Crash Bandicoot, a series that kicked off in the 1990s and cemented itself as one of the best offerings on PlayStation, is back over two decades later with a new, mainline installment. Despite being developed by a completely different studio — Toys for Bob — “Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time” finds a wonderful balance of respecting the spirit of the series Naughty Dog created, while also modernizing it with unique and at times ingenious new touches.

“Crash Bandicoot 4” sends Crash (and his sister Coco, who is also playable) across different dimensions where you fight pirates, jump across snowy chasms, journey through tropical islands and even launch into space. Taking place after the events of 1998′s “Crash Bandicoot: Warped,” it’s up to Crash and his friends to put a stop to evil forces that aim to conquer space and time.

You make your way through a world map with linear levels, each with deviously difficult challenges. For a franchise that’s best known for precision platforming, “Crash Bandicoot 4” delivers excellently on that front. Spinning, jumping and sliding feels smoother than ever, and it’s an absolute blast to jump from one platform to the next in gorgeous environments. One of my favorites involves platforming across urban rooftops during a festival, and carefully avoiding foes like pop-up jack-in-the-boxes or ghosts who spew fire from trumpets. It makes for a really excellent atmosphere and fun level design.

A level can change at a moment’s notice, too: At one point you may be running toward the camera as a gargantuan dinosaur chases you, and the next you could be sliding across rails or vines in a similar fashion to grinding on a skateboard. Variety is one of “Crash Bandicoot 4”'s strengths, and this extends to some new additions as well.

Every level can be played as Crash or Coco — just like you could in 2017′s N. Sane Trilogy remake — but these two characters have identical movesets, meaning switching between the two only provides an aesthetic change. However, you can now play as three additional characters: Dingodile, Doctor Neo Cortex and Tawna, all of whom come with dedicated levels that appear periodically on your world map.

These three characters have their own unique movesets and limitations. Cortex, for example, can’t double jump, but shooting his blaster at enemies transforms them into solid or bouncy platforms for him to climb, and he can speedily dash forward across gaps. I especially enjoyed playing as Tawna, because her moves make traversal a thrill: She has a grappling hook that can quickly pull her to a different area, as well as wall jump to reach higher platforms. These additional playable characters are wonderful and by far the best part of the game, breathing new life into the series.

Another twist is the Quantum Masks, masks that appear at certain intervals and grant you specific powers for a limited time. For example, one can bend gravity and another can slow down time. I especially loved the latter because it requires forethought and precision: During a snowy level, to find my way across a chasm I had to slow down time and climb atop falling ice slabs to get to the other side.

You can enjoy “Crash 4″ in two different ways: Retro mode plays like previous Crash games, where you collect Wumpa fruit for more lives. When you run out of said lives, you have to start the level over. Modern mode, however, allows you to restart from a checkpoint after every death and replaces lives with a death counter. You don’t have to worry too much about the death counter, unless you’re unlocking skins.

Skins are unlocked by collecting gems, and doing so is incredibly difficult, but never unfair. For example, to obtain all of them, you have to meet a challenging criteria every level: collect all Wumpa fruit, smash all crates, complete a level with three deaths or fewer and discover a hidden gem tucked away somewhere. Smashing crates and collecting fruit require careful decision-making; one wrong move can kill you, so you have to weigh your odds of risk and reward.

I appreciated the balanced difficulty; for example, dying over and over spawns more generous checkpoints around the level to help you out, and Crash now has a reticle underneath him, displaying exactly where the ground is. It helps you land more difficult jumps.

With 29 total skins — giving Crash and Coco themed attire based on pirates, painters, ’90s wardrobes and more — it’s entertaining to try to unlock as many as you can, though it’s definitely among one of the toughest feats the game offers since it’s tied to collecting gems.

It may take you less than 10 hours to beat “Crash Bandicoot 4,” but the fun comes in revisiting levels and mastering the different challenges, significantly adding to the game’s replay value. Some of these challenges will be instantly recognizable to Crash fans, including Time Trials (where you speedrun through levels to beat your best time), bonus areas and tons of secrets to find. But there’s also some great new elements, like N. Verted mode that essentially flips your perspective horizontally like a mirror, changes the location of certain items and limits visibility (N. Verted is unlocked after beating a level).

“Crash Bandicoot 4” is a delight for both newcomers and fans of the classic franchise. Reviving an older series after such a long absence is tricky business, but “Crash Bandicoot 4” proves it can be done by carefully balancing quality-of-life improvements without forgetting why we fell in love with this orange marsupial’s charming adventures in the first place.

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