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Hands on: Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time review

Crash Bandicoot is back – and as challenging as ever

What is a hands on review?
Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time
(Image: © Toys for Bob/Activision)

Early Verdict

Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time is a worthy sequel to Naughty Dog's beloved trilogy, balancing the classic Crash formula with plenty of new – and welcome – modern features.

For

  • As challenging as ever
  • Timeline levels further story elements
  • New abilities modernize gameplay
  • Keeps classic Crash features

Against

  • Almost too many features at times
WHAT IS A HANDS-ON REVIEW?

Hands-on game reviews are a journalist's first impressions of a game based on spending some time with it ahead of our full review. In this case, we played three levels of Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves, and we can give you some sense of what it's like, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee

There's always a level of concern when a popular game series changes hands, like when Halo was handed from Bungie to 343 Industries or when Tomb Raider's development was taken over by Square Enix. So it's understandable that Crash fans were somewhat apprehensive when Toys for Bob announced it was taking over Crash Bandicoot from Naughty Dog. Sure, Toys for Bob handled the Crash N. Sane Trilogy well, but could the developer make a brand new, fully-fledged Crash Bandicoot game? 

We can to tell you that, from playing three levels of Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time, Toys for Bob seems to have nailed it.

The Crash Bandicoot series may be laced in nostalgia, but more than a decade since the last mainline entry, the platformer needed a serious shake up to bring it into the modern era – and that's what Toys for Bob has done. 

Crash Bandicoot 4 keeps iconic Crash elements such as wumpa collection, zany (often annoying) enemies and secret mini-levels to explore, while presenting a challenge that will either have you giggling in glee or ready to throw your controller through your screen. On top of these classic elements, we also have a host of new features which add a modernity to the gameplay, such as rail-grinding, controlled camera mobility, Quantum masks which grant unique abilities, and the chance to play as other characters. It's a nice change from simply running, jumping and spinning.

Toys for Bob has put its own unique spin on Crash, making for a worthy sequel and a triumphant return for gaming's favorite jort-wearing marsupial. 

Crash Bandicoot 4 price and release date

  • What is it? A sequel to the original Crash Bandicoot trilogy
  • Release date? October 2, 2020
  • What can I play it on? PS4 and Xbox One 
  • Price? $59.99 / £59.99 / AU$99.95

The crate escape

(Image credit: Toys for Bob/Activision)
  • Same classic abilities: belly flop, double-jump and spin
  • Quantum masks grant unique abilities
  • Bonus levels

Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time is a sequel to the original three Crash Bandicoot games, following directly on from Crash Bandicoot: Warped, and sees the series' original villains, Dr. Neo Cortex, Dr. N. Tropy, and Uka-Uka, freeing themselves from their space-time prison. In doing so, they open a rift in the space-time continuum, resulting in sheer chaos. That means it's up to Crash and Coco to clean up the mess by finding and reuniting the four Quantum Masks that held everything together.  

We got to play three levels of Crash Bandicoot 4: Snow Way Out, Dino Dash and Snow Way Out: Cortex Timeline.

Jumping into Snow Way Out immediately felt like returning home, except that everything has a pretty serious makeover. Crash looks better than ever and still has the same classic abilities of jumping, spinning, belly flop and double-jump (which is available from the off). What is a nice addition, though, is that there's now a circle which indicated where Crash will land – so instead of having to estimate if you're going to make a jump, you should have a pretty good idea whether you need to adjust mid-jump to ensure you'll land on your targeted platform.

"What is a nice addition, though, is that there's now a circle which indicated where Crash will land – so instead of having to estimate if you're going to make a jump, you should have a pretty good idea whether you need to adjust mid-jump to ensure you'll land on your targeted platform."

Snow Way out sees Crash working his way through a zombie-like fishing village, populated with aggressive fishermen who have no qualms about throwing a mace or a swordfish or two your direction. This level is a classic Crash platformer level,that sees you slipping and sliding across ice, jumping from platform to platform and trying to manoeuvre the difficult path ahead.

Upon starting the level, we were immediately greeted by one of the new Quantum masks, which grant you special abilities depending which one you run into. This mask granted us a time-slowing ability, which allows Crash to (you guessed it) slow down time for a few seconds. To make use of this ability, the level contained several invisible crates that, when your ability is activated, are only visible for a second. With the time ability, we could activate the crates, slow down time and then smash them up.

This did take a bit of getting used to, as usually we don't have these many elements to concern ourselves with in a Crash game. This ability could also be used to slow down dropping ice platforms so we could make our way across gaping chasms. 

While Snow Way Out was a classic Crash platforming experience, Dino Dash shook things up more. The Quantum mask ability in this level was 'phase world', which allows you to change the world view so that blue-hazed objects appear and then others disappear – and vice versa. 

Set in a prehistoric, lava surrounded world, Dino Dase gave us our first look at Crash Bandicoot 4's rail-grinding – which does what it says on the tin. However, combining the phase world ability with the rail grinding is where things got particularly tricky. 

Dino Dash also confirmed that Crash's infamous chase sequences, such as Boulder Dash in the original Crash Bandicoot, are back. Once again we found ourselves sliding, jumping and spinning our way towards the screen to escape a giant animal that wanted to eat us – in this case, a T.Rex.

A welcome sight in both levels was a platform leading up to a bonus level. These seem to be more puzzle-heavy – and generally more difficult – than previous games so we found on occasion that we had to skip them completely. However, there are other rewards and collectibles to grab in Crash Bandicoot 4, with lots of gems hidden throughout levels to obtain yourself, rather than simply being awarded them for collecting all your wumpas. It's a great reason to replay levels to nab what you missed the first time.

New timelines

(Image credit: Toys For Bob)
  • Timelines let you play as other characters
  • Cortex has blaster and dash ability
  • Adds more story elements

Crash Bandicoot 4 introduces a new type of level called 'Timelines'. These levels let you play a level you've already played as Crash but as another character, so you can see how their actions impacted the timeline. 

We played Snow Way Out: Cortex's Timeline, which was essentially Cortex's take on the level we had just played as Crash. The level is aesthetically the same, but the structure is different, instead making use of Cortex's abilities such as his blaster (which can gelatinize or solidify enemies) and his dash ability. You play the level as Cortex up until the 'Timeline event' which, in Snow Way Out, is Cortex blowing up a fisherman's boat – which you see when Crash first plays the level. Once the event happens, you play the same level as Crash again, this time the crates scattered a bit differently – but it's essentially the same.

We didn't massively enjoy the Timeline level, as it felt a bit repetitive, but perhaps that's because we only had three levels to play. With more spacing in the main game, we could feel differently.

Not as easy as it looks

(Image credit: Toys For Bob)
  • Two modes to choose from: Retro and Modern
  • Seems more challenging than original trilogy
  • Too many new features can sometimes be overwhelming

It's worth noting that, according to Toys for Bob, you can play through Crash Bandicoot 4 as either Coco or Crash. As we weren't given the option in our demo, we played as Crash (except in Cortex's Timeline). In addition, you can also choose between two 'difficulty' modes: Retro and Modern. Modern mode means you'll never see a game-over screen and, when you die, you just pick up from your last checkpoint - you'll also get specific crates which contains lots of wumpas in them. 

"It could be that the other Crash games became muscle-memory to a degree, or that we look back on them with rose-tinted glasses, but Crash Bandicoot 4 feels much harder than the original trilogy."

Retro mode is more like the original trilogy, where you have a set number of lives and, once you run out, it's game over. Instead of the special wumpa crates, you pick up lives but checkpoints are still available. Regardless of which mode you choose, Crash Bandicoot 4 counts your number of deaths and displays them on-screen so you can feel true shame.

It could be that the other Crash games became muscle-memory to a degree, or that we look back on them with rose-tinted glasses, but Crash Bandicoot 4 feels much harder than the original trilogy. The more likely reason is because Crash Bandicoot 4 has so many new features that juggling them all can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming, especially when mask abilities are involved. Our concern here is that this may make the game somewhat inaccessible to more casual gamers and children, because there are times when it's more frustrating than fun.

If you want an idea of how difficult Crash Bandicoot is to adjust to: we died 41 times in Snow Way Out. 41. Having played Crash games since childhood, it's a pretty embarrassing admission.

A fantastic spin on a classic

(Image credit: Toys For Bob)

Yes, we may want things to stay like they were in the '90s, but, with a bunch of new technology to play with, it would have been somewhat ridiculous to expect Toys for Bob to not put their own spin on the Crash series.

While some of the new features may not be welcome for everyone, and at times can be too much of a good thing, Crash Bandicoot 4 feels like a Crash sequel and offers the same zany (and frustrating fun) that its predecessors did.

It's clear that Toys for Bob has taken great care in creating a Crash Bandicoot game that will resonate with fans and we can't wait to see more of what Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time has to offer.

Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time will release on October 2 for PS4 and Xbox One.

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What is a hands on review?

Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.