Crash: Mind Over Mutant Review
Back in the days of the original PlayStation, few titles were better than the popular and critically acclaimed Crash Bandicoot series, which featured a zany (and impossible to categorize) main character, colorful environments, and stellar platforming experiences. Things took a dive in the PS2 era, though, which is why we were more than a little suspicious of the latest installment, Mind Over Mutant. Sure, we had heard good things, but given the last Crash game I played – Wrath of Cortex – we weren’t expecting anything too spectacular. Well, we didn’t get “spectacular” and we certainly didn’t get anything fresh and new. However, as we continued to play, we realized something other critics are a little too elitist to embrace: despite the almost complete lack of innovation, the game is technically sound and above all else, fun. Lest we forget, we all got into this hobby to have fun, and although this game is clearly geared towards a younger audience, it’s worth mentioning that just about anyone will have a smile on their faces while playing.
The graphics aren’t overly impressive for a late-generation PS2 title, but at least we get some interesting particle effects and a whole lot of appealing color. There’s a good amount of variety in the nicely designed backdrops, the character animations are fluid, and the cut-scenes are both creative and genuinely humorous. Interestingly enough, Radical Entertainment decided to use different artistic ways of approaching the cut-scenes throughout the adventure; it’s difficult to explain, but it’s a definite bonus. Unfortunately, we do have to deal with the now-customary blurriness commonly associated with many of the more recent PS2 titles, but we attribute that to the sharpness found in this new generation. For the most part, if you’re hoping for an entirely revamped graphical presentation for the franchise, you’ll likely be disappointed. But if you’re okay with a solid set of visuals that really don’t suffer from any major technical glitches or glaring errors, you won’t complain in the slightest. Most gamers who would buy this title fall into the latter category.
The sound is a little better thanks to the wonderful comedy offered by the numerous voiceovers. Normally, we can do without the lame and incessantly annoying enemy exclamations during battle, but in this particular case, we welcome them. They’re typically very funny and well worth listening to, and the story voiceovers from the likes of Coco, Crunch, N.Gin, N.Brio, and Neo Cortex are all fantastic (Crash himself, per tradition, doesn’t talk). The soundtrack fits the loopy format but it gets a tad repetitive and even irritating during certain stretches of gameplay, so that’s a negative point. The battle effects are a little generic and slightly forgettable, but they’re mostly well implemented and match the multiple animations spot-on. All in all, Mind Over Mutant shines in the voice department, delivers on a basic level with the gameplay effects, and isn’t overly impressive in regards to the music. Combining all three points of analysis, we’re happy to say the good vastly outweighs the bad; we consistently looked forward to the next hilarious cut-scene.
As one of the original 3D platformers that offered top-notch quality and ceaseless fun, Crash Bandicoot has some former glory to reclaim. Like we said earlier, previous PS2 entries failed to live up to the high expectations generated by the excellent PS1 installments. They typically suffered from crazy slow load times, control and camera issues, and numerous technical glitches that bogged down the overall experience. We really hoped we wouldn’t face the same drawbacks in Mind Over Mutant, and after immersing ourselves in kooky Crash craziness for a while, we come to a pleasant conclusion: Crash Bandicoot: Mind Over Mutant is a fun – albeit relatively mindless – platformer that should be a great option for the young ‘uns. Virtually none of those aforementioned issues rear their ugly heads, and we capered through the colorful and attractive landscapes, bouncing and spinning our way to each mission’s conclusion. We did it happily and contentedly, and frowning in frustration was a rare occurrence. The game’s pacing is one of its highlights, and we simply didn’t grow tired of the gameplay.
But hey, let’s get the bad news out of the way first. Radical uses a fixed camera in Mind Over Mutant, and while it works well most of the time, there are several instances where it really poses a problem. There are many times when all we wanted to do was take a glance to the left or right, just to see if there was something worth exploring in that direction. Sadly, we were never able to do that, but the designers were smart enough to keep most all relevant items and areas in your immediate scope of view. Still, we could’ve at least used a semi-manual camera. Moving on, although the pacing really is great, the difficulty seemed to spike at erratic intervals, which could’ve been caused by the imaginative boss fights we encountered. Some, we just found much easier than others, but a few of the tougher fights actually came earlier in the adventure in our opinion. Lastly, we weren’t the biggest fans of Crash’s basic light attack; it’s plenty fast enough and plenty effective, but one simple swing leaves him lunging and a little off-balance for a split second. Thankfully, you were almost always stringing together attacks, so this wasn’t much of an issue, but we do have to mention it.
Now, to start the good news, the battle in the game is both engaging and tight. You can attack quickly and break off combos to smack away at another enemy when surrounded, there’s a powerful block-breaking attack, and of course, Crash’s trademark spin is back. At first, we didn’t like the idea of executing the latter maneuver by rotating the left analog stick, but we got used to it within the first hour of play. By gathering up as much Mojo as possible – they’re scattered around the environments in the form of shining blue and pink spheres – you can upgrade Crash’s abilities. You’ll get strength and health boosts, along with enhancements to the Spin attack and other skills. Crash can jump, double jump, execute a downward attack smash when in the air, spin-and-jump for extra height, hang onto and clamber along ledges, and even dodge and counter attacks from tough enemies. Only that last skill takes a bit of timing and practice, and for the most part, this is the quintessential pick-up-and-play title. Few will have any difficulty diving right in and accessing all of Crash’s moves.
The biggest addition to this standard gameplay format is the institution of Mutants that Crash can conquer and control. You must defeat these large, intimidating beasts first, but once you do, they become part of your arsenal. You can think of them as Summons if you want to use a Final Fantasy reference; simply by pressing the R2 button, you can select your chosen titan and wreak havoc. Each Mutant has a different special skill – utilized simply by pressing the R1 and Square buttons – and they’re all much stronger than Crash. However, they’re not quite as agile, which means if you run into one of those scalable walls, you’ll want to dismount from your massive creature and clamber around to nab the goodies. Just remember, these creatures have a fixed health bar just as Crash does, and if you continually run around on the back of a Mutant, all that Mojo will go towards your pet…not you. See, there’s some strategy involved to advance through the game. To acquire as many upgrades for Crash as possible, you will want to restrict your Mutant use to particularly tricky situations that require added power or one of their special abilities.
The controls are swift and responsive, as you’ll never feel betrayed by a wonky control scheme. You are appropriately rewarded for quick reflexes but at the same time, you do have to sit back and take stock of your surroundings before dashing headlong into a particular area. This allows for a good gameplay balance that even the most hardened gamer can appreciate, and at no point will you find the adventure tedious or hectic. Nope, befitting the established series style, it just zips along, pausing at all the right points to deliver some more comedic gems in the form of those artistically impressive cut-scenes. There are secondary missions to complete as you lope along, having an array of capable Mutants at your disposal is a blast, and for once, collecting all the pick-ups in a platformer never seems to get boring. The level designers do a good job in keeping us interested in our environment; Crash is always faced with any number of obstacles and he usually has something new and intriguing to try. This keeps the game from feeling repetitive, and again, most gamers will be constantly entertained from one minute to the next.
Crash: Mind Over Mutant doesn’t do anything new. It doesn’t push the franchise into a new realm. It doesn’t innovate. It doesn’t necessarily have the long-lasting appeal or memorable moments of current generation blockbusters. But you know what? Damnit, it’s fun. It is indeed technically solid, it almost never lets us down in terms of control, the pacing is fantastic, the characters and voiceovers are absolutely top-notch, a great deal of effort went into the creatively driven cut-scenes, and maneuvering through this new world is always entertaining. It’s a little more open-ended due to the existence of a central hub where Crash’s home is, but you still follow a linear storyline and fans of the franchise will instantly recognize this format. Sure, the camera can tick you off and there may not be enough here to entice the hardcore, but there’s no reason Crash fans should avoid Mind Over Mutant. In fact, as far as we can tell, it’s designed specifically for you guys. The only real issue is that it goes for the full retail price of $40, which doesn’t make it an immediate must-buy for most.
However, if you know someone who enjoyed the first few games on the PS1, this would make for a great holiday present. There’s no doubt about it- this is the best Crash on the PS2. Fun gets its just due.
10/30/2008 Ben Dutka