Coming back to crush you.
Eleven years ago, Crash Bandicoot was brought forth to lead the charge as Sony pillaged the empires of Sega and Nintendo. Sony succeeded, but Crash was eventually thrown to the lines of mascot unemployment. Shortly thereafter, he passed from developer to developer like a bed-wetting foster child. Although his days of glory had passed, he refused to give up the spotlight.
[image1]Crash is back again, as expected, but this time he’s fresh out of rehab. While the outdated, fingerless gloves have been replaced by equally outdated tribal tattoos, the obnoxiously extreme attitude is gone. Now he’s a bluthering, googly-eyed idiot. I don’t know when or why the change happened, but it’s better than the popular goatee-of-rage that so many other platform giants are sporting these days.
Crash of the Titans went back to the roots of the series for some classic platforming and paired it with a new hook that flashed me back to the days of Kid Chameleon. With the help of his voodoo mask ally, Aku Aku, Crash can hijack any of the fifteen varieties of mutants terrorizing Wumpa Island. There’s something undeniably cool about riding atop a two-story gorilla armed with a scorpion’s tail, even if it’s all too brief - but more on that later.
While we have a brand new Crash and a unique hook, the conflict is textbook villainy. Coco’s been kidnapped, Crash’s fuzzy friends are turning into mutants, and just in case that’s not enough to thicken the plot, an evil robot is in the works. As always, Dr. Neo Cortex has his fingers dipped in the pot, but someone far more sinister is lurking behind the scenes. It’s not award-winning material, but this might be the first script since Ratchet & Clank that made me laugh out loud.
Crash of the Titans is obviously not part of the next-gen crop of games. Even so, Wumpa Island is a beautiful place. What it lacks in high-definition gloss, it compensates with vibrant colors, lively environments, and sweeping levels that plunge Crash through lush jungles, fiery canyons, and into the steel bowels of Cortex’s base. Too bad the island is as claustrophobic and linear as ever. Crash always talked a bigger game than he delivered. Even now, when his old nemesis is soaring through the stars, he’s still treading the same, skinny pathways.
With expansive levels out of the picture, I held out for some challenging platforming, only to get stood up. Crash has a helicopter spin for big drops, a ledge-hanging maneuver, and a wall-jump for vertically tight spots. Gaudy neon signs couldn’t have made it more blatantly obvious where to use each one. With a handful of exceptions, crossing landscapes of precarious platforms felt like a rousing game of hopscotch into oblivion. I wasn’t looking for ego-busting levels of insanity, but more perilous leaps were definitely in order.
[image2]If there is one platforming feature that feels nearly perfect, it’s grinding. By the fourth level, Crash can slap Aku Aku’s face into the ground and ride it like a surfboard. It seemed harshly inconsiderate, but I considered it payback for his gratingly poor impersonations of that other floating head of wisdom – Frylock.
Let’s get back to the mutants. They’re sort of the stars of this show after all. Every mutant can be categorized as a brawler, marksman, or plain old behemoth, but each of the fifteen varieties has distinct powers for the battlefield. While the Rhinoroller careens through enemies like a manic pinball, the Ratcicle fights with sharp claws and freezing ice-blasts. But my favorite by far was the Yuktopus. Like something out of SCUD: The Disposable Assassin, the Yuktopus is a mammoth hodgepodge of an octopus, bagpipes, and whatever was lying around. Hijacking the smaller mutants is fun, but demolishing everything in your path to a Scottish tune is pure joy.
Those moments of mass destruction while riding the largest of mutants were some of the best moments Crash of the Titans had to offer, but these were also rare. Instead of giving players the pick of the litter, every section requires one tool for the job and one conveniently placed type of mutant to get it done. When you see a Snipe, you can bet that door-activating bullseyes are ahead. If it’s a Rhinoroller, get ready to barrel through some canyons. Once the section is done, you are forced to give up your ride and get back on your own two feet.
Hijacking the mutants is easy, but initially knocking them unconscious through the unevenly dysfunctional combat can be like trying to crack a piñata with a wiffle bat. Both Crash and the mutants have multiple attacks and a block, but it’s far too easy to get nailed when winding up the crucial, guard-breaking blows. Toss three or four more mutants into the fray, and the odds of winning can feel downright astronomical. If you fail to hijack a mutant in the first few seconds of the numerous final battles, or get knocked off, you’re probably screwed. I wanted a challenge, but I also wanted a fighting chance.
A second player can pop in and out of the party at any time, and the backup is helpful for some of the tougher battles. You should keep your friend stowed away in Crash’s backpack for everything else though, thanks to an immovable camera that refuses to accommodate the second player. Then there is the wholly disorienting Leapfrog Mode in which two players swap control of Crash every time he jumps. First of all, I would like to play more than half of my own game, and second, I hate losing because of my friend’s incompetence.
[image3]Even with the inconsistencies, I had some fun times on Wumpa Island. I defeated every enemy, hunted for Cortex’s spy-toilets, and snatched all the Mojo orbs for top scores. I even collected the hidden voodoo dolls to unlock the concept art. It was a good four hours. After that first half, everything slipped into a button-mashing daze as the game lead me by the hand to its conclusion. I blacked out an entire level because a friend caught up with me on Live’s voice-chat. It’s bad when you can beat a stage on auto-pilot, but even worse when you simply don’t care.
As much as I pick on Crash, I was secretly hoping that Crash of the Titans would put him back in the spotlight. It had an excitingly original concept but failed to take full advantage of its possibilities. I suppose time will tell if Crash of the Titans is the stepping stone for a proper comeback, or if it’s just another cut in the bandicoot’s constant bloodletting.