Crash Bandicoot. Was he ever really that great? Did those old games that make up the original trilogy - the less said about other entries in the franchise the better - really warrant the level of hype and excitement that resulted from the announcement of 2018's N. Sane revamp? Whichever side of the fence you happen to fall on, one thing is undeniable; even with the fancy new lick of HD paint, tweaks, nips and tucks afforded by the recent remastered re-releases, even with the biggest, thickest pair of rose-tinted glasses you could find attached to your face, this was a series that was absolutely beginning to really show its age and feel like the product of a bygone era.
Of course, none of this mattered to long-term fans and, with the remastered trilogy proving so hugely popular, a further entry in the series was always likely to happen. Thankfully, the tricky prospect of creating this brand new adventure for the beloved eastern barred bandicoot - one that could remain faithful to those very particular old-school roots while managing to thoroughly modernizing every aspect of the core gameplay and mechanics - has been handled superbly well by developer Toys for Bob. Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time, it turns out, is not just the mad marsupial's finest hour, it's also one of the very best platformers we've played in quite some time. What's here successfully takes the core concepts and mechanics of the original games and rebuilds, refines and embellishes them, resulting in a consistently entertaining and hugely imaginative platformer that fans of the franchise are sure to get into a proper spin over.
A direct follow-up to the events of Crash Bandicoot: Warped, this brand new adventure sees Crash and his sister Coco flung through a multiverse of delightfully colourful dimensions as they face off against their age-old nemesis Doctor Neo Cortex using the power of four Quantum Masks which enable them to phase-shift their surroundings, mess with the laws of gravity, harness dark energy and slow down time. These new powers sit alongside a bevvy of new moves that see our heroes gain the ability to parkour across walls, rope swing, ride rails and more, and give the gameplay a level of variety we've not yet seen in the series.
Speaking of variety, the multiverse conceit of the narrative here ensures that Toys for Bob has been able to get properly creative in terms of level design. There's nowhere our plucky heroes can't end up next, and as a result you'll find yourself blasting through jungles, hazardous wastelands, pirate coves, swampy bayous, dinosaur-infested islands and much more besides. Stages here move along at a frenetically fast pace, switching and jumping constantly between that classic Crash 3D viewpoint, tricky 2D sections of pure old-school platforming action, bombastic chase sequences that see you in run in a blind panic towards the screen, slick on-rails and vehicular sections and some excellent boss battles. It's all pretty breathless stuff, constantly entertaining and stuffed to bursting point with secrets, collectibles and alternate ways in which to play.
Once you best any stage here you'll unlock the option to run it in a time trial, and the new N-Verted mode which sees the entire level play out in reverse with added gameplay wrinkles and tweaks to keep you on your toes. Are those toes? There are deviously well-hidden gems to collect in order to gain access to skins for both Crash and Coco - one for each and every level in the game - and grabbing all of these is a task that will take even the most hardcore of fans quite some time. Everything here has been built from the ground up for replaying ad-infinitum and for the most part it succeeds in providing consistently excellent stages full of secrets that are a joy to return to and perfect. Crash has never felt better to control either, his old moves feeling much more responsive, while that suite of new abilities give him much more fluidity and choice in how he deals with enemies and bounds around stages.
There are still a few little rough spots that detract slightly from the fun, however. Running into the screen in that classic Crash way still feels a little haphazard in places and even though a smart new indicator has been added to the action to show you roughly where you're going to land, some tricky platforming sections can become pretty frustrating as you try and fail to land yourself in the exact right spot. There's a certain amount of trial and error here too, with new enemies or environmental obstacles all but impossible to successfully navigate the first time you stumble upon them.
For the vast majority of this beefy adventure though, Crash and Coco are an absolute to joy to control and they're also joined, in a bunch of neat side missions that tie into the main story, by Tawna, Dingodile and Cortex himself, each of whom have a surprisingly robust moveset to get to grips with (Tawna can wall-jump, high kick and hookshot her way round levels, for example), and provide a really nice change of pace to the constant spinning of our two central characters.
There really is a ton of content here; that lengthy campaign bolstered by time trial challenges, side missions, alternate timeline levels, that excellent N-Verted mode and thirty fiendish flashback tapes that charge you with running some extremely challenging 2D gauntlets set in Cortex's testing chambers.
One other addition that some fans may find controversial is the game's new Modern mode, which removes the finite lives found in vanilla Crash and replaces them with a more generous checkpoint system that takes a lot of the frustration out of being returned to a level's beginning every time you run out of lives. If you still wish to play the old way, you can do so by choosing the somewhat controversially named Retro mode (the 90s weren't that long ago, we're not that old!), but be warned, once you try the new way of things you may find it hard to return to the much more difficult old-school flavoured gameplay.
Overall then, Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time is a resounding success. Toys for Bob has taken a franchise that was absolutely (and understandably) showing its age and booted it right into the modern era with aplomb. This is a great, big colourful adventure with a meaty campaign and a ton of variety and inventiveness about its breathlessly-paced levels to get stuck into. It's packed full of fun little details - we love the cutlery-wielding fists punching up from the gallows of the pirate ship levels - and nods to old entries in the franchise as well as some other 90's gaming icons - we see you Spyro! There are still a few little niggles here and there, but for the vast majority of its running time this is a delightfully creative, slick and addictive platformer to spend time with and an absolutely glorious modernisation of a twenty-four year old franchise for which people still have a whole lot of affection.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time is an excellent modernization of a decades-old franchise that was beginning to really show its age. This is a thoroughly entertaining, slick and addictive addition to the series that funnels players through a meaty campaign packed to bursting point with inventive set-pieces and devilishly devious level design. There's a ton of content to keep fans busy here with time trials, collectible skins, N-Verted mode and side missions galore in a generous package that sees Crash blast and bound his way through what is easily his greatest adventure to date.