STAFF REVIEW of Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time (Xbox One)

Monday, October 12, 2020.
by Kirby Yablonski

Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time Box art Crash Bandicoot has been around since the original PSone; however, a true sequel to Crash Bandicoot 3, also released on the PSone, has never been released, until now. Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is out now and a quick scope of the World Wide Web indicates that it was 22 years ago Crash Bandicoot 3 was released, so yes, it indeed is about time. Developer Toys for Bob, who have worked on various Skylander games, remade the Spyro games, and remade the first 3 Crash Bandicoot games (N. Sane Trilogy), have been given the keys to make a brand new Crash Bandicoot game. While Toys for Bob is the main developer, we must give recognition to Beenox and Activision’s Shanghai Studio, as their names are in the opening credits as well. So, enough with the pleasantries, let us talk about the game.

“It’s About Time” is not only a play on how long it has been since a true sequel has been released, but it is also about a hint about the gameplay. Crash and his sister Coco (you can control one or the other) are tasked with moving about time (dimensions) to make things right again. You search for a series of four different masks (phase shifting, dark matter, time manipulation and gravity switcher) that play a role repairing what has gone wrong. These masks also allow new gameplay mechanics in various levels. It is an interesting story, and you will find some surprises along the way.

If you are a fan of the original three games (either on the PSone or the updated games included in the N. Sane Trilogy on current-gen consoles) then you know what to expect. You navigate through various themed levels using various gameplay mechanics. Each level has its own themed enemies, pitfalls and platforms that you will face. While there are a few familiar feeling levels, the majority of them are very original and highly creative. There are hidden paths to discover, bonus crate levels and hidden rooms to be found as you try to smash all the crates and collect all the wumpa fruit you can.

Every level contains collectibles, and the most important are the diamonds you are awarded at the end of each one. This occurs in one of six ways including how much fruit you collect (40%, 60%, 80%), breaking all the crates, how many times you die and finding a hidden diamond. Should you meet all the criteria and find the hidden diamond, you open a new skin for Crash and Coco. You will also discover a few other methods of opening new skins, but the majority are opened by the collecting the six diamonds.

You will have an opportunity to play as other characters, and one character early on has you revisiting dimensions as her journey through time will intermix with Crash and Coco’s. The character is Tawna Bandicoot, who has a hookshot rope and wall-climbing abilities. After first meeting her and complete the assigned level with her (not telling you where because no spoilers) new levels open up on previous dimensions and her specific levels will also open up as you play in dimensions not yet explored. It is a neat premise as these levels eventually intertwine into various parts of a level that Crash and Coco are completing. You will also get to play as some of the adversaries that you vanquish, which changes up the gameplay somewhat and offers up a bit more variety.

Each dimension has an end boss of some sort. The boss battles are basically a memorization of attack patterns and then countering them to whittle down a boss’s health bar. These boss battles mainly consist of characters that are well known in the Crash Bandicoot universe. It was nice to see the inclusion of all the recognizable characters given the history of the franchise. I should note that further into the game, and upon defeating a specific boss (no spoilers here), you will open up N’Verted Mode (more on this later).

There is a lot of stuff for completionists to do in this game. You can search for ‘Flashback Tapes’, which are literally a VHS tape found in each level. Be forewarned, you cannot die prior to finding them. If you die and continue going through the level, you will see the VHS tape, but you cannot pick it up. There are 21 of these tapes in the game, and once obtained you can play through a crate level that is assigned to that tape, which requires precise movements and quick thinking on the fly.

The previously mentioned N’Verted Mode, which opens later in the game, allows you to replay any of the levels that you may have beaten. The trick here is that each level is presented in a new art style with some different gameplay goals. This effectively doubles the levels that you play. You can collect more diamonds too, which are only made available in the N’Verted Mode.

All seems fine and dandy so far but Crash Bandicoot 4 hits a wall in a few areas that can affect how many will enjoy this game. Past games have you controlling the crazy marsupial in different manners, including when he runs towards the screen, away from the screen, and of course sideways (traditional 2.5D Bandicoot platforming). Judging jumps and navigating the surprise of unseen perils have always been a bit of a sore spot in past games, especially in the first two ‘views’ mentioned, and it once again rears its head here. Toys for Bob has implemented a new “shadow” feature, which is essentially a dot on the ground that shows you where you will land as you are in mid-air; however, you will still feel the frustration of missing a platform, hitting an obstacle that you trying to clear or clipping the corner of a ledge that is above you resulting in a untimely death, more often than not, just like the original games.

Along with the control and perspective issues is the general difficulty of the game. Simply put, there are many difficult stages in Crash Bandicoot 4 and they will put your skills to the test. Not only will you be making some split second decisions and well timed jumps, but the addition of the new gameplay mechanics of the four masks can really make for some incredibly difficult times. Although you are introduced to the new mechanics as the game progresses, later levels incorporate more than just one. You will be pressing buttons fiendishly fast while timing of jumps, slides and spins that all need need to be perfect. To alleviate some of this difficulty you can play the game in ‘Retro’ or ‘Modern’ mode. Retro mode plays like the original games as you have a limited number of lives, run out of them and you start all over. Modern mode implements a checkpoint system where when you die you start at the last checkpoint you hit while keeping track of your deaths.

Toys for Bob has also included a local multiplayer mode, both cooperative and adversarial. The co-op mode is called Pass n’ Play. Here up to four players take turns using the same controller navigating their way though a level. Once completed, each player’s score is added up, a winner is declared and it is off to the next level. The adversarial mode is called Bandicoot Battle and it is broken up into two separate modes. Checkpoint Races has players competing to see who is the fastest to each checkpoint. Crate Combo on the other hand has players compete for the largest combo of crates resulting in a higher score than others. Personally, it is nice to see a multiplayer mode in a Crash Bandicoot game; however, I didn’t find my time was too vested in it, but at least the option is here.

Visually, Crash Bandicoot has truly become a game worthy of this generation. I found myself admiring the vibrant colours as well as the art and level design of each dimension. You can see that a lot of effort went into making this the best-looking Crash game ever. I was playing on the Xbox One X on a 1440p screen and everything seemed to ‘pop’ off the screen. For me personally, my favorite level was a New-Orleans Mardi-Gras like level that was full of bright neon colors, unique enemies, floating character balloons and various gameplay mechanics. This is just one of the many distinctive and original looking environments. From pirate ships, tropical forests, Mayan-like temples to icy landscapes or desert valleys, all are made with solid textures, environmental lighting and many moving parts. You’ll be amazed not only in the variety, but how each one is original with different types of enemies and pitfalls you will face. I did not find any technical hiccups as the game ran smoothly and the framerate was solid throughout. Draw distance was incredible, allowing you to see far into the distance, especially as you make your way down your path, which adds to the immersion of each level.

The game audio is another highlight. In-game rendered cut-scenes are well voiced and all the character voices are in sync with their lines. You will find that not only do the cut-scenes have dialog, but there is also a lot of dialog in many of the levels you play. Sound effects are also bang on. If you are a returning fan, you’ll recognize so much, from the sound of collecting wumpa fruit, smashing creates, collecting an aku-aku mask to the sound of Crash’s spin attack or dying as you fail a jump or an enemy kills you. Music is best described as traditional to the series. It has a ‘beachy’ or Polynesian-like sound, but cheerful and somewhat cartoony. It also changes beat at just the right time, helping to bring the universe alive. I played using a headset (Turtle Beach Stealth 700 Gen. 2) and found there was directionality, great tonal balance and good overall balance of all the sounds.

Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is the true sequel that fans have been waiting for. The Unreal Engine 4 powered visuals brings the series into 2020 while Toys for Bob has kept to the original source material while adding some new gameplay elements, a personal touch so to speak. What has also made the jump (no pun intended) to this sequel though is the difficulty and control issues of the past. I really do wish the game was more accessible to new and younger fans alike, as some people may be turned off by this, but I don’t think it’s fair to heavily penalize the game for this fact, as it still is what made the series what it is. Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is truly the best game in the series and I do hope we see another one on the upcoming next-generation consoles.

Overall: 8.7 / 10
Gameplay: 8.3 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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