Do you ever wish you could wipe a few underwhelming sequels from history and pick up where the last good one left off? You know, like what Superman Returns or Terminator: Dark Fate tried to do? Well, with Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, developer Toys for Bob actually pulls off the half-reboot, half-continuation idea. This is a direct sequel to Naughty Dog’s original trilogy that concluded in 1998, and this team really gets Crash. It’s all the characters and action platforming I loved about the old games but with a bunch of great new ideas mixed in so well that they feel like they were always supposed to be there.
Crash Bandicoot 4 makes rapid-fire homages to Crash’s past, picking up where Warped left off and having Crash’s biggest and most delightfully hammy villains, N. Trophy and Neo Cortex break out of prison along with Uka Uka and trot out a typical video game villain plan to take over the multiverse. Crash has always been about the action, but the self-aware, amusing script walks the careful line of winking self-awareness that this sequel has come so many years later while also telling a genuinely funny, personable story.
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And it’s one that Toys for Bob tells well through Crash’s main campaign, which took me about nine or so hours to beat… but with only a 34% completion rating. The other 66% is, among other things, an entire gamut of challenges to complete. (More on that later.)
Crash 4 keeps the main story progression linear, reverting to an overworld map similar to Crash 1’s rather than the hub rooms of Crash 2 and 3 that I personally preferred. My initial surprise with that decision aside, the setup works well enough to keep momentum going as I bounced from one pop-up storybook-esque time period map to the next, and Toys for Bob imbues even that overworld map with plenty of charm. From level landmarks to side characters waiting for their turn in the spotlight and obvious spaces for unlockable bonus levels, it’s not only easy to get around but a visual treat, too.
Time After Time
Of course, any Crash game worth its orange fur lives or dies by how fun, challenging, and rewarding its platforming is, and here Toys for Bob has not only recaptured the magic of the original trilogy but added to it in new, exciting, and seriously tough ways. Crash (and Coco, who plays identically to Crash and can be swapped to for any Crash level depending on who you prefer to play as) standards like double jumping, ground slamming, and spin attacks return, but the inventive ways in which Crash 4 forced me to improve on my longstanding skills with this arsenal is a treat.
This is true from large scale decisions like building each level with more objectives (such as finding a certain percentage of Wumpa fruit, unlocking all crates, finding a hidden gem, and only dying so many times) to design choices like putting you through increasingly long and complex sequences that require perfect dashes, jumps, and spins against enemies. Those make Crash 4’s imaginative worlds some of my favorite of the series.
One of the very best new ideas comes when the four Quantum Masks are thrown into the mix and you get access to powers like gravity bending, time slowdown, and more. Gravity alterations always break my brain, and I died while mistiming a quick gravity swap and falling or ascending straight into oblivion more often than with any other mask – but what could come off as passing gimmicks in a lesser game feel smartly integrated into the challenge and flow of levels of Crash 4. Toys for Bob finds more and more unique ways to kill Crash… I mean test my platforming skills as the difficulty ramps up at a reasonable pace.
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New enemy types like hungry sand sharks and giant lightning locusts, twisty jumping sections, and all of Crash’s new moves blend together so it never has to resort to stale carbon copies of past challenges. If a memorable obstacle is repeated, it’s often creatively revamped in a more challenging way, such as the return of Crash’s surfing jet board from the original trilogy.
Not every new addition is a winner; I am not a fan of the fire-spewing crates added throughout levels. They don’t add much in the way of complexity to the platforming, they just increase time spent waiting for the crates to cool down until they can be spun. The standard moving mine obstacle courses require more daring split-second decisions as TNT-throwing enemies and water currents affecting your speed are thrown into the mix. Also, some truly devilish endgame challenges use Crash’s full arsenal, including the Masks, in some of the most difficult levels the series has ever seen. I died more times than I cared to admit, but completing them led to some of the most satisfying platforming in recent years.
And while Crash is tough, it’s also largely great at teaching you its new tricks, minimizing the feeling of progress by trial and error that comes with some platformers. Yes, there are still levels where you’re running toward the camera, and occasionally a hazard comes at you without warning, but nothing felt as mercilessly tough as Crash 1’s infamous Road to Nowhere. Crash 4 doles out its challenges in smart succession, ensuring it always feel fair. The smallest addition – a circular shadow that appears underneath an airborne Crash – exemplifies this. What could be perceived as a crutch by those who find estimating their position without it to be a hardcore challenge eliminates most of the guesswork that came with earlier Crash games for the rest of us. It allowed me to better put my focus on nailing a precarious jump, rather than trying to figure out where the landing point should or might be and hoping for the best. But don’t worry, purists: you can turn it off in the options.
Crash 4 even makes concessions depending on your progress. For example, if you die enough times at a certain spot, it may add in a new checkpoint crate to help you along. Not that I ever had that happen, of course. Definitely not.
How Much Time Ya Got?
There’s certainly no shortage of ways for deaths to happen, because Crash 4 adds in a host of new platforming tricks beyond the Mask abilities: rope swinging, rail grinding, and wall running are all present. None of them is necessarily revelatory, as they’ve all become staples of the platforming genre in the years since Warped came out, but their challenge is well integrated into the rest of his set of tools in such a way that that ensures timing and precision remains king. The only points at which I found it annoying were a few brief sections of rail grinding where the perspective of the camera caused me to mistime a jump over an obstacle. Crash 4 removes about 98% of the guesswork of the old games, but that last 2% can still burn when you’re trying to keep your death count low.
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And there are plenty of challenges to tackle. Beyond the main story path, there are truly white-knuckle flashback levels: of the handful I’ve tried so far, all are pure platforming skill tests. These side levels take more turns at Crash’s ensemble of playable characters, time trials, local multiplayer and co-op, and the impressive N. Verted mode. Co-developed by Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled developer Beenox, N.Verted is Crash 4’s take on mirror mode – and it doesn’t just invert the look, it adds a host of unexpected challenges that have tested me even on the levels I’ve played a dozen times already. Take, for example, the earliest levels – they turn Crash into an echolocating bandicoot (bat-dicoot?) whose every spin shoots out a burst of light that temporarily illuminates the level beyond his immediate vicinity. I had to more methodically plan each jump, time my spins so I didn’t accidentally fall off a cliff, and more. All of that is an added incentive I didn’t know I needed but now adore as I attempt to 100% Crash 4 as a whole.
A Little Help From My Friends
One of Crash 4’s biggest revelations is in widening its focus to an ensemble of playable characters, including Dingodile, Tawna, and Cortex. Each plays distinctly from one another, and that leads to some of Crash 4’s most intriguing levels.
[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=I%20would%20play%20a%20spinoff%20for%20any%20of%20the%20new%20playable%20characters%20in%20a%20heartbeat.”]Every of these new characters could be the star of their own spinoff game, and I’d play each of them in a heartbeat. Cortex foregoes a double jump for a long dash and a ray gun that turns enemies into platforms or jelly-like bouncing spots, which means his levels are more horizontally laid out. Tawna has a grappling hook that plays into combat but is also useful for crate smashing at distances Crash and Coco could never reach. Finally, Dingodile can hover but can’t actually jump to save his life but has Lugi’s Mansion-esque vacuum mechanics that can, for example, suck up and launch a TNT crate to destroy barriers.
The only real downside is Cortex and Dingodile’s weapons can be a bit tough to aim, with no target reticle or way to aim with any finesse: you just shoot in the general direction your character is facing. It led to a handful of flubbed shots on my end, and is something a full spinoff or additional takes on these ideas should consider reworking.
A Whole New World
Part of what makes Crash 4’s levels both readable and fascinating to explore is the sheer level of detail Toys for Bob was able to cram into them compared to the original trilogy. These beautiful and memorable worlds, from the frozen tundra of the 1700s to a New Orleans-esque musical city and the prehistoric era, showcase Toys for Bob’s penchant for adorable, animated design. I loved the personality the developers injected into the Spyro Reignited Trilogy, imbuing those classic adventures with more charm and personality than I ever thought possible; Crash 4 is a natural evolution of that work.
Crash’s more linear track through its levels, however, allows Toys for Bob to really flesh out these landscapes like never before in the series. This not only leads to epic introductory shots of levels with a wide scope that tease trials to come, but also means every character, crate, and collectible has fun bits of detail slathered all over them. From the bits of exposed dynamite in TNT crates to the goofy designs of pirate octopi and the many wacky costumes Crash and Coco can wear, Toys for Bob has given this game the look of the Crash Saturday morning cartoon I wished I’d been able to watch as a kid.
And that’s evident in the character designs. Crash stays true to his original form, but his dopey, happy-go-lucky attitude is in Looney Tunes-esque top form here, with Coco providing a more level-headed approach to the adventure. The new take on Tawna redeems the barely-there damsel in distress of the original, making this version a badass with a heartbreaking past. And Dingodile’s kind of just…there, but it works, as his personal endeavors to open and then repair his restaurant collide with the others’ story. How Toys for Bob integrates these characters’ full arcs is great — they make sense if you just blast through the story, but playing their specific levels offers deeper personality.
It’s all aided by a level-appropriate soundtrack, which all sounds in step with the classic Crash scores’ affection for driving, jangly percussion tracks molded to fit all the various time periods. And, like much of Crash 4’s joys, the score has a few delightful surprises of its own: I’m a big fan of the twist on the sound that comes when you don any of the Quantum Masks.