Despite having appeard in an astonishing fifteen titles, Crash Bandicoot has always seemed to be the “wannabe” mascot – desperately trying to be as cool as Sonic and Mario. Perhaps it is for that reason that up until now I’ve never actually played a Crash Bandicoot title. While some may think that makes me unqualified to judge the latest title in the series, I argue quite the opposite. I came into this game with a completely open mind, unburdened with perceptions of past titles in the series. My only goal? To determine whether the game was fun and worth your money. The answer? Well, it sorta depends. Read on to see what I mean.
Crash: Mind Over Mutant is easily the most recent PS2 title I’ve played, so I was looking forward to seeing how a “modern” PS2 title holds up graphically. While the colorful environments and characters are certainly eye-catching, overall the title doesn’t look much better than titles I was playing years ago. While the animations are well-done, I unfortunately experienced some occasional framerate slowdown when the action got too frenetic.
One major problem I had was with the camera. The game uses a fixed-camera system, so you are unable to move it around to explore more of the environment or make it easier to move Crash. While it was fine for the most part, the times when I really wished I could move it (and couldn’t) got a little frustrating. We’ve moved beyond the 2D world in games, so to have what is essentially a 2D camera felt a little dated.
One bright spot is the way the game implements cutscenes. Each scene is implemented in a different animation style, which keeps things lively and entertaining. I won’t spoil the different effects used, but be assured you will get a chuckle out of them.
Crash: Mind Over Mutant features a jaunty soundtrack that is unremarkable, but suits the gameplay well and never becomes grating. The same cannot be said about some of the repetitive voice cues, however. It is a shame that you hear the same phrases again and again, because by and large the voice acting is very well done for a platform title. The game contains over 8,500 lines of dialogue, most of them voiced by veteran industry voice actors. Sound effects are solid, and coupled with the variety of moves Crash can pull off, make for an entertaining experience.
The controls in Crash were a pleasant surprise. I’ve always felt that in 3D titles – particularly platformers – control is of paramount importance. Crash delivers the goods. The lovable Bandicoot has an impressive number of moves – from spins and combo punches to wall climbs and dodge maneuvers. Controls always felt responsive and quick, and aside from the occasional niggling camera issue, I had a lot of fun maneuvering Crash through levels and fighting off enemies.
Crash utilizes a combo combat system , that while simple, is still fun to use. Small enemies can be fought by using combo attacks, while repeatedly hitting larger enemies (Titans) fills up a star meter which allows you to stun them and take control. While I never quite got the full hang of the dodge and counterattack system, those with good timing will find a lot of depth hidden underneath the deceptively simple combat mechanics.
The plot of Crash is typically thin, considering this is a platform title. The villainous Doctor Neo Cortex has invented a new device that can control the minds of mutants and friends alike. It is up to Crash (and his buddies, if you play co-op) to defeat Cortex and his nefarious device. The good news is that the storyline is bolstered by a biting sarcasm with numerous topical references. These provide a good amount of the game’s humor, and make the plot much more entertaining than it would first appear. As mentioned before, the game’s cutscenes are very entertaining and provide an excellent reward for advancing through the game.
One apparently new feature in Crash: Mind Over Mutant is the addition of open-world gameplay. It is described as such because instead of the typical level-based structure, Crash must get missions from NPCs to complete and advance the game. In addition, players have access to Crash’s house, which serves as a home base and allows access to unlocked skins, concept art, cutscenes, etc. The “open-world” gameplay is a bit of a misnomer, however, because the structure of the game is still very linear. While the player has the ability to roam a bit, certain things must be done in specific sequences to move the story forward. The result is a bit of a letdown, because – like the camera – the player feels more restricted than they really should be.
One feature I really liked was a little bit of an RPG element. Whenever Crash defeats enemies, he collects a substance called “Mojo.” When he obtains enough of it, he gets to upgrade his abilities. This nifty little gimmick keeps battling hordes of minions from getting boring. The other nice feature is Crash’s ability to stun and take control of the game’s larger enemies, the Titans. When Crash takes over a Titan, he becomes stronger and has the ability to unleash devastating special attacks.
As Crash takes on missions, he’ll be forced to solve puzzles or defeat boss enemies in order to advance. Unfortunately, you’ll also find yourself paradoxically moving backwards in order to move forwards. The game has some occasionally tedious backtracking, made all the worse by the fixed camera system. This is too bad, because the boss fights and puzzles themselves are fairly entertaining (if on the simple side). Aside from a handful of slightly tougher spots, Crash seems aimed at a much younger audience than myself. This isn’t a bad thing – surprisingly enough, kids play video games too. However, older games should be forewarned that the game can be finished very quickly.
Co-op play is also available in Crash. I dabbled in it a bit (special thanks to my wife), but I didn’t find it particularly more entertaining. I’m not sure platform titles lend themselves particularly well to co-op gameplay, as more often than not we simply just got in each other’s way. It’s certainly a nice feature to have, but you shouldn’t worry about missing out if you don’t have any friends willing to come over and play.
Crash: Mind Over Mutant is a short title, and can be beaten in a couple of days time. While there are some unlockables and secrets to be found, the only real charm of this game is watching the storyline unfold through the humorous cutscenes and dialogue. Once you’ve been through it, there’s not much incentive to keep going back for more. It’s tough to write reviews for games that aren’t terrible, but fall just short of being really good. If Crash had loosened up the open-world gameplay a bit and fixed the horrible camera system, this could have been another excellent PS2 platformer. Crash Bandicoot might have gone a ways in actually earning my respect as a legitimate console mascot. As it stands, however, the game succeeds in being just above average. The controls are tight, the combat is mostly fun, and the cutscenes are worth a play through to see. On the other hand, the frustratingly limited camera, uninspired graphics, and occasionally tedious backtracking all conspire to bring the game down a few notches. Despite a valiant effort, Crash Bandicoot will have to remain a B-list mascot in the world of video games for now.