Reviewed: July 7, 2002
Released: April 16, 2002
Every system eventually adopts a mascot. Nintendo has Mario, SEGA has Sonic, Turbo Grafx-16 had Bonk (for those of you old enough to remember console gaming in 1990), and the PlayStation had Crash Bandicoot. While Crash was just one of many memorable mascot-worthy characters to appear on the PSX, he did have the honor of being the first big star to appear in a plethora of related print and TV advertisements.
The Xbox has yet to find their signature character. Munch was loveable but just a little too weird, so until somebody comes up with that huge mega-star Xbox owners will have to settle for a PlayStation port of an existing mascot. Crash is back, making his debut appearance on a non-Sony system in The Wrath of Cortex.
This new game is part of the ongoing series of Crash Bandicoot games that started many years ago, and even though it draws on previous events and characters from the original games, it doesn’t rely on any previous knowledge, so anyone can start playing this game right out of the box.
Bandicoot veterans will immediately recognize the arch-villain, Dr. Neo-Cortex. After being defeated by Crash in the previous games he has developed a Super Secret plan to get rid of Crash once and for all. His plan to construct a genetically engineered Crash destroyer requires him to steal some ancient Crystals thus awakening the Elemental Powers. These elemental gods then unleash their own brand of destructive forces upon the Earth leaving it up to Crash and his sister Coco to save the planet.
The Wrath of Cortex first appeared on the PS2 earlier this year and now, six months later and with more power “in the box” we get an excellent port of an average platform game. While the gameplay basics are just the same as they were in the very first Crash game, there are a few next-gen enhancements that do manage to make this version stand out above the rest. Here are some features and improvements you can find in this new version:
Crash follows the hub-philosophy of gaming architecture. You start in a central area with limited access to portals (or levels). Once you have completed all these levels you then unlock a boss level and when the boss is defeated a new area with all new portals opens up. Gauntlet fans will know exactly what I’m talking about.
The levels are massive in size and complex in design despite the linear nature of the gameplay. Even though you are restricted to move where the game wants you to go, it gives the illusion of greater freedom. As always, you are in search of as many of those elusive peaches that you can collect along with crystals, masks, and other assorted items. Thorough exploration of all the main levels will reveal up to 15 additional hidden levels for you to explore.
When you are tired of running and jumping and spinning you can take control of eight different vehicles including a crop duster, a jeep, a hang glider, and even a giant robot. If you have ever played Crash Team Racing you have an idea of how these vehicle challenges play out. Some of these levels are frustrating while others can be almost too easy and are over just when you are starting to have fun.
Coco, the feisty sister of our Bandicoot hero, makes her first appearance as a playable character. She only appears in a few levels for a short amount of time and with specific objectives. The designers were apparently trying to mix-up the gameplay, but Coco just wasn’t that much fun to play and her onscreen presence was so limited that it was more of a distraction than an enhancement.
Crash controls like a dream but this smooth control is severely hampered by some bad camera implementation. You are often forced to make awkward jumps into the Z-axis or to unknown and unseen areas off-camera. The perspective is often too low to accurately judge distances when making the frequent and fatal-when-missed platform jumps. Another minor issue in the controls is the severe vibration effects within this game that will send you running for the options menu. With no intensity settings, your only option is to turn the vibration off if you find some areas of the game unplayable, as I did.
There are plenty of checkpoints to keep you from replaying too much of any one area when you die - and die you will, many, many times. Frequent death is just something that goes along with platform games, but when these deaths result from cheap shots or poor camera angles it does get frustrating.
While gameplay is almost always fun and challenging you will probably experience some sections that are insanely difficult. These generally coincide with the boss battles, which you would expect to be tougher than normal gameplay, but not on this scale of imbalance. Again, there are plenty of checkpoints, so as long as you have the patience and the time you can bulldoze your way through this game.
I played this game on the PS2 for about an hour and wasn’t impressed. The new Xbox version has received a major facelift and engine overhaul to bring us the best looking Crash in the franchise’s history. The powerful nVidia chip is used to render some incredible fur shading on our hero, giving him a surreal lifelike appearance comparable to characters in feature animations like Ice Age or Monsters Inc.
The levels are massive with a lot of graphical detail and excellent texture work. The colors are rich and vibrant giving this “unique perspective” of Earth a very distinct look. There are plenty of special effects, colored lighting, reflections, and volumetric effects that put this game in a league of its own. Unlike its PS2 predecessor, the Xbox graphics zip by at a consistently smooth framerate with nary a stutter.
The music in Crash is as enchanting as ever with a great theme track and plenty of cheerful and fun tunes for the various levels. You will probably want to turn down the volume just a bit if you want to enjoy the equally excellent sound effects and speech.
The voices are classic, with over-the-top villains and comical voices for all the main characters; at least the ones who speak. Sound effects are all of excellent quality with “boings” and crashes and splintering wood as you smash your 2,317th crate.
I was mildly disappointed that there was no Dolby mix for this game. Apparently the audio was lifted directly from the PS2 version, and it seems to just bleed all over itself in a rather poor mix of effects and music. The 4-channel surround concentrates on the front speakers with music and sound overlapping in the front while minimal effects can barely be heard in the rear speakers.
There are 25 regular levels, 5 boss levels, 15 bonus levels, 5 Death Routes, 4 Gem Paths, and 5 Secret Levels at the end of the game. Collecting the 25 purple crystals (one from each of the levels) and defeating the 5 Bosses are all that's required to finish the basic game.
If you want to see the Special Ending you also need to collect all the clear gems by destroying every box in each of the 25 levels plus finding 3 hidden clear gems in special areas of the game. You can also access 5 Gem Paths by finding the 5 colored gems hidden in the 5 Death Routes.
To play the secret levels you need to collect 5 Relics for each secret level you want to unlock and play. In each of the 25 main levels there is a Time Trial where you must beat the specified time to obtain one relic.
With so much to do this game is surprisingly short when compared to other recent platform titles like Jak and Daxter and Maximo. If you don’t care about finding all the hidden levels or getting every last pick-up you can rip through the main game in 5-8 hours. If you want to go back and get a perfect score and play all those bonus levels you can probably double this time.
The additions of mini-games or multiplayer challenges would have added considerable replay value to this title, but as it stands you can easily finish this game within a standard rental period.
Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex is a polished platform game that outshines its predecessors despite the all-to-familiar gameplay. What it lacks in innovation is quickly compensated for with addictive, and non-stop fun and challenging gameplay.
My only complaint is that the fun is over all-to-quickly, but considering the lack of quality platform titles on the Xbox you can’t go wrong with Crash even if it’s just for a weekend rental.