The last time many of us played Crash Bandicoot was as an easter egg at the beginning of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. Nate and Elena, their ever-competitive selves, boot up an old PlayStation and vie for victory in the original game. “I bet I can beat your high score on your little TV game thing,” Nate goads, but Elena isn’t impressed. “On my TV game thing? You don’t even know what it’s called!” He, of course, has no chance.
Fourth-wall-leaning aside, it’s a slightly ironic twist then that the long-awaited fourth main instalment of the Crash Bandicoot series, It’s About Time, has an element of Uncharted laced within its own gameplay. Crash and Coco (the player is able to switch between the two at will) swashbuckle their way through worlds, swinging on ropes and engaging in far more omni-directional hijinks than we’ve seen before.
A key strength of the game is its carefully constructed level design, engineered around the pursuit of a quartet of talking Quantum Masks which grant the wearer a cluster of special powers: namely to phase certain objects in and out of existence; to perform a vicious ‘death spin’; to slow down time; and to control gravity. Each boss fight utilises the abilities of a specific mask, which gradually build until all four masks are needed to defeat a pair of alternate universe Dr N.Tropys. Even without the masks though, the additions of permanent double jump, rail grinding and wallrunning faculties always manage to keep gameplay stimulating.
Just as this swathe of special abilities allow Crash to be more dynamic, so does the game itself in its availability on the Switch. While it’s clear It’s About Time was made for another console – the cutscenes suffer especially, overlayed with a blurry film of comic-book-esque greyish spots – it runs tightly and smoothly both docked and in handheld mode. The continual deaths (flying shoes and all) provided by the franchise’s famous difficulty somehow seem less of a grind when you have the option to play from anywhere.
Yet in the game’s revamped life system, which allows the player to choose between ‘Modern’ and ‘Retro’ modes respectively, there are no more ‘Game Over’s. Survivors of the previous games will no doubt breathe a sigh of relief at this, considering the often tedious precision needed to progress through earlier titles. The introduction of a jumping shadow to demonstrate where exactly our favourite genetically enhanced bandicoot is whilst bouncing around his environment is another welcome addition in this vein.
But is Crash everyone’s favourite? It’s About Time puts in a strong case for a version of Tawna (Crash’s girlfriend in other games) who swings in from an alternate universe to save Crash and Coco when they’ve been kidnapped by pirates. Complete with a fresh redesign and delightful hook-shot mechanic, she’s unlocked as a playable character after her skyward adventures in “Hook, Line and Sinker”, which contains some of the most insanely fun and satisfying gameplay in the series.
Preferring to work alone, Tawna and past enemies Dingodile and Dr Cortex take separate but intermingling paths, working with, but not directly alongside, Crash and Coco to retrieve the masks and defeat both Dr N.Tropys. These playable side-challenges are just one example in a host of extra tasks offered beyond the main story for the completionists among us: where N. Verted mode totally mirrors previously beaten levels, most worlds also have Flashback Tapes, which are playable ‘recordings’ of Cortex’s original lab experiments. Not to mention the frankly overwhelming array of collectables, which range from the standard crates, bonus mini-levels and time trials to new gems which allow for the purchase of various skins to customise your bandicoot.
So though the Switch port of It’s About Time takes a significant step down graphics-wise, it’s a fair trade-off to ensure the game’s colourful, zany antics aren’t lost in translation. That is to say, it’s the brilliantly rich and responsive platforming that should be focused on here, rather than the dulled-down visuals – it’s certainly not enough to hinder your capacity to bash crates, munch wumpa fruit, and spin attack your way through time and space. Oodibigah!
[A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes]