There might have been 23 years between the release of Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped and Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, but there has only been five months between that previous launch and the Xbox Series X|S release. Is there enough in this enhanced version to jump back into this legendary platforming series?
The action unfolds almost directly after the events of Crash 3 with Dr. Neo Cortex still rubbing his wounds after losing to Crash for the third time, and so he calls upon help of one N. Tropy to help him bust out of prison. In doing so, they rip a hole in the fabric of space and time, and inadvertently discover the multiverse within. Rather than simply finding their own little corner to lay low, the duo decide to try and conquer the entire multiverse.
With a rip as loud as that, you would expect someone to take notice. Unfortunately for Cortex and Tropy, the one entity that does notice is Aku Aku, a mask that has aided Crash and his sister Coco since the very beginning. Aku Aku suggests they visit another mask called Lami-Loli for some advice on how to stop them. Being one of the four Quantum Masks, Lami-Loli suggests uniting these fabled facial coverings and then harnessing the power they hold; the ability to control space and time itself.
What then follows is a trip across thousands of years to areas set years in the past, to plenty set in the distant future. It’s About Time then features different timelines in amongst those as well, with several playable characters all getting their moments in the spotlight.
Crash’s girlfriend Tawna pops up from time to time, but this is a Tawna from a different timeline. One-time enemy Dingodile is also playable, as is Cortex himself. Each one brings a unique moveset and challenges to overcome, but the levels involving Tawna and Dingodile are far more entertaining than playing as Cortex.
Use of the Quantum Masks can also completely transform the way you play Crash 4; one mask will phase in and out platforms when activated, while another slows down time. At times, playing Crash 4 feels less like a platformer and more like a rhythm action game, such is the mental fortitude to remember button input sequences. And when mask abilities are combined in the latter levels, I only have two words for you: good luck.
After the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy remake, old and new gamers alike came to terms with how tricky Crash Bandicoot can be at times. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to mention The High Road and players will start violently shaking and having cold sweats. But all that was merely preparing you for It’s About Time; a Crash game on a whole new plane of difficulty.
Developers Toys for Bob have put in a new mode of playing though so that players can still at least enjoy the game. Retro mode keeps the traditional lives system where if you run out you must start the level from scratch, but it is recommended to be avoided should you value your sanity. Instead, Modern mode removes lives but instead keeps a death counter on the number of times you die in a level. My personal ‘best’ is 231 deaths on the very last level.
Many older features do return in slightly revamped ways. As always, complete a level and you unlock the Time Trial for it, but like everything in Crash 4, these are hard. Gone are the Time Crystals from earlier games, but the Clear Gems have multiplied several times over. There are now 456 in total if you count those in the N. Verted stages as well.
A new type of collectible has been created though in the form of flashback tapes. These tapes are hard enough to find, as they require deathless runs to specific points in the levels to unlock them. But the challenges within are perhaps the pinnacle of Crash Bandicoot difficulty. These tapes are from 1996 where Cortex was creating Crash Bandicoot, and act like extreme versions of the classic bonus levels; hundreds of boxes to bash across giant chasms of instant death. Thankfully there is no death counter on these.
Another big new feature is the N. Verted stages: the standard levels are remixed in a variety of ways to create fresh takes. They could be mirrored or have some sort of Instagram-esque filter on them that changes the gameplay up. Only ever so slightly though; not a complete gamechanger.
But, in the N. Verted levels they’re not called Wumpa fruit; it’s Bumpa berries.
However, playing on the Xbox Series X|S is – dare I say it – ever so slightly easier thanks to the improvements. Loading times are massively improved, saving you time and patience, and the 4K and 60fps can help those much-needed twitch reflexes. Those on Xbox Series S don’t get the 4K upgrade but do still get 60fps and improved loading times.
Unfortunately though, these are the only improvements between the two generations. This does mean that all the issues present in the Xbox One version are still here: cheap deaths, Cortex levels, identical-to-previous-games boss fights, awkward world map, unnecessary swearing and a lack of learning curve to ease newcomers in.
The next-gen enhancements are nice for Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time on Xbox Series X|S, but they don’t change any of the larger issues to make this any better than the Xbox One version. 4K and 60fps are pleasant enough and it is a good thing this is a free upgrade for existing owners. Yet while many of the modern improvements make a much smoother game, it can’t quite reach the heights of Cortex Strikes Back or Warped available in the N. Sane Trilogy.