When it comes to video game mascots, Mario will always be king while Sonic runs a close second. Master Chief is part of that constellation and, somewhere down the line, fans end up with Crash Bandicoot.
The onetime face of PlayStation has never reached that rarified mascot strata, but his resume is surprisingly expansive. He's appeared on kart racers, party games and spin-offs. No longer a console-exclusive mascot, he has a following loyal enough that when Vicarious Visions remastered his first three titles as the "Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy," it was a hit. Name recognition and nostalgia are powerful things.
It was successful enough that Activision published the first new "Crash Bandicoot" platformer in more than a decade. "Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time" follows the events of the original trilogy, where major villains Uka Uka, Doctor Neo Cortex and N. Tropy are all imprisoned. The most powerful of them Uka Uka tries to break free and in the process cracks the dimensional barrier.
It creates a rift in space-time that allows Cortex and N. Trophy to escape. They discover the multiverse and set out to conquer it. Aku Aku, Crash's mentor, senses the disruption and that brings Crash; his sister, Coco; and others on a romp through alternate timelines. They'll discover familiar faces from other worlds and come across locales new and old.
The premise allows the developer, Toys for Bob, to play around with the lore. Tawna, Crash's girlfriend, gets a better backstory and more prominent role as the hero in an alternate universe where the bandicoots are dead. Elsewhere, Cortex temporarily teams up with Crash and Dingodile, a foe-turned-friend, joins the fray as he's caught up in the transdimensional fighting.
Most of the time, players will control Crash or Coco through 43 main levels. The platforming has the strengths and the drawbacks of its predecessors. It's not exactly free-form exploration like "Super Mario 64," but instead, it's more linear as players traverse levels through 10 worlds. Players have wiggle room to move around but the game's design can be frustrating as they learn the quirk of the jump mechanics.
Players will be jumping into the foreground or background and those leaps are difficult to judge. "Crash Bandicoot" ups the ante in later stages layering in new obstacles such as a rail or new types of boxes. The biggest changes come from the Quantum Masks, the defenders of time and space. These are relatives of the witch doctor mask Aku Aku and they bestow powers that fundamentally change how the bandicoots levels work.
Lani-Loli phases in objects such as crates and platforms. Players will have to cleverly jump and tap a button to use his powers and make a landing spot appear. 'Akana modifies how the bandicoots move during a spin attack. It lets them leap long distances and break reinforced crates. Kupuna-Wa slows down time and lets Crash jump atop of falling icebergs or Nitro crates that normally explode on contact. Lastly, Ika-Ika controls gravity and it lets Coco walk on the ceiling or fall upward to reach new heights.
"Crash Bandicoot 4" progresses in a way that lets players learn each power, but that mastery is tested further in the campaign as they must use each Quantum Mask consecutively. The difficulty, especially in Cortex Castle, is ridiculous at times. It feels impossible but this sequel is built in such a way that players learn from their failures and allows them to succeed as long as they can execute.
Playing "Crash Bandicoot" on the Modern setting, in which players have infinite lives and generous checkpoints, is a must. For veterans and those who want a challenge, Retro brings back the old brutal rules, in which players have limited lives and must restart from the beginning.