A day with the Bandicoot Union Local 510
Being a system mascot ain't easy. You spend every waking hour collecting rings, coins, and even Wumpa fruit on your way to thwart some dastardly plan concocted by your arch-nemesis. Every once in a while, you're fried, splattered, or squashed by the various legions of evil weirdos out to stop you. Even your "days off" are spent at the local toy store waving to kids, avoiding ruthless parents, and passing out small bouncy balls with your name on it. Talk about a rough gig.
This month, Sony's "unofficial" mascot, Crash Bandicoot, has been working especially hard. Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex has hit the Playstation 2 with more marsupial mayhem than ever before. Dr. Cortex and a certain evil tiki mask named Uka Uka are back to their evil ways, so it looks like our hero will be working some overtime.
Even though the development of Crash has changed hands from Naughty Dog to Traveller's Tales, the latest installment of the series isn't a whole lot different from past games. You still travel though various lands collecting fruit and performing platformer elements with various vehicle bits thrown in between. Just collect crystals, defeat bosses, and you'll stop Dr. Cortex and save the day yet again.
Getting through the game's thirty levels is pretty easy, but if you really want to pass it 100%, you'll need to accomplish a few secondary objectives, such as collecting gems and relics. Gems are found by breaking all the boxes in a level and relics are gained by passing a level within a certain amount of time. These extra goals certainly add to the replay value and are necessary if you want to experience the "real" ending.
New for Wrath of Cortex are a few levels featuring Crash's sister, Coco. It's really not a big deal, since she plays exactly like Crash, but it's a nice little addition for hardcore fans.
Also added are a bunch of vehicle levels to keep things interesting. You've got a jeep, space fighter, copter pak, and even a mech suit straight out of Aliens. Sometimes it's nice to get out of the basic platform jumping mode and these levels do it well.
With a new system comes new power, and the Traveller's Tales team has put it to good use. Crash looks fit for the next-generation with cleaner graphics and solid animations. It's amazing what a little system upgrade will do for a familiar face.
And speaking of power, Wrath of Cortex has got some serious voice-acting might. R. Lee Ermy, who played the drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket, joins the cast alongside the Jedi Master himself, Mark Hamill.
But even with all of this newfound power, someone still managed to drop the Wumpa fruit. Wrath of Cortex features some of the worst loading times yet seen on a next-gen system. Loading screens will provide you with plenty of time to do all of those important pre-game errands, like answering the phone, making a bathroom run, and even picking up some Rocky Mountain refreshment…from the source.
To make matters worse, these loading screens pop up far too often. Load your saved game, load your level, load to get back to the warp room, load cut scene. It never seems to end! I swear half my time spent with this game was staring at a load screen. Make sure you've got a little extra entertainment standing by while you wait. Might I suggest the latest editions of the World Book Encyclopedia, volumes A-G?
Wrath of Cortex also suffers from a little depth perception problem. When jumping from platform to platform, it is of the utmost importance that a gamer is able to tell where he is going to land. Since the camera in Crash sometimes falls directly in front or behind the character, it can get pretty difficult to judge exactly how far to jump. Fortunately, it doesn't last for the entire game, but there will be a few frustrating occasions where you'll swear you jumped far enough and still didn't quite make it. Rats.
With the exception of the severe load times and minor depth problem, Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex is still pretty much like any other Crash game. The bandicoot may have a few wrinkles under his snout, but he can still get the job done.