When Crash Bandicoot debuted on the original PS1, it was a charming and unique platformer that looked to step up and challenge for the mascot throne held by Mario and Sonic.  Unfortunately, Crash has become rather lackluster over the years, and has suffered from uninspired design, poor genre choices, and a myriad of different developers.  This time, Radical Entertainment takes their shot at porting the marsupial to the PSP.  Given that the big-boy console versions of Mind Over Mutant (MOM) were very lackluster, by-the-numbers platformers, can they spruce up the handheld version at all?  Or will it suffer the same fate as it’s big brothers?  Let’s take a look.

Overall, the graphics in MOM are actually very impressive for a handheld system.   In fact, they are nearly identical replicas of the 360 graphics, simply with lower resolutions.  (Which begs the question:  are the PSP graphics particularly well done, or are the 360 graphics rather sub par?)  You will maneuver Crash through the same 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.  The only real glitch I noticed was one that causes some mutants to become semi-transparent when viewed close-up.  When Crash is sitting on a mutant’s back or shoulders, you could see his entire outline through their body.   Also, transitioning to the small screen does cause some issues with being able to see certain doors or switches.  These trigger points are easy to spot when playing a PS3 or 360 on a big TV, but become very difficult to see on a 4″ X 2″ screen.

 

Unfortunately, all those pretty graphics come at a huge price, as the load times in MOM are completely ridiculous.  Just for kicks, I pulled out a stopwatch and timed how long it took to complete basic tasks in MOM.  Loading a cutscene took 42 seconds.  Hitting a switch and having the camera pan acrross the level to show me which door opened took 22 seconds to load.  Moving between zones took 51 seconds.  Keep in mind that these are things that could all take place multiple times in quick succession during actual gameplay.  Getting into the even more ridiculous, it look over a full minute to load back up out of sleep mode.  Getting from the PSP home screen to actually playing the game took over 3 minutes.  It took 53 seconds to simply save the game.  We’ve seen PS2 quality graphics load in no time in games like FFVII Crisis Core, so I can’t figure out why MOM is so awful with regards to load times.  I was about ready to throw my PSP in frustration every time the drive started to spin.  It’s simply unacceptable, and you will need some very serious patience in order to sit through MOM.

 

The other problem is, I feel like we’ve seen this 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.

 

On the bright side, 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…once you actually get them to load.

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.  Unfortunately, the voices seem to be scattered all over the UMD disc, because it needs to spin every time a character says anything.  On many occasions, it caused the voices to queue up well after the actual action triggering them took place.

 

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 analog 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 you can quickly spin the nub 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.  It is rather tough to activate, however, and I found myself simiply spinning around in circles over and over before I finally hit the corrrect speed to initiate the spin move.

 

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 using the O button.  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 damn near impossible with the less accurate nub.

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 by holding the O button for a couple seconds.   This allows you to store heavy hitters or special powers until you need them, but makes it tough to quickly switch to a new mutant in the middle of a fight.  You’ll usually end up standing in place and taking a couple extra whacks before the O button finally triggers the switch.

 

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 (which required far more time to load up than it did to actually say what it needed to say), 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 no online component or multiplayer that would extend the life of the game. Crash MOM isn’t actualy a bad game, but the insane loading times cause it to be far more frustrating than it should be.  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, long load times, 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 to anyone but big fans of the series.

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