Stevivor was recently provided the opportunity to go hands-on with Crash Bandicoot 4 It’s About Time with thanks to Activision Blizzard and developer Toys for Bob. All up, we were able to play through two full levels as Crash Bandicoot himself alongside a Timeline diversion playing as the nefarious Neo Cortex.
Pitched as a direct sequel to Naughty Dog’s original Crash trilogy, It’s About Time ignores all other games that precede it (sorry, Vicarious Visions), picking up as all of time and space has been shattered. It’s up to Crash and his sister Coco to bounce around the space-time continuum and its dimensional map in an attempt to patch things up, though Neo Cortex is doing his darndest to put an end to our heroes and their plan.
Built using Unreal Engine 4, Toys for Bob asserted that It’s About Time has been built from the ground up, using knowledge gained from the Spyro Reignited Trilogy inside the same engine alongside a design methodology that wants to stay true to — and inspired by — the original three games. The result is a bit of a mixture of old and new; those wanting to play in a Retro mode can do so, limited by a set number of lives and the threat of having to restart a level if they’re all exhausted.
For those opting for Modern mode, lives are a thing of the past and it’s back to a checkpoint you go — for all eternity — if a certain point of a level bests you. No matter what you’ll choose, you’ll see levels shifting from a behind-the-character perspective to a 2D side-scroller and back again, sometimes even mixing in traditional Crash chase sequences of old for fun. In the side-scrolling sections, you’re free to move your right thumbstick from left to right to get a better sense of what’s ahead (or behind, for that matter).
The hands-on demo truly provided access to two levels: a snowy pirate cove (full of zombies?) called Snow Way Out alongside a tropical location titled Dino Dash. Snow Way Out had two ways to play however, comprised of a standard runthrough with Crash and the Neo Cortex Timelines replay, showing what the bad guy was up to before Crash runs into a cutscene orchestrated by the ne’er-do-well.
Snow Way Out focused on one of the four new Quantum Masks found in game; this one, which garbs Crash in a full on Mask Suit, has the ability to slow down time. The skill is useful in a number of ways: first, it was invaluable against a number of enemies who have rapid-fire attacks; a simple press of a button makes those moot as Crash can breeze on by or provide himself a gigantic opening in which to counterattack. Crash can also touch Nitro boxes and treat them like they’re TNT on a countdown rather than an insta-kill. Finally, the ability to slow time is necessary for a number of platforming sequences where you’ll need to isolate falling ice blocks to then be able to use them to continue forward.
I’m not sure if my brain is playing tricks on me, but I found Modern mode to be harder than Retro mode. I started playing on Modern mode, throwing away Crash’s lives like they (literally) meant nothing and found that I died a lot. I mean, a lot. Part of that was because the level was completely new to me, as were the enemies presented and the Mask Suit itself, but I couldn’t help but feel that Crash felt… a bit wrong, somehow. There were times where his jumps felt very floaty — almost LittleBigPlanet-style floaty — and proved to be my downfall when needing to chain jumping and the time slowdown to continue on.
I breezed through the level in Retro mode, hardly falling victim to the same chokepoints found within Modern, but I’d have to assume I could chalk that up to trial and error and simply getting better the more I played. The second proper time through the level proved far more enjoyable than the first, as I found myself getting frustrated to the point of almost wanting to quit as I was learning the ins and outs of what was needed to progress.
I have to admit that I found my third playthrough of Snow Way Out the most enjoyable, this time filling the shoes of Neo Cortex and his unique array of abilities. Rather than the double jump allowed to Crash and Coco, Cortex has a single jump and a dash, a combination that you’ll need to get pixel-perfect in a specific section of the level that’s dotted with Nitro and bouncy boxes. As a means of attack, Cortex carries a blaster that changes baddies first into platforms, and then into trampoline platforms with a second hit. Where Crash’s levels are standard fare, Neo Cortex’s timelines seem to be more puzzle-like in nature, offering a multitude of chances for exploration (and loot).
My excitement was quashed at the mid-point of Neo Cortex’s level when I got to the point in Crash’s cutscene where a large pirate ship explodes. Turns out — and who’d have thunk it — that Cortex was responsible for the explosion, obviously intending to catch Crash in — and not out — by it. Rather than continuing on through the level as Cortex when I regained control of my character, I found I was playing as Crash again. While the second half of Snow Way Out was different as a result of the Cortex Timeline, it wasn’t overly different and I found myself wishing I could have continued on playing as the villain.
Dino Dash introduced us to another Quantum Mask/Suit, this time one that would let Crash phase in-world items in and out. It’s main usage seemed to be part of a rail grinding sequence where Crash would have to phase objects in and out of his way, also swooping under and above the rail to maximise Wumpa collection. The Quantum Masks don’t feel out of place in It’s About Time, adding some variety to the Crash gameplay we know and love. At times, though, there’s a lot of coodination between normal locomotion, combat and suit mechanics and I’m sure I won’t be the only one frustrated when I’m not dexterious enough to get things done.
Heck, that feeling persists without a suit — later on in Dino Dash, you’re required to run away from a hulking T-Rex, sliding under vines, jumping over gaps, trying to avoid Nitro boxes and gas-spewing mushrooms. It’s a lot to have to manage, but that’s nothing compared to a section later that tasks near-perfect timing as you jump from temporary, moving platform to platform, required to hit one at the right time as to then slide across it and under an obstacle. To get past the area, you need to do that flawlessly — or slightly less flawlessly with an Aku Aku mask — three more times. I was ready to throw my DualShock across the room after five minutes of getting past two of the three fairly consistently.
Practice makes perfect though, and I’m sure with Modern mode removing penalty of death, players will have plenty of opportunity to fine tune their skills. All up, It’s About Time is a nice mixture of old and new, of nostalgia and modern day development. I’m excited to see more in a couple months.
Crash Bandicoot 4 It’s About Time heads to Xbox One and PS4 from 2 October.