‘Crash Bandicoot’ returns in full force

Time heals all wounds.

Even wounds dealt to the reputation of a 2 1/2 decade old platformer series.

“Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time” launched Oct. 2 for PS4 and Xbox One.

“Crash 4” was developed by Toys for Bob, and published by series owner Activision.

While not the fourth installment in the series, “Crash 4” ignores the poor legacy the series saw after its jump to the PlayStation 2 with games like “The Wrath of Cortex” and “Crash of the Titans,” starting the series off fresh as a direct sequel to “Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped.”

While story is not the driving factor of the series, “Crash 4” picks up where “Warped” left off, with villains Dr. Neo Cortex, N. Tropy and Uka Uka stranded in the Jurassic period and Crash Bandicoot, his sister Coco and Aku Aku relaxing on their island home.

With the use of Uka Uka’s magic, the villains free themselves from their time-locked prison and begin to wreak havoc across time and space.

This incites our heroes to get back into action and stop Dr. Cortex and N. Tropy once again.

The story is conveyed through cutscenes animated by Toys for Bob’s excellent animation team, giving characters bouncy, fluid animations for perfect comedic timing.

The platforming gameplay sees few changes from the way the game controls in the recent remaster collection of the original PlayStation games.

The base gameplay still consists of running through a linear level, platforming, defeating enemies, collecting gems and breaking as many boxes as you can find while avoiding the Nitro and TNT crates.

Platforming is tight and responsive, requiring quick reflexes and precision movement in order to work your way through a level.

One major improvement has been made to the platforming mechanics in terms of player accessibility.

In past games and the remasters, depth perception had always been an issue during 3D platforming segments.

In order to eliminate this problem, Toys for Bob implemented a targeting reticle that appears whenever a character jumps into the air, highlighting the area on the ground or platform where the character is going to land.

Aside from this addition, Crash and Coco’s move-sets keep the same moves of spin attacks, sliding, crouching, double-jumping and crouch jumping.

To make up for the lack of additions to the Bandicoot move-sets, four new Quantum Mask characters are added to give Crash and Coco new mechanics.

The cowardly Lani-Loli allows the duo to shift between two different versions of reality to solve platforming puzzles and find boxes.

Akano is a silent, tough mask who grants the Bandicoots the ability to extend their spin attack and levitate using the spins.

The wise Kapuna-Wa slows down time to allow for platforming in otherwise accessible areas and Ika-Ika flips gravity on its head, allowing Crash and Coco to walk on the ceiling.

The new Quantum Masks introduce new gameplay elements to add variety to gameplay. Ika-Ika allows Crash and Coco to flip upside down and walk on the ceilings. (Courtesy of Activision)

The masks are used sparingly throughout the game, giving players just enough time to become accustomed to them before having to use all four in the final level for a well-crafted challenge.

While Crash and Coco’s move are relatively the same, three new playable characters are added to the fray.

Tawna, Crash’s girlfriend and damsel-in-distress from the first game, appears as an alternate dimension version of herself who comes equipped with a grappling hook.

Tawna’s moves are similar to the Bandicoot siblings, but the grappling hook takes the place of the slide move. The grappling hook can be used to attack enemies from a distance, break frustrating-to-find distant boxes and grapple to faraway places.

Dr. Cortex is certainly the most frustrating new character as he has no double jump or spin attack equivalent.

Rather, he has a blaster that fires a ray to transform enemies into two different types of platforms, regular platforms or bouncy platforms. While these bouncy platforms can take the place of double-jumping, it is essentially useless when you can only create them in areas where enemies are placed.

Cortex also has a dash attack, allowing him to cover larger gaps. But the dash is linear and takes away control from the player until the dash is over, making platforming difficult when dashing is incorporated.

Dingodile, the retired half-dingo, half-crocodile villain, also sees his time in the playable  spotlight. He has a basic spin attack like other characters, but also comes equipped with a vacuum-gun able to suck in nearby crates to shoot back at enemies and allow Dingodile to hover for a short period of time.

The vacuum-gun creates interesting challenges when trying to break all the boxes in a level, often requiring players to fire boxes at others placed in the distance, otherwise unreachable.

Unfortunately, these playable characters each only get one solo-level to play through. The only other levels to play through are the “alternate timeline” versions of levels where you play as the three new characters for half of the level before switching back to Crash or Coco to play through a more challenging version of a level you have already played.

While the concept is interesting, seeing how Tawna, Cortex and Dingodile travel through time to help the Bandicoots on their adventure, it would have been nice to have more fully-fleshed-out levels with the trio.

Time trials see a return as well, with players racing to beat developer times and earn Time Trial Relics.

Alongside Time Trial Relics, the new N.Sane Relics are introduced. N.Sane Relics can only be earned when a player has beat a level while breaking every single box without dying a single time. While the optional challenge is appreciated, it eliminates the purpose collectible gems served in the original trilogy.

With the addition of N.Sane Relics, the gem collecting mechanic has been reworked. Rather than a single gem or two for each level, there are six gems that need to be collected per level. Three gems are earned for collecting different amounts of wumpa fruit from broken boxes, one is for breaking all the boxes in a level, one for not dying more than three times, and one for finding a secret gem hidden somewhere in the level.

Again, the challenge is appreciated, but with the life-limit and box collecting gems, players might as well try and earn the N.Sane Relic while working on these gems.

Gems also serve a new purpose of unlocking skins to equip for Crash and Coco, along with unlocking the
“True Ending” as they did in the original trilogy.

Additionally, there are another six gems per level to be found in the N. Verted versions of stages. The gem requirements are the same but the N. Verted stages take place in a mirrored version or the level, with some sort of visual filter applied.

Some of these visual filters are kind of interesting, such as the comic book filter to add “Boom” and “Pow” sound effects to every broken box or attacked enemy.

However, other filters are an eyesore that do nothing more than to hinder the player experience and make beating a level more irritating.

Yet another unnecessarily collectible that is added are the “Flashback Tapes,” granting access to bonus levels once collected. But the only way to collect these tapes in a level is to reach the tape’s location in a level without dying.

Thankfully, while the extra collectibles are sometimes frustrating to collect and unnecessary, they are not required to complete the game, and will only be a nuisance for completionists.

“Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time” is a true return to form for the franchise. It makes improvements on the original formula while keeping things similar enough to keep it familiar for fans.

Perhaps, now that both Crash and Spyro belong to Activision and Toys for Bob have proved themselves capable with both series, we can see a true “Spyro 4” or proper crossover games between the two franchises as well.