Even if I find Ford's review of Crash Bandicoot: Nsane Trilogy a bit harsh, there's no hiding that the remasters still suffer from a lack of depth, repetitive gameplay, and imprecise controls that the world's best platformers have improved upon since Naughty Dog made the original twenty-four years ago. That didn't stop me from getting excited when Toys for Bob announced that the studio was working on a completely new entry in the series, however, especially as the developers said they were going to use feedback to make a real sequel worthy of being released in 2020. After playing through Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time it's safe to say that Toys for Bob has lived up to the challenge, even if Crash and company still fall short in some of the same ways they did last time around.
Some of the best changes are apparent from the very start, including the new visual style and even crazier attitude. Every single object, whether it's in the cinematic story moments or during gameplay, pops out at you with the whole spectrum of eye-catching colours and attention to detail. Those of us who still have a love for Looney Tunes and that classic style got a real treat here. Whether it's how every world and dimension looks and sounds lived in with environments and characters that ooze personality, Crash's Mr Bean-like mix of slapstick humour and endearing personality, or the absurd situations you find yourself in around every turn; there's no question that Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time has plenty of style.
These elements are in and of themselves enough to breathe new life into the revived franchise, but it doesn't stop there because this new life is reflected in the gameplay as well. Gone are the days where you either just ran towards the camera doing the same exact thing while something was chasing you or running through areas so linear that you're in danger of getting claustrophobia. You know that delivering variety has been one of the core focus points during development when even a single level challenges you in a wide variety of ways while at the same time changes between different perspectives.
Still, going through similar-looking environments could easily have become monotonous, which is why I want to thank Neo Cortex and Nefarious Tropy for opening rifts to other dimensions when escaping the precarious situation we left them in at the end of Crash Bandicoot: Warped. Most dimensions only consist of a handful of levels, so you won't get a chance to grow tired of sandy beaches or jungles before being taken to a pirate cove, futuristic factory or any of the other widely different dimensions you'll discover that I won't spoil here.
New areas also mean new threats. Enemies become more lethal and have less weak points, areas grow in complexity and size, while the platforming requires more precision and timing as new hazards are introduced. As the game becomes more elaborate, as does the sense of exploration. At first, I wasn't sure how I felt about the introduction of the new Modern mode where you have infinite lives, but now I get it. It doesn't just make the game more accessible for new players, it also leaves more room for the more experienced among us to experiment and explore, something Crash 4 often rewards in cool ways. I've lost count of how many times I've found a hidden gem, crate or funny reference by taking a different approach, a side-path or interacting with an object in a creative way, something I didn't expect in a game like this.
That's not to say that this is easier than its predecessors. Getting all of the gems and skins in the game requires you to crush all the crates in a level without dying more than three times, and you'll get special rewards for completing a level without dying at all, so don't go in thinking that this will be a walk in the park for completionists.
An impressive variety of challenges makes that even clearer. A Guitar Hero-like boss fight, surprising tweaks to chase sequences, different combinations of obstacles used in new ways, and being able to use ropes - these are all changes that might sound minor but make a big difference. Getting to a specific part of certain levels is something those of you who want a real challenge should aim for, as it rewards you with special levels called Flashback Tapes. Let's just say that these are where Cortex did his experiments on Crash back in the day and that acing all of them will require some real skill and dexterity. All of that, and I haven't even mentioned the new masks and playable characters yet!
Yup. More than six hundred and fifty words of praise without even mentioning some of the things the developers have highlighted the most in the marketing. These masks are basically special gameplay mechanics made for specific parts of a level. Lani-Loli will test your coordination by allowing you to phase objects in and out of existence; Kupuna-Wa can be used in creative ways since it slows down time; Ika Ika changes gravity; 'Akano is basically a power-fantasy without saying more than that. These are nice changes of pace, even if having such tight restrictions on where you're able to use them somewhat limits their potential.
Then it's a good thing that playing as characters other than Crash and Coco doesn't have the same limitations. Each of them has levels specifically made for their unique skills and abilities, so you're forced to think in new ways. You can read more about that in the "A madman's revenge" part of my preview, as the same applies to Dingodile, Tawna and the others you get to play as. Both in terms of good and bad...
As stated in the first paragraph, while It's About Time improves upon many aspects I've already enjoyed and even some I've disliked in previous games, it also suffers from both old and new drawbacks. Many of the levels where you play as other characters are examples of the latter. My fears after the preview are unfortunately present, as many of the levels where you get to see Crash or Coco's adventure from another character's perspective swap back to slightly altered versions of ones we've already played. That's a real shame as the level of variety is top-notch everywhere else. Why not just end the levels after playing as someone else instead of just recycling old material? Sure, some of them really spice things up with significant changes, but those examples are few and far between.
In terms of classic shortcomings, I'm still not a fan of how the game controls and handles depth perception despite having the helpful indicator beneath our character. None of the characters feel as smooth or responsive as I'd like, so I'm never calm while jumping over the instant death nitro crates even if I've done it a hundred times. It doesn't help that my stupid brain and/or eyes still don't have a perfect grasp of depth in the game. You could have built the Great Wall of China with the number of crates I've missed in a time trial because I miscalculated where they were, and the number of lives I've lost because I ran straight into a hazard... well, it doesn't bear thinking about.
These shortcomings aren't enough to stop me from jumping back into Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time as soon as this review has been published though. The jokes are funny enough to make me want to experience them a few times more. Each world is so beautiful and detailed that they're still a joy to explore, while the challenges are so engaging and enthralling that I won't put the game down before I've seen the secret ending that awaits after acing each and every one of them. Basically, Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time is exactly what the fans wanted from a modern sequel, and maybe even something newcomers didn't know they needed. You just have to get used to somewhat erratic controls and some slightly tweaked reused environments.
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