Reviewed: October 13, 2008
Released: October 7, 2008
Crash Bandicoot is one of Sony’s longest enduring characters, at one time even becoming the unofficial PlayStation mascot. We’ve enjoyed all sorts of platforming adventures with our furry hero, his wacky friends and an interesting assortment of evildoers, and there was even a racing game inspired by the franchise. Crash has transcended system boundaries, genres, and even survived two new generations of consoles to end up where we are today.
Crash: Mind Over Mutant is the latest 360 installment and a direct follow-up to last year’s Crash of the Titans. For those who played the Titans, the gameplay is remarkably similar as are the characters and situations. Radical did manage to throw in a few new features to jazz up the presentation and gameplay, and Mind Over Mutant is easily the superior game of the two, but chances are, for a lot of you, this may be just too much of the same old thing.
The latest Crash title kicks off with just one of numerous cutscenes that are so original and funny they almost make owning the game a must. These movies reminded me a lot of the eclectic cutscenes found in Amped 3 back in 2005, each being shot in its own style and full of twisted humor. The opening movie is done entirely as an animated silhouette against a curtain. The next movie is a puppet show and later we get into some awesome conventional animation shot in the same visual style as Ren & Stimpy. These movies are a huge driving force for playing the actual game.
The story is simple. Neo Cortex is once again trying to take over the world and he’s starting with Wumpa Island. He’s invented (or rather stolen) and mass-produced these goggles that allow you instant and global access to text messaging, Internet, and a wide variety of entertainment options. Not only is he giving these amazing devices away for free, they are already in the mail to all of the island inhabitants. What nobody realizes is that once you put on these goggles Cortex can take control of the wear and turn them into horrible mutants. Even Crunch and Coco are not immune to their effects, but Crash seems unable to touch the glasses let alone put them on. With most of the island turned into savage mutants, it’s up to Crash to once again save the day.
This new Crash doesn’t stray from his console platforming roots. You will run and jump and climb and fight with a unique set of attacks that can be strung together as combos and combined with new evasive moves, dodges, and counters. There are thousands upon thousands of pick-ups and almost everything in the environment can be smashed or broken to reveal more.
Mind Over Mutant brings back the ability for Crash to fight, stun, and ultimately “jack” many of the larger enemies and even the bosses. Not only can you control these beasties and make clever use of their unique special abilities, you can now level up those abilities and even stash two types of mutants away for future use at your discretion. Naturally, this means the designers have come up with all sorts of clever environmental puzzles that require you to smash, roll, and float your way through the levels.
Unlike most platform games that are designed around linear levels, Wumpa Island is a massive free roaming experience, divided into sections with various levels and challenges scattered about the map. While this allows for some free-roaming exploration it can also make it a bit challenging to figure out where to go and what to do next, even with the star on the map showing approximately where you should be going. Even more aggravating and likely to test the patience of many gamers, once you travel to the outskirts of the map to play a mission level, you are often tasked with having to go back to your house (located in the center of the map) or another section of the island. This means a lengthy trek back through the level you just played in reverse.
I don’t mind a bit of backtracking but Mind Over Mutant takes it too far. You will literally have to backtrack on almost every mission, and while the designers do refill the levels with monsters for the return trip and even manage to create unique paths and puzzles for the trip home, it just seems like a bit of a time waster to have to play both directions, and it really slows the story progression down to a crawl. To make matters worse, there are certain sections of certain levels you can only access while controlling a certain mutant, which means you will often have to backtrack a third or fourth time if you want to find all the little secrets stashed about the island.
Despite the abusive backtracking, Crash is seriously fun to play with intuitive controls and fluid action. You can now corkscrew your way underground and travel below the surface using a top-down x-ray camera view, and you won’t believe all the treasure and shortcuts waiting underground. Crash can also climb on textured surfaces like rock and ice for some slick vertical puzzles and ride moving ledges and icebergs for some on-rail shooting action.
New for this sequel is the ability to play cooperatively with a second player who can take control of Crash’s sister, Coco. Despite her unique ability to seek out and find treasure the co-op gameplay isn’t much fun or even required for that matter. There are some balancing puzzles that make you think you need two people but with dexterous movement and timed jumps you can win these puzzles alone, even earning the co-op achievements without a second player. If your second player doesn’t want to play a “girl” they can always take control of Aku Aku (that talking voodoo mask) and float around collecting items and throwing chickens at the enemy. You don’t really get to move Aku Aku but rather point at stuff you want to collect or attack. The combo stuff just seems a bit last minute and tacked on.
Crash has come along way since his PlayStation days. Platform titles are usually not that graphically demanding yet Radical has put some serious design effort into creating massive, unique and complex colorful levels that come alive in the details. The character models are excellent, especially for the visually stimulating mutants that you can jack and use to play the game. Their animations are as unique as the character design.
At first I found it a bit awkward playing a 3D platform game, especially a free-roaming platform game and not have the ability to rotate the camera. You are at the mercy of the game when it comes to camera angles, and while single player works most of the time, the game is practically impossible to play in co-op unless you make a very conscious effort to play almost side-by-side. Another camera issue also relates to all that backtracking I mentioned previously. While the camera works on the front side of your journey, the return trip has that same camera angle so you are often walking toward or out of the screen and into the unknown.
I love the sound, music and voice work for Mind Over Mutant. The music is charming and perfect for this type of adventure game with all sorts of unique themes worked into the specific areas of the island, and there are cues for specific cinematic events and boss fights. All of the characters have excellent voices full of emotion and comedy. Great stuff!
The sound effects are mostly either combat or Crash (or one of his mutants) crashing and smashing into everything from a cactus to a crate. The game is presented in Dolby Digital and offers a fantastic sound mix that is as 3D as the world design.
Crash can get pretty challenging in places, especially with the various boss fights that kick in around the 30% completion mark. I’m guessing there are about 8-10 hours of original gameplay lurking beneath a title that will take you 12-15 hours to win with all the backtracking involved.
Mind Over Mutant offers 48 Achievements that range in difficulty from completing the various missions to finding all the secret items hiding in each section. There are also performance awards and achievements for upgrading the various combat abilities of your mutants to full strength. While none of these are terribly difficult to earn, it will take some dedicated gameplay to knock them back.
Crash: Mind Over Mutant is a charming game that will certainly delight fans of the franchise, but it can also wear thin on the more discriminating game player who doesn’t like a lot of repetition. The third time you have to wander across that frozen ice path or cross the desert you might wonder why you are still playing this game. Radical is obviously trying to milk a lot of gameplay from minimal source material.
My single favorite element of this game would have to be the cutscenes, but it’s hard to justify purchasing a game just for the movies, and it’s even harder to tell you to play a game like this just to watch those movies. I like to think of myself as a fairly patient gamer, but after about 8 hours of trekking across Wumpa Island I just felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere. I’m sure the younger crowd will get countless hours of enjoyment, and parents can relax and enjoy the fact that somebody is still making kid-friendly games. Teens and adults should probably avoid.