It’s been a long, long time since the release of the original Crash Bandicoot. Nearly two and a half decades, to be exact. And it’s incredible that all of these years later, that classic Crash formula is still as exhilarating and engaging as ever before. Sure, Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time (CB4) implements new mechanics to modernize the series. Purists might even say developer Toys for Bob have overcomplicated things with the new ‘phase world’ mechanic. But there hasn’t been a single second in which it doesn’t feel like a title worthy of brandishing the name of everyone’s favorite Marsupial. This is Crash Bandicoot – through and through – and fans of the franchise need not worry about its fate. CB4 is chock-full of (almost) everything I could have asked for.
We’ve come so far from the days of the PlayStation 1’s polygon-style graphical quality. CB4 is gorgeous. Brilliant lighting and a supreme color-palette is only the tip of the iceberg once you dive into any one of the dozens of levels on offer. The intelligently crafted courses beam with life, and little details that permeate throughout left me consistently with a smile on my face. More so than in any of the previous Bandicoot entries, the stages seem designed to make the player feel as if they’re on a sprawling journey. From start to finish, there isn’t one level that falters, and undoubtedly a new bar has been set for would-be platforming game developers.
That’s not to say there weren’t also moments where I wanted to put my fist into the TV. Crash Bandicoot was never particularly easy, and Toys for Bob is going to be the first one to remind you of it. As well-put-together as the missions are, they’re also equally as long and arduous – especially if you have the guts to turn retro mode on. While the modern setting will provide you with unlimited lives, the traditional option was created with only the most hardcore of Bandicoot aficionados in mind, taking the life limit down to three. And this may not be for everyone, but it’s a small example in an extensive list of features that make CB4 feel genuinely authentic to its roots.
Back to the Future
Most importantly, though, is that each of the levels offers a tremendous amount of replayability. As has been the case with prior iterations, CB4 offers a boatload of incentive to go back and search every nook and cranny. After completing a level, you’ll be tasked with tackling time trials, crate-completion runs, finding hidden gems, and defeating each stage with a low death count. All of this, of course, will lead you to a bevy of unlockables. Then there’s the alternate timeline in which you play everything with Cortex. And when you’re through with the main course, Crash’s girlfriend Tawna shows up to serve desert. See, her time travel ability allows Tawna to go back and alter some of the stages you’ve already finished. It’s an innovative, exciting concept that works quite well. I only wish more of the missions received this treatment.
Speaking of treatment, I can’t help but feel like the music should have been left in the lab to simmer. It’s not that any of it is terrible – by no means. It’s just that it’s staggeringly mundane. You’ve heard these same xylophone driven beats an innumerable number of times in a countless tally of games. Don’t get me wrong, CB4’s score certainly works to capture the essence that the original created back in 1996. And I think a lot of fans will love it for that. But, maybe it does this a little too well because when it was all said and done, there wasn’t any specific track that stood out. They all just blended together, one after another.
I can live with uninspired music, but a couple of things I never got used to were, for one, the disparity between cutscene and gameplay. Cutscenes are pre-rendered, and for some reason, suffer from a severe resolution drop because of it. It’s utterly jarring going from the gorgeous, vibrant, bright, and bold gameplay to a scene that looks as if it’s ten-years-old. And I know people will disagree with this, but we’re approaching the twenty-fifth anniversary of Crash Bandicoot, and our boy still doesn’t have a speaking role. He makes sounds. Everybody else talks. Yet, Crash is once again resigned to forcing out spastic noises and being the village idiot. Truthfully, though, does any of this matter when the gameplay is so damned satisfying?
Crash is back, baby! Fans can rejoice as Toys for Bob and Activision have come together to create platforming perfection. Thanks to loads of collectibles, Cortex’s timeline, and Tawna, levels remain fresh not only upon your first playthrough but during subsequent attempts as well. And once you’re ready to start speedrunning, it’s remarkably rewarding to master a stage. Plus, each one is gorgeous to boot. Deliciously nostalgic all the while new and teeming with life, Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is going to be the best Bandicoot-based game you’ve ever played. I’ll bet my Wumpas on it.
***PS4 review code was provided by the publisher***
- Stays True to Crash Formula
- Incredible Replayability
- Gorgeous Visuals
- Smart Level Design
- Cutscenes Look Worse than Gameplay
- Forgettable Music
- Crash Still Can’t Have a Speaking Role?