Growing up, I played a few Crash Bandicoot games on the Game Boy Advance on the way to school — I had quite a long bus ride, and the boys in my town regularly played on each other’s systems — but I have never previously owned a Crash game, and I didn’t consider myself a Crash fan growing up. I had gotten into the “Crash N. Sane trilogy” remakes that my girlfriend owned, though, so I was pretty excited to pick up “Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time” the other day for the Nintendo Switch — what I assumed was Toys for Bob’s attempt to update Crash for modern audiences.
“Crash 4” follows the titular Crash Bandicoot (Scott Whyte) and his sister, Coco (Eden Riegel) as they face the newly-freed Dr. Neo Cortex (Lex Lang), Dr. Nefarious Tropy (JP Karliak), N. Gin (Corey Burton) and Nitrus Brio (Roger Craig Smith) as they cause havoc through different levels across dimensions. For the most part, the game features classic Crash gameplay, with the gimmick being that you have to collect four Quantum masks that give Crash different abilities — Lani-Loli lets Crash switch different objects and obstacles in and out of existence; Akano gives Crash a powerful spin move he can use to basically fly and break certain crates with ease, though it instantly sets off TNT and Nitro crates; Kupuna-Wa lets Crash slow down time for a short while; and Ika-Ika lets Crash reverse gravity.
There are ten dimensional worlds in the game, each with their own themes: N.Sanity Island (Present Day), a classic Crash starter world; The Hazardous Wastes (2084), a steampunk-inspired desert world; Salty Wharf (1717), a sea/pirate-themes world; Tranquility Falls (1402), a fantasy/Eastern-themed world; Mosquito Marsh (a few days ago), a bayou-themed world; The 11th Dimension (1954), a snow-themed world; Eggipus Dimension (88 Million B.C.B.), a dinosaur-themed world; Bermugula’s Orbit (???), an alien-themed world; The Sn@xx Dimension (3032), a future-themed world; and Cortex Island (1996), which is basically castle/laboratory-themed.
Each world has main story levels in addition to optional “Flashback” levels you can unlock, in which you play through classic side-scroll levels of Neo Cortex’s past experiments on Crash, as well as extra levels where you play as Dingodile (Fred Tatasciore) and Tawna Bandicoot (Ursula Taherian), who have vastly different control schemes and abilities than Crash and Coco.
Dingodile can’t jump very far, but he uses a vacuum gun you can use to propel him over distances Crash and Coco wouldn’t be able to reach, and he’s able to suck up crates with the gun — he’s even able to use it to launch TNT crates back at enemies. Tawna’s main feature is that she has a grappling hook that she can use to get rid of enemies and latch onto certain walls, as well as wall jump in certain areas. These levels are great and change the pace of the game up, but it’s unfortunate that their levels are isolated and optional. More unfortunate is that each of their levels link up to the main story of the game, meaning in order to finish them, you have to replay a slightly harder version of a level you’ve already played as Crash or Coco, which defeats the purpose of having special character levels.
There are also N. Verted version of all the game’s levels that are basically just mirror levels you unlock when you beat their regular versions. It’s nice to have them — especially with the earlier levels — but I don’t see a reason to play the later N. Verted ones, given how broken their regular versions are.
And thus, we’ve reached the elephant in the room. I think Polygon put it best, Crash Bandicoot 4 feels like it’s from the ’90s, but not in a good way. The central issue with the game lies with its controls and outdated, unforgiving progress system that, rather than rely on a modern autosave feature, it harkens back to times of old through the use of checkpoints that the game is very conservative with giving the player — though its imprecise, floaty control scheme is really what makes the game inaccessible to both casual gamers and children.
Crash 4’s levels throw a lot of concepts at you, from directional gravity changes, to limited time-stopping abilities, to timed hazards that are often combined with simple hazards — like platforms that fall a few seconds after you’re on them — and at times there is just too much going on. And many levels demand precise movements, specifically precise landings. Yet despite being released in a time where we’ve just started the ninth console generation, it’s anyone’s guess how far Crash will jump any given time, or where he will land. The game developers don’t even have common courtesy to lock front and back control directions during sidescrolling segments for you, and it also feels like they were critically short on Beta testers — many of the game’s levels feel like they were beaten once, and then given the OK. This makes the game’s most frustrating levels feel more like somebody’s Mario Maker levels than tightly-crafted segments of gameplay fit for the general public.
This game sold 80 percent less copies than the remakes of the N. Sane trilogy, and I think the overall quality of gameplay has a lot to do with that. While the game is merciful, as it’s impossible to get a game over, its sloppy level design just isn’t something I think anyone outside of hardcore Crash fans can enjoy. I feel bad for the children whose parents bought them this, because if this was my introduction to Crash, I would hate the series.
The game’s voice acting is top-notch, though its story is all over the place and is completely nonsensical — it feels more like fanfiction at times than a proper sequel, with the story seeming to exist just to let Toys for Bob do whatever they want.
It’s a shame, because I feel like there could have been a great game here, had Toys for Bob given its levels a little more polish and tightened up its controls. I think they did a wonderful job with their remake of the original Spyro trilogy, but for me, Crash 4 just falls short because of how much of a mess this game is.
It’s like biting into a piece of great-looking pizza, only to find out it’s raw. Sure, it could have been great, but it was taken out of the oven a little too soon, and now you have food poisoning.
“Crash 4: It’s About Time” gets a 6/10