Not long ago, I had written off Crash Bandicoot. After those amazing three original games on PlayStation by Naughty Dog, Activision Blizzard churned out bland sequels until the franchise seemed dead. Then 2017 brought a compilation of great remakes of those games with the N. Sane Trilogy. Hope flickered. Still, I would have never thought that my favorite Crash Bandicoot game would come out in 2020.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time comes out October 2 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One (I played on a PlayStation 4 Pro). I understand if you’re too busy looking forward to those next-gen machines coming out in November to be excited for a 3D platformer on PS4 and Xbox One.
But if you ever loved Crash — whether through those PlayStation classics or by experiencing the fantastic remakes — then you should be interested in It’s About Time.
Back to basics
Crash Bandicoot 4 comes from Toys to Bob. That’s the team behind the Spyro remakes. Being faithful to the original is important for any remake, but Toys for Bob has applied that same spirit to this Crash sequel. Just like with the original games, It’s About Time is a simple 3D platformer. It uses the same formula from the Crash Bandicoot trilogy. You explore linear levels by navigating through a mix of 3D corridor-based sections and 2D areas.
Compared to the crazy acrobatics of Mario or the high speeds of Sonic, Crash can seem simple. But the beauty is in that simplicity. The best Crash Bandicoot games focus on precision platforming set in beautiful, cartoon-inspired levels.
Instead of trying to turn Crash Bandicoot into an open world experience or a brawler-based action game, Toys for Bob has instead used that original formula to craft an experience that is familiar yet remarkable. Sometimes, we have this unfair demand that all sequels reinvent or innovate. Crash Bandicoot 4 shows that often, all we really need is a new take on an old idea.
Masks and marsupials
Not that Crash Bandicoot 4 doesn’t have new tricks to make it feel like more than a retread. As you play through the adventure, you come across four magical masks. These serve as powerups that give you special abilities. One mask slows down time for short bit. Another reverses gravity, so you can flip yourself onto the roof. These gimmicks add some needed variety and excitement.
You’ll also occasionally play as new characters. For most levels, you can control either Crash or his sister, Coco. Each have the same abilities that you’ll recognize from the original games. Some levels have you playing as Tawna, who uses a grappling hook and can do wall-jumps. Then there’s Dingodile, who has a giant vacuum that can suck up crates (I was getting some Blinx vibes while playing it). You can even play as series villain Neo Cortex, who can turn enemies into platforms with a ray gun.
I remember Crash Bandicoot 3 tried to add variety to its stages with vehicle levels. You’d suddenly find yourself flying a plane or riding a motorcycle. Those are a bit much for me. I’m playing a 3D platfomer. I want to, you know, jump. Having these different characters with their new abilities does a much better job of adding variety while not diverging too far from the core experience.
Crash 4 has the level design and precision to make a great 3D platformer. The art elevates the experience. These stages are beautiful and brimming with creativity. I mean, sure, you have an ice level. But it’s also a stage inhabited by zombie anglers. A dinosaur-themed level may not seem all that special, but it’s extensive foliage and bright colors make it pop out like a scene from an animated movie.
And when it comes to the animation, the characters and enemies are expressive and fun to watch. Toys to Bob’s animation work on the Spyro remake floored me, and that same expertise makes Crash 4 endearing and full of life. Crash 4 even looks better than those beautiful remakes of the PlayStation trilogy, thanks to its brighter colors and more cartoon-inspired character designs.
The boss battles are another showcase of amazing creativity. As much as I love the original Crash game, they always had weak boss fights. Not so for Crash 4! These fights are full of surprises that test your platforming prowess.
Play it your way
Crash games can be hard. It’s part of the fun. Crash 4 also offers a good challenge, but you can alleviate the difficulty. No, you just don’t select some sort of easy mode. Instead, you can play the game with a lives system or without one. Of course, the original Crash (and most old 3D platfomers) has lives. If you die when you have lives, you restart at a checkpoint. Run out of lives, and you start a level from the beginning.
Some players will no doubt still crave the stakes that come from the threat of a “game over.” But most people will be happier playing without lives. In that mode, if you die, you always go back to the last checkpoint.
It still has a way for rewarding you for good play. If you beat a level while only dying a few times, you get a gem. You also get gems for collecting wumpa fruit (Crash’s version of coins or rings). Before, getting 100 wumpa fruit would give you an extra life.
Getting gems unlocks new costumes for Crash and Coco. This is a fun incentive to not just beat a level but to perfect it. So if just beating the game is too easy for your tastes, you’ll have a more challenging time unlocking all of these gems and costumes. You can also find tapes in each stage that you can only grab if you reach them without dying. These unlock bonus, extra-difficult levels. Oh, and when you beat each stage, you also gain access to the N. Verted version of that level, with its own set of gems to unlock. N. Verted doesn’t just mirror the layout of the stage, it also adds a weird color effect that makes it harder to see where you’re going.
This is the way to handle difficulty. Make the base experience challenging but easy enough for most people to beat, but offer additional levels and tasks that can test a player’s skill.
The best Crash yet
The original Crash games are classics. For years, it seemed like we’d never get a new game that’s as good as they are.
But now, I feel safe saying that Crash Bandicoot 4 is the new best game in the series. It captures that fun-yet-simple platforming from the original, but its creative levels, mask abilities, and clever bosses help it surpass the PlayStation trilogy.
The remakes reminded us how that those old Crash games are great, but It’s About Time shows us that this character and franchise have a future.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time comes out on October 2 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The publisher gave us a PS4 digital code for the purposes of this review.