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CRASH BANDICOOT 4: IT'S ABOUT TIME
(IT’S ABOUT TIME is out now for the PS4 and Xbox One. Distributor provided review copy.)
Back in the 90s, every gaming console had its mascot, and the competition between them was fierce. Mario was the most easily recognizable, eponymous with Nintendo parents as the defacto gaming console in existence. Sonic was beloved by the Sega generation, who were too cool for the “kid’s console.” But midway through the decade, a new hopeful contender showed up, one that, in its total irreverence for easy likability, took the scene by storm – for a time at least.
For about five years, the marsupial Crash Bandicoot carried Sony’s first console, delivering hit after hit of great platformers and spin-offs. By the time the decade (and century) came to an end, Crash all but disappeared from the public eye. A few PS2 and Xbox releases came and went without much fanfare, and the hyperactive terror dropped into obscurity. Remembered fondly by those who grew up with his games, Crash is as quintessential for gaming as Mario, though never reaching the kind of superstardom as the Italian plumber.
Twenty-two years later, developer Toys for Bob is bringing the legend back to life in a reboot of sorts, one that celebrates the franchise while also breathing new life into it at the same time. The evil professor Neo Cortex and his partners, N. Tropy and Uka Uka, escape from their prison in a time vortex and set out to eradicate Crash and his friends for good. With the help of the sentient mask, Aku Aku, Crash must travel through time and space to put things right before everything he knows is vaporized into stardust.
The first thing that stands out in CRASH 4, apart from how they thankfully didn’t call it CR4SH, is just how fresh it all feels. Sure, it’s riding the wave of nostalgia pretty hard, but at the same time, there’s a newfound sense of joy in exploring the intricately designed levels. The opening segment, smartly evoking the first level of the very first CRASH game, familiarizes newcomers to the antics while reminding veterans why we loved it in the first place.
CRASH 4 is spread over multiple worlds, each filled with their own unique levels, and is just easy enough to complete throughout a couple of days, but filled to the brim with content to last for weeks afterward. For us returning to the franchise, it also serves as a painful reminder of just how bad reflexes get as we age. I never quite remembered the series being this tough, although the N-SANE TRILOGY, released last year, did its very best in breaking my spirit.
Not that the game ever feels unfair. The jumping, sliding, and riding mechanics are all incredibly accurate and honed to perfection. New moves have found their way into the roster, thanks to a creative story hook that lets players try out multiple character playstyles over the grand adventure. Each mission comes packed with hidden paths, treasures, and challenges, providing ample excuses to go back for revisits.
Beyond that, Flashback Tapes, time trials, and relic hunting all make IT’S ABOUT TIME feel, well, worth your time. It’s not busywork, like so many other games these days, but genuinely challenging and fun exploration, because every time you clear a stage with slightly more goodies in tow, the sense of adventure is palpable. You did this, not any designated quest marker or timer, but you, by learning and adapting. That’s a rare feeling these days, and should be celebrated at every turn.
But where CRASH 4 stands out is in the delightfully hammy and heartwarming story. Animated like a classic Bugs Bunny cartoon, it tips its hat frequently to pathfinders like Pixar and Dreamworks through wild antics that bring a smile to the face right off the start. There are moments of adorable fanservice, too, most notably in bringing back the classic nemesis Dingodile and making him run a suitably dingy backwater diner.
I’ve now spent about twelve hours with CRASH 4, and I feel like I’m only just getting started. I’ve finished the primary campaign, but the call of the unfinished missions and hidden treasures still beckons. I want to go back and mess around with my favorite characters, each who feel like they could carry a game of their own. I haven’t felt this happy with a game in years, and never as involved with a story that is this silly. Somehow Toys For Bob have done the impossible; they’ve revived a dated series and given it a brand new heart.
It’s the most accessible game to recommend to everyone around. For once, the name is exactly right: It’s about time.