Who would have thought that in 2020 we would be writing a review for a sequel to a 1998 video game? Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is not only a direct sequel to Warped but also a game that manages to take everything we experienced back in the 90s and deliver nostalgic gameplay without sacrificing any of the core elements. Activision and Toys for Bob really have a jewel series on their hands here and it could go anywhere and still be fun. The real strength of the Crash Bandicoot series is in just how relevant it manages to be in 2020 when gaming has changed so drastically.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is a mix of old and new that takes you on some wild rides through some gorgeous levels packed with extraordinary detail. It follows Crash, Coco and some new faces as they track down Neo Cortex and N Tropy after the two escape their prison. This time, they managed to take control of time sending Crash and Coco through different realities as they smash boxes, collect wumpa fruit and beat cool bosses. Anyone who has played any of the past games will feel right at home here.
A big new change to the gameplay is the introduction to new mechanics. Crash and Coco can now ride on rails through certain levels and use new Quantum Masks that hold special powers. I hated the rail gameplay. They overuse it and often feels clumsy. When every second stage includes it, you kinda get tired of trying to hit every box by spinning, ducking and moving Crash outwards to break boxes in the fear of missing any. Don’t get me wrong, it is cool at first but the whole aspect of it becomes too much after a while.
Now when it comes to the Quantum Masks, I felt as if you don’t use them enough. Instead of being available throughout the game, Crash can only use them in certain parts of each level. This means unlike Warped where once you have unlocked the Wumpa Cannon it is yours throughout the game, the masks aren’t. You slowly unlock each unique mask as you progress through the game. Once unlocked, they are then available for a short time at each level. While limited, these portions require an understanding of their powers and how they enable Crash to perform certain abilities.
Lani-Loli can make certain glowing objects appear and disappear. I would need to time jumps and be alert for specific platforms that would go away when making others appear. Akano makes Crash and Coco spin like maniacs. So fast that they can hover in the air and jump across massive gaps by doing so. Kupuna-Wa is the mask of time and can slow it down for a short amount of time. Lastly, Ika-Ika is the mask of gravity and uses his power fo make Crash and Coco flip towards the ceiling and floor.
While these masks make for some great gameplay moments, I often felt as if the gameplay felt uninspired. Slowing down time to stop falling ice platforms at the right position is great, but it was mainly the only use for it. There’s just not enough creativity here to make these masks feel like part of the series. You get them, use them for a bit and they are forgotten. Unfortunately, this is due to them being so restricted to certain portions of the level. You can’t approach a stage and problem solve how to get past an area using one of the four masks. Instead, Crash gets it automatically and rest becomes predictable. It would have been nice to have locked-out areas of certain stages unavailable until you obtain a certain mask.
That is to say, the pacing does change bit and the new additional masks arrive when the difficulty spikes. We all know how tough Crash Bandicoot games can be and this is no different. Platforming requires precision, the bonus levels are tough and the new inverted levels change completed stages with some new refreshing additions.
Throughout Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, new timelines are unlocked which allowed me to play unique stages as completely different characters. This includes Tawna who, instead of being the blonde damsel in distress is now a butch grapple-wielding action hero. There are also other surprise characters that unlock while tieing their missions into the main storyline of Crash and Coco. It is pretty genius if you ask me. Certain things happen during a stage for you to only later find out that it was because another character we behind the scene messing about.
These side levels and characters provide a great break from the mainstream game that stars Crash and Coco. All the characters have fun move sets and unique approaches to each stage. Dingodile, for example, is not as fast as everyone else but can suck TNT up with his weapon and shoot it around. This adds new puzzle variety to the stages. Something that lacks in levels with Crash and Coco. Tawna, Dingodile, and Neo Cortex are all fun to play but don’t expect the experience to be smooth. Aiming and shooting, which they all rely on, is buggy and often let me down.
There was also some strangeness to these side levels. Often, they would tie into the current stages you played with Crash or Coco. However, midway through the level after completing Tawna’s bit, you will take control of Crash again only to find boxes move around and other items in different places. It is not a huge deal but it did take away from the game’s very limited narrative.
There’s also a progression system that I was forced to keep in mind throughout every level. You see, there are cool-looking costumes to unlock in each stage. However, getting them requires you to obtain a set amount of gems. You get three gems by collecting enough wumpa fruit, a gem for not dying more than three times, a hidden gem somewhere in the level and a gem for breaking all the boxes. I often missed at least one of these in the early levels. It was usually the boxes one. Thankfully, you can always go back for them when you feel like replaying the level. The inverted stages then give you even more of a chance to unlock them with more gems to collect too.
The costumes are great, but it is a real grind to get them. At one point I decided to give up on all the costumes and just enjoy the game and there’s a lot of game here to enjoy. Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time does not skimp on the presentation and is one gorgeously looking game. Every single level is immaculate with details on every object. Things move to the soundtrack in some level, enemies, while just doing the same action over and over again, are also fantastically designed. They is so much eye candy here to enjoy that often I would just stand still to take it all in. It was a bit of a disappointment to discover the game does not have HDR support on any platform. It would have been the cherry on top here.
Beyond the presentation, Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is also a big game with a lot of things to see and do. Bonus levels keep you trying over and over again, flashback tapes are tough side levels that will have you throwing your controller. Not to mention the lightly main campaign and all its objectives gems and hidden levels to discover. The best of all? It is fun to play and that is all that matters. The platforming in Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time still remains an industry leader here and new and returning gamers will enjoy it. Speaking of new players, there’s even a modern mode that has infinite lives compared to the retro mode that starts off with the classic 3. These two modes make it an approachable game for everyone.
There’s also a multiplayer aspect to the game too. The two modes are designed for both co-op and competitive play. Bandicoot Battle sees each player race through checkpoints in stages to get the best time. Crate Combo is a competitive mode where players need to break the most crates as possible. Then there’s Pass N Play, a mode where up to four players can play through each level. When you die or reach the checkpoint you path the controller to the next person.
While I am all for multiplayer modes, these are forgettable. You will most likely play them once or twice and move on with your life. Unless you really enjoy watching someone fall to their death as they are about to get ahead of your checkpoint.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is an excellent game. It’s loaded with close to a hundred levels spread around the campaign and side stages. There’s so much to enjoy here. However, after completing the campaign I was over it. The rest is a grind with challenging flashback tapes and gems to find. Often this can be more frustrating than enjoyable. Depending on your preferences.
This Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time review was based on a code sent to us by Activision
Available On: PS4, Xbox One | Reviewed On: PS4 Pro | Release Date: 2 October 2020 | Price: R1,280