Rutabaga! Crash fans rejoice as your favorite platforming bandicoot is back! Toys for Bob, the developers behind Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy and Spyro Reignited Trilogy created a direct sequel to Naughty Dog’s Crash 3: Warped. Yes, that’s the game from 22 years ago! In this belated sequel you’ll find many references from previous fan-favorite levels but the main inspiration is clearly the very first Crash Bandicoot. Let me tell you that Crash 4: It’s About Time is barbarically difficult! RIP controllers, as many will not survive this ordeal. But I have never had so much fun with this franchise before, Toys for Bob did an overwhelmingly awesome job bringing this nostalgic game to the modern world.
When you start the game they ask you how you would like to play. You can pick between modern or retro. This is the first time I see a game that calls a videogame from the 90’s retro, but I guess I’m getting old. It all comes down to how you earn or find gems, in the retro mode you find them in the levels and Wumpa fruit gives you additional lives. The modern mode gives you infinite lives and you earn gems by collecting a percentage of Wumpa fruit, destroying all crates and completing the level with a maximum of three lives. Toys for Bob suggests using the modern mode, I do too but the two options are great for replay value.
What we liked!
- Continuing the story after 22 years: According to Wikipedia 17 Crash games were made since 1996. Crash 4 continues the story that Naughty Dog started, so the first three before Activision took over the franchise. In that last one Crash defeats Cortex, Uka Uka and Nefarious Tropy and traps them in a dimensional prison. They escape by opening up a rift in time and decide to conquer all dimensions. Aku Aku asks the help from Crash and Coco again and that’s how things start to roll. Cutscenes are told in a physical funny way that would fit a Saturday cartoon show on Cartoon Network. During their progression, you’ll be introduced to new quantum masks and each has a strong personalization of their power. It is exceptionally well created with some strong visual storytelling.
- Frantic gameplay fun: Our furry friend remains true to his gameplay formula from 1996 with a few new gameplay ideas that I mention in the section below. It is still a linear platform experience with some chase or controlling a boat or polar bear moments. Nothing wrong with that as this remains fun even in 2020. Every new addition in this old formula is well explained, for example, the fire crate or breakable barriers in chase sections. I am not the biggest fan of these fire crates as they often let you wait a few seconds before you can destroy them but overall Toys for Bob did a fantastic job giving players that nostalgic experience in a modern jacket.
- (gameplay part ² )Bring the old back with new splendid ideas: Most fun comes from the quantum mask powers and additional playable characters. Changing the core gameplay into something fresh, it is a perfect mix between an old school Manhattan cocktail and something modern like a strawberry daiquiri. Masks have all sorts of powers that make Crash into some kind of superhero. Phasing objects or platforms in and out of the dimension, slowing downtime, changing gravity, and my absolute favorite an endless spin that allows you to jump much higher and glide. I do wish they had more time to shine though, as some are really underplayed. Near the end, all masks are in play and this was the most fun I had with Crash 4. Crash and Coco aren’t the only playable characters, three surprising returns happen and all of them have their own moveset. More importantly, all three of them would be worthy of a standalone game. Crazy that they invested so much time in them, as only a few levels (called timeline levels) make them appear. Great for keeping things from getting repetitive though but I wish we had more time with them. One of them can change enemies into a rock or bouncy platforms so you have to puzzle your way through the level.
- Perfect for fans of the franchise Crash 4 is full of homages from previous Crash games. This nostalgic trip starts on the very first level, hitting the TV right at the start will show you all the different box arts from previous Crash games. Walking backward at the start of that first level, something I suggest you do at every level for off-camera wooden crates will show you Spyro as a pool float. You’ll come across our purple friend multiple times by the way. (Hopefully, they are suggesting something here!) Parts of the level design is another nostalgic joy, the tribute to one of the hardest platforming levels ever from Crash, Road to Nowhere for example. Or riding that cute polar bear again in a chase level. Things like this truly show the love for the franchise, it feels like every level has a small easter egg hidden somewhere or in plain sight.
- Addictive for completionists: Fiends from hell, yes I am talking about the Toys for Bob developers. Hiding boxes off-camera, behind containers, or hidden in hard to spot pathways. The original Crash had some of these moments too but Toys for Bob went completely crazy with it. You have wooden crates, hidden gems, colored hidden gems, time cleared relics and to make things even more insane getting all wooden crates and not dying is a collectible too. Take a note, getting 106% completion isn’t a task for us mere mortals. Only platform genre Gods with enough time and patience can dare to try this literally insane task. Congrats if you ever achieve this!
- Vibrant and inviting visuals: Thanks to the time travel story you will end up at many different time periods that look completely different. What remains the same throughout the game is how cute and vibrant everything looks. This has always been a recognizable point from the Crash games but it stands out even more now. The amount of detail in the world is remarkable and impressive, futuristic, jungle, ice-age, dark and scary caves. Part of the fun is not knowing where you will end up in the next level. I wasn’t that impressed by the new levels that Toys for Bob made in Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy. So I was a bit nervous when I started this new game, but that ended up for nothing. As Crash 4 has some of my favorite platform levels of all time! Each level nails the visual look completely and almost all of them have a small or large easter egg.
- Two-player options that every platform game should have: The entire game is playable with two players in a ‘pass-the-controller-mode’ or how the game calls it: Pass N. Play. Each time you die or pass a checkpoint the game will ask you to give the controller to player one or two. Additionally, you have two co-op modes in the main menu Crate Combo and Checkpoint Race. Both require skill and finishing the levels as fast as possible. You never play at the same but watching your friend play is part of the fun. Seeing their struggle with enemies or getting over obstacles by sheer luck brings many laughable moments. This isn’t a rushed or let’s get this in quickly mechanic, Toys for Bob really did a lot of effort to give Crash 4 a meaningful way to play with friends. Really impressive stuff and this should honestly be a standard feature for platform games when split-screen isn’t an option.
- Totally worth the price: Nowadays platform games are priced between €30-40, Crash 4 asks the full price but it is totally worth every penny. Every level has an N-verted mode that switches the art-style and controls backward, I am not the biggest fan of these over-bloomed art styles in N-verted but it is a nice touch to give more content. You can unlock VHS levels that regularly ask to do the impossible, you have a perfect way to play for speedrunners with time trials and the aforementioned co-op modes. Beating a level completely also unlock some new skins for Crash and Coco. The total package is honestly insane and Toys for Bob should be thanked for giving so much generous content for buyers.
- Average music and sound: Hasn’t this always been a typical Crash thing? Even the rhythm level, one of my favorite levels in the game, doesn’t have a memorable sound moment. While this doesn’t lower the fun it could make it even more mesmerizing or give more tension to some gameplay moments.
What we disliked
- Depth perception and camera: Depth has always been a known issue for the Crash games and while it is improved in this one it remains a frustration. When you jump a yellow indicator below Crash now shows where you land, very useful but sadly the hit detection from platforms isn’t always working as intended. This is extra annoying for those who are going for a perfect run, it needlessly makes a hard game even harder. The camera isn’t always your best friend either, it doesn’t always show you the right angle. the unique mix between 2D and 3D is a nice gameplay element but this causes some frustration too. Lining yourself up for a jump when you switch from side-scrolling to a 3D path section feels a lot like Russian roulette.
Crash Bandicoot 4 is one of the best platform games on Xbox, it has everything that people liked from the previous games in the franchise and brings fresh and new gameplay mechanics that evolve the gameplay.