Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is a direct sequel to Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped, ignoring the games that came after once Naughty Dog departed the franchise for paths Uncharted.
Doctor Neo Cortex and Doctor Nefarious Tropy have escaped from their dimensional prison and are threatening the very fabric of time and space itself in their quest for domination. And it’s up to our favourite Marsupial, along with help from his sister Coco, to stop them. Along the way you’ll pick up some unlikely allies and get new powers from the Quantam Masks as you platform your way to multiversal salvation.
Developer Toys For Bob clearly love the Crash Bandicoot franchise. It shows in every aspect of the game, from the visuals to the amount of content they’ve managed to pack into this direct sequel.
The games production value is AAA and beyond. Crash Bandicoot 4 is easily one of this generations most gorgeous games, which is saying a lot when you consider some of what has been released in the last couple of years. The visuals and animation quality are sumptuous. From the set dressing to the cutscenes, Crash Bandicoot is a visual feast with some of the best 3D cartoon animation I’ve seen in years, right down to the enemies populating each level. Each frame is just about screenshot worthy.
The sound design can’t be brushed aside either, with some great sound effects and music overseeing the proceedings.
Toys For Bob have also gone out of their way to provide a plethora of content. Most notable is the N.Verted game mode which is essentially the levels mirrored with some new visual effects and Gems to collect. Surprisingly there is also a competitive multiplayer mode if you happen to have friends over in which you pass the controller around to see who can get the fastest time or collect the most crates in a level.
Retro Mode lets you play the game in its traditional, set amount of lives style and Modern Mode gives you unlimited lives but a death counter.
You’ll be doing the usual Bandicoot things; smashing crates to collect Wumpa fruit, collect gems and make your way through the hazardous environment with new moves like rail grinding, time slowing and popping scenery in and out of phase with the world. Coco is playable after the intro levels while three other playable characters join the throng later: Dingodile, Cortex and Tawna, who is so much fun to play as.
There are no microtransactions to unlock the game’s costumes. Instead, you gain them through meeting objectives in a level, such as collecting gems, having only three deaths, etc. Pro-tip: don’t focus on collecting the costumes until you unlock N.Verted mode as its gems also count to the final tally.
Despite all these modern visual shenanigans and new moves, Crash Bandicoot 4 is a game stuck very firmly in platformings past. Toys For Bob have taken their inspiration from the original Crash games to heart, almost like 19 years of innovation and refinement in the genre haven’t happened, and amped up the difficulty to infuriating levels.
Make no mistake, Crash Bandicoot 4 is one of the hardest platformers you’re going to play.
The first two levels are rather easy by comparison, designed to put you into the swing of things. From the 2D sidescrolling segments to the 3D running into and from the screen, they’re two extended levels that essentially serve as the games tutorials. From the third level onwards though, it’s full steam ahead into the some of the hardest platforming I’ve played in years.
This difficulty stems from a combination of some truly sadistic level design coupled with, more often than not, unfortunately, some truly bad level design. Make no mistake. You’re going to die. A lot. And often it’s not going to be your fault. Poor enemy placement, poor obstacle placement, poorly timed platforms and a control system that just isn’t up to the task – more on that later – turn a frustrating difficulty level into a controller breaking one.
The flow of platforming that, even on a high difficulty, pulls you through a level with a sense of zen satisfaction at a job well done, is very rare here. And when it did happen, it was usually followed up by a frustrating section that spoiled that sense of joy. Instead of feeling like I’d beaten something by skill alone and needed to come back for a better run was replaced with the feeling that I was glad I wouldn’t have to do it again.
Now I can get behind a hard difficulty and some poor level design if the games basic systems are up to the task, and while a lot of Crash’s new gameplay add-ons, such as the rail grinding and endless spin, are merely adequate at best, the game just about falls down completely thanks to a completely broken analog system. You can play the game with both the D-Pad and the analogs, but the analog system is broken. There is lag first of all when controlling Crash this way, but most importantly, for some reason when using the analogs, Crash will just stop moving or start walking very, very slowly, and he just won’t run, especially during the side-scrolling segments. During jumps with the analog, Crash will also just stop mid-jump like he’d hit a wall and plummet to his doom. Now you can imagine how this would impact a title that relies on pixel-perfect platforming.
Controlling Crash with the D-Pad became the only way to play because it was the only way to play. And while the D-Pad is actually perfect for all the side-scrolling segments, it’s not quite precise enough for the 3D segments which require precision platforming at, usually, diagonals that the D-Pad has problems with. There’s also no input lag with the D-Pad which makes the analog issue even more noteworthy.
I’d hoped that the games latest patch would go some way to fixing up the analog control but, unfortunately, it didn’t. The only noticeable impact it had was to reset my progress through the campaign. My save file is there, my total playtime is there but not one bit of my progress. I had to, much to my endless joy, restart the entire affair again.
Now I was really looking forward to Crash Bandicoot 4. I was really looking forward to a platformer with some challenge. And as much as I wanted to love Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, and I really, really did, I just can’t. With some awful level design, a difficulty designed to give you an embolism, a patch that reset my campaign progress and a broken control system, Toys For Bob has committed the ultimate sin with Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time that any game – hard or otherwise – can make: it’s just not much fun.
Reviewed by By M. A. Ligocki
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time was reviewed on PS4 and you can choose your format here, don’t have a PS4 the game is also available on Xbox One for around £59.99.
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