Since the days of the original PlayStation, platformers have slowly dwindled to the point of extinction, with only Mario still managing to sell gangbusters among the Call of Duty’s and Grand Theft Auto’s of the gaming landscape. Then Activision decided to revive beloved 90’s mascot Crash Bandicoot with the stellar N-Sane trilogy. A reminder of the devilish perils of 90’s imprecise controls and the simple pleasures of defeating short linear levels. The N-Sane trilogy’s massive success has led a direct sequel to 1998’s Crash Bandicoot 3 Warped. Forgetting the other games that followed was smart and this game feels like a true sequel to the original trilogy created by Naughty Dog almost 26 years ago.
Picking up where warped left off – long-time series antagonist Doctor Neo Cortex and N-Tropy escape their time prison and tear a rift in time and space, which means Crash and his sister Coco must collect the 4 quantum masks to repair the the rift.
There’s nothing particularly interesting about Crash 4’s story but the elements are light and act as a fun backdrop to the beautiful varied levels you’ll visit along the way. Nothing is taken seriously, which after games like Doom Eternal, The Last of Us Part 2 and even Ori and the Will of the Wisps it’s nice to play something comedic, it’s a great little palette cleanser but don’t let whimsical light hearted tone fool you, Crash 4 means business.
GAMEPLAY AND GRAPHICS
Crash 4 takes the player back to basics, you work your way through each level spinning crates, jumping over chasms and avoiding various obstacles as the perspective shifts from side-scrolling to running both away and towards the camera. New moves include wall running Prince of Persia style, rope swinging, rail grinding and a double jump which is available from the start rather than unlocked later as in Crash 3. These provide a refreshing update on the formula at the beginning of the game, but it’s with the introduction of the quantum masks that truly test the players skills. These 4 masks fundamentally change the gameplay and rocket up the difficulty in the process, the first mask Loli Luni has the ability to phase objects in and out of reality at the push of a button, giving your timing and reflexes a massive work out. I really enjoyed this mask along with 2 of the other masks these include a time slow down and gravity manipulation. They really changed the gameplay in new and interesting ways, having to play a section of the game upside down for instance is a massive head fuck, it turns the world literally upside down and it’s a genius and really rather simple way to change the way you play. The 4th power up is the ability that you actually unlock second in the game, a constant spin which I found frustrating and difficult to control and exasperated some of the main issues I had with the game.
Crash 4 is fundamentally very fun, but the sometimes the depth perception can be frustrating as you jump to where you think the platform might be but miss by a millimetre and fall to your death, the newly introduced ring often doesn’t really help either. Another annoyance is that the game renders the often life saving Aku Aku mask pretty much redundant as most of the games difficulties stem for bottomless pits that automatically kill you rather than obstacles. The difficulty also seems to spike pretty early on in the game compared to prior titles, with me having to toggle the modern mode on by about 5th level (retro mode plays like the originals 100 Wumpas = 1 life). That’s not to say all these levels are a ridiculous challenge all the time, if you ignore smashing crates and just run through to completion the levels can be conquered with enough concentration good reflexes, but as a Crash bandicoot purist ignoring crates felt like sacrilege. I found some of the levels unbelievably frustrating, with the Neo Cortex boss fight being a particularly hard, I died over 100 times! It’s controller smashingly annoying. Crash has never been an easy game and I can’t completely fault the game for the difficulty when it’s mostly just my poor skills, though at times it was frustrating more than anything else. Another thing that I didn’t like as much was the lack of a warp room, I missed the choice of being able to pick what level out of 5 I did first, instead 4 harkens back to the first game where you take one road to the end. Levels also combine far more elements compared to the originals, at times I liked this as it kept the levels interesting and varied, however some of my favourite levels in Crash Bandicoot 3 were the tiger ride levels, but in 4 you have to power through half a level of regular platforming before you get to these sections – it’s a small complaint and one that is likely very personal to me but it’s a change I felt wasn’t needed.
With that being said the game has some of my favourite levels in the series, the Mardi Gras New Orleans’s level being a particular favourite, as neon coloured ghosts with trumpets mix with a jazz soundtrack which is just a joy to play. The Indiana Jones style run into the camera levels the series is known for for return and they are all well done, and the boss battles are well designed and properly challenging for the first time in the series. There are also playable characters that act as palette cleanser for the usual Bandicoot levels. You get to play as Tawna who uses a grapple and wall jumping, Neo Cortex whose ray gun can transform enemies into platforms plus a dash that makes him able to cover long distances and finally Dingodile who uses a powerful vacuum cleaner to suck in boxes and glide through the air – each character feels fundamentally different but luckily none take too long to grasp, I only wish there were more levels available for them as they all felt rather fleeting.
Graphically this is a pretty game, beautiful colours, slick animations and brilliantly cartoony expressions from the character models. The levels are so varied and everything is incredibly well done, the foreground is of course well detailed, but even things in the back ground are alive and give the game depth and helps build the world.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is a worthy follow up to the original trilogy, it combines clever level design, beautiful graphics, fun story telling and new and exciting ideas that refresh the tried and true Crash formula. Don’t let the cartoony aesthetic fool you this is a hard game and will stress most gamers and even test your patience at times. But it’s still a good time and absolutely packed with content to keep you busy for multiple hours, for anyone that wants to 100% the game be prepared to feel the pain!
- Pretty graphics and great world building
- Slick animations
- Cortex, Tawna and Dingodile levels are fun
- Excellent level design
- Great use of quantum masks, time slow down is particularly fun
- Genius boss battles
- Difficulty spike is steep and unforgiving
- Akano quantum mask makes platforming frustrating
- Lack of choice regarding the order you can the play levels
- Depth perception can be a bit of an issue
- Over abundance of bottomless pits