I remember back when I was in elementary school inheriting my family’s PlayStation 1, and one of the first games I remember playing on it was Crash Bandicoot. Although I always preferred Spyro The Dragon, I had equally as much fun playing through the original Crash Bandicoot games. They provided some of the most unique styles of platforming and level designs in video gaming, and it became one of the most iconic platformers ever created; it even amassed a large following that has persisted to this day. After nearly a decade of complete silence, everyone was shocked when Sony announced Activision would release a full remake of the original PS1 trilogy. Crash Bandicoot: The N-Sane Trilogy saw critical acclaim from both fans and critics, and two years later a remake of Crash Team Racing came out. Still, the Crash community begged for more. Rather than remaking previous titles, everyone wanted something fresh, something original. They wanted a brand new installment that played just like the N-Sane Trilogy and captured the charm of the originals. It seemed like a tremendous long shot that would never happen, but to everyone’s shock and surprise, it did.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is the first original title in the Crash series in over ten years, published by Activision and developed by Toys For Bob. It serves as a direct sequel to Crash Bandicoot: Warped, and is meant to be the fourth game in the mainline series. This is very ironic, as every Crash game to have come out in the 2000’s is now no longer canon. Sorry Wrath of Cortex, but you just weren’t good enough. The 2001 platformer was full of levels that were either too barren or too gimmicky, and on top of that the story was bland. There was hardly anything interesting about a genetically-enhanced bandicoot fighting against Crash with the help of four evil mask spirits, and the game just didn’t stick with anybody. However, It’s About Time brings the masks back.
In Crash 4, Dr. Cortex and Dr. N. Tropy escape from their prison in the past and attempt to capture the four Quantum Masks in hopes of using their power to control the multiverse. Aku Aku, Crash’s protective mask spirit, senses a disturbance in the space-time continuum and urges Crash and Coco to investigate the source. After encountering one of the Quantum Masks, the trio are plunged into a journey to find the remaining Quantum Masks and stop the chaos that Cortex and N. Tropy are creating throughout the multiverse.
As expected, Crash 4 plays much like the original games did. A world map serves as the main hub, the same as the first Crash game. Players have the option to freely switch between Crash and Coco, who share the exact same controls and moveset. The levels themselves are very linear, just like the originals. However, they feel much bigger and contain far more substance compared to the PS1 games. This game utilizes that extra space by implementing a new rail-sliding mechanic, where Crash or Coco have to dodge obstacles by jumping or ducking; think of it as a reverse chase sequence. In addition, the Quantum Masks also add gameplay elements. Unlike Wrath of Cortex, the masks are on our side, and they each serve their own purpose. There’s Lani-Loli, who can phase objects in and out of existence; ‘Akano, who gives Crash or Coco an unlimited spin that allows them to hover and glide in the air as well as deflect certain attacks; Kupuna-Wa, who can slow down time, and Ika-Ika, who can flip the direction of gravity and allow Crash or Coco to traverse upside-down. These masks create a variety of new obstacles and give the player extra challenges previously unseen in the Crash series.
In addition to Crash and Coco, the game also introduces three new playable characters. Tawna Bandicoot (Yes, the same damsel-in-distress you rescued from the first installment) plays similarly to Crash and Coco, but she makes use of a grappling hook that can hit objects from long distance and cross large gaps. Dingodile, one of the series’ primary antagonists, has a vacuum that he can use to suck up objects to fire at enemies and obstacles. Lastly, Dr. Cortex himself has a ray gun that can turn enemies into either solid or bouncy platforms, as well as being able to perform a forward dash. These three characters each have their own levels to suit their own playstyles, and these levels even have cutscenes that show how they inadvertently help Crash or Coco on their journey. They break up the monotony of Crash and Coco’s platforming segments and give a little bit more lore to the story.
Even though there may only be a finite amount of levels, they offer a bunch of challenges. Excluding boss fights, each level has a total of six gems for the player to collect. The first three gems are for filling the Wumpa Meter, a new addition to Crash 4. Players will get a gem for filling the Wumpa Meter to 40, 60, and 80 percent. Another gem is rewarded for breaking all of the boxes in a level, which is a typical challenge for a Crash Bandicoot game. There is also a gem if the player finishes the level with no more than three deaths; Crash 4’s modern playstyle does away with having lives (although the player can choose to switch over), so this incentivizes the player to be mindful about diving head first into certain obstacles. Lastly, the player can find a hidden gem within the level. Collecting a certain amount of gems per level will reward the player with a new costume for either Crash or Coco, so this is a fun way to go back and replay all the levels. Time trials also make a return, with each level having a sapphire, gold, and platinum relic.
Still not enough? Okay then, each level also has a separate “N.Verted” counterpart. An N.Verted level is a mirror of the original – everything gets flipped horizontally. The player won’t run into any alterations within the original’s layout, but it will still take some getting used to. But in addition to everything getting mirrored, the N.Verted levels also have a completely different art style depending on the world. One set of N.Verted levels force the player into utilizing echolocation in order to progress, while another set is stylized like a comic book or be completely black and white, with color only being added by using spin attacks. Every N.Verted level has its own additional set of six gems to collect, and the hidden gem location is different from the original’s. These can be very challenging depending on what the art style being used is, and they will truly test the player’s abilities.
There are also flashback levels, which are additional box-jumping puzzles that take place when Crash was still Dr. Cortex’s experiment prior to the events of the first game. They can be unlocked by collecting flashback tapes; they can be obtained by the player if they manage to reach a certain part of the level without dying. These box-jumping parkour challenges may be the hardest the game has to offer, with each one rewarding the player with a medal. Medals are obtained by completing a flashback level as well as breaking 90% or all of the level’s boxes. Collecting all of the medals will unlock a special costume for Crash and Coco.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is exactly what fans have been asking from Activision in terms of a brand new Crash Bandicoot game. It has all of the old platforming and collectible challenges that made the old games special, and it also introduces new ways and mechanics that give a completely different playstyle while maintaining the integrity of Crash Bandicoot. It’s a breath of fresh air with completely new scents. The sheer amount of collectibles and rewards to collect will ensure endless hours of replayability, which will surely bring players back in the long run. There is no doubt about it: this is the best Crash Bandicoot game in the entire series’ 24 year-long history. With the amount of praise this game has been getting, it seems very likely that we could be getting more Crash games along the way. Heck, let’s keep two sets of fingers crossed and hope Activision announces Spyro 4 and Tony Hawk 6.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is available now on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
(Cover Photo: HYPEBEAST)