April 22, 2021

Review: Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time – Better Late Than Never


In one sense, it should come as no surprise that Crash Bandicoot 4 has eventually made its way to the Switch, albeit five months after it came to other consoles. When the N. Sane Trilogy came to the Switch a full year after launching the PS4 and Xbox One, it was hugely successful despite that 12-month gap – both critically and commercially.

With that in mind, when this brand-new Crash adventure was announced for Sony and Microsoft’s consoles, everyone winked at each other because it was surely inevitable that Activision would pull the same trick and announce it for Switch after everyone had bought it on other systems.

On the other hand, though, it could be argued that it was less cut-and-dry than that, because Crash 4 is a far more graphically impressive game than the N. Sane Trilogy. Whereas the N. Sane Trilogy used Vicarious Vision’s ageing Alchemy engine, Crash 4 uses Unreal Engine 4, which allows for more detailed games and, as a result, also means any Switch ports would have to be severely pared back.

Turns out we needn’t have worried, because Crash 4 has indeed made it to the Switch, and while it clearly doesn’t look as slick as it does on other systems, it certainly isn’t a terrible effort… as long as your expectations are realistic, of course.

For those not versed in all things bandicoot, Crash 4 is, according to Activision, the fourth game in the Crash Bandicoot series, even though we all know it’s something like the eighth or ninth by now. It’s set after the events of the third game, Warped, and has the imprisoned evil doctors Neo Cortex and N. Tropy figuring out a way to open rifts in space and time, allowing them to jump around the multiverse and basically conquer everything imaginable.

The friendly guardian mask Aku Aku senses that something isn’t right, so he runs over (well, floats over) to tell Crash to stay on guard. When he gets there, though, he bumps into Lani-Loli, one of four Quantum Masks who only appear when the multiverse has been opened. Realising something fairly hefty is going down Crash, his sister Coco, Aku Aku and Lani-Loli all head out to find the other three Quantum Masks to try and put an end to the impending danger.

There’s been plenty of praise heaped on the game in the five months since it launched on PS4 and Xbox One, and rightly so: this is a brilliant Crash Bandicoot game and feels exactly like the sort of thing the series would have naturally evolved to by now if it had actually been enjoying regular releases over the years. Fans of the older PS1-era games (or indeed the N. Sane Trilogy) will feel right at home controlling Crash and Coco, and the new moves added aren’t so disruptive that they ruin the game’s traditional feel.

There’s also an absolute heap of stuff to play through. There are around 30 main stages, but each of these has a number of gems that can be collected for achieving certain things: smashing every single crate in the stage, collecting a certain percentage of Wumpa fruit, beating the stage without dying a certain number of times, that kind of thing. Get all the gems and you’ll unlock a new skin for either Crash or Coco, and then there’s the small matter of the time trial relics, too.

As if that wasn’t enough to thoroughly rinse each stage, some of them also get ‘timeline’ versions later on, once you’ve unlocked some of the game’s extra playable characters. These are alternate versions of the levels that move the crates around and give you more story details, and are an interesting way of adding more replay value. They aren’t the most interesting way, though.

That accolade goes to the N. Verted Mode, which is unlocked after the fourth world and messes significantly with each stage. As well as mirroring everything, N. Verted Mode also applies some sort of graphical filter that changes depending on which world you’re in. Early stages are played in the dark and turn Crash into some sort of submarine sonar who can flash light, others are completely black-and-white and need you to bring colour back as you play, while others actually affect gameplay, speeding you up (to simulate a silent movie) or slowing you down (to simulate being underwater).

All this, combined with another 20 or so hidden ‘flashback’ levels, means there’s a hell of a lot to get through here before you can consider this one 100% complete. It isn’t easy, either; expect to die plenty of times. There’s an option to play in ‘modern’ mode, which gives you infinite lives (as opposed to just three in each level), but even then there are going to be sections where you find yourself repeating tricky sections numerous times before you get it. Maybe something to bear in mind if you’re planning on buying the game for a young ‘un.

All of the above is already known if you’ve already played Crash 4 on another system, of course, because the Switch version thankfully removes nothing from the experience. This is absolutely the same Crash Bandicoot 4 you’ll find on Sony and Microsoft’s consoles, with no content removed to compensate. That’s not to say it looks identical too, of course: far from it. Understandably, some serious concessions have had to be made to get this graphically detailed game running on Nintendo’s console.

The two biggest casualties are the usual suspects in situations like this: frame rate and resolution. The cut from 60 frames per second down to 30 should come as no real shock, because that’s usually the first thing to happen in ports like this. To be honest, given that Crash runs at a typically casual pace (it’s more of a jog than a run, really), the game’s relatively low speed means controller response time doesn’t suffer too much from a halved frame rate. If you wanted to get really defensive about it, you could argue the PlayStation games ran at 30 too so it’s actually more authentic, though we’re sure that’s not why they did it. It’s a pretty solid 30, at least.

The drop in resolution is also to be expected, though it’s more noticeable in handheld mode than docked. There’s a dynamic resolution in play here, so when you find yourself in more impressive locations with a lot going on you may notice things getting a bit blurrier to compensate. For the most part, it isn’t too distracting when you’re playing in docked mode (which generally hits around 720p according to the pixel-counters at Digital Foundry), but portable mode – which aims for 540p but sometimes drops lower – can be more noticeable.

Of course, as with many ports like this, if the Switch version of Crash Bandicoot 4 is the only one you’ll play then these cutbacks won’t be anywhere near as noticeable. They’re only really jarring if you’re used to playing the game at 60fps and high resolutions on other systems, and while the Switch version also removes a lot of lighting, texture detail and motion blur, the result is still visually impressive considering the capabilities of the system. It’s very much a “what you don’t know won’t hurt you” situation, unlike what we recently encountered with the Switch port of Apex Legends, which features downgrades that severely impact your enjoyment of the game.


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