It’s sad to watch a once proud mascot slide into the depths of gaming obscurity. After strong beginnings, two of the most beloved rodents from our gaming past – Crash and Sonic – have both struggled under the burden of bland game design, genre overexposure, and what has appeared to be general apathy from their respective owners. Sonic recently received a shot in the arm from Bioware, and now the Crash series looks to pull itself up from the depths of mediocrity and capture at least some of the magic of days gone by. After a decent outing with Crash of the Titans, Developer Radical Entertainment again takes the helm for Mind Over Mutant (MOM, as it will be referred to). Let’s see how they fared.
Overall, the graphics in MOM are fairly solid. Crash will maneuver his way through a multitude of environments through his adventure, including tropical islands, barren deserts, dank caves, snowy mountains, and even an evil high school. It’s all what we’ve come to expect from Crash games: bright colors, cartoonish characters, and well-animated models. Problem is, I feel like we’ve seen it all before. There’s nothing that actually stands out in any way, or really makes you sit up and say “wow”. Seems like the developers took a Platformer 101 workshop, plugged in all the right pieces, and MOM was the result. There’s nothing wrong with it, per se, but it all just seems very soulless. You could swap Crash out for any number of platform heroes and not be able to tell the difference.
Radical had hinted at a more open-world for MOM, and in some ways they succeeded. When you first leave Crash’s house at the beginning of the game, you are free to roam around the island as you wish. What becomes immediately apparent, however, is the lack of camera control. Yep, that camera is fixed in place, and there’s not a dang thing you can do about it! Which poses the question: what good is an open world when you can’t look around? While no camera movement is slightly annoying in the early game, it posed serious challenges when you get further in, and made many areas far more difficult than they needed to be. The fixed camera is a somewhat baffling decision, and is a relatively small change that would have gone a long way towards making the game more enjoyable.
MOM does deserve special mention for it’s cutscenes. Each one is done in a certain “theme”, ranging from an infomercial, to an old horror movie, to a puppetshow, to a South Park episode. Each scene was very well written, and most of them were highly amusing. Complete with references ranging from waterboarding to Leroy Jenkins, I eagerly looked forward to the next scene. Frankly, the promise of additional cutscenes were what kept me playing through most of the game. How often do you hear your main villain say, “There’s a piece of lettuce in the urinal. Seriously, who eats a sandwich in the bathroom?” Bathroom humor aside, anyone with a funny bone will truly enjoy the cutscenes in MOM.Most of the voice work in MOM is fantastic, and I was constantly laughing at the lines spouted by Crash’s enemies and friends. Whoever voiced Crunch – Crash’s brawny cousin? – deserves special kudos, as his random one-liners were absolutely hilarious. Outside of the voice work, MOM’s audio falls into the same category as the graphics: solid, but unspectacular. The majority of the music is instantly forgettable, although the Danny Elfman-esque theme for the haunted cave was very good. Each Mutant has their own set of noises, but they mainly just boil down to various grunts, growls, and squeaks.
Pretty basic platforming stuff here. Move Crash with the left stick, attack with the X and Y buttons. Crash also has the ability to dodge attack with well-timed presses of the Y button, and the right stick can be used to activate a spinning action. This spin can be used to get additional elevation on jumps, attack multiple enemies, and burrow underground at certain well-marked locations.
MOM’s major gimmick is the ability to “jack” any of the multitudes of mutants you will be fighting against. Once you have hit them enough, they become stunned and you can hop on their backs and control them. Since each mutant has their own set of unique abilities (more on this in the Gameplay section), it provides an interesting challenge to see how they can be used in different situations. While most of these mutants control very well, there are a few I struggled with. Controlling the speedy rolling mutants, for example, was a constant source of frustration.
The main premise of MOM is this: Dr. Cortex has created a mind-control device (the NV) that causes the creatures of the world to become slavering mutants hell-bent on Crash’s destruction. No one is safe from the power of these units, and you will even fight against some of Crash’s staunchest friends and allies. In actuality, the storyline is really only there to serve one purpose: allow Crash to jack into mutants and use their abilities to navigate through the different levels and environments.
There are a ton of different mutants throughout the game, which provide a wide variety of abilities and challenges. One level will have you stomping through an ice cave on the back of a powerful fire breathing giant. The next level may see you moving platforms and flipping levers with a telekinetic mutant. The sewer sections drop you in the belly of a giant ball of sludge who can sink into the floor to avoid obstacles, as well as using a nausea-inducing vomit attack. Crash will be able to slow time (a la Prince of Persia), freeze water, jump on the back of a rolling ball, shoot long distance projectiles, etc., etc. Chances are, about the time you get bored with one mutant’s powers, you will be introduced to the next one to keep the gameplay fresh. You can also store one mutant in reserve, and switch between the active and stored mutant with the right bumper. This allows you to store heavy hitters or special powers until you need them, which is a nice touch. You collect mojo orbs throughout each level, which serve to level up both Crash and your mutants. Once you collect enough orbs, whichever mutant Crash is currently controlling (or Crash himself, if he is flying solo) will gain strength boosts, speed boosts, or other beneficial abilities. It’s an interesting mechanic that will force you to pay close attention to how many orbs you are collecting on certain mutants. The downside is that you never know which mutants the next area will throw at you, so it’s tough to gauge whether leveling up, say, your Ice mutant is more beneficial than your Sludge mutant.
MOM is typically very good about providing you with the mutant you need to get through a certain section of the game. However, the mutant mechanic can make some sections harder than they need to be. For instance, I ran into an objective that said I needed to get a rolling mutant to a specific area. I spent nearly 20 minutes trying to get the mutant over a narrow moving platform because I thought that was the only way through. Turns out that there was a new one just on the other side, and I could have easily hopped off my existing roller and just jumped on the new one.
While the huge multitude of gameplay options can be fun, it also causes the game to feel a somewhat unfocused. It seems like MOM tries so hard to provide something for everyone, that it never really decides what it wants to be. If it would have stuck with, 5-6 mutant abilities and designed solid levels around them, I think it would have been much more successful. As is, the mish-mash of so many different styles of gameplay gets overwhelming and a feels rather schizophrenic.
Adding to the frustration is the fact that most of the level design in MOM is mediocre at best. Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by the fantastic set pieces in games like God of War, but the levels here seem extremely bland and repetitive. Not only are they repetitive, but then the game also forces you to backtrack multiple times across levels that you have already completed. In one particular instance, I traveled from one side of the map to the other, listened to approximately a 1 minute voice over, then had to travel all the way back – along the exact same route. This is even more annoying when you throw in the fact that the camera cannot be moved. Having to retrace your steps across the level you just finished – but this time in reverse with Crash running directly towards you – is not particularly fun. It smacked very much of laziness on the part of the developers, and these backtracking segments seemed to be thrown in simply to pad the game’s length. I also ran into quite a few “where do I go next” moments which always caused me to wonder if the game really want me to trek back the same way I came, or if there was another route I somehow overlooked. A simple “go this way” directional arrow would have been a huge help in MOM.The main storyline only takes 7-8 hours to finish, and could easily be completed in a weekend. However, there are tons of hidden items to find, secrets to unlock, and orbs to collect. The hard-core completist could easily spend double that amount of time trying to hit the “100% complete” level, although I personally didn’t find much incentive to keep playing after the credits rolled. There is local co-op multiplayer available, but it doesn’t add anything special. Co-op is the exact same experience, just with two people instead of one. Crash MOM isn’t a bad game, but it’s not a particularly good one either. It’s a game that is instantly forgotten the moment you finish, and there is nothing about it that hasn’t been done better in other games. Between the mediocre level design, the unfocused gameplay, and the frustrating backtracking and camera controls, Crash is once again destined for mediocrity. Crash enthusiasts might have fun with a weekend rental, but it’s awfully tough to recommend at full price.