It starts the same way it always has since Crash saved the day back in ’96 – peaceful tropical life disrupted by mad science. It’s nothing new for Crash and CoCo though. To them, it’s just another day of… saving the day. Though this time the stakes couldn’t get any higher.
The Bandicoots are about to embark on a journey that’ll take them well past the borders of their island. Get ready to hold on onto your nearest guardian mask, as the Bandicoots are going to spin and slam their way through the timelines of other dimensions.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is a 3-D platformer that places a lot of emphasis on precision platforming and creative boss fights. It is a direct sequel to Crash Bandicoot 3, with a notable appearance of a certain alien racer from Crash Team Racing. The game’s roster of playable characters goes beyond the Bandicoot family this time around. Alternate versions of Tawna Bandicoot and Dingodile join the crew. And much later on, a seemingly reformed Neo Cortex tags along.
All characters have a basic attack. The Bandicoots siblings have the iconic spin attack, Tawna is great at kicking enemies. Dingodile has an oversized vacuum, and Cortex has a ray gun that turns enemies into platforms. Mobility options are what make them unique though. Tawna uses her grappling hook to get to places and open up distant boxes. Dingodile can reverse the flow of his vacuum, giving him the ability to float for a short period of time. Cortex can use his brainpower to quickly air dash in a certain direction. The moves open up gameplay options not possible with just the Bandicoots. It’s really fun, and frustrating to a certain extent. But hey, the Bandicoots have the classic slide and slam move. So, they have that going for them.
The inter-dimensional guardians take center stage in this game. The 4 mask siblings are able to alter time and space in different ways. The masks themselves appear in specific tailor-made segments throughout the levels. Each mask allows the wearer to perform incredible feats of platforming.
Having Lani-Loli on alternates a linked pair of objects. Turning one on phases the other out of existence. Akano compresses gravity. Having him on grants the Bandicoots a perpetual spin move that destroys iron bond boxes and the ability to helicopter hover downwards. Take heed though, the spinning will more than likely cause TNT to explode on touch. Kupuna-Wa slows time around the player. She’s great at getting past fast obstacles. And causing delayed Nitro explosions. It only lasts for a few seconds though. And finally, there’s Ika-Ika. With him on, the player can invert gravity at will. But not endlessly though. You can only change it twice in mid-air before having to touch the ground again to reset it.
All the new masks take some getting used to. Especially at the beginning. It’s led to some very awkward deaths, but believe me when I say that the game’s all the better for it. As tough as it is, the game’s extremely fair when it comes to lives.
The Dimension Map feels like a throwback to the first game’s Overworld Map. Players slide to different dimensions much like how Crash island-hopped his way to freedom. Each dimension contains a handful of levels that adhere to the theme of its world. The sheer variety of worlds on offer put the past games to shame. Just when I thought I’ve seen it all, I’ve jumped into an alternate world revolving around food businesses. It’s crazy. To say the least.
Finishing a level is nothing compared to completing it. To 100% a level, the player must break all boxes. WHILE dying no less than 4 times. On top of that, there is a hidden gem located somewhere in the level. Some take some clever observations from different camera angles to spot. Others are hidden in places like a suspicious off-the-path treasure chest. On a regular level, there are 6 gems to nab. Collecting gems unlocks costumes for the Bandicoot siblings.
Some costumes take more than 6 gems to unlock. That’s where the N.verted levels come into play. These levels not only flip the level layout vertically, but it also introduces a new element that’s both exciting and frightening at the same time. Take the starting islands, for example. Its N.verted mode turns the lights off and the only way the player can see ahead of them is to rely on the sonar-like ping that the character emits. The Pirate dimension’s N.verted theme is black and white. Doing moves adds a splash of color. Making it easier to see the level. There are 6 upside down gems and it adds up with the regular gems. Meaning, you can still get the costume with any combination of the gems… as long as you have enough to unlock them.
One of the best features of the time trials is the shadow Crash. We’ve come a long way from blindly running into a level to get a relic like in the original game. We now have a shadow that functions as a measure of pace. If the shadow reaches the end of the level before you do, then it’s obvious that you still have some things to work on. Thankfully, observant players can take note of the shadow’s movements to give them hints as to what to do.
As a final certificate for the player’s recognition of skill, the game will award the player with the N.Sanely Perfect Relic for that specific level for beating its time trial on a perfect run.
During the course of the story, the siblings will run into unexplained events that seemingly aid them from out of nowhere. Turns out it’s an act of their allies. It’s all explained in the Timeline missions. The levels open up as either Tawna, Dingodile, or Cortex doing their own thing. At the end of the segment, a cutscene connects the two events together. Afterward, the Crash or CoCo finishes the level as it originally plays out. (with a few changes, here and there.)
Finding Flashback tapes in the level unlocks a new platforming level replayed through the lens of old footage as Cortex conditions the Bandicoots to be his generals. The level only asks you clear it to the end. Badges are awarded for destroying a percentage of boxes. It’s very tempting to just go ahead and try to get the badge as there is no consequence to dying in the tapes.
The game’s graphics and sounds are everything we’ve come to expect from the reboot. The visuals are bright and colorful. Crash may not speak a single word, but his expressions and movements throughout the adventure are almost Looney Tunes like in nature. It’s amazing. The sounds also do it’s part accordingly. The upbeat tunes coupled with the sciency sound effects is a series staple at this point.
It’s About Time starts with N.Cortex and N.Trophy making use Uka-Uka’s portal to escape imprisonment. They leave Uka-Uka behind to create mischief throughout the dimensions. N.Brio and N.Gin are then tasked to slow the Bandicoots down. That ends as well for them as it always does. At the same time, the Bandicoot siblings continue to awaken the other masks in order to set everything back in order. They are eventually joined up by Tawna, Dingodile, and even Cortex. Chaos and shenanigans soon follow.
The entire game feels like an extension of the reboot trilogy. We get throwbacks to ice levels and riding wild animals. (Though these ones aren’t as cute as the tiger or polar bear.) Dinosaurs make a grand return. For what it’s worth, there’s a lot less lava and more prehistoric forest. The jet board from Crash 2 gets some lovin’ too. But the one thing that tops it all for me… is the return to the OG Cortex Castle. It’s some of the toughest platforming segments the series has ever put out… and I don’t think the game can be as fun without it.
As much as I praise the old school platforming and the razor-thin escapes. I can fully understand why some people can not like it for the same reasons that I love this game. It’s an acquired taste, no doubt about it. Not everyone’s going to love the difficulty spikes. However, the game does throw in a few Aku-Aku masks depending on the death count. And it does spawn in a checkpoint in places where it might be hard… but that’s the thing though, it’s not going to instantly make it easier for the player. I’m sorry to say, there is no avoiding the difficult parts. I hope that the message gets through to the players’ end.
Just when we all thought things couldn’t get any better for Crash, here comes Toys For Bob. They’ve shown us that there is something more to Crash Bandicoot post the N.Sane Trilogy. We are in uncharted territory now, and I’m more than glad that the first game out the gate is something as fun and absurdly difficult to complete. The game even goes as far as giving us a tool that’s essential for speedrunning the levels – the triple spin. It is unlocked after finishing the story, and it takes a fair bit of mastery to control. Just means that there is more to do in the game.
This is a great sign for others like the Spyro series. If we can get something equally as epic as It’s About Time in the Spyro universe, the sky’s the limit for future games.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is equal parts fun and frustrating. One thing’s for sure with me though, it’s precision platforming is addicting. Whether you’re racing against the ghost Crash or surviving the Flashback tapes, when everything’s clicking at the right pace, there’s no greater feeling in gaming.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time – Review
Almost perfect if not for the nitty-gritty. If it’s quite there but not enough to push the boundaries, it’s still an awesome game.
Tough but extremely fair
Pays homage to the games that came before it
Paves the way forward for the series
The same old Crash cast we've loved for years
Unexpected final act plot twist
Time trial and gem collection can be a source of much frustration