The Crash Bandicoot series was a real love of mine back in the old days, and by old day I do mean the PlayStation One days and, in those days, a console needed a mascot. Nintendo had Mario, Sega had Sonic and PlayStation got a bandicoot called Crash from the early days of Naughty dog studios. Crash Bandicoot over the years is a series of games I remember very fondly but it took the remade N’Sane Trilogy Collection of the original games to remind just how bloody hard those games were, something my nostalgic brain had clearly chosen to forget. But those memories are back and I absolutely both loved returning to those games to have my inner gamer butt kicked like it was 1996 again but also seen new fans discover the games all over again and like them, I was left wanting more of the original style of game. Last year we had Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fuelled to further make the longing for more Crash platforming even stronger and finally here we are, 2020 and 22 years after the last canon Crash Bandicoot and we have Crash 4 and ironically, it really is about time!
Now in the hands of Toys for Bob studio, Crash Bandicoot 4: About Time, cleverly builds on the success of the N’Sane Collection and Crash Racing Nitro-Fuelled in that the visual style is absolutely gorgeous. The colours are vibrant, the sounds are authentic and the characters are brought to life both voice and animated absolutely brilliant. Looking like a PIXAR made Saturday morning cartoon, About Time is absolutely stunning. As a fan and player of the original games, the series has never looked better than it has not it was been brought to current gen consoles over two decades later and Toys for Bob have gone all out to make it a truly delightful world to be in for players of the original and those new to the series with the remakes.
Crash 4 picks up the story following the events of Crash Bandicoot 3 Warped which saw the villains trapped in a prison in the past. Uka Uka attempts to free himself and Doctors Neo Cortex and Nefarious Tropy by opening a hole in the fabric of space and time, but his final effort ultimately causes him to pass out. Cortex and N. Tropy seize the opportunity and abandon Uka Uka, and discover that the rift they used links their universe to the rest of the multiverse, and decide to make use of it to conquer all dimensions. It is up to Crash, aided by his sister Coco to stop the multiverse from being conquered by finding and collecting the Quantum masks. Sounds pretty simple right?
Right away you can play as either Crash or his sister Coco, they can be switched between outside of levels and other than a change in animation, they both have the same abilities of jumping, sliding and spinning attacks. The levels are very classic Crash Bandicoot with levels that switch between going left to right and back of screen to front of screen. Platform jumping and spinning attacking enemies still feature as does the challenge of smashing every crate and collecting every apple. What was a relief but also a disappointment to a degree at the same time was in how much of the original gameplay style has been maintained by Toys for Bob, everything just feels like a classic Crash game should from the level designs to the boss fights that finish each world you visit in search of a Quantum mask. If you are coming out from playing the N’Sane Collection then this will a feel very familiar. My disappoint comes in the fact that there was a chance to fix some of the old issues that still remain with the standard gameplay such as the still very annoying floaty jumping that is going to cause more losing of lives and checkpoint restarts than ever. Now this is very much a part of the game but its an aspect that could have been tightened up a little, even the fact that when you jump a landing marker appears beneath your character to give an indication of where you will land, it is still so easy to just mess up a jump.
There are new mechanics though which the new Quantum masks brings such as the ability to switch dimensions to reveal hidden platforms and crates to the ability to defy gravity for longer and higher jumps and these new powers are used so well within the brilliantly designed levels to change things up a little and they can be both fun and serve as a difficulty spike as well. As you progress you will also unlock more characters to play such as an alternate universe version of Tawna, who helps Crash and Coco at first but then leaves to complete her own mission, adding more side levels which will interact with the main missions in a timey whimey delicious way, her grapple hook mechanic once again added a new and fresh gameplay plus it is a very clever reintroduction of more classic characters from the series.
One big addition has to be the two modes of play you can choose from, ‘Modern’ or ‘Retro’. Retro is the classic way to play Crash 4, you have the standard three lives and lose all three and you have to restart the level which for those who remember or played the original games, is the real challenge of them. But this can be restrictive and add that level of frustration which can send controllers across the room preventing progress which is wear ‘Modern’ comes in. Now Modern is by no means “easy mode” because the levels and gameplay remain the same, what Modern does do however is allow player persistence by letting you have as many lives as you need to complete a level, checkpoints help keep progress in the level and it has that cushion that prevents absolutely hitting that wall stopping players moving forward. Believe me, Modern will still remind you that you can do better because it shows you how many lives you have used, and if like me, it takes you 29 lives to complete one difficult level, you cannot help but know you should be doing better.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time has so much content which old school fans will really appreciate with bonus activities such as the ‘Flashback Tape’ levels which are based on the original testing and experiment performed on Crash himself before the original game to the local co-op ‘Pass and Play’ mode which has two players taken turns to complete a level in a quicker time. Thankfully as yet there are no microtransactions so all the extra character skins are unlocked via gameplay, adding more incentive to learn, practice and complete levels to obtain them. There is just a whole lot of Crash in this game and that is good because this is a fully priced AAA game when you compare it to how much the N’Sane Collection set you back. It is a big ask but the game gives you a lot of the asking price.
Crash 4 was indeed worth the wait capturing everything that made the series so loved and builds on what the N’Sane collection did in bringing the series back to a modern generation of console and gamers. It is tough but rewarding and does exactly what the original games did, it kicks your butt but never enough to make you feel like you cannot finish it……old school with a fresh look, this is definitely one for your game collection and with the new generation of console sent to launch in just over a month, I would not be surprised to see this get a PS5 and Xbox Series X upgrade for Ray Tracing goodness potentially.