Monday 5 October 2020

Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time ★★★★★

There aren’t many game franchises more iconic than Crash Bandicoot. The de facto mascot for PlayStation since the mid-90s, our favourite spinning marsupial’s popularity has persisted to this day, as evidenced by the hugely successful N. Sane Trilogy and Crash Team Racing Nitro Fuelled. 

That’s why there was no surprise at the level of hype surrounding Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time. The first numbered entry in the series in 1998, it ignores everything that occurred past the original trilogy, instead of picking up the story after Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped. The nefarious Neo Cortex and Dr N. Tropy have escaped their imprisonment, leaving a massive tear in time and space. Now it’s up to Crash and Coco to stop them before they conquer all dimensions. But does the series hold up in 2020, or has the nostalgia worn off? Read on to find out...

Firstly, this is undoubtedly a Crash Bandicoot game. All the classic platforming that longtime fans will expect is there, which also means it’s incredibly difficult. It even starts off on N. Sanity beach, just like the very first Crash game. This is a really nice touch, as it allows the newer features of the game to shine against a familiar background.

And yes, despite its classic framework, there are plenty of welcome additions and improvements to the formula. Most fundamentally, the controls felt much smoother than what we remember from previous Crash games. This is a huge relief, as you’ll need to be very precise to cope with the various obstacles and perspective-shifting view. It helps everything feel fair, so when you meet a grizzly end, you’ve got no one to blame except yourself.

The platforming itself has also had a refresh, with new exciting mechanics introduced. On top of the running, jumping, sliding and spinning from the original 3 games, you can now wall-run, rope swing, rail grind and zipline your way to the finish line.

And this is all before you consider the Quantum Masks, the protectors of reality that grant you special level specific abilities, including flipping gravity and slowing the world around you. All these extra features give the base game so much more variety, meaning nothing ever feels boring. Even more impressively, it all feels like a holistic package, rather than forcing in new things for the sake of it. 

It’s also worth noting that you can play the entire campaign as either Crash or Coco, the latter of which has a much more prominent role this time around. 

As we said, this isn’t an easy game, but you do have a little bit of control over how challenging you want to make it. You can either choose to play in retro or modern mode. Modern mode is much more accessible, where instead of a limited number of lives you instead have a death counter, mocking you as it climbs higher and higher. But the only thing that’ll get hurt is your pride, not so much with retro mode. This is much more like classic Crash, in which you’ll only have a limited number of lives to complete a level. We’d definitely recommend starting off with modern mode just to familiarise yourself with the level design, and save retro for when you’re feeling a bit more pro.

And once you’ve mastered and completed all the stages, you can then replay them in inverted mode, which gives each level a whole new look and feel. Not only will you get new objectives, but you’ll also be treated to a brand new art style, such as a monotone world you have to spin colour into, or a future wave neon filter. It adds so much longevity to the game, giving you plenty of bang for your buck.

While we’re talking aesthetics, it would be remiss of me not to mention just how good Crash 4 looks. On top of the gorgeous levels, new character designs, expressive facial gestures and vibrant colours all make it feel like a living, breathing Saturday morning cartoon. Add in plenty of unlockable skins that you can earn throughout the game, and you’ve got a title that’s just dripping with style and charm.

To wrap up, Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time manages to recapture the magic of playing the original trilogy for the first time. It strikes the perfect balance between timeless, nostalgic gameplay and enough new innovations to create something truly special. It’s not just a worthy entry in the series, but dare we say the best yet.

Tom Baker

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