Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time Review — Back in the 90s
Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time is the first mainline Crash title in 24 years. In that time, not all that much has changed.
Back in the 90s, if you were talking about a platformer, you were probably talking about Sonic or Mario. These were the dominating forces, the games that would spawn massive franchises and launch their respective characters into the stratosphere with fame. And while it didn’t receive that same attention, Crash Bandicoot was one of those greats of the era. Its new perspective, difficulty, and loveably wacky main character embedded Crash’s world into the minds of millions of kids.
24 years have passed since the original release of Crash Bandicoot and its competitors haven’t just succeeded, they’ve flourished. Mario is now a household name, with so many spin-off titles that you could play almost every genre of video game inside that one franchise. Sonic has had its speed bumps but managed to retain a massive following (and even put out a somewhat decent movie). So now, over two decades after its original release, what’s new in the latest mainline Crash Bandicoot game?
Not all that much.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time knows its roots. It may not look like the older games, but it feels, sounds, and plays like one. That’s where I have to give developer Toys for Bob major kudos. They’ve managed to capture that crass Crash charm that made me and so many others fall in love with the spinning orange marsupial and his chaotic world.
From its opening scenes, it’s hard to ignore the similarities between Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time and its predecessors. The game even starts on a beach on N. Sanity Island, and echoes the first level of the original Crash Bandicoot. Crabs are the first enemy you face, the platforms leading up to the island’s temple are extremely similar, and once again, Aku Aku is warning Crash of a threat to the world.
The first two levels of Crash 4 are a return to form — if you’ve only ever played mainline Crash titles, you know what’s going on here. You’re running, jumping over pits and traps, smashing crates, and grabbing Wumpa fruit. It’s in the second world where things start to get spiced up and you begin to see the spin that Toys for Bob put on this Crash title.
Instead of collecting crystals or gems (although there are gems to collect), Crash, Coco, and Aku Aku are collecting different masks that, when equipped, radically change the way you play the game. These masks are only made available for segments of levels — you’ll never play an entire level with a mask on — and even then, they can quickly be taken off and put back on with the press of a button.
These masks are the most meaningful change present in It’s About Time. Each one adds a new mechanic; one phases objects in and out of existence, another slows time, and the final mask you find even reverses gravity. When they’re employed in a level, these changes don’t feel like a gimmick, but more like another mechanic layered onto the already great foundation of Crash’s basic gameplay.
In later levels, as the difficulty drastically ramps up, players will also have to be more imaginative with how they use masks. One thing that Toys for Bob hasn’t mastered in the Crash franchise is ramping up the difficulty in a satisfactory way. Folks that played the N. Sane Trilogy and lost their minds on that turtle bridge level know this problem very well, and it persists in Crash 4. Across the game, there are immense difficulty spikes, but it’s towards the end that these spikes are at their worst. Crash 4 goes from justifiably hard for a platformer to demanding almost perfection. This is doubly true for one final mask segment that took me over half an hour and countless deaths to get through.
There is one more major addition to Crash 4, although its impact certainly isn’t as noticeable. The crates full of Wumpa fruit have a couple of new family members; a fire crate that spouts flames every few seconds and timed crates that disappear after a short counter goes off. These two don’t entirely mix up the game, but they do contribute to Crash 4’s ultimate goal: keeping players on for as long as it can. Each also drastically slows down the pace of the game – especially fire crates. I would be having a frantic, fast-paced run through a level only to be completely held up by a flame crate that I would have to wait for. While timed crates don’t put the breaks on the action, they do bring that difficulty back up. For folks looking to smash every crate in the game, timed crates will likely be your biggest challenge. They demand insane speeds, and I’ve often just gone past them rather than reset the level halfway through after one timed crate phased out.
Replayability is the name of Crash 4’s game, and there is a ton of it. In each level, players can earn up to six gems; the first three for collecting Wumpa fruit, one for smashing every crate, another for not dying over three times in a level, and one final hidden gem. Once you beat a level, you also unlock its N. Verse version, which is a mirrored variant that comes with a unique filter and six more gems to collect. Getting enough of these gems unlocks a new skin for Crash or Coco, although they’re hardly ever as good as their default looks.
Past that, players still have a bevy of content to dive into, even after finishing the game. Flashback tape levels have players control Crash as he goes through testing to be the general of Neo Cortex’s army, and are particularly punishing. Levels starring Tawna, Cortex, or Dingodile also pad out the game, showing a different perspective on in-game events while offering up even more gems to collect.
There is a ton of content in Crash 4, and thankfully, it doesn’t all blend together. The main credit for that goes to the game’s gorgeous visuals. It plays like a classic Crash title but looks and sounds like a Pixar short film — full of character and pizazz. Each world has its own distinct style and sound, although the usual suspects from other Crash titles are all there. Your requisite ice, space, and jungle-themed worlds are also all included, but this time around, they’re not just fun to jump through, they’re a joy to look around in.
But a graphical facelift doesn’t change what Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time really is. It’s still a Crash game, just like ones you’d play in the 90s. You’re still watching Crash run around mostly linear levels, jumping, spinning, making goofy faces, and doing all the stuff you’d expect him to do. Crash 4 is a great title for people that want to play more Crash, but it doesn’t bring anything for folks that want to play something truly new.
Again, I have to give credit to Toys for Bob, as they’ve captured and emulated the key traits of a Crash game that make them so much fun to play. But instead of getting too experimental in its modernization of the game, Toys for Bob opted to add more collectibles, skins, and a ridiculous amount of replayability, which are some things that it just didn’t need.
I enjoyed my time with Crash 4 and would easily recommend it to any like-minded fans of the series. Though there aren’t many meaningful changes to how the game is played, it’s still a fun jaunt, and what new content is here is mostly welcomed, despite some unnecessary modern additions. Crash games don’t need a long list of skins or collectibles, but they do need to take a bigger step forward. In a sense, Crash needs to stop living in the 90s.