REVIEW: ‘Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time’ Is Exceptional (Xbox One)

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Crash Bandicoot 4 - But Why Tho
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time
is a 3D platformer developed by Toys for Bob and published by Activision. When N. Tropy and Cortex escape their imprisonment the entire space-time continuum will be in danger. Luckily, there are a couple of bandicoots that are on the job. But with an adventure this big they will need some help. And it might just come from some unexpected places.

Crash Bandicoot was one of the early icons of the 3D era of gaming. Made famous by a string of hits for the PlayStation One, he went dormant as platforming games fell off in popularity. But with a recent resurgence coming with the   Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy and the return of Crash Team Racing in recent years, he’s been given another chance in the spotlight. And thanks to the superb work on the part of developer Toys for Bob, he isn’t wasting it.

When talking about Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time we’ve gotta start with what jumps right off the screen and hits you first: it’s visuals. This game has all the energy and fun of the best Saturday morning kids shows. Every environment is unique, colorful, and stunning. The animation, not just for Crash and friends, but also the enemies are all smooth and often adds to the bounce of the visual design itself. While the greatest piece of the visual excellence that is Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is its cutscenes. From Crash’s idiocy to N. Tropy’s over the top evil, every moment is gorgeously delivered and full of chuckles. This is often a welcome break from some of the hard challenges this game offers players.

The other thing that really elevates the game’s visual look is its camera. The camera placement throughout this game does a great job of elevating the energy of the game’s moments. Camera techniques like wide panoramas, tight close-ups, and extreme angles are used to augment the feeling of each level’s look. Bringing an extra bit of show to the experience. And perhaps most impressively, it does this without sacrificing the clarity of where the player needs to go, or how long that jump is. A key concern for any platformer.

When it comes to the gameplay, Toys for Bob has managed to check the vast majority of the platforming boxes. Varied locations and challenges? Check. A control scheme that’s easy to handle and is responsive? Check. Levels that are easy to understand? Check. And a wide variety of abilities available to keep gameplay fresh? Also, check. It feels like the development team’s primary goal was to take everything that 3D platformers have often struggled with and address those concerns directly. Only in a couple of instances did they struggle.

The first comes with checkpoint placement. While checkpoints aren’t exceedingly rare in Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time there are times, especially in the later levels, where another couple scattered throughout a stage would’ve been much appreciated. With the increasing difficulty of puzzles, and some of these puzzles get really difficult, getting sent back to do multiples of them upon death could be quite frustrating. Especially since some puzzles have a bit of a trial and error nature to them. That and it makes memorizing intricate timing tough when you have to deal with multiple challenges before you can test a puzzle again. It makes already challenging tests that much more frustrating.

The other spot comes when dealing with one of Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time’s power-ups. For the most part, the various abilities utilized for the game’s challenges are a blast. Whether you are grappling around a stage, controlling when platforms disappear or flipping the gravity to run on ceilings, all these abilities serve to enhance the gameplay and keep it fresh.

The one exception to this is an ability that effectively turns the player into a spinning top. It allows them to jump further, as well as damage things that would be dangerous to otherwise. The drawback is that it makes the character control like a three-legged cow on roller skates. There is one particular set of levels where this ability is highlighted and it was easily my least favorite. I felt like more deaths that were done to forces outside my control happened there than anywhere else. The moments where the ability is reincorporated into the final world were nightmares. This ability was the only unwelcome aspect of Crash and the gang’s sizable tool kit.

Crash Bandicoot 4

And while the heart of Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is its story campaign, the developers have made sure there is plenty to do even after you have rolled credits.

N. Verted mode changes the look of each world from a visual perspective. One world takes on the look of an old-time movie. With grainy black and white visuals. Another one begins in black and white, and becomes colored as the play interacts with the environment. Every attack and box break splashes color across the screen giving the experience a fresh coat of paint. (I’m sorry, it was too easy.) There are also Flashback tapes that can be found in certain levels. If a player can reach the tape without dying they will unlock a flashback level. These levels take Crash and Coco back to Cortex’s training lab in the nineties. A fun flashback to Crash’s past.

Another thing to encourage players to replay levels is the costumes each holds. Players are awarded gems at the end of each level for breaking 40/60/80%/or all the boxes, getting through without dying more than three times, and finding a hidden gem somewhere in the level. For each of these things done, the player is awarded a gem. Once a player has acquired all six gems for a map they are awarded with that map’s costume. Be warned though, that is a tough challenge. If you manage to unlock all those costumes, you will have earned it.

The implementation of this system was one of the few stumbling points I found with Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time. Instead of serving as an incentive, it more often as not felt like a deterrent. Since you have to have all six from a specific level to unlock that costume, the moment I miss a single box I feel like there is no point to grabbing any of the others.

I wish what Toys for Bob had done was to let players pool their gems into a shared reserve. Whenever a player had six, they could purchase a costume from any level they had beaten. That way, even if you miss a few, you’d still be incentivized to keep trying. And the truly determined could still have the feather in their cap of getting them all. While this reward system felt a little hard-edged for me, Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time does do a good job of trying to provide a fun experience for both the experienced and new players.

When you first start your game the player chooses whether they want to play it modern, or retro style. Modern makes it so whenever you die, you start back at the last checkpoint you reached. In retro, once a player dies three times, instead of going back to the last checkpoint they have to restart the level in its entirety. I was extremely thankful for this feature. Without it, I never would’ve finished the game.

The other helping hand it gives struggling players is in the form of an extra hit. Once a player dies several times in the same area they respawn with an extra hit. Denoted by a floating mask revolving around the player, this gives the player a helping hand with the extra challenge. Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time also offers a couple of multiplayer options for friends to partake in. For couch coop only, friends can take turns trying to beat levels. This mode can be set to swap the controller whenever a character dies or reaches a checkpoint.

Or, if you want something a little more competitive, it also offers a couple of options there too. Up to four players can compete in races to reach level checkpoints the fastest, or to see who can destroy the most boxes in a level while keeping their speed up. No time for dawdling bandicoots. These ingenious multiplayer options give Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time some extra legs to it. Something platformers often suffer from once the campaign is conquered.

When all is said and done, Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time delivers an exceptional platforming experience with only a few wrinkles. It provides a fun and challenging campaign, and some extras afterward for good measure. The genre has come along way since gamers were first introduced to the bandicoot. Hopefully, we’ll see more from him and Toys for Bob in the future.

Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is available now on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time
  • 8.5/10
    Rating - 8.5/10
8.5/10

TL;DR

When all is said and done, Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time delivers an exceptional platforming experience with only a few wrinkles. It provides a fun and challenging campaign, and some extras afterward for good measure. The genre has come along way since gamers were first introduced to the bandicoot. Hopefully, we’ll see more from him and Toys for Bob in the future.