Review

Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time Review – Precision Platform

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Part of the early Crash Bandicoot games of the 90s were experiments on how to navigate 3D space. Crash didn’t freely walk through an open world; he descended well-designed digital tunnels. The camera zoomed in and out of the action and panned around the character, which felt new at the time. However, Crash’s movement was limited in a way that seems restrictive by today’s standards. In a sense, Crash Bandicoot’s gameplay was the product of these limitations in technology as much as it was a unique creative vision. And yet, those limitations helped produce one of the most memorable platform games of 1996. Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time proves the classic formula still works in 2020. With Crash 4, developer Toys for Bob sends Crash and his sister Coco on an adventure through space and time. In a set of levels, I fought seahorse-like pirates while dodging cannon fire. In another, I bounced off dinosaur heads and creeping lava flows. In yet another, I sailed a busy airway, miles above a futuristic metropolis. Each level is full of wacky sights and sounds that made me smile, and I couldn’t wait to see where I was headed next. However, this experience is more about the journey than the destination, and Crash’s platform stays true to its early adventures, both good and bad. For one thing, the controls are more responsive than ever and I loved going from one precarious platform to another while smashing crates full of Wumpa fruit. On the other hand, Crash 4’s precise platform footage requires practice. The thrill of mastering Crash 4’s more difficult levels is gratifying, but some of the deadliest traps pop out of nowhere, meaning you have to replay sections over and over to memorize each level’s layout. A “modern” difficulty allows you to play with unlimited lives, which removes some of the sting, but the remote checkpoints still tested my patience, as they required me to regularly jump to through a familiar hoop to return to the platform section that tripped me to the top. While Crash’s platform feels like it’s stepped out of a time chain, this bandicoot has a few new moves. Throughout his journey, Crash collects a handful of quantum masks that grant him overpowering new abilities. For example, one mask allows you to reverse gravity so Crash can run along the ceiling, while another allows you to transform into a spinning vortex that floats over large chasms. I especially liked the Kupuna-Wa mask, which slows down time, so I can go through falling objects and avoid fast moving projectiles. These masks appear and exit the game at set times, so you can’t access them whenever you want, but I was still excited when we showed up. Even more, I’m in awe of how quantum masks add new wrinkles to classic Crash gameplay in a way that feels true to the spirit of the franchise. In addition to quantum masks, Crash and Coco are joined by a few unlikely cohorts, such as Doctor Neo Cortex, Dingodile, and Tawna. These new characters have their own unique moves, which they display in a handful of dedicated levels scattered throughout the game. These special levels provide a refreshing change of pace. For example, Cortex can’t double jump, so his levels center around using a gun to turn enemies into spongy platforms that throw him into the air. However, my favorite newcomer is Tawna, an alternate reality version of Crash’s love interest from the first game. Tawna is equipped with a grappling hook that allows her to go through huge holes and smash crates from a distance, and I always jumped into its special levels as soon as I unlocked them. In many ways, Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time feels like a game that shouldn’t work. Solo, mascot-driven, and hardcore platform players are rare these days. Additionally, most franchises born in the mid-90s have had to continually reboot to match the tastes of an ever-changing market. At its core, Crash 4 remains rooted in the old way of doing things, but that’s not a bad thing. The visuals are cleaner now and Crash has a few new gimmicks, but if you squint your eyes Crash 4 looks like the same old platformer you’ve always loved.

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