Game Info:

Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time
Developed by: Toys for Bob
Published by: Activision
Available on: PS4, Xbox One
Release date: October 2, 2020
Genre: Action, Platformer
Number of players: 1-4 players (though largely a single-player game)
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ with Alcohol Reference, Cartoon Violence, Comic Mischief, & Language
Price: $59.99
(Amazon Affiliate Link)

Okay, personal disclosure right at the start of the review here—I’m a HUGE Crash Bandicoot fan. With the exception of the two “party games” on the PS1 and DS, I’ve played and 100%ed every single one. I love the good old-school platforming, but with multiple objectives. For example, beyond simply beating the level, in previous games you’ve also gotten special gems and trinkets for going through the relatively short platformer levels and doing different objectives, such as breaking all of the MANY crates in one playthrough, or going through a Time Trial for a level and beating it in a certain time (with certain crates freezing the clock for so many seconds). It’s a cool twist on a classic formula, and this is the first new (non-remastered) Crash Bandicoot game in well over a decade now! So keep this in mind as we get into this review, as it’ll be very much a bipolar review.

First, let’s cover the good stuff. This game essentially “resets” the story after the 3rd game (and Crash Nitro Kart), so anything that happened after those 4 PS1 games is essentially forgotten. After 23-ish years (there’s even a background hint that it’s been that long in the intro), Crash’s old enemies Neo Cortex and N. Tropy have broken out of their interdimensional prison. Unfortunately, the act of doing so has rendered reality itself unstable, and our heroes will hop not just through time but between dimensions on this journey. Fortunately, the act of doing so has also awoken the four Quantum Masks, each of whom can give Crash and Coco Bandicoot special powers to help them on their journey. The story itself is a bit more complex than the previous Crash games, though not much so; just a couple of twists and turns during the plot, most of which I saw coming beforehand. The story’s decent, but not what you’re playing the game for.

And boy I’ll tell ya, Toys for Bob NAILED the classic Crash Bandicoot formula. The controls (for the most part—see below) are quite precise, responsive, and also re-mappable, which is good because you’ll need a very good reaction time to deal with the many obstacles in your way. Pits to double-jump over, wooden crates to smash, enemies to spin off-screen, nitro crates to avoid—there’s quite a lot standing in between you and victory in each level! As before, you have your protective mask Aku-Aku to help you, who will protect you from 1 hit if you break 1 of his crates; 2 hits if you break 2 of his crates, turning him golden; or temporarily give you invincibility (from enemies) if you break 3 of his crates without taking a hit.

Most of the levels are played by the title character, Crash, who retains his usual set of moves, the most unique of which is his spin-move, which can break crates and kill enemies. Along for the entire journey this time is his sister Coco. Coco was in every Crash game after the first one, but she was limited to select levels, usually where she piloted vehicles or rode animals. For this game, you can play as Coco in any Crash level and visa versa. They both control the exact same, which for me was a slight disappointment; obviously they’re going to control similarly since they’re going through the same levels with the same mechanics, but I was expecting something like how Mario and Luigi control in one of their games. For example, Luigi can “wiggle jump” just a bit further than Mario, but is a bit more slippery on land—something like that. This is a minor complaint, though.

To help mix things up more, you have four Quantum Masks you unlock over the course of the story. The first is Loni-Loli, who can phase select objects in-and-out of existence. ‘Akano gives the Bandicoots’ spins a dark matter overdrive, letting them glide around and deflect objects as they swirl like a mini purple tornado. Ika-Ika can switch gravity from down-to-up and visa versa. Finally, Kapuna-Wa can temporarily slow down time drastically, allowing Crash/Coco to move over platforms that will crumble after a nanosecond or jump across platforms in the process of falling; they can even run across Nitro crates before they explode! They show up at pre-determined times in certain levels to help you through certain segments before disappearing into time again. Loni-Loli, Ika-Ika, and Kapuna-Wa are all interesting abilities and add new twists to the levels, but they’ve been done before in other platforming games; ‘Akano is my favorite, as gliding around like a nigh-invincible tornado is just tons of fun.

Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time

Strong Points: Incredible value for your money; lots of different objectives in each of the 100+ levels; generally strong, precise controls with lots of unique play mechanics and environments
Weak Points: Exponentially more difficult than any previous Crash game; aiming mechanics are too imprecise for this kind of game; multiplayer is an afterthought
Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence; generic voodoo “magic”; cartoony undead; “b*****d”, "h*ll", "kicka**" each said once; a few level/costume titles are puns on curse words, such as "Mother Clucker"

To mix things up even more, this time around there are special levels which are played by characters other than Crash and Coco. First up is an alternate-reality version of Tawna, Crash’s girlfriend from the first game; this alternate version of her is punk-looking and more of a loner, as in her reality all of the other good guys have died, leaving her to be the sole hero. She’s very athletic, and can wall-jump as well as use a grapple-gun to hit far-away enemies and hitch onto distant platforms, zooming up to them almost instantaneously. Another character to play as is Dingodile, who has hung up the “villain stooge” hat and now is running his own restaurant… until said restaurant gets blown up and he gets sucked into a dimensional vortex! Dingodile has given up his old flamethrower for a vacuum cannon, which can suck up crates and shoot them back out at other targets, as well as allow him to hover for a short amount of time; he can also use his tail in a spin attack similar to Crash’s. The last character you can play as is Dr. Neo Cortex himself, whose levels center around his gun—he can’t use it to actually kill enemies, but to change them into regular rock platforms, gaseous platforms he can walk through, and/or gelatinous platforms for him to jump on. He can also use it to destroy crates, and in lieu of a double-jump, he can blast forward with his giant noggin, wiggling in the air for just a second at the end for you to fine-tune where he lands before he falls back down to the ground.

Out of the three extra characters, Tawna is my favorite to play, as it’s a different way of platforming than Crash and Coco while still being fast-moving and keeping you in control. Dr. Cortex’s gun is a neat addition, but it doesn’t fire nearly as far as it should, and in “3-D” segments it's very difficult to tell exactly where you’re aiming—this would be a minor annoyance on a more forgiving game, but here it can easily mean the difference between you meeting the objectives for a level or not. Dingodile’s vacuum cannon, unfortunately, suffers a similar fate when aiming, and given that he often is sucking in and shooting out TNT barrels, well… you get the picture. Unfortunately, beyond their initial introductory levels, nearly all of the rest of the three extra characters’ levels are only “partial levels”—that is, you only play as them for a relatively short amount of time until they get to a predetermined point where they help/hinder Crash/Coco. At this point, you take over as Crash/Coco in the level again—and end up having to play through most of a level again that you literally just played through before you unlocked this extra “stage”, the only difference being crate placement. This is admittedly kinda lame and a transparently cheap way of lengthening the game.

Speaking of content, WOW does this game have a lot. There are 38 “normal” levels throughout the entire game, taking place in a wide variety of somewhat normal and very weird worlds, from an ancient Chinese tower that somehow ascends all the way into space, to a post-apocalyptic “Mad Max”-style wasteland, to an alien planet. For each of these “normal” levels, there are SIX different gems you can collect, each associated with an objective—getting 40%, 60%, and 80% of all Wumpa fruit; smashing all the crates; getting through the level dying no more than 3 times; and finding a gem hidden somewhere in the level. These gems not only add to your game completion percentage, they also help you unlock skins for Crash and Coco that you can have them wear anywhere in the game (even in cutscenes). There’s also a Time Trial relic (silver/gold/platinum) that you can get for each level if you’re fast enough AND can make it through the level without dying, and a new “N. Sanely Perfect” trophy for each level that involves you getting every gem (except the hidden one) in one go and also not dying in the level ONCE.

Oh, is that not enough for you? Well, there’s more—about a third of the way through the game you unlock “N. Verted Mode”, which opens up essentially “mirror mode” versions of each level, but with a twist. Each world has a unique visual effect applied to it, such as everything being in white and when you twirl or slam you splash color over everything nearby, or a “sonar effect” where you only see the basic shapes of everything and these shapes fade over time until you twirl again to “bounce sound waves” off the objects in your environment. There’s some pretty interesting and cool visual effects here, but a few kind of bothered my eyes after a while, like a white-and-black “comic book dot” effect in one world. For each N. Verted Mode level that gives you ANOTHER 6 gems to get (though if you beat a Time Trial or get an N. Sanely Perfect Trophy in one version of a level it counts in the other as well). There’s also 5 different boss levels, each with their own N. Verted version, and 21 “Experiment Log” video tapes you can pick up in most levels (provided you don’t die at all before you get to where they are in said level). These video tapes unlock “mini-levels”, which involve Dr. Cortex’s early test experiments with Crash in 1996 and are about 1/3 puzzle, 2/3 platforming levels that almost entirely involve bouncing off of expertly-placed crates. There is easily 50+ hours worth of content in here—much more, in fact, depending upon how completionist you want to be in this game.

So, feeling pretty good about this game so far? Sounding like a definite buy? Well, we’re at the top of the rollercoaster hump now, and it’s a long way down the backside of this hill. The difficulty of this game is, quite frankly, bonkers nutty coo-coo insane. In fact, it’s the most difficult platformer game I’ve ever played. (Disclaimer: I have not played Super Meat Boy.) Now, of course, hardcore difficulty itself isn’t a bad thing in a game—if it’s advertised as being such. However, the Crash Bandicoot series, in its over a dozen different games over the years, have always been anywhere in the range from “medium-easy” to “medium-difficult”. This is by far the biggest change in difficulty I’ve ever seen in an established series. There was also no hint whatsoever in the advertising and trailers for this game that it was anything different in this regard. In fact, the interviewees repeatedly insisted this was a return to the original norm for the series, and the levels were relatively short and sweet, just like the originals. (This latter claim is patently false—most of the levels are much longer than those in the originals. From a content standpoint that’s a good thing, but even if a level is difficult, asking someone to get through, say, 30 obstacles without making a mistake is a much easier ask than asking someone to get through 120 obstacles without making a mistake.) Starting to play through the game, I was given a bit of a “false sense of security” after playing through the first two levels, which are roughly the length and difficulty you’d expect from the first two levels of a Crash game. However, come the third level—as soon as you travel to a different dimension—the difficulty immediately ramps up to where you’d be in the “late middle/early end” of any previous Crash game. By the end of the fourth world (there are ten in total), you’re already being asked to do things beyond what any previous Crash game would have asked of you, and the difficulty continues to ramp up from there. By the time I was on the last few worlds, it was not uncommon for me to die over fifty times in a level (my “record” so far is 138 deaths in one level)—and I’m no slouch in the platformer genre; in fact, it’s one of my favorite types of games.

Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 74%
Gameplay - 13/20
Graphics - 7/10
Sound - 8/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 4/5

Morality Score - 86%
Violence - 8/10
Language - 6.5/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural – 8.5/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

Now to be fair, just like previous Crash games, if you die a lot before you get to the next checkpoint, the game will eventually give you a slight break by giving you a free Aku-Aku mask when you respawn, then after more deaths a gold Aku-Aku, then after even more deaths the next checkpoint will be moved up a bit in the level (in some cases; they’re still too far apart for a game this hard, though). However, the most difficult parts nearly always involve you falling into nothingness/deadly waters if you fail, which no number of masks can help you from. And, if you’re just wanting to beat the game without getting any of the extras, the game is “only” very difficult. But now you’re asking me to beat these levels without dying, or complete a time trial on a long incredibly difficult gauntlet of a level? I’m willing to go through a lot to get 100% in a Crash game, but for this one—just forget it. It’s such a big ask that I’m not even willing to consider it. And that’s a real shame, as the strength of the Crash games has often been in their replayability and multiple objectives to complete for each level that completely change your strategy for each stage.

To finish up this review with a few odds ‘n ends—the graphics are definitely above the previous Crash Bandicoot games, with a nice cartoony look to them, but they aren’t anything awe-inspiring (except for some of the N. Verted effects). However, this is to be expected for this aesthetic—making Crash look more realistic with individual visible hairs in his fur would’ve just looked weird. The graphics get the job done, but they would’ve looked up to expectations on a PS3 as well. The music is your typical Crash fare, with a neat catchy variant of the classic Crash jingle on the level select board and on some levels, and it’s enough to lay the feel of each level, but beyond that it’s not particularly memorable. Many of the sound effects are taken directly from the original Crash trilogy, which certainly brings with it a nice bit of nostalgia.

There is some multiplayer, but only just so. There’s a “Bandicoot Battle” mode for 1-4 players—basically, in this mode, you play through any one of the main levels, with the controller passing to the next person whenever you reach a checkpoint or die (you choose). At the end of the level, a winner is declared depending on the objective you chose (the number of boxes broken or the time used up). There’s also a “Pass N. Play” option for the main game that allows you to do essentially the same “pass the controller” multiplayer option during the main “Story Mode” of the game. No new content is available for multiplayer, and there’s no co-op or online; it’s just adding in a “pausing” mechanism to the single-player levels for you to pass the controller, and is easily forgotten about.

Morally, there’s not much to object to. There is some cartoonish violence—for example, if Crash gets electrocuted you’ll see his skeleton flash in-and-out of a black outline before he disintegrates—but certainly nothing bloody. There is some generic “magic” given to you by the Quantum voodoo masks, but it’s never explained beyond simply being magic and is no more offensive than, say, those turtles with magic wands in Mario games. Same with the undead—there’s one Mardi Gras-like level where there’s some happy cartoony skeletons and ghosts running around, but it’s nothing more objectionable than the Boos in Mario. To my surprise, there are a few minor language issues. Dingodile says “b*****d” once, and in the 100% ending "kicka**" is also said once. Also, a few of the costume and level names are puns on curse words/sayings ("Mother Clucker", "Ship Happens"). Still, it’s a pretty family-friendly game. (I can’t determine what “alcohol reference” they’re referring to in the ESRB rating.)

Overall, Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time has a ton of cool content, amazing ideas, solid platforming, and a lot of bang for your buck. However, in the end, awesome content doesn’t matter if the game is so difficult you can’t see much of it—and it’s because of this extreme difficulty (and almost solely because of it) I’d actually recommend this game the LEAST out of any Crash Bandicoot game I’ve played. Give me mediocre gameplay I can actually get through compared to great gameplay I have to bang my head against a wall 50 times to beat any day of the week.



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