'Crash Bandicoot' returns to form with 'It's About Time'

“Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time” is how you add modern design to old-school sensibilities.

After what seemed like close to two decades hidden in purgatory, the “Crash Bandicoot” series made a triumphant return in 2017 with the “Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy,” which combined all three games into one extremely quality remake compilation. Developer Vicarious Visions would go on to do the same to the “Tony Hawk Pro Skater” franchise just last month with “Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1+2” — thus proving to be one of the premier remake studios in the business right now.

The “N. Sane Trilogy,” combined with the subsequent release of “Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled” last year, helped reinvigorate the crazed bandicoot for not just older generations who grew up playing the hard-as-nails PlayStation releases, but also new fans who have emerged in the nearly 25 years since the series first debuted in 1996. Now, “Spyro Reignited Trilogy” developer Toys for Bob has developed the first new “Crash Bandicoot” platformer since 2007, and it’s amazing.

“It’s About Time” is still as tough as the original games, if not more so — especially if you want to destroy every box and collect every gem. The basic platforming remains the same, bringing in some of the refinements from “Warped.” Crash can double jump, slide and crouch jump — all of which allow for some clever level design to find boxes that can be somewhat hidden out of sight. Toys for Bob has added a yellow circle that shows where Crash will land when in mid-jump. Some were worried this would make the game too easy, but those concerns are easily assuaged. This is one of the toughest platformers in recent years.

The level design is where this new game shines. Crash controls amazingly well, which is needed for some of the precise and downright cruel jumps and obstacles that will be thrown his way throughout the game. Some of these levels border on pure masochism. To make matters worse, the levels are much longer than anything found in the original trilogy, making lives all that much more valuable. There’s nary a worse feeling than grinding through a level over the course of 30 minutes, before dying too many times and having to completely restart from scratch — at least under the retro mode.

“It’s About Time” is made slightly easier with a modern game mode, in which players have unlimited attempts to complete levels after each checkpoint. Admittedly, it loses some of the fun when you realize you have plenty of attempts, but this mode is useful for memorizing the levels to play under harder modes in order to unlock the remaining gems.

The game requires a lot of memorization of enemy patterns and level design elements in order to master its challenges. This has been a trait of all “Crash Bandicoot” games, but it’s much more important in “It’s About Time” due to the length of its levels. Having the opportunity to grind out an entire level until you’ve completed it can really help with replayability later.

These long levels often work against the game’s enjoyability, however. So many boxes and jumps require such precise timing that botching one challenge can completely throw off the flow of the level. Whereas in previous “Crash Bandicoot” games, a player could push on after an untimely death, or restart for a no-death challenge because of the short levels, it’s much harder to do that in “It’s About Time.” No-death runs are much, much more difficult.

“Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time” represents a true return to form for a franchise that had seen its best days pass it by when Bill Clinton was still president. It’s good to see developer Toys for Bob not only breathe new life into the carcass, but to do so by melding its old-school difficulty and unforgiving design with modern quality-of-life improvements. There’s a little something here for everyone — from old mascot platformer fans to those who want a bit of a challenge with one last grand adventure before the old consoles are put to pasture in favor of new technology — and it’s about time.

“Crash Bandicoot: It’s About Time” is rated E for Everyone, and is available on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Josh Rouse lives in Lawton.

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