‘Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time’ review: a perfect blend of past, present and future

A modern platformer which retains the classic spirit

Naming the latest Crash Bandicoot game Crash Bandicoot 4 was a bold move by Toys For Bob, drawing a line under the bandicoot’s many false starts and harking back to the original trilogy. Though the success of the recent Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, a remastered collection of the franchise’s first three games, certainly helped that decision, it’s still brave to label a game as the true successor to the only great Crash Bandicoot games. There are a couple of bumps on the way, but Crash fans can rest easy; It’s About Time is a worthy sequel.

The game is the meatiest in the series, with as much content as the entire N. Sane Trilogy combined, especially when you take into account that It’s About Time offers alternate ways to play through each level. We also get a handful of new playable characters as well as a revamp to the completionist tasks.

Though you can see the influence of other Crash games in its design and the references – not to mention elements of Toys For Bob’s Spyro Reignited Trilogy and a handful of other platformers – It’s About Time is its own game, looking to the future as much as it winks to the past. For a game all about varying timelines, it’s the perfect blend of past, present and future.

Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time. Credit: Toys For Bob / Activision

It has become a running joke in the Crash community that reviewers compare the series to Dark Souls because of its difficulty, so, what the hell: It’s About Time is the Dark Souls of platformers. Perhaps people forget, but vintage Crash has always been much tougher than any of his fellow platforming icons.

The difficulty is the point and rarely feels inorganic. Certainly, it never feels inorganic when playing as Crash or Coco. I don’t think there is a level in It’s About Time which is as hard as the original 1996 Crash Bandicoot’s Stormy Ascent level, though there are more than a few which get close enough to hurt. Having said that, I do know some folks who had over 200 deaths on some of the last levels, so maybe this is the Dark Souls-iest yet.

You might be wondering how people can rack up over 200 deaths if the maximum is 99 lives. In It’s About Time, much like in the movie Mean Girls, the limit does not exist. Thanks to the new Modern Mode, which the game recommends, you can die as many times as you want on a level and still progress. You receive a gem for dying less than thrice and a relic for not perishing at all, but aside from that, you’ll face no punishment – it’s literally impossible to hit that hard restart, just keep going and eventually you’ll get there. The levels have clearly been designed for Modern Mode however, and are the meanest designs yet in terms of cruelly snatching away your lives. So there’s a great balance at play here; It’s About Time is both the easiest and the hardest Crash Bandicoot game ever.

Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time. Credit: Toys For Bob / Activision

Unfortunately, the level difficulty also derails some of the series’ new playable characters, namely Cortex and Dingodile. Their levels are especially interesting as they link into the main levels, with the characters’ behaviour having a knock-on effect on the main pathways. It’s a clever gimmick, but it also struggles to really get out of gimmick territory. These two just don’t have the skillsets for the punishing design of It’s About Time. However Tawna, the third new playable character, is a brilliant example of how the concept can work, and hopefully the developers stick with and fine-tune her as a regular cast member moving forward.

The game’s base structure has been revamped, and largely works, but having expanded in size, it has pushed a few things off the table. It follows the original Crash Bandicoot’s linear structure rather than having a Warp Room, which means if a level is frustrating you, the only option is to tough it out. Because the game’s plot – it’s as silly as you’d expect, yet narratively one of the series’ best – involves time rifts, each string of levels takes place in a certain time or place. There’s a run of modern day N. Sanity Beach levels, some futuristic city levels, prehistoric dinosaur levels and pirate era levels, among others. It does lack the variation that 1998’s Crash Bandicoot: Warped had, and is too loyal to the plot at times, not really exploring the time concept to the fullest as it sticks to classic Crash locations.

However, with every level having six gems (40/60/80 per cent Wumpa collected, all crates opened, less than three deaths, hidden gem found), it’s less all-or-nothing for completionists. There are also hidden tapes, available if you make it to a certain point in each level without dying, which unlock tough box bouncing stages, as well as the N. Verted Levels. These are basically Mirror Mode versions of the original levels, with other gimmicks such as pixel graphics, glow in the dark or a colour spray from each spin. These too have six gems, so there’s a lot to sink your teeth into. The boss battles too, while not as varied as other games, are all fantastic.

Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time. Credit: Toys For Bob / Activision

It’s About Time also brings with it a new set of masks, which can slow time, flip gravity and a host of other features. These give the game much more leeway to create expansive levels, and aside from the superspin mask which just replaces an old powerup but with more complications, all add new and interesting ideas to the game.

All this design, however, comes at a bit of a cost. Probably owing to Modern Mode, the levels are often significantly longer, with special bear riding or fleeing in chase sequences that merely lengthen a level rather than creating a concentrated experience. There’s no races, no blimp shooting, no underwater levels, no jet skis and no jet packs. In fact, while there’s innovation in the new characters, tapes and N. Verted levels, there’s no genuinely new level concepts here, which feels like a big loss, despite all the content.

‘Crash Bandicoot: It’s About Time’ is out now for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Our Verdict

Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is a sublime platformer, one which understands the classic Crash trilogy while also realising the perfect way to update it. Some of the best level formats have been scrapped as the game gets to work on revamping the franchise, but there’s more than enough here to entertain Crash fans of all ages, experiences and skill levels… as long as they’re prepared to die a lot.

Pros

  • Tawna is a fantastic addition
  • Packed with extra context
  • Replayability like never before
  • Lots of failsafes to counter difficulty

Cons

  • Some of the best Crash levels have been ditched
  • Linear approach holds it back at times
  • Cortex and Dingodile levels are weak links
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