Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex Review
You tell me, how many videogame franchises have tallied sales of over 20 million with only four titles (Crash Bash excluded)? Few come to mind, but Crash Bandicoot stands out among the crowd. The first Crash was an instant success with both the media and the public. Backed by a financial campaign that literally read, "hey plumber boy!", Universal's Crash Bandicoot came out of nowhere to become one of the most recognizable game characters ever. In addition to Crash Bandicoot's incredible rise, a little company called Naughty Dog was responsible for giving life to Crash and his surroundings, as they harnessed the PSX's capabilities to show Nintendo that their so called "revolutionary fun machine" wasn't the only one capable of creating rich and surreal worlds. Visuals aside, Crash had featured one thing that a certain 'other' adventure game at the time didn't; a challenge. While Mario 64's worlds were expansive and unbelievably vast for its time, the freedom sort of drowned the challenge to a certain limit. On the other hand, Crash Bandicoot's linear based stages brought back memories of classic platform titles, except this time the camera is positioned behind the character, not to the side. Despite not taking down Super Mario 64 as the best platform/adventure title, Sony, Naughty Dog and Universal made one thing clear to Nintendo; there's a new character in town, and he's got potential to give Nintendo the "1-2."
Crash's second outing was incredibly well received too, while it featured more of the same gameplay, it built a fine emphasis on what the first game set, and with replay value that was through the roof. Crash Bandicoot: Warped had to have been one of the best, if not the best platform/adventure titles on the PSX. The visuals had received a substantial improvement over its two predecessors, as the game had featured livelier and more vibrant environments and eye-candy. With gameplay that included the use of vehicles and an all new character to play as (Cocoa), Crash: Warped took a huge leap over what the first two did so fine, and kept the substance that made it so. As with any popular game character, our marsupial was eventually treated to a kart racer, Crash Team Racing. Easily surpassing Mario Kart 64, Crash Team Racing set a new standard for kart racers everywhere, as it took down whatever opposition it faced to become the best kart title to date. Shortly after, Naughty Dog would announce its departure from the Crash series, and that they wanted to work on something besides Crash. Despite it all, Universal Interactive Studios (who owns every trademark of Crash Bandicoot) gave Eurocom to develop Crash's last PS game, Crash Bash. The game, while it was not Mario Party, did the job as an amusing title, but its success was minimal. Taking a vacation for a couple of months, the bandicoot was finally put back into the spotlight with an all new PS2 adventure, this time developed by Traveller's Tales, who is no stranger to the adventure and platform genre.
Crash Bandicoot was always a lush and absolutely gorgeous series when it came down to visuals, and the fourth is no exception. Benefiting from the PS2's visual prowess, the detail in Crash Bandicoot's stages is absolutely stunning. The backgrounds are some of the best in an adventure title to date. Everything is so organic, vivid, and overwhelmingly detailed it makes up for a very high-resolution visual presentation. The character detail is as superb as it could get. The team at Traveller's Tales had to design their own character art for Crash Bandicoot and every other character related to him. If I hadn't known any better, I'd say that Naughty Dog was still behind the game. Even though they aren't, it doesn't show the least bit. Every little detail on Crash's body adds up to a perfect replica of what his PSX counterpart looked like, plus the 1600 polygons, for a grand total of 2200 polygons in the Aussie's body. The secondary characters such as Cocoa and Neo Cortex look every bit as good as Crash himself. Running at a silky frame rate of 60, don't expect Crash Bandicoot to slow down even at the most tense of times. My one and only complaint is that the environments still present a feeling of claustrophobia, as exploration and freedom is limited. A word to Universal Interactive: the linear environments are beginning to over stay their welcome. The PS2 is designed to boast immense environments, and while Crash looks fantastic, it fails to create the unbelievably huge atmosphere of Jak and Daxter; something that seriously needs to be taken care of next time around.
Take it for what it's worth, the Crash Bandicoot signature gameplay style has returned, while this means innovation is severely lacking, the game retains something the series had since day one, fun. As you can tell by the subtitle, Crash Bandicoot's fourth adventure deals with the return of Cortex once again. Uka-Uka has assembled his cast of foes, in the midst of a meeting; Cortex reveals a weapon that will summon the Elementals. The Elementals have been summoned to destroy the world, and the only way to trap the Elementals is to acquire five very powerful crystals, each that will imprison their respective Elemental. That's about as far as the story goes. There are 30 -including 5 boss, excluding bonus- stages all with their respective difficulty setting and type of gameplay. Each and every stage has three different jewels to collect, the purple crystal, box crystal and the gem. Some stages require you to roll around in the Atlas Sphere, others will require you to drive a Jeep for a certain amount of time, in addition to flying a glider, snowboarding, using a submarine, spaceship, Cocoa's scooter, Copter-Pak and a Mech. The gameplay as a package is what you've come to expect from the series. Some stages are a breeze, while others can be a pain in the ass. The various vehicles add more to the game, and set it further apart from its 32-bit predecessors. Despite what you've heard, Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex is a great playing game, hampered only by its minimal innovation. But aside from the innovation, this game does suffer from pretty long loading times, something that really becomes bothersome.
This is easily the best aspect of Crash Bandicoot's package; the audio. The signature Crash Bandicoot tunes have made a return, and the voice acting couldn't be better. Each and every voice actor does a great job at filling in his/her role. Uka-Uka and Neo Cortex are as sinister sounding as they've ever been. Even though Crash doesn't speak a word throughout the game, Cocoa's voice sounds great too. Although, at times it seems like Aku-Aku's voice-actor just doesn't sound right. It's rather melodramatic, if you will. The sound effects and the tunes have always been an excellent addition to the series, as is the case with the fourth title. The trademark Crash sound effects have made a return to the fourth title, which makes the experience feel more welcome.
The control can be a pit painful at times, especially during the 'runaway' segments where the camera is facing Crash's front and not pacing behind him. Holes, nitros, and enemies come out of nowhere unexpectedly, so reflexes are a necessity to accomplish these segments. Control as a whole has remained the same for the most part, during the platforming portions of the game as it takes very little to get used to. But when rolling in the Atlas Sphere, you'd better make the most out of your analog stick, because precision is key! There will be various obstacles such as nitro boxes and craters that you have to avoid, in addition rolling out of course also causes you to lose a life or an Aku-Aku. I only see this as great use of the analog sticks, and more challenge to an adventure/platformer that's already got a healthy dose of it. Controlling your crafts and vehicles can seem awkward at first, but give it time and you'll master it eventually.
To say Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex is a bad game because it plays similarly to the previous three is unfair. After all, people found nothing wrong with six different versions of Street Fighter 2 or four Sonic: The Hedgehog games on the Genesis. Why should Crash's case be any different? If anything, the latest Crash is the best of the bunch. It manages to retain the classic gameplay features that made the first three so great, at the same time emphasizing on the formula as well, by featuring nearly a dozen crafts and vehicles to choose from, and two fully playable characters. While the innovation is missing, the fun and the amusement is all there, and that's what matters most.
11/11/2001 Arnold Katayev