First Look: ‘Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time’ proves the franchise can evolve – into something better

Potentially the best ‘Crash Bandicoot’ entry to date, but the ability to play as other characters raises concerns about the overall pace of the game

Back in 2017, when the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy was released, I succumbed to its nostalgic charms almost instantly and was transported to a time in my childhood when the loveable mascot was a huge part of my life. Since then, ideas of how a new entry could come to life fueled my imagination and this year, that wish finally came true.

Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is developed by Toys For Bob, who also worked on the N. Sane Trilogy. The upcoming game ignores many past entries – namely all main instalments from 2001’s Wrath Of Cortex to 2008’s Crash: Mind Over Mutant – and instead continues the story of the original trilogy.

Over the past week, I’ve had the opportunity to delve into three levels from the much-anticipated sequel and discover if Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time would be a pale imitation of its past or build upon the foundations of its predecessors.

Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time. Credit: Activision

The three levels on offer all come from within the midpoint of the game, offering the option to play both as Crash and his nemesis Neo Cortex. From the offset one thing is abundantly clear about Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time – it’s beautiful.

Toys For Bob did a fantastic job polishing up the original games with the N. Sane Trilogy. The developers have gone one step further to animate the world, enemies and Crash himself with wonderfully expressive mannerisms in this reboot.

Everything from the traditional Crash experience is here and was perfectly orchestrated in ‘Snow Way Out’, the first level I played. The icy environment included all elements fans would expect from a Crash Bandicoot game, everything from smashing crates, spinning into enemies and discovering secret areas.

It also fixes one of the main complaints fans had with the N. Sane Trilogy: the controls. N. Sane Trilogy took controls from Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped and implemented them across all three titles in the trilogy, making the first two harder as a result. Here, the developer offers a much tighter and more refined control experience.

Outside of the gameplay fans know and love, Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time has some new tricks up its sleeve. The first being the inclusion of special masks that give Crash unique abilities when equipped.

‘Snow Way Out’ includes one of these masks, which slows down time at the push of a button. At first, the ability seems to only be useful for clearing certain platforms and crates that appear for a specific amount of time. But as the level progresses, players will find that the mask’s abilities will come in handy for other tasks, such as combat encounters and dodging enemy attacks.

Another mask available in the demo can be found during the ‘Dino Dash’ level. This time, it grants Crash the ability to phase specific objects in and out of existence. Much like the previous mask, the premise begins fairly simple, with certain crates obtainable through phasing. However, it quickly escalates into a challenging platforming gauntlet, with an on-rails section requiring precise jumping with a mixture of phasing to avoid incoming obstacles.

Both masks prove that Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time has new ideas to offer the franchise’s formula beyond simple gimmicks. It feels like a natural evolution for the series and a creative way to infuse some truly challenging platforming segments within the game.

Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time. Credit: Activision

Finally, I got a chance to run around as Neo Cortex, who is a playable character during a handful of levels in Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time. Straight off the bat, it’s evident that Cortex handles completely differently and will require a learning curve to fully manoeuvre.

Unlike Crash, Cortex is not able to double jump, which makes platforming much tricker. Thankfully, he is equipped with a ray gun that lets players freeze enemies to create platforms, or turn them into bounce pads by shooting them twice. Accompanying this is a dash move which is utilised to navigate larger spaces.

Gameplay as Cortex is a completely different experience as it feels significantly slower paced than fans would expect from a Crash Bandicoot game. How this will translate into the full game remains to be seen and raises concerns about the overall pace of the game. However, the segments manage to blend seamlessly into Crash’s story and provide context for how certain events have come to light.

For better or for worse, fans of the original trilogy will be happy to know that Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time presents significant challenges, at least across the levels available in the preview. If that’s something that concerns you then be prepared to buy multiple controllers for the inevitable rage that comes.

The development team have previously discussed the difficulty level required to play Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time and its plan to include fewer skill spikes. However, be assured that the demo levels push back enough to provide some decent moments of difficulty and suggest later levels could truly be gruelling affairs.

Players who want to achieve 100 per cent completion rate for every level will most certainly be met with some resistance. This time around not only do all the crates need to be smashed, but every Wumpa fruit must also be collected, which can be hundreds per level. This means carefully scouring each corner of the map, which are significantly larger than predecessors and appear to be the same length as two or three levels from the originals.

The option to swap between Modern and Retro mode is available for players who want to increase the difficulty even further. Like its name suggests, Retro mode lets players run through levels with lives much like the older titles. More can be gained by collecting Wumpa, but players will have to restart the level if they run out of lives. On the other hand, Modern mode does away with lives and instead sends players back to the last checkpoint if they die.

Having the ability to fine-tune the experience and make it more accessible for newcomers, or those who simply want to follow Crash on another adventure, is greatly welcomed. Everything about Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time seems determined to perfectly balance both the power of nostalgia versus improving the formula for a modern audience, and it succeeds for the most part.

Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time. Credit: Activision

Ultimately, Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time feels like a game created for fans by fans. The team at Toys For Bob have taken the essence of why players are so nostalgic for the original trilogy and used that same DNA to evolve the franchise.

Despite reservations on how the story detours when it places you in the shoes of other characters, playing as Crash manages to perfectly balance both the new with the old, potentially resulting in the best Crash Bandicoot entry to date.

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