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Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time A Game Was This Solid

Crash Bandicoot 4 It's About Time Splash
All Images courtesy of Activision

Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time

Developer: Toys For Bob
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: October 2, 2020
Available as: Digital and Physical

A Long Time Coming For The Lovable Marsupial

The re-rise of Crash Bandicoot has been an interesting one over the past few years. After the series laid dormant for years, a faithfully remastered trilogy was enough to give Crash a seat on the modern gaming table. It’s About Time is more than just the subtitle for Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, it’s a statement. A rather tongue-in-cheek observation if you consider the last official game was ages ago.

Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy’s original developer, Vicarious Visions were tasked to develop the remastered Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2. Due to this, the developer’s responsibilities switched and Crash 4’s developer, Toys For Bob, had their work cut out for them. Toys For Bob proved their capabilities of handling the Crash franchise by being in charge of developing the Nintendo Switch port of the N. Sane Trilogy. The company has also been a long-time partner of Activision with its work in the Skylanders series. Most notably, Toys For Bob were the ones responsible for the success of the Spyro Reignited Trilogy.

Crash 4 Was A Multi-Team Effort

To assist the company with a smooth development for Crash 4, Beenox, the developers of the Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled lent several hands towards Toys For Bob. They have also lent their manpower to assist Vicarious Visions with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater in the same way. With three remastered games in the N. Sanity Trilogy, Spyro Reignited Trilogy, and Nitro-Fueled all receiving critical praise, it was Activision’s game to lose.

Coincidentally enough, Toys For Bob also had experience with the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series with Disney’s Extreme Skate Adventure back in 2003. Utilizing the source code from Pro Skater 4, the team was able to create a kid-friendly Disney skateboarding game that was also a blast to play for veteran Pro Skater players as well. Can Toys For Bob recreate the same magic for an already established engine in Crash 4? Or have our favorite marsupial ran “Out Of Time?”

First Impressions

Crash Bandicoot 4’s adventure starts you off right along the shores of N. Sanity Beach, a call-back to the first level of the first Crash Bandicoot. Before you set foot on the island, let’s take a look at the attention to detail here. Almost everything is interact-able. When Crash attacks the television in front of him, the channel cycles through various games within the series, from 1 to 4. There’s a radio next to his cot that you can turn off and on as well. Perhaps the most interesting item within Crash’s pad (If a “pad” can be considered outdoors) is a sombrero. If Crash spins into the sombrero, he wears the hat on his head!

Unfortunately, he loses the sombrero seconds after leaving his pad thanks to a gust of wind blowing his hat away. Curse you mother nature!

crash bandicoot 4 it's about time

We Can’t Keep Our Snazzy Hat But Everything Else Remains Intact

The rest of the level is meant to serve as the game’s tutorial. If you’ve played Crash 1 through 3, especially the remastered collection, then the game should feel right at home. Animations are updated to reflect Crash’s (and Coco, as you play as her after the first world) momentum. Crash bursts into a sprint as he begins to run and maintains form while picking up speed. His animation while slide spinning is more angled to the floor compared to his regular spin attack

His jumping animations feel more precise while controlling him in the air. This is aided by a shadow that appears underneath Crash’s feet, giving the player an indication of where is a safe place to land. This makes platforming deaths feel a lot less cheap as you can pinpoint exactly where you need to descent to avoid a bottomless pit. 

Other series staples such as the Bonus Rounds exist in Crash Bandicoot 4. At certain parts of each level, some platforms will take you to a separate part of the level. The aim is to destroy all of the crates within the bonus level before reaching the end. Some of the Bonus Rounds early on were surprisingly complex, requiring technical prowess or backtracking to ensure all the boxes are destroyed. Like in the past, dying in these rounds don’t count for lives lost overall.

Crash And Coco Will Need All The Help They Can Get

On certain levels, you play as guest characters in place of the two protagonists. Each guest character has a unique set of moves that differs from Crash and Coco. Tawna is the first guest character you play as and she’s able to utilize her grappling hook to attack enemies from afar. She can also access hard-to-reach locations and boxes. Some of her other abilities include a dedicated ground pound and a wall jump. Upon completing a level with a guest character, you can play as them in their sub-campaign of sorts. This helps to understand why and how, exactly, were they able to cross paths with Crash and Coco.

Examples of these include levels where, while playing as Crash or Coco, an off-screen event happens seemingly out of random. Upon playing as the guest character, however, you play up until the exact point that the event happened, caused by said guest character. Then the level switches perspectives back to the Bandicoots as the level plays out normally. Changes to the Bandicoot’s section of the level changes from the normal level to keep things unexpected. There may be new traps or enemy placements that weren’t there before.

Now that I’ve finished the game, I’ll give my thoughts and my experience with Crash 4 as a whole. Since there is quite a lot to touch on, I’ll separate them into categories. Starting with the graphics, sound, and then the gameplay. At this point, there will be light spoilers involving the game.

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Post-Game Review


From the very first cutscene onwards, it’s impossible to ignore how vibrant the colors are. Within the bright daylight, water reflections and shadows give each level a sense of density. In darkness such as caves and night-time levels, there are light sources all over the environment to help the level of detail remain consistent. In fantasy-based levels such as the pirate dimension and the pre-historic dimension, this is where Crash Bandicoot 4 is at its peak. The futuristic city dimension felt like something out of Disney’s Big Hero 6. This is largely in part due to the hustle-bustle of flying cars whizzing by to the neon signs and advertisements plastered all over.

It’s not just fantasy levels where this game shines. Toys For Bob were able to take settings based on modern realistic locations and transplant them convincingly in the Crash Bandicoot universe. The Mosquito Marsh dimension borrows its cues largely from real-life New Orleans. The first level takes you through a lively Mardi Gras-esque parade as you take to the rooftops. Various fireworks and parade floats adorn the scenery of the deep south. Crash and Coco, however, do not feel out of place in this environment. The environment, much like all of the environments in the game, works well to supplement the art style which Toys For Bob was going for.

The N.Verted Mode Gives A New Spin On Familiar Levels

When you unlock N.Verted Mode, the liberties associated with the graphics are cranked up. Tenfold. Remember the vibrant tropical pirate islands? Imagine those levels being turned into a plain white, texture-less world. Now imagine filling that world with color in real-time as you attack enemies and move about. These bring new and unique twists to old levels, saving them from being “re-hashed.”

The best trait I can say for the graphics is the facial animations. Each character carries a wide range of expressions during dialogue; from sadness to happiness and excitement. Coco’s facial expressions are some of the best in this game, comparing twenty years ago in Crash 3 Warped when her facial expressions were one-dimensional at best. It could be said that this is due to much powerful hardware, comparing the PlayStation 4 to the first one, but the animation team knocked it out with this one.


Starting with the music, what impressed me was how dynamic the music can get concerning whatever is going on at the time. Stage transitions, such as grinding on rails or riding a mount, change the tempo of the music accordingly. Exploring other areas, such as venturing into an alleyway or a cave, subdues the music for a quieter tone. If the graphics helped the game give a convincing cartoon effect, then the music exemplifies this point. Imagine watching an episode of one of your favorite cartoons, like Ed Edd & Eddy. If you take the same music cues and apply them to Crash Bandicoot 4, it truly feels as if you’re playing a Saturday-morning cartoon at times.

The music score itself was okay. Each character had a “theme song” of sorts that plays in some sort of variant whenever you play as them. Cortex’s levels are more sinister sounding than Crash’s levels, even if they are in the same zone. The sound design is also impressive if you take the time to stop and hear it. When you’re tunneling and moving fast, you often don’t get a chance to hear the ambiance that persists in the level. When you do, however, you begin to appreciate it. Overall the biggest draw was the dynamic changes in the music. It wasn’t the Josh Mancell level of expertise that my nostalgic ears harked back to, but the composition was good enough to carry its weight.

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Now we finally reach the meat of Crash Bandicoot 4. After playing through the game and beating it after a few days, I will say that there is indeed a challenge to be had. The game can get frustratingly difficult. Like, I-Almost-Threw-My-Controller-On-The-Bed-In-Frustration difficult. 

Before you begin the game, you are offered two modes; modern and retro. Modern grants you infinite lives, so to speak. You can die as many times as you wish without worrying about restarting the level. You’ll simply respawn at the last checkpoint. Retro has a lives system where you must restart the level if you run out of lives. Regardless of what model you choose, the core gameplay remains the same. In the beginning, I had an abundance of lives.

crash 4 it's about time

If you are careful enough while making sure you go out of your way to break every crate and collect every fruit, you’ll find that you’ll gain more lives than you lose. The later levels of the game made me lose all of the lives I’ve saved up throughout my playthrough. The experience humbled me enough to switch to “Modern” mode. I don’t think I would have been able to beat the game had I not done that.

Crash Bandicoot 4 Is Deceptively Easy, Brutally Hard

I consider myself an average Crash player at best. My first Crash was Crash 3 Warped about twenty years ago and it was my only played Crash for the longest time. Unless you count Crash Bash but, let’s lie and say we did.

Point is, it wasn’t until the Trilogy that I was able to play through the first and second game levels for the first time. Upon completing Crash 4, I want to say that the difficulty ranges somewhere between the first two games. The level structure certainly bears inspiration from the first game.

Rather than use the hub world that was popularized from Crash 2 to Wrath of Cortex, the game opts for a linear path much like Crash 1. For Crash 3, for example, if you know you have a tough level ahead (thank you Bug Lite. I hated you as a kid) you could save that level for last while knocking off the easier levels. In Crash 4, to progress, you must clear the level before it. This limits the freedom of choice from previous titles, but it also makes each level flow with each other as well.

Each New Environment Offers A Nice Change Of Pace

Every dimension can be considered a “world” and every “world” has a set number of levels. For the most part, each level takes place in a sequence. Using the Mosquito Marsh dimension as an example again, the first level is a bustling Mardi Gras-esque party on the rooftops. The second level, following Dingodile’s introduction, is the aftermath of the said party the morning after as you ride through the bayou. Another example of a proper sequence due to linearity is during the Bermugula’s Orbit dimension. The first two levels require you to infiltrate Nitrous Oxide’s spaceship. After the spaceship crashes, the third level takes place on an alien world following said events. 

Along the way, you gain access to four different types of masks. Lani-Loni, Akano, Kupuna-wa, and Ika-Ika. Lani-Loni allows you to phase through objects, forcing new ones to appear in the process. Akano grants you the power of darkness, causing you to spin chaotically while destroying everything in sight. This also allows you to jump through large gaps and deflect certain enemy attacks. Kupuna-wa controls time, slowing the speed of the environment around you. This allows you to make precise jumps while also giving you more time to run on Nitro crates before they explode. Lastly, Ika-Ika affects gravity, causing the point of gravity to shift on command.

Become One With The Mask

The masks appear on scripted parts of the level, expecting you to use their powers to overcome obstacles, so you don’t have a choice on when to use the said ability. The game forces you, and expects you, to use the ability when it’s given. I found the masks to be reasonable gimmicks per the gameplay and the story. I couldn’t help but think about the functions of the masks similar to that of the Wisps used in Sonic Colors and other Sonic games.

There are breakaways from these levels, however. As I mentioned during my first impressions, you can play as the three bonus characters, Dingodile, Tawna, and Cortex while revisiting certain dimensions. From a gameplay perspective, this was a fun way to see how levels panned out from their point of view. I’ve mentioned Tawna’s levels, but, how does the ‘dile and Cortex function?

crash 4 it's about time

Cause Wanton Destruction Or Turn Enemies Into Blobs, Your Choice

Dingodile’s levels are more destructive by nature. He comes equipped with a vacuum gun that suctions everything in his surroundings. Enemies, crates, fruits, and collectibles are all fair game. He can also hover over large gaps with ease. Most of his challenge requires the use of suctioning TNT crates and using them to destroy large obtrusive fixtures that bars his path. Cortex, surprisingly, played the opposite of how I’d expect him to play. He has a blaster that can destroy crates from a fair distance.

He also has a headbutt dash that looks not unlike M. Bison’s Psycho Crusher from Street Fighter. When used on enemies, the blaster transforms them into blocks! Not just blocks, but, gelatin blocks! Both blocks are used for the platforming sections of his levels. The timing of the enemy’s movement is crucial to find the proper block placement to make traveling as easy as possible. Of the four playable characters, Cortex’s levels felt more like a puzzle in this regard.

The concept of playing as the bonus characters, dubbed the “pathway levels,” to see their point of view was an interesting take. Having to replay the second half of a level as the Bandicoot siblings felt like a chore. Coincidentally enough, the levels transition, more often than not, to the climax of the original levels.  Re-doing specific difficult parts weren’t my cup of tea.

Crash Bandicoot 4's Finale Was Satisfyingly Infuriating

This was increasingly frustrating during the final dimension of the game, Cortex Island. The penultimate level of the game, Cortex Castle. The final section of the level was not a fun time for me. At all. I spent almost an hour trying to get through that last stretch. Every single ability you’ve learned throughout the game was expected to be used in rapid-fire, one after the other. One wrong step was a step back to the last checkpoint. 

I hate to admit this, but I had to rely on abusing invincibility frames with the pity masks given to me to make it to the end of the level. Even then, that was barely enough to make it through. Like I said early, the game humbled me. That death counter reaching a hundred-plus didn’t help matters either. But, I was determined.

Despite The Difficulty Spike, It’s An Amazing Pace

Until I realized that earlier on in the level, Cortex had manipulated the level in some way and sure enough, there was a Cortex level waiting for me after that grueling Cortex Castle. I also realized that I would have to go through that gauntlet of a final section once more. I passed. There was no way I was going through that again. I chickened out. I may be masochistic but even I know my pain tolerance.

And that’s okay. That was the beauty of the game for me. The game was unapologetically difficult at times. Doubly so, if you were going out of your way for gems and collecting everything the game had to offer. The game always gives you a choice on how perilous your journey is though.

The “modern” mode is enough to ease the average player into not feeling the pressure from a looming Game Over screen. The game gives you masks after five deaths, with a level two mask after ten deaths, for you to soak up damage from the tough sections. Unique to this game is what I like to call, “pity checkpoints.” After a certain number of deaths, the game converts one of the boxes into a Checkpoint box. This allows the player to get past tough spots easier by moving the goalposts closer to the player. 

Toys For Bob Made Crash Bandicoot 4 Accessible To Everyone

There were many ways the game made it easier to bear the challenge laid before you. I never once felt like my journey was impossible. It felt extraordinarily rewarding when you collect all the gems for a single level in one run on the first try. These feats were few and far in between, but it made it all the more satisfying. 

Previous titles granted you gems for breaking all of the boxes in a level, a crystal for completing a stage, and relics for clearing time trials. While you still obtain a gem for destroying all boxes in a level, in this game, the long-running crystals that Crash and his company collect are no more. Instead, gems take center stage much like as they did in the first Crash Bandicoot. Instead of “death runs” where a single death forfeited your right to a gem, this game is a tad bit lenient in that regard.

crash 4 it's about time

The Bonus Incentives Can Spiral Out Of Control

Now, every level is a death run. If you make it to the end of the level while dying three times or less, you receive a gem for your efforts. Wumpa fruit, the series collectible item, served no purpose in previous games aside from granting Crash an extra life once he collected a hundred. In this game, every Wumpa fruit you collect is added to the level’s total. If you collect up to 80% of the level’s Wumpa fruit, you can earn up to three gems alone. 

Every level also has a hidden gem that Crash and company must find. Sometimes it’s as simple as deviating from the path. Other times, you have to hit a switch out of the way to gain access to it. If something or somewhere seems out of place, chances are there’s a gem waiting for you for your efforts. This brings the total of possible gems you can get for each level a whopping six at the very least. Some stages, like in previous titles, have colored gem routes that are inaccessible unless you attain the required gem. 

Is N. Verted Mode = Padding For Content?

Once you defeat N. Brio, you unlock N. Verted Mode. In this mode, you revisit past completed levels with the scenery altered significantly. The level design is altered depending on the zone of each level. An example is the greyscaled, subdued colors of the Tranquil Dimension and the addition of comic effects in the Ice Age Dimension. Think of it as this game’s version of a “mirror mode.” What was once “right” is “left” and vice versa. This makes some levels trickier as it plays with muscle memory. Hidden gems, for example, will appear in different spots altogether at times. 

While it’s a cool gimmick at first, this is required for the full completion of the game. The N.Verted gems are different from the regular gems and count towards the overall tally of gems. This means you’ll have to run through every level at least twice to attain all twelve gems. Six normal and six N. Verted. On the earlier levels, this makes getting some of the character skins easier. A level that asks you to attain six gems to unlock a skin, for example, can account for both regular and inverted gems.

Spoiler Alert: It’s Definitely Padding

On the later levels, this does not fly, as it’ll now ask you anywhere from eight, to even eleven gems from a level. If you wish to be a completionist then you must go for the N. Verted gems alongside the other tried and true collectibles you’d expect from Crash. Time relics are accessible by clearing time trials once you complete a level. The faster your time, the better relic you require. There is also one more collectible in the form of Flashback medals.

By collecting tapes within certain levels and clearing them, you unlock access to Flashback Levels. These levels serve to highlight Crash’s time serving under captivity as Cortex’s experiment before he broke free from the labs. Cortex forces Crash through trials that push him, and the player, to their limit. Think of these Flashback levels as a Bonus Round level, but extended to that of a regular level. The amount of jumping, spinning, and routing one is expected to do if they wish to destroy every crate in each level can be daunting to newer payers. Those looking for a challenge come to the right place, and for your efforts, you attain a medal for clearing the level alone. 

Go Back In Time With Flashback Levels

If you manage to 100% the level, then you get a platinum level. It’s a nice change of pace to deviate from the norm. Unlocking the ability to play a Flashback level requires you to play through a level without dying up to a certain point. Once again as you’d expect, the bar is raised the further you advance in the game. In earlier levels, it’s as simple as reaching a checkpoint without dying. During the final dimension, however, you must make it through damn near the entire level without dying as tapes will sometimes be located just before the final checkpoint.

In conclusion, regarding the argument on the difficulty in this game, it’s consistent. The early levels are a challenge, but they aren’t ultimately dreadful until you get to the end of the game. It’s to be expected for the later levels to provide such a challenge, however, so it wasn’t a turn-off to me. I welcomed the challenge. It felt like a Crash game in that regard.

Final Thoughts

Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is an impressive call-back to the Crash games of yesteryear. For veterans of the series and for those who hadn’t touched a Crash game since they were children, it’s a welcome return for our favorite marsupial. There are several Easter Eggs for long-time fans to appreciate, the humor never feels forced, and the gameplay never felt like it was too much to handle. The inclusion of the N. Sanity gems and the difficulty spike sometimes felt like an excuse to stretch the time of the game. If you blitz through, you can beat the game in an afternoon barring the optional stuff. However, there is a lot of replayability if just to unlock all the skins and the two bonus endings. Overall, Crash Bandicoot 4 has plenty of time left. There are indeed good times ahead for the Bandicoot yet.

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Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is available on PS4 and Xbox One. The Switch, PC, and next-gen ports will be available sometime in 2021.

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