It's been twelve long years since anyone made Crash Bandicoot run and jump his way through a series of new obstacle courses. But if playing the new Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time (Xbox One, PlayStation 4) is any indication, he didn't spend his down time lying on the couch, eating bon bons.
Made by Toys For Bob, who recently ported the remake of the first three games, Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, to the Switch, and clearly learned a lot from it, Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time once again has our favorite marsupial facing off against his old enemy, Neo Cortex, after he and N. Tropy escape the time prison they've been in for the last 10 years.
For those who've never played a Crash game before, Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time, like its predecessors, is a 3D, and occasionally 2D, platformer in the vein of the Donkey Kong Country games. Along with running and jumping, Crash can also swat enemies away and smash boxes with a Wonder Woman-esque spin move or a summer camp-style belly flop, while jumping onto the boxes (or double jumping, as the case may be) not only breaks them open — or, in the cases of the TNT boxes, causes them to start the countdown to exploding — but Crash can also bounce off them onto the next one or onto a platform or even onto the back of those aforementioned enemies, who clearly don't like that Crash is busting up the joint.
They also don't appreciate that Crash eats all their apples, even though there's dozens and dozens of them in every level. Clearly they don't understand that if you eat a hundred, like Crash tries to all the time, you'll get another life. Which you will need because these levels are full of hazards that would make Indiana Jones and Lara Croft rethink their respective careers.
Well, unless you play the game in "Modern" mode. Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time has two difficulty options. In "Retro" mode, the game works like it used to, with the apple eating and whatnot, and with you having to start a level over from the beginning if you lose all your lives. But there's also "Modern" mode, in which you have unlimited lives, and always restart from your last checkpoint.
Regardless of which way you play, though, Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time, like the earlier games, does a good job of mixing things up. While the levels are largely of the 3D variety, they typically included segments when things switch to 2D side-scrolling or ones in which Crash is being chased and has to right at you like in a reverse endless runner game. Though even then he still tries to grab every apple and destroy every box.
There are even times when Crash takes a cue from the Ratchet & Clank games by having him slide along rails that weave in and around obstacles. These rank among some of the more creative parts of the game, especially when you learn Crash can not only drop down and hang onto the rails to grab the apples and smash boxes down below, but can swing left and right to get ones on the side as well.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time also, as always, has secret challenge areas to find (and hints that there may or may not be other secrets elsewhere), and tons of collectibles, which not only add to the challenge, but also makes these levels as fun to play the fifth time as they are the first.
This is a good thing because — again, like the originals — there are times in Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time when you'll want to go back and replay previous levels. Not just to find the collectibles or boxes you missed, but so you can stock up on lives. One of the hallmarks of the Crash Bandicoot series is that these levels are not easy, and require split-second timing as well as problem solving, so having a lot of lives is really helpful. Which isn't to say this is punishing in a Demon Souls way, more that it requires a lot of trial and error, especially if you want to eat every apple and break every box.
While all of this makes Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time sound like a classic Crash game, and it is, it does have some interesting new mechanics. During the game, Crash will sometimes find a mask that will temporarily give him some special moves or abilities. For instance, when he wears the Lani-Loli mask, things get a bit Titanfall 2-ish (oddly enough) by giving Crash the ability to phase shift items in the world. By hitting the right trigger, or the "Y" or triangle button, you can cause boxes, walkways, even sections of a world to alternately phase in and out of existence, which requires you to switch mid-jump to get around.
In a similar vein, Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time also has times when you'll play as one of Crash's new pals, all of who have their own skills. Tawna, for example, can spin and double jump and belly flop like all good bandicoots. But she can also wall jump like all good princes of Persia, and use a grappling hook to get to some hard-to-reach places like all good Caped Crusaders. And while most of these moments aren't as fun as when you're playing as Crash, they do, again, give this game a nice variety.
Of course, no game is perfect; the original Crash games certainly weren't. And, oddly enough, this has some of the same issues. Most notably, how the boss battles are never as much fun as the regular levels (especially when you can just let the boss hurt himself inadvertently). Or how the story isn't terribly engaging, or even that funny. Or how the music is annoying (thank dog for volume controls).
Also, people who recently played the three games in Crash Bandicoot N. Trilogy might want to hold off for a while, especially if they haven't finished them, since even with the new mechanics and all-new levels, this is, ultimately, more of the same. But don't hold off indefinitely. While this may be the same kind of fun as you got in those games, it's also just as fun as those games, and provides the greatest challenge to your eye-hand coordination and depth perception since 2014's Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. Which is why we're so glad to see our old pal back in action. Just don't take another twelve year-long vacation again, dude.
Paul Semel has been writing about video games (and books, and music, and movies...) for more than twenty-five years. For more of his video game reviews, please visit his website, paulsemel.com.
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