If you’d told me a year ago that Activision, along with Skylanders and Spyro Reignited Trilogy developer Toys For Bob, were set to release an honest-to-goodness sequel to Crash Bandicoot: Warped in 2020 I might not have believed you. After the runaway success of the Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy it was always obvious that Activision would continue the franchise in some way, but choosing to further the N.Sane Trilogy canon and gameplay and effectively overwriting the history of The Wrath of Cortex is a big move.
It’s About Time starts with Crash in a familiar position – lounging around under a beach umbrella, taking a break after having foiled the dastardly Doctor Neo Cortex and Doctor Nefarious Tropy’s time-twisting schemes in Warped. Trapped in a timeless void with Uka Uka, the evil counterpart to Crash’s mask companion Aku Aku, the pair invariably manage to escape by tearing a rip in dimensional space and begin wreaking havoc yet again. It’s as basic a set-up as they come, and definitely not the most interesting premise the series has offered over the years, but it works in much the same way that Warped did in providing context for a romp through all manner of places and times.
It’s slightly disappointing that the narrative is fairly barebones because while a platformer like this admittedly doesn’t need to be deep or thought-provoking, Toys For Bob have done a great job on the dialogue and sight gags that are here and I’d love to see more of it. Still, there are some neat little nods and easter eggs to see throughout the levels thanks to the dimension-hopping premise, and even one or two cheeky references to past/future entries in the series.
It’s definitely a very handsome game to look at, though. Every level in It’s About Time is lively and packed full of detail, and the animation work is stellar both in and out of gameplay. It’s to be expected from Toys For Bob, who’ve always done a great job with the Skylanders series and the Spyro remasters, but this is without a doubt their best-looking product yet. The use of perspective in levels and the way they twist and turn in and out of themselves makes the space feel far more tangible than they ever have, even if perspective does often wind up being an unseen enemy in the same frustrating ways as the original games. It’s hard not to be entranced by how energetic and colourful everything is, though. Calling it one of the most beautiful platformers around wouldn’t be an exaggeration at all. What little voice acting there is sounds great too, lending cutscenes an authentic cartoon feel (though I wonder how much of that is to do with the excellent Richard Steven Horvitz as Lani-Loli).
As a continuation of the remade version of the original trilogy of Crash Bandicoot games, it makes sense that Crash Bandicoot 4 builds on the same pseudo-on-rails 3D platforming popularised by those early games. If you’ve put hours into the original trilogy, N.Sane or otherwise, you’ll feel right at home (and quite nostalgic) the moment Crash gets up from his shady nap spot and control is handed over. If you’ve never played the originals in any form, there’s not much to it – levels in It’s About Time typically involve running and jumping from the beginning to end of a mostly-linear path, avoiding hazards and attempting to fulfil a handful of extra completion objectives.
As the main playable characters, Crash and Coco Bandicoot play largely similar to how they did in the N.Sane Trilogy, albeit with a slightly tweaked range of movement and jumping physics that admittedly took some getting used to. Still, a couple levels in and I was pulling all of the same tricks from muscle memory, so Toys For Bob has done a decent job at laying a familiar foundation for fans to get acquainted with before the new ideas start rolling in.
Of these new ideas, the most immediate are the four new Quantum Masks that join Crash and Coco on their journey and give them access to brand-new powers. Lani-Loli, Akano, Kupuna-Wa and Ika Ika show up in specific sections of levels to aid the bandicoots with their unique abilities like slowing time, defying gravity and phasing objects in and out of the plane of existence. These sections are usually brief diversions that do a good job of shaking up the standard gameplay and making individual levels more memorable, especially in later areas that have a couple of different Quantum Mask sections. Akano’s tornado-like destructive form is probably the most fun (and dangerous), letting Crash or Coco take giant leaps and cut loose on baddies and crates without pause while also spelling immediate doom should they accidentally come in contact with a TNT or Nitro crate, while the late-game Ika Ika’s gravity-flipping magic makes for some mind-melting acrobatic sections.
It’s About Time also deviates from the standard template with offshoot levels that feature Cortex and returning faces Dingodile and Tawna as playable characters with their own unique spin on gameplay. Not all of these levels are mandatory in completing the main story, but they do a decent job of breaking up the standard gameplay and giving Toys For Bob some room to move in level design. Dingodile’s terrible Aussie accent and destructive vacuum weapon are a good time, heavy-stepping through his levels and tearing everything apart is just the right level of catharsis after Crash and Coco’s precision platforming. Thicc queen Tawna is equally good, with her hookshot ability letting her interact with things in the background and foreground of levels and adding an acrobatic flair that makes her incredibly fun to play. Cortex on the other hand is as much of a dud in-game as he is at being a supervillain. He’s less agile than the bandicoots and his gimmick, a weapon that turns enemies into makeshift platforms, is wasted on boring levels that are more frustrating than genuinely challenging.
The best thing about these new masks and characters is the new layers of level interaction they afford, especially when it comes to objects in the foreground or background, areas that the traditional sections mostly ignore. Toys For Bob has done a great job of lifting familiar ideas from the original trilogy while adding just enough new gameplay tricks that every stage has unique, memorable twists that set them apart both from each other and from previous games. They all share one thing in common though – a level of challenge that Crash fans will no doubt enjoy sinking their teeth into. This new game actually tweaks things slightly in its default difficulty setting, dubbed ‘Modern’, which removes the concept of limited lives and level restarts and instead challenges players to try to complete levels with less than three deaths to earn a gem. A Classic option is there too for purists who want the old-school experience.
There are some genuinely great levels in Crash 4, but they’re definitely not all winners and it’s going to be interesting to see which stages the community at large gravitate towards and which become the new Slippery Climb/High Road. They’re all quite long too, most feel somewhere between two and three times longer than what was standard in the N.Sane Trilogy. The N.Verted levels are a cool twist on the idea of mirrored stages that add a host of unique visual filters and gimmicks but again the strength of these is largely dependent on the quality of the original level (though they do at least provide extra avenues to earn gems for skins). Given their length, having an N.Verted variant of every level might honestly be overkill, but at least there’s plenty of content here to keep players going.
There are also the Flashback Tapes, another set of super-tricky bonus stages that play like extended versions of the traditional ‘bonus’ sections inside levels, where the goal is to try and destroy every crate. These are a lot more interesting because not only are they deviously tough to complete, they’re a neat little lore device framed as Crash and Coco’s childhood tapes recorded while they were raised and experimented on in Cortex’ lab. Good luck actually unlocking all of these stages though, because similar to the previous two games’ Death Routes the tapes needed to unlock them will only show up after getting through significant portions of some fairly hard levels without dying.
With hundreds of gems to collect (both regular and N.Verted), time trial relics to score, flashback badges to earn and some good old-fashioned gem routes to find there’s a lot to keep you going in It’s About Time after smashing your way through the core path’s 40+ levels. With the variety and scope in content it’s only natural that not all of it lands, and the boss battles in particular are almost universally bad, but it’s a commendable effort for a brand-new game that hopes to capture the ‘old’ Crash magic. It’s nice to be taken back to a time where bonuses were given out for surmounting the insurmountable too, with no paid unlocks in sight for the game’s plethora of included skins (save for some pre-order bonuses).
THE PS4 VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time is both a successful celebration of the original trilogy as well as a worthy follow-up. Toys For Bob has taken the essence of what fans loved about the classics, distilled and bottled it and then shaken it up. Some old issues rear their heads, and there are definitely some dud levels and boss fights, but it's a package so chock-full of content that the good far outweighs the small amount of bad. Anyone hankering for some old-school Crash Bandicoot action will find exactly that and more, and all wrapped up in one of the most gorgeous platformers I've ever seen.
Varying Levels Of Challenge To Accommodate All
Beautiful And Enchanting Visuals
Most Of The New Characters And Masks Are A Lot Of Fun
Good Amount Of Content Beyond The Main Levels
Some Levels Are A Tad Too Long
Some Lacklustre Boss Fights
Frustration From Awkward Camera Angles Still Exist