Activision has launched a long-awaited numbered sequel to Crash Bandicoot: Warped, following three fraudulent mainline sequels, four spin-offs, four racing games, and four mobile games. The release of Warped marked the end of the numbered designation for the series, which only added to the confusion.
The continuity in the Crash Bandicoot series has been quite loose, especially between Warped and the subsequent games. However, this didn’t really affect the overall experience, as the game was a fun and lighthearted platformer featuring a scientist battling against a quirky 90s mascot who jumped on crates. With each new installment, the series continued to evolve and deviate from the traditional linear 3D platforming format.
Activision has been on a roll lately with their successful remakes of Spyro Reignited Trilogy, Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2. These games have demonstrated that the company is capable of producing exceptional content when they put their minds to it. In fact, Activision and Toys for Bob are so confident in their latest project, a true sequel to the N. Sane Trilogy, that they have boldly named it Crash Bandicoot 4.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time
Developer: Toys for Bob
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One (reviewed)
Release Date: October 2, 2020
The sequels to Crash Bandicoot 2 abandoned the use of numbers in their titles, for reasons unknown. However, with the release of Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, there is no denying that this is the true successor to the original game. Perhaps the developers were ashamed of the number of sequels they had produced, but this latest installment is unmistakably a continuation of the beloved franchise.
Although some may view the gameplay as antiquated or obsolete, its simplicity undeniably holds a certain charm. The subsequent sequels following Warped attempted novel approaches with varying degrees of success, and while these games do possess their own following, there is no contemporary equivalent to the original trilogy.
The gameplay of It’s About Time remains true to the linear 3D platforming challenges and 2D segments found in the N. Sane Trilogy. The levels are designed as lengthy and intricate obstacles courses, filled with enemies, traps, hazards, and pitfalls. Occasionally, stage gimmicks are introduced to add variety, such as riding a baby polar bear, escaping from a deadly danger, or grinding on rails.
One of the standout features of It’s About Time is the introduction of masks that provide Crash with unique abilities during specific sequences. These masks function similarly to other stage gimmicks and are scattered throughout the game, becoming more prevalent towards the end.
A particular mask has the ability to make certain platforms or crates vanish or materialize, requiring the player to skillfully navigate through the level by toggling the presence of solid surfaces. Additionally, the most enjoyable mask allows Crash to spin at an incredible speed, enabling him to effortlessly glide across long distances like a helicopter and deflect most enemy attacks.
The most unpleasant mask in the game causes gravity to reverse, causing Crash to stick to the ceiling. Its primary purpose is to allow players to juggle Crash in the air over hazardous obstacles such as lasers or spikes. However, this task is more challenging than it appears, as the game’s speed can make it difficult to control. Additionally, the mask is often used in areas with instant death traps, making it frustrating for players who are still getting used to it.
The slow-motion triggering mask is a highly underrated tool that is often obtained towards the end of the game. Its true potential is only unlocked in bonus areas where the platforming is limited to a 2D plane, and the difficulty level is significantly higher than in the regular levels.
Despite its cartoonish appearance and target audience of children, It’s About Time presents a significantly higher level of difficulty than one might expect. While N. Sane Trilogy offered a satisfying challenge, It’s About Time surpasses it with its sadistic level design and placement, truly living up to the expectations of a worthy successor.
Reaching the ultimate boss and completing the game may not be too challenging, but obtaining a 106% completion rate is a daunting task. Each non-boss level is adorned with crates, and every single one of them must be smashed. Unfortunately, there are often several crates that pose a significant risk. This would be acceptable if it weren’t for the additional requirement of dying less than three times to earn all gems.
Although it may be difficult, the challenge presented is still reasonable. With dedication, persistence, and ample experimentation, most individuals can successfully complete the tasks. However, the ultimate obstacle lies in the fact that in order to attain a comprehensive game, one must flawlessly execute each level. This entails destroying all crates, gathering more than 80% of the fruit, acquiring all concealed items, and avoiding any deaths.
The experience can be likened to that of a gerbil in the company of Richard Gere – utterly hopeless. However, if you release your completionist tendencies and focus on survival, It’s About Time becomes a much more enjoyable game. Deviating from your path to explore a branching area, only to potentially lose progress by attempting to break Nitro Crates, may cause you to question the value of such a risk.
By collecting all the gems, players can unlock various alternate skins and costumes for both Crash and Coco. Each stage offers six gems to collect, with an additional six available for an inverted run. While most skins only require six gems, some later areas may require a few more. The final few stages are particularly challenging, as they require players to collect 10 out of the possible 12 gems. This is an incredibly difficult feat, as these levels are among the toughest in any Crash game.
Toys for Bob has introduced a new mode called “modern” in It’s About Time, which offers infinite lives to players. This mode is a clear indication that the game is going to be the most challenging Crash game to date. The developers have designed the game with the knowledge that players will have unlimited attempts, enabling them to create the most difficult levels in a game that is primarily targeted towards children.
Having unlimited lives may seem like an advantage, but each death serves as a stark reminder of your numerous shortcomings. Additionally, the game employs adaptive difficulty, which kicks in after approximately 10 deaths. This feature may offer a small reprieve by removing a troublesome enemy or providing an additional checkpoint.
Ninja Gaiden Black doesn’t ridicule you as harshly for your lack of skill. However, the feeling of shame is still present and the only way to escape it is to survive the challenges and push the humiliation to the back of your mind.
It’s About Time takes Crash and his friends on a wild adventure through various dimensions, eras, and universes. From pirate ships to futuristic cities, prehistoric times to the year of the original Crash Bandicoot release, they’ll explore a range of exciting locations. With just a few levels in each setting, the game boasts over 40 levels in total.
The levels in each dimension are limited, preventing the settings from becoming monotonous. This ensures that the gameplay remains engaging and dynamic, with new and thrilling elements constantly introduced. Additionally, certain stages may feature a distinct character with their own unique play style, replacing Crash and Coco.
Tawna possesses a hook-shot that can be aimed at far-off foes and crates, allowing her to traverse to new locations. However, she is unable to utilize any of the mask abilities and instead relies on her brawling skills, utilizing a combination of punches and kicks. On the other hand, Dingodile may be massive in size, but he is surprisingly nimble, thanks to his vacuum gun that enables him to hover. Additionally, his blunderbuss can suck up crates and explosives, making him a highly entertaining character to play with.
The third character in the game, Neo Cortex, offers a unique gameplay experience that may not be as enjoyable as the others. His gameplay mechanics resemble those of a puzzle platformer, where he uses his gun to transform enemies into bouncy blocks or platforms. However, he lacks certain abilities such as double-jumping, hovering, and ground pounding. Instead, he has an air-dash similar to Mega Man X, which seems out of place for his character.
It is uncommon to be compelled to play as other characters, and their stages are mostly optional and provide their viewpoint on a previous Crash or Coco stage. For instance, Tawna’s level explains a set-piece where Crash must flee from a colossal killer truck.
Toys for Bob was considerate enough to make the majority of these features optional, allowing players who may not enjoy them to not feel restricted in their playstyle. While they do add diversity, the ability to choose in a linear 3D platformer is unique.
The appearance of It’s About Time differs slightly from that of the N. Sane Trilogy. While the trilogy remake featured Crash with impressive fur effects and a gritty world, the former has a distinct look. The materials used in It’s About Time are more realistic and boast impressive details and shader effects.
Although the art direction has been altered, It’s About Time remains visually stunning. Realism has been sacrificed in favor of a significantly higher frame rate compared to the N. Sane Trilogy. The game runs smoothly at a consistent 60 frames per second, with only occasional drops in frame rate at certain points in the pirate world, particularly when grinding on a rail at high speeds, where it can plummet to single digits and become distracting.
The artists have a deep understanding of Unreal 4’s capabilities and utilize them to their maximum potential. The environments are rich in color and offer stunning vistas that captivate the viewer. It’s About Time’s visuals are so impressive that it often resembles a Dreamworks CGI film rather than a video game.
The level of attention given to character expression and animation is comparable to that of animated films. The faces of the characters are incredibly expressive, and the way Crash moves with a slight squashing and stretching effect gives him a sense of presence in the environment.
The art team must have faced a daunting task with the vast number of locations, but they managed to pull it off brilliantly. The game’s extensive range of designs is a remarkable artistic accomplishment. Each location feels distinct and exceptional due to the minimal use of recycled assets.
When delving into the inverted stages of It’s About Time, the visuals become increasingly diverse. These levels offer a unique take on mirrored levels, as they not only remix the gameplay but also completely scramble the art style. The resulting imagery is vividly bold and trippy, with a psychedelic flair.
The majority of the music is unremarkable, lacking any standout melodies aside from the iconic Crash Bandicoot theme which receives a few remixes. However, the music is adequate and unobtrusive, effectively fulfilling its purpose of preventing silence.
The voice acting in the show follows a typical cartoon style. However, some veteran voice actors such as Greg Eagles and Richard Horvitz stand out due to their unique and recognizable voices. On the other hand, the remaining cast members could easily be replaced without any noticeable impact on the show’s overall performance.
The content is lacking in originality and is easily predictable. Even a visually impaired person could anticipate most of the plot elements. The only unexpected moment is when Dingodile is introduced, which is executed with impeccable comedic timing. Cortex, on the other hand, is portrayed as an irritating and foolish character who fails to pose any real danger. It is difficult to feel invested in his dialogue.
N. Gin stands out as the most impressive antagonist due to his cybernetic Peter Lorre-like speech and his battle that revolves around a rock concert theme. However, his coolness factor is a drawback in this game as he is the first of the main antagonists to be defeated, resulting in limited screen time.
The title of Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is well-deserved, as it lives up to the expectations set by its number four. This game is the most challenging and offers the most diverse gameplay experiences in a single package. Each non-boss level has an inverted version that provides additional gems to collect.
If you are brave and persistent enough to collect nearly 30 skins and obtain all the relics, the replay value of It’s About Time is exceptional. Despite its high price tag for a game with graphics reminiscent of Pixar, this is the fundamental principle of Crash Bandicoot. If you loved the N. Sane Trilogy, you will absolutely love this game.