There are some big expectations being placed on Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time. This is the first new Crash Bandicoot game in a while, and an explicit attempt to return to what made the original trilogy so popular. Doing those beloved games justice with a remake like Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy is one thing; creating something completely original that can live up to those classics is a new challenge entirely.
After playing the couple of levels included in the pre-order demo for Crash Bandicoot 4, I’m pretty convinced that Toys For Bob has nailed it.
It certainly looks the part. Crash is back to his old self, his misguided fascination with “tribal” tattoos now well and truly a thing of the past. The levels are every bit as bright and comical as ever, full of cartoony foes to jump, spin, and slide kick into oblivion. It looks like a Crash Bandicoot game should look.
That zany sense of humour is back too, and Crash Bandicoot 4 isn’t shy about poking fun at the series’ struggle to make a splash since it moved on from Naughty Dog. It’s right there in the title, obviously—”It’s About Time“—but also in unsubtle little jokes in the game, like when a new character meets Neo Cortex for the first time. “I’m sensing some fraught history here. How many times have you beaten this clown, anyway?” “Three.” “Really, only three? Funny, it seemed like more.”
Crash Bandicoot 4 also seems to go right back to its platformer roots. The demo’s two-and-a-bit levels (I’ll explain what that means in a moment) take place across an ice level and a prehistoric one, and are a good showcase for the game’s regular shift between over-the-shoulder, side-scrolling, and run-like-hell-toward-the-screen-from-the-big-dinosaur-chasing-you approaches to level design. All the usual staples are here: platforms that drop away when you stand on them for too long, tests of timing and reactions, enemies that can only be taken out with certain attacks. You know the drill.
There are some nice new ideas, too. One of the big features for It’s About Time is a set of new masks that bestow new powers on Crash and his friends, two of which you get to play with in the demo. One lets you briefly slow down time for everything but yourself, which proves crucial for platforming your way across falling rocks that would otherwise fall far too quickly, or to smash boxes that are activated by a very stingy timer. The other makes certain objects fade in and out of existence, typically with two “sets” of objects that alternate each time you hit that button—a power that really shows its worth during a vine-sliding section in one level, where you need to rhythmically phase obstacles in and out of existence to create a clear way forward.
The other big addition is new playable characters, at least some of whom sport entirely new sets of abilities. The demo offers a taste of playing with Neo Cortex, a short little supervillain who can’t really jump, but does have a raygun he can use to turn enemies into either solid platforms or trampoline-like jellies. Cortex’s demo level is a variation of the ice-themed one, but seen from Cortex’s perspective for part of the way (hence “two-and-a-bit levels”), with unique platforming challenges tailored to his style of play. It’s going to be interesting to see how all the other newly-playable characters play, and what sort of creative levels Crash Bandicoot 4 will build around them.
In short, the demo shows Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time to be a game that’s absolutely living up to what it’s trying to be: an entirely new Crash Bandicoot game, full of new ideas, but one that’s firmly rooted in the series heyday. And if it can laugh at Crash’s stumbles in the years since CTR, hey—all the better.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time launches October 2 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.