Finding a Foothold While Devouring Wumpas
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time
By: Keoni Eckinger
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is such a tightly designed experience that I find it difficult to find flaws within the experience. I died hundreds of times, and you likely will as well but I never found myself faulting the game for shoddy design. Fairness within unwavering difficulty is an elusive achievement for many developers, the equilibrium is delicate, to say the least but Crash 4 is an exemplary example of why difficult games still have a place in the industry. On one hand, I’m perplexed that games like this have experienced such a diminished presence in recent generations but it’s also easy to understand why this kind of experience isn’t for everyone.
To the uninitiated, Crash Bandicoot appears to be a delightful, happy universe not unlike Spyro or the more recent Super Lucky’s Tale, where the mechanics are tailored to a more immediate sense of fun. Don’t let Crash’s colorful and easy-going veneer fool you, lurking beneath the surface and relative ease of the first few levels is a jagged toothed fiend of a video game that craves fresh meat. I mean all of this in the best possible way of course. Patience is required for this experience folks, don’t let the journey sour because the game has a habit of wedging a red sneaker in your ass. Remember, with every death, you’ll make incremental progress in mastering the demanding mechanics. Taking breaks when I felt my blood begin to boil was key to remaining unruffled.
We’re re-introduced to Neo Cortex, N. Tropy, and Uka Uka as they escape from the dimensional prison Crash trapped them in at the end of Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped, wisely retconning most of what came between Warped and Crash 4. This leads to a group of tribal masks lending their aid to Crash and Coco as they try to contain the villains again. Cutscenes are fun to experience albeit pretty simple, admittedly, the story isn’t the main attraction. Toys for Bob played it safe in their copious use of villains from prior games. I find it tough to knock the game too hard for this, but I would have liked to see Toys for Bob introduce a villain from their imaginings because honestly, they earned the right.
The game’s level select is similar to the original Crash Bandicoot of 1996, you’re introduced to a hub world with a few levels that you unlock sequentially. Different hub worlds mix up the gameplay dramatically, when equipped, the aforementioned tribal masks offer Crash the ability to phase between realities or slow time, among other abilities as well. These abilities greatly shake up the formula and force you to adapt your approach to different situations. As indicated by trailers, Crash 4 lets you occasionally play as other characters like Dingo Dile, Neo Cortex, and fellow bandicoot Tawna. These alternate levels are another example of what makes this game so special in my opinion, the additional characters have different controls and unique powers to experiment with. Stomping around the bayou as Dingo Dile and utilizing his vacuum to line up jumps, while zipping through the air using Cortex’s blaster to vanquish foes and using Tawna’s grapple hook to snag distant crates was a wonderful surprise. It’s evident the developers wanted this game to feel fresh from start to finish and they succeeded.
Once you’ve completed all levels on a hub another opens. Most levels have a series of gems that may or may not entice you to revisit them for additional skins for Crash or his younger sister, Coco. Attaining a gem might be as simple as collecting 40% of the collectible wumpa fruits in a level to the devious process of tracking down every destructible crate. There’s also a completely optional time trial mode in most levels that challenge you to complete the stage in seemingly inhuman amounts of time. Additionally, if you can survive long enough in certain stages without dying you’ll be awarded a retro VHS tape, these stages are accessed through nodes on the dimensional map and they’re a ton of fun. They offer a brief respite from the mostly three-dimensional madness of standard levels and instead require you to play juiced up bonus levels. You’ll die a bunch if you intend to get all of the crates in these stages. After a few hours of play, you’ll unlock N-Verted levels which allow you to replay the same levels reversed for more gems, this can make the more difficult levels tricky again if you’ve developed a muscle memory when completing them the first time. Collectibles are nothing new to the Crash series but they’re a major contributor to the longevity of these games, if you’re looking for an exceptional platforming experience to occupy your time look no further, if you’re an insatiable masochist like myself you could easily sink 80–100 hours into this game depending on your skill level. As an additional thought, I was so happy to see that skins were earned through gameplay and not monetized with micro-transactions.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the music by Walter Mair. Fans of the older games will likely recognize some older tracks re-purposed but the new tunes fit perfectly within the universe. Perhaps I’m doting on Crash 4, I can’t help but feel enthusiastic that the furry guy has returned. My earliest gaming memories are playing a rented copy of Crash on the PS1 in the early mornings before school. There was an expectation within me that this game wouldn’t re-capture the magic Naughty Dog created in the ’90s. While I would have liked to meet new villains, objectively Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is an exquisite experience with plenty to offer for the asking price and it’s well worth your attention.
Thanks for taking the time to read this piece, for better or worse I poured my heart into its creation. Please feel free to comment or ask me questions, I’d enjoy hearing what you’re doing to battle the encroaching darkness, what are you listening to, playing, reading? My love of music, video games, art, and writing are serendipitously beginning to coalesce. My intentions are unclear to me at this point, but extolling these things I find lovely provides some solace. As I carve a path forward, I’ll discuss video games I’m interested in, old and new, as well as anything else I find fascinating. I’ll try my hand at more traditional reviews if readers take kindly to that format as well. I’d certainly like suggestions and constructive criticism from readers as nothing worth doing has been done in total solitude. If you’d like to donate to my Patreon so I can keep doing this I’d greatly appreciate it. https://www.patreon.com/keonieckinger