Crash Bandicoot 4 takes classic series to new heights

Neil Haeems/Staff
Developer: Toys for Bob

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Grade: 4.5/5.0

The first main installment in over a decade of the long-running Crash Bandicoot series, Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, is a visually stunning 3D platformer that perfectly balances tradition with innovation.

Retaining the series’ trademark dynamic level design and art style, Crash Bandicoot 4 introduces massive technical and gameplay improvements, thereby bringing Crash Bandicoot up to modern standards. Developed by Toys for Bob, who previously remastered the original PlayStation platformer series Spyro, Crash Bandicoot 4 is a direct sequel to creator Naughty Dog’s original trilogy and picks up after 1998’s Crash Bandicoot: Warped.

Crash Bandicoot 4 starts off with a bang — the superbly animated opening cut scene sees villains Dr. Neo Cortex and Dr. Nefarious Tropy, or N. Tropy for short, rip holes in spacetime as they escape from interdimensional prison. Now able to traverse the multiverse, Cortex and N. Tropy set out to conquer every dimension while Crash and his sister Coco navigate tons of sprawling, radically different environments full of challenging, brilliantly realized platforming puzzles in order to stop them.

Like other Crash games, timing is everything. Players must jump, duck and slide at exactly the right moments to avoid enemy attacks and explore precarious, collectible-crammed levels. Crash Bandicoot 4’s stages feature more variety than older Crash games, adding segments with wall-running, fast-paced rail grinding and vehicle- or animal-mounted chases, in addition to the multiple playable characters.

Crash Bandicoot 4 not only makes movement more precise, but it also introduces the game-changing Quantum Masks. Each of the four masks uniquely modifies Crash’s gameplay — with one, players can reverse the direction of gravity at the press of a button, while another allows players to slow time down. Each new mask is augmented by a variety of bespoke creative mask-centric puzzles, deeply rooting their transformative abilities in the core gameplay and never lingering on any one idea for too long.

Toys for Bob’s refreshing tendency to switch things up extends to Crash Bandicoot 4’s art and sound design. Ranging from a futuristic metropolis to a dinosaur-filled prehistoric volcanic island to the snowy 11th Dimension, Crash Bandicoot 4 features a multitude of fantastically eccentric worlds. Each stage’s unique character is expressed through vibrant cartoon imagery, satisfying sound effects and quirky music. Animation carries an attention to detail that is greatly missed in most recent games — Crash’s personality pours through in moments when he reacts to a monster hot on his trail with hilarious expressiveness or frantically teeters near a ledge, fully immersing players in the universe.

In addition to Crash, levels can also be played as Coco. Though there is no noticeable difference between their move sets, Coco is a much bigger part of Crash’s adventures than before — both in and outside of gameplay. Crash Bandicoot 4’s more robust cut scenes allow Coco’s character to be further developed, and the duo form the loveable centerpiece to a strong cast of characters.

A bigger change in gameplay comes when players control Tawna, Crash’s former love interest, who has been revamped into a fierce action hero equipped with a grappling hook. Tawna’s levels are more oriented toward quick traversal, making her more nimble and deadly than Crash or Coco. On the other end of the spectrum is former villain Dingodile, a genetically modified dingo-crocodile who is dragged out of retirement as Crash Bandicoot 4 begins. Albeit more sluggish than other characters, Dingodile’s gameplay is just as fun thanks to his water cannon, which is used to vacuum up collectibles, boost around and fire objects at enemies. Though players can also control Cortex, his levels feel far less polished as the developers strip away the ability to double jump and force the player to use a blaster, despite frustratingly unreliable aiming.

Crash Bandicoot 4 has unprecedented replay value through its optional challenges and alternate game modes that ramp the difficulty up, but also reward completionism with various rare collectibles. Featuring several characters skins but no microtransactions, Crash Bandicoot 4 towers above hollow commercial garbage such as Marvel’s Avengers. Compelling players not to spend more money, but instead to master its challenges and fully explore its wealth of artistically designed and executed content, Crash Bandicoot 4 is one of the best 3D platformers in recent — and not so recent — memory.

This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time.

Neil Haeems covers video games. Contact him at [email protected].