunch of new features too. While not all of them will impress older Crash fans, it’s hard not to feel total joy when you’re playing the game.
Crash Bandicoot 4 is a direct sequel to Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped and picks up with Cortex and N. Tropy still trapped in the alternate dimension they were stranded in at the conclusion of the original trilogy. Nothing lasts forever and the relative peace of the Wumpa Islands is soon destroyed when Cortex and N. Tropy escape.
It isn’t long before Crash is forced back into action as life on the Wumpa Islands gets weird. There’s dimensional rifts happening, magic masks escaping their mortal bounds and all manner of chaos abounding. Just a typical day for Crash, really.
The opening levels of Crash 4 are just stunning.
The first thing you’ll notice is the game’s killer soundtrack. It’s heavily influenced by the original trilogy but it’s got its own unique flavour as well. There’s remixed original tracks, but plenty of new head-bopping beats as well. Unlike Wrath of Cortex or Crash of the Titans, It’s About Time feels heavily influenced by the original games even when it’s doing things differently.
At its core, it’s a true Crash sequel.
If you’ve ever played the originals, you’ll know what to expect here. The moveset is the same and your goals are, too: travel through a variety of locales including tropical islands, jungles and deserts while fending off Cortex and his minions, collecting gems and generally saving the day. But in It’s About Time, things get a lot more complicated.
The major difference between the original trilogy and It’s About Time is its inclusion of new ability-based masks. The first mask you nab is Lani-Loli, the phasing mask. When Crash wears this mask, he can ‘unphase’ objects from reality. These include boxes and obstacles like barriers, barrels and mountains. To phase in and out, you’ll need to press triangle (or the equivalent on Xbox One), sometimes in between jumps or at a moment’s notice. It’s a new quirk that takes some getting used to, particularly because it requires a precision and concentration not normally found in Crash games. (You’ll need to be very co-ordinated to pull off some of the phasing jumps.)
I know I’m getting old and rusty, but it’s mind-boggling to once again find Crash Bandicoot difficult. I’ve played the games so often with my family I’ve forgotten just how hard the originals really were. There’s boxes to collect, hidden gems to find and brand new collectibles with this Crash sequel. You’ll need to grab everything if you want to finish the game properly. Finding them all on your first run through is a major pain, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t joy in the chase. It’s equal parts fun and frustrating to continuously miss hidden boxes but it is a staple of the Crash Bandicoot franchise, after all.
Another major change in Crash Bandicoot 4 is its collectible system. Rather than the usual one crystal/one gem/one relic system, each level in Crash 4 comes with multiple gems to collect. You can grab a gem for collecting all the boxes, but you can also get one for collecting apples or find them hiding in crevices.
Some levels have six or seven gems, all obtained by different means. If you want to collect them all, you’ll need to be very vigilant and keep your eyes firmly peeled.
Collecting more gems will unlock the game’s only bad addition to the Crash formula: skins. The more gems you unlock, the more unique costumes you’ll find. It’s not a loot box system and doesn’t rely on microtransactions, but it feels exactly the same way. It’s an insta-reward system designed to keep players coming back for more. Maybe it’s a sign of the times, but I don’t feel like all games need instant rewards. Finally completing Crash levels in the original games was its own reward.
Skin-based incentives feel wrong and intrusive in Crash 4. I’m willing to admit younger players may enjoy it, but it doesn’t feel right when Crash 4 gets everything else so perfect.
Another newer (and less annoying) feature you’ll encounter in the opening chapters of the game is sliding gameplay segments that change up the classic formula. These require you to flip, phase and jump your way along a vine, all while collecting boxes at high speed. You’ll need to be very co-ordinated to nab these bad boys, but it’s great fun regardless and breaks up levels nicely. Sure, there’s moments of frustration but it’s the best feeling when you finally succeed.
If you’re struggling with these new segments (and Crash 4 brings a bunch to the table), the game does provide a very helpful option. When you start, you’ll be offered two modes: modern and retro. The retro/classic mode is how you’d normally play a Crash game: lose all your lives and you start the level over. In modern mode, you don’t get lives, you just rack up a ‘kill debt’. Basically, a little skull in the corner will count how many times you die in a level and you can watch your shame grow as you progress. There’ll be more checkpoints littered throughout the game in this mode, so you don’t have to worry too much about dying over and over.
It’s a great system, particularly if you’re just getting to grips with Crash 4‘s new formula.
Returning players will love Crash Bandicoot 4. It looks and feels fantastic, and it absolutely does justice to the original trilogy. There will be some teething issues with jumps not quite being the same (although you now get a yellow ring below you for added precision) and the skid-jump not taking you as far, but outside of these difficulties Crash 4 is an absolute gift for Crash Bandicoot fans.
There’s a lot to love for newer players here, too. The story is pretty thin on backstory to begin with and it may be confusing if you’ve never jumped into a Crash game before, but the story just isn’t as important as the game’s incredibly fun gameplay and excellent level design. It shouldn’t be hard to jump in and experience Crash if you’ve never played the games before.
As of writing, I’ve only complete the first few chapters of Crash Bandicoot 4, as well as the mid-game demo levels provided in an early preview. None of them have been disappointing. Crash Bandicoot 4 feels like it’s been developed by a team with a real love for the world of Crash. While there’s a bunch of new additions that feel strange in Crash’s world (the skins in particular are an odd inclusion) there’s a cohesiveness and care here that feels fantastic. Each level is gorgeous, fully-realised and a bundle of fun. Crash Bandicoot 4 is absolutely worthy of the iconic marsupial’s legacy.
Stay tuned for a more comprehensive review as all the action unfolds.