Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time
After over a decade of rough waters, the Crash Bandicoot series was resurrected with the N-Sane Trilogy in mid-2017. It was something that many fans had clamored for – especially with the Crash cameo in Uncharted 4 bringing interest back. As expected given the first-party showcase, the full-on remake of the trilogy was PlayStation-exclusive and shined brightly on the PS4 Pro, before a PC version showcased its full graphical horsepower and a Switch version showed just how much you could do with that console’s hardware. A little over three years later, Toys For Bob returns to Crash with the fourth mainline entry – and the first numbered game in 22 years. Since then, Crash’s platforming outings have been iffy – while its racing entries have been better-received and the franchise’s future may very well depend on this entry delivering the goods in a major way.
Toys For Bob did amazing work getting the N-Sane Trilogy on Switch and learned a lot about the mechanics of the series there – because Crash 4 lives up to the long-running expectations, and it does so during a crowded holiday season with new console launches taking away some of its steam. They’ve listened to complaints not just about the Trilogy beforehand, but the original PS1 games and put in some remarkable quality of life improvements I never recall seeing in a platformer that don’t just make it easier to play for anyone – but making it far more fun to play if you have issues with depth perception. The series has been known for runner stages and tight, precision platforming in a 3D space – which has never been done perfectly.
Crash 4 brings things back to the series norm in new and exciting ways simply by making the game more user-friendly than any Crash game has ever been. You can enjoy the so-called modern experience with checkpoints that go beyond the usual box icons if you like, or even use the best thing I’ve seen in a 3D platformer in ages – a yellow-lit shadow circle that hovers over your target. As someone with vision issues, depth perception can be a big problem and it can bleed over to games a bit as well – especially games with poor shadows to tell distance, which has hurt the prior entries in the series and even affected the N-Sane Trilogy.
This theoretically small feature alongside the addition of checkpoints makes the fourth mainline Crash game the most fun entry yet. The original trilogy on the PS1 was amazing for its time, while the remake showcased just how timeless the original game design was. Crash 4 expands on everything that made the prior games great – with a mix of run-forward, run-away, 2D side-scrolling and 3D platforming alongside some vehicle-based content and more diverse platforming than ever before. You’ve got your bopping and spinning – but a new playable character adds in things like longer-range kicks and even a hookshot into the mix. The added variety to things helps this feel fresh, but what’s most impressive is the polish that exudes from every part of the game’s design.
The pace of the game is as tight as it was in the PS1 days – but with a far better flow to it. Stage designs are less formulaic and you don’t really know what you’ll get from one section to the next. You might be running from something towards the screen and then go into a side-scrolling section before the next stage has you manning a giant hamster ball to safety. Stage designs are more varied here too, and while you have things like tropical areas and snow-filled sections, you also have slick pirate ship areas and swamps with neat set pieces to them. The ship sends you all over the place via rope-swinging areas, while the swamp has a section where you ride alongside a big boat and then rocketboard your way around.
Power-ups play a larger part in the action too. Before, you had basic power-ups that could protect you and now you have dimension-shifting ones that allow you to press the top-most face button and shift translucent blue objects into existence to solve puzzles and progress through stages. In a sign of the rock-solid game design, you’re given easy areas to learn new skills and then put through your paces to test what you’ve learned. Other power-ups allow you to switch gravity on-demand or fly for a bit. Even with a forgiving checkpoint system in place, you will still die a lot – and learn in the process both in the main game and the flashback stages complete with VHS filter that show off side-scrolling sections as if the series was completely made of those in its incarnation.
The overall gameplay loop is not only fun, but it’s satisfying on all levels. If your goal is “just” to play through every stage and enjoy the ride, you’re good. If you want to be a completionist, you can. The end user experience is a tad cluttered for a game like this, however. Instead of just hopping in and having fun, you do have to go through 48 pages of various agreements – not counting signing up or logging into an Activision account to get an exclusive skin. While the most obtrusive part of this is gone after your first boot-up, it leaves a terrible first impression as a player and it’s a testament to the game’s overall quality that it can overcome this issue pretty quickly – but it shouldn’t be part of things right off the bat.
Visually, Crash 4 is stunning and goes beyond even what we saw with the N-Sane Trilogy. The character models have been revamped with more clothing detail, environments are a tad more lush, and there’s a nice increase in animation quality across the board. Crash and the gang have more expressive faces – which makes victory animations more fun now than before, and their dances are more elaborate. Basic enemy routines are still a bit lackluster, but that also aids in making their movements more predictable – so it’s better for the game, but does still feel a bit odd when you have all of this more modern-looking animation for larger enemies. Every part of the environment looks better than ever for the series, with lush scenery around every corner. Crash 4 also takes a cue from the Yooka-Laylee games with the ability to replay stages with certain graphical filters applied or extra objectives.
The sound design of Crash 4 is strong as well, with both punchy music and effective voice acting working to make this feel like the grandest adventure yet in the franchise. The soundtrack would be right at home with the original games and manages to be both fun, but also intense when needed while things like weather effects and other ambient noise help make the worlds you’re in feel lived-in. The voice work is also pretty good, with the evil-doers all sounding like they’re ready to backstab each other at a moment’s notice and poor Neo Cortex always coming off as the most well-meaning bad guy in gaming that just can’t catch much of a break no matter what he does.
Overall, Crash Bandicoot 4 is the best-playing entry in the series and a must-buy for fans – even with some cumbersome jank on its backend. It’s one of the finest platformers of the last decade and manages to seamlessly combine and transition between 2D sidescrolling and 3D platforming better than anything on the market. It plays like a dream and anyone who wanted a new Crash game in the style of the old ones will be happy, as will those hoping that core game design would be taken to the next level.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
This review is based on a digital copy of Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time for the PlayStation 4 provided by Activision.