CRASH BANDICOOT 4: IT’S ABOUT TIME REVIEW FOR PS4 AND XBOX ONE. Crash Bandicoot fans are used to disappointment as the four years of good entries have nearly been overshadowed by the two decades of bargain bin bandicoot blunders. The 2017 trilogy remaster was a pleasant reminder of what once was, but also an indicator of how much the orange marsupial has aged. Failure and rose-tinted glasses didn’t prevent Toys For Bob from trying to reinvent the ‘90s icon through Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time. And not only would it likely make Naughty Dog proud, it would also probably make that talented team jealous as Crash 4 is an absolutely N. Credible sequel and the best entry in the series.
Naughty Dog has obviously moved on to bigger and darker things, but Crash 4 channels the playful essence that the Uncharted developer had back in its PS1 days before it was making players contemplate their moral code. This stretches from its whimsical soundtrack that evokes and directly borrows from classic Crash tunes to the title’s colorful visual style.
Stages are bustling with activity as various vehicles or wildlife jostle in the background as you platform away in the foreground. Each of these stages is awash with all sorts of vibrant hues and is also quite impressive for its breadth. All of its 11 worlds have radically different styles and while that seems like a lot of worlds, each only has a few levels. More worlds with only a handful of stages showcases its variety without overstaying its welcome in any one area.
Characters are similarly energetic with an array of exaggerated expressions and movements that feel straight out of a Tom and Jerry or Ren and Stimpy cartoon. Sudden, drastic squashing and stretching or otherwise unreal movement during cutscenes sharply plays up the game’s comedic and silly nature — an aspect that’s also supplemented by the game’s surprisingly funny writing. These animations do convey personality during gameplay, too, and can even make it easier to decipher what’s happening, like Crash’s characteristically skittery step during a wall run that signals when you have to jump to the next wall.
This charmingly dumb tone was at the core of Crash’s PS1 entries and Toys For Bob has flawlessly translated it to the modern day. It’s why Crash 4 still has remnants of Ren and Stimpy and other like-minded cartoons that were overflowing with charisma: Both teams drew inspiration from the same sources, utilizing similar ideas but expressing it through the technology of their time.
Toys For Bob pays plenty of respect to those original animators through its craft but also pays respect to Naughty Dog and, in turn, its four entries. There are a ton of deep cuts and obscure references that demonstrate a level of familiarity none of the non-Naughty Dog installments had. Intimately getting what makes Crash Crash allows Toys For Bob to faithfully expand upon that foundation in ways that feel true to it; an undeniably tough task for such an old and revered franchise.
Surpassing its past
This skillful combination of nostalgia and clever additions is most evident in the gameplay where the most work had to be done. The general loop is reminiscent of old Crash games where you switch between standard third-person platforming, running toward the camera, and 2.5D side scroller sections. Crash also has his normal array of moves: the spin, double jump, belly flop, and slide. Those are all as Crash as a Wumpa Fruit and a pair of jorts (even if he canonically doesn’t wear jorts anymore).
Crash 4 realizes its true potential by improving on and adding to all of those aspects. Jumping is responsive and yields a ton of air control that lets you land with pinpoint precision. The wonky physics and collision that plagued the trilogy remaster and made some jumps feel cheap are gone, replaced with a more reliable, physics-free foundation and persistent, yellow shadow that shows exactly where you’ll land. While it still suffers from the occasional poor camera angle, having a character model that isn’t shaped like a pill and a highlighted shadow put even more control into your hands. Tighter controls cut the frustration, resulting in a smoother yet still challenging difficulty curve.
Crash’s core move set works better than ever and only augments the new features. Four special masks pop up at certain times and offer new abilities from slowing down time to flipping gravity. None of these are wholly original ideas, but they’re new for the series, offering more variety as they put the established systems in a different context. Each mask even has a special effect on the soundtrack, which is a lovely detail.
A crash course in excellent Crash courses
Levels have also gone through a similar process of refinement and improvement. They’re more refined because they’re more diverse and better paced, often housing a handful of different segments that constantly change up the rhythm.
Stringing together multiple gameplay styles also makes these stages better, too, as this also means they have more complicated layouts that take advantage of each of its mechanics, both new and old. The transitions are seamless and, when combined with the trickier, more puzzle-heavy Bonus Paths and deviously well-hidden crates and secret paths, prove how superb the level design truly is.
All of this carries over to the game’s extensive roster, which is a rarity for many games in the genre. Characters in a platformer who are not the titular star are often shallow husks that drag down the entire experience. Crash 4 avoids that by centering these individuals around a solid hook while also allowing them to benefit from the game’s fundamentally magnificent controls.
Tawna, who supports a kick-ass redesign, revolves around a grappling hook and wall jump that gives her unique ways to move around a level. Dingodile is more about his flamethrower-turned-vacuum that turns into a unique tool for both platforming and shooting. Cortex is the least straightforward of the bunch as his ray gun must be used strategically to turn enemies into regular or bouncy platforms in order to make up for his stumpy, unathletic ass. Aiming may be a slight issue for all three of them, but they’re all still creative side characters that add to Crash’s adventure.
Gotta catch ’em all
It’s a long adventure, too, packed with content that intelligently encourages replayability. Every level has its share of gems that are doled out for smashing all the boxes, getting a certain amount of Wumpa Fruit, dying fewer than four times, and tracking down its hidden area. Costumes are tied to gems and provide a marvelous, concrete incentive to encourage players to dive back into previously completed stages. N. Verted variants are the most flashy way to replay old stages since they slap a fresh coat of paint (or, in some cases, crayon) on an existing level and flip them around. It’s just enough to feel new again and an efficient way to recycle the same content.
But there are even more layers to Crash 4’s replayability. Flashback Tapes are scattered around and disappear upon death, rewarding skilled players with a difficult bonus level inspired by the first game. Time Trials and N. Sanely Perfect Relics exist for hardcore speed runners and sadists who want to nearly 100% a level without dying, respectively. Not everyone is going to feel the urge to collect everything, but the game offers plenty of ways to jump back in and experience its satisfying platforming gameplay, providing intrinsic and extrinsic rewards for those willing to put in the time.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time Review | The final verdict
There’s so much to Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time and so much that feels like a miracle. Many sequels this far after a series’ prime can feel like they’re stuck in the past and are merely mining nostalgia. Crash 4 does do a bit of mining, but it also strikes gold in how it impeccably balances respect for the bandicoot’s history and modernity. Crash Bandicoot 4‘s stellar level design, responsive controls, deep replayability, and superb animation all come together to create such an outstanding experience that not only brings this bandicoot back to life, but also removes it from the dusty shelf where all the other taxidermied ’90s platforming mascots go to be forgotten.
Game Revolution reviewed Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time on PS4. Code provided by the publisher.