Review: 'Crash Bandicoot 4': It's About Freakin' Time!
Last time I pre-ordered a game was the Klonoa remake (2009) for Wii. Never pre-order. Unless you have a crush on the main character.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time is a platformer for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, with Naughty Dog's original character Crash Bandicoot, published by Activision (2020). It could be called Naughty Dog's best game of the year, were not for the fact that all the credit goes to Toys for Bob, who have done a great job that's visibly a work of love, and not a simple cash-grab.
The game welcomes you with a mild ambient soundtrack that's very similar to the older games. I would have frowned for no actual sick Fatboy Slim tracks, but let me tell you, it's for the better. For this game is hard. You're gonna be glad the sound is unobtrusive after bouncing on boxes for the nth try without a fall. It's like the harder levels of Crash 3: Warped, but for every single level.
The game mechanics are tight and innovative. The older mechanics are a staple, and most of the new ones work to spice up the game for the better. Playing as either Crash or Coco, you run into a collection of masks that stick on their suit and give them temporary new powers: switch realities, slow up time, colourful super spin, and inverse gravity. The powers are selectively given at certain points in the levels, where most of the time using them is compulsory to advance. I can see these new powers becoming standard mechanics for the franchise, fitting with this great level design.
- Neo Cortex has a single jump rather than double jump, a dash headbump, and a gun that can turn foes into jumping platforms. His gameplay is based on combining the newly created jumping platforms with his dash headbump to compensate for a lack of strength.
- Dingodile is a heavyweight, and his main prowess is his suction gun, which he uses to remove obstacles and slide further away.
- Tawna has a grappling hook, which she can use sparingly to move from platform to platform and break far-away boxes.
Of these playable characters, players will probably enjoy Tawna the most, with her distinctive grappling hook gameplay. This character has, however, the most jarring design, and it's what I liked the least from the game. You see, Tawna as a character was always ill-fitting to the whole Crash Bandicoot series; so much so that in the original trilogy she only appeared prominently in the first game (1996), in which Tawna's role was "token female with big boobs", to be rescued at the end of the level. An insert that felt like an attempt at making the game edgy to 90s male teens, for the cool and edgy Sony PlayStation (because the new PlayStation was so much more edgier than kiddy Nintendo).
To resolve this dated female stereotype, in current day Crash Bandicoot 4, they're now using this other, different, hip and trendy empowered female stereotype who needs no man. "I fly solo", Tawna says. She's so strong and independent she hits Crash on the head. This is clearly a better stereotype, because it's a current stereotype, and it will definitely not age just at badly (yes, yes it will). She literally looks like she doesn't fit in a cartoony-style game, and they address this glaring stylistic anomaly in the game: "Tawna, you look different! You must be from an alternate dimension!" A dimension involving Activision committee guidelines. The pandering is totally unnecessary, and I disavow it. She was never a good character to begin with - Coco is 1000 times a better female lead. So, developers, give that grappling hook to a different character, and let Tawna rest in peace once and for all.
But not to worry – for you can avoid, for the most part, the newer characters, only having to play one or two levels with each non-protagonist character. If you like playing as them, you can visit their optional levels for more platform goodness, which are always well thought-out. These minor objections aside, Crash 4 remains excellent.
In fact, the game adheres nicely to whichever play-style you desire. Granted, you have to play through each main level at least once, but you can ignore collecting some or most gems or other collectibles, and doing so is actually a good idea. This game has so many collectibles, it's insane. Purist gamers who go for >100% completion have complained on the internet that it's just too hard; but really, the game is only relentlessly impossible if you aim for absolute perfection. If you're an adult with a life, you can enjoy yourself a lot more by playing casually, as most people will. In this regard, developers give you the choice when you start a new game, to play with unlimited lives, or hardcore mode with limited lives. For your own sanity, choose the former.
The graphics are gorgeous, as you can easily see in any gameplay video, and the animations are very, very competent. The animation! Have you noticed this effect in cartoon movies, where, if you go frame by frame, you can see stretched limbs and faces when movement is involved, to make the characters more expressive? Animators have applied this technique in Crash 4, with an overall better cartoony style than the Crash Trilogy remake. It feels authentic.
This particular style translates very well to the more limited resources of the regular PS4. I played the game on one, with a somewhat-constant framerate of 30-40 FPS. The PS4 Pro, of course, renders it at full 60 FPS, but this is not a game that really needs it for your viewing pleasure – for it looks just as nice with older hardware. The graphics are more fitting and polished than in previous games; and so is the story, which, while being as silly as it is to give an excuse for the gameplay, feels cohesive.
In conclusion: this is the best Crash Bandicoot platformer we've had in 20 years, and a worthy contender for best furry video game of 2020. I'm honestly very impressed with the work done by Toys for Bob, and I can't wait to see their future offerings involving furry creatures. In the meantime, for sure, check out this Crash game. Just be ready to play, as it's not an adventure for the faint of heart!