Time For A New Sequel
Back in 1996, the Playstation console saw Crash Bandicoot spin and dash its way into platforming history. Cleverly combining 3D and 2D elements, Crash went on to become a smash hit warranting numerous sequels, spin-offs and – more recently – a re-release of the original trilogy with a new lick of paint.
With fans hungry for more, developer Toys for Bob had the unenviable task of pleasing fans of the franchise and newcomers alike with the fourth instalment in this platforming series. Aptly titled “It’s About Time”, this sequel certainly lives up to its name.
Serving as a direct continuation from Crash 3, It’s About Time essentially rewrites time and chooses to ignore Playstation 2’s Wrath Of Cortex. Aside from a cheeky few references to that title, this is very much a game celebrating the original trilogy while looking forward to a new generation of platforming to come.
There’s obvious influences to games like Super Meat Boy and Celeste here, with a steep learning curve that only gets steeper as the game goes on. The result is something that’s very much geared toward those who know this franchise well while offering up a very challenging platformer that’ll test even the most seasoned of gamer.
The story feels much more animated and engaging this time around, with 43 main levels (not counting the N.Verted levels and flashback tapes) to try and get through. This is easily one of the longest Bandicoot games to be released and by far the hardest too. Essentially the plot still revolves around Crash collecting items (masks this time) and thwarting Neo Cortex, but there’s much more fun to be had with the timeline which is revealed across the run-time of around 10 hours or so.
As you play through the game, extra levels unlock allowing you to play as three additional characters alongside Crash and Coco. Tawna Bandicoot has had a complete make-over and comes with a grappling hook and wall jumping. Dingodile’s here too, with a vacuum cleaner used to either traverse large gaps or suck in TNT to fire back at enemies. The third character I’ll keep as a secret but suffice to say each of these offer a very different style of play that help to prevent this gameplay loop from stagnating.
This variety really lends itself nicely to the story which does absolutely everything it can to make this one of the most memorable Bandicoot games in recent memory. That much certainly rings true given there’s two bonus endings to unlock, lots of secrets and Easter Eggs hidden away and bragging rights for couch co-op that’ll entice die-hard fans to try and unlock everything.
The move-set for Crash and Coco is largely unchanged here, although some of the moves from old have been removed. There’s no wumpa rocket launcher, the triple spin is reserved for near the end of the game and there’s no super slam either. Interestingly Toys for Bob have also removed the function for spinning fruit away from you accidentally too. That’s probably just as well because some of the levels here are absolutely grueling; prepare to die a lot.
Most of the levels stay true to the function of 2D and 3D combining, with particular emphasis this time around on pin-point accuracy while jumping and very little room for error. This is only complicated further by the inclusion of those aforementioned masks. There’s four to collect through the game and each serve a specific function to gameplay. The first sees dimension-shifting boxes and obstacles which can be toggled with R2 or triangle. The second serves as a super spin, complete with purple crackles of lightning and much floatier mechanics to handle.
The third slows down time, allowing you to evade fast-moving projectiles or even jump quickly across nitro boxes before they explode. The fourth simply shifts gravity and has you either firmly on the ground or hanging upside down. All of these remain separate until the grueling final four levels or so where all of these combine together in one impressively difficult crescendo of skill and reflexes.
However, this also brings up one of the biggest problems with Crash 4. The mechanics can feel sluggish at times, accentuated by longer animations than necessary. A few of the levels will see you either wrestling with the camera or the mechanics themselves making for a pretty unpleasant time.
Rail grinding for example has an animation that lingers for several seconds too long, meaning you need to be ready to hang much sooner than one may expect. Another time the camera distractedly swings across while using the super-spin move in Tranquility Falls, leading to much more frustration than necessary.
There’s a fair few instances like this and while they may seem like minor inconveniences, in a game that requires a lot of precision and patience, these feel like unnecessary hindrances.
Graphically, the game looks absolutely gorgeous. Each world has a distinct vibe and the draw distance is long enough to give these areas an air of authenticity as you look on and despair at some of the grueling instances of platforming to come.
Each of the enemies are designed nicely though and whether it be a grumpy lobster wearing boxer shorts or a warrior rat lurking in the sewers, each of these are unique to their chosen world and feed into the style Naughty Dog managed to achieve so well with the original games.
There’s a lot of attention to detail in this one to make this as good a sequel as possible. There’s some couch co-op multiplayer added, unlockable skins, time trials and more to keep you busy long after playing the main campaign levels.
Even the smallest of details are enough to really give the feel of this being an authentic Crash title. The idle animations while Crash stands still for too long, the teasing snippets of old theme songs in the soundtrack or even the campier-than-usual Cortex screaming out “prepare to face the wrath of cortex!” all lend itself to that feel of this being a proper sequel designed for long-time fans of this orange bandicoot.
Ultimately though Crash 4: It’s About Time is a wonderful sequel that’s sure to appease fans with its challenging platforming and nods to the past titles. While the difficult learning curve is a little too steep and newcomers may feel alienated by the inside jokes, there’s enough here to make Crash 4 one of the best platformers to crash-land on Playstation for quite some time.
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Verdict - 8.5/10