Crash Bandicoot stands out as a platformer for many reasons; mainly its world, music and especially its characters. Not to mention the unique mechanics Crash can utilise to make his way through each flavoured level.
He has 4 main ways to defeat enemies; Jumping on them, Spinning at them, Body slamming them and sliding into them. Different enemies are designed so the player must use the correct moves against them or risk being damaged in the process. This works well and it is clear from the visual design of enemies which ability will and won't work against them; for example metal indicates a body slam is required and a turtle with a sawblade on its back means a spin or slide must be performed.
The warp room is a great addition which is also used within the next instalment in the series, it adds to the feel of the game and gives the player an idea of what to expect next. They also intuitively store information on the collectables within each level.
Crates are a major part of the Crash Bandicoot experience, they are all clearly marked, each with different properties. Question mark crates contain multiple Wumpa Fruit, a resource which grants Crash a new life for every 100 collected, Lined crates contain 10 but must be hit quickly to get them all, Arrow crates propel Crash higher than usual crates, Metal require a body slam to be opened, TNT detonates upon impact or after 3 seconds (with a displayed countdown) once jumped upon, Nitro crates are extremely deadly and to be avoided, Aku-Aku (the voodoo mask companion who guides Crash) crates provide Aku-Aku granting protection again a hit, stacking up to 3 time where invincibility is granted and of course blank crates grant 1 Wumpa Fruit. The diversity of crates is clear and diverse causing the player to make quick decisions and remember the designs to know what will happen next.
Crystals and gems are done very well within the game, the player is introduced to Dr Neo Cortex through a projector at the start of the game in a warp room who tells Crash to collect the crystals to save the world (not realising that they would be instead be used to destroy the world). After the player collects their first gem Dr N.Brio appears to tell Crash that he must collect every gem to help save the world (this time it being the truth). The one flaw this may cause is that players who don't know much about the characters may try to avoid crystals (which means the player can't progress) or gems (defeating the point of the gems) depending on who they believe.
Gems in particular are very unique, some are hidden, some are collected from smashing every crate in a level and others from unlocking specific gem levels to earn coloured gems. Each of these methods provides a truly unique experience and adds additional challenge to levels without forcing the player to do too much beforehand. The gems missing/collected from a level are sitting above each level portal which helps the player identify what they are missing, especially in regards to the coloured gems that are properly introduced later in the game, something which may come across as confusing. This is also when the trial and error of the game comes in. Some methods of unlocking hidden gems are extremely cryptic, such as falling down a normally deadly pit or jumping across ice to an invisible warp pad. These methods are too cryptic as the game doesn't provide any clues on how to obtain these.
Despite all of the successes of the game one thing can't be ignored, the controls. The game is almost 20 years old at the writing of this critique so they can be excused as it was before Playstation analog was truly utilised. Regardless, it does lead to the game feeling exceptionally clunky by modern standards especially when trying to make accurate diagonal jumps, something felt hard during the dark aztec levels.
The difficulty of the game is a bit mixed and unbalanced which mainly comes from the unique mechanics of each level; for example if the player performs poorly in ice levels even the first ice level will be difficult for them. This is fairly difficult to change apart from forcing every unique environment into the same world but that takes a lot away from the game.
Another part of the difficulty comes from the aforementioned trial and error the player must make, which is definitely deliberate design, however, it can become annoying; a good example of this is in levels where the player runs towards the camera as opposed to away from it, usually to collect more crates or gems, which can feel like certain suicide until you learn the paths. Some levels require the player to flee from a giant boulder (or a giant polar bear) which can become frustrating until the level layout is completely learned. This is deliberate and could work well but for new players it can be too bothersome.
This game has always been a masterpiece in my eyes but looking back on it there are some definite changes I would make.
Hidden Gems: The idea of hidden gems as a mechanic is very strong and encourages player exploration and skill, the downside is when the game puts some of the hidden warp points in very unintuitive positions which would normally kill the player.
I would either give clues to the whereabouts of these warp points through the projector dialogues or just relocate them to difficult to reach sections within level. The backtracking element of the coloured gems is fine the way it is and does backtracking in a good way which makes the player think about what levels may be connected.
Controls: Quite simply, due to the age of the game the controls feel too clunky. A simple fix to this would be to modernise the controls, something that the N.Sane trilogy should hopefully fix.
Difficulty and Level Spread: The difficulty of the game is pretty unbalanced due to the nature of the unique environments. This is an especially difficult problem to overcome.
A solution for the problem could be to simplify the first versions of each level even more, especially in the boulder chase level where the boulder feels to fast for a new player, or to add the great variety in environments more spread out. Near the end of the game every level becomes a space or aztec level (the two most difficult types). By spreading out the environments more and increasing the difficulty far greater than that of the final levels of each world type, and simplifying space/aztec ones then implementing them early on would smooth out the difficulty curve whilst also keeping the diverse and unique world.
After looking back on Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back, it has shown me that even one of my favourite games has its flaws, as does every game. I am pleased to say that these flaws didn't damage my thoughts on the game too much and it still keeps its title as one of my favourite games of all time. Thank you Crash Bandicoot for guiding me towards the games industry.
What I Would Change
Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back
Developed by Naughty Dog and released in 1997, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back is a 3D Action Platformer and was one of the games that made me want to pursue a career in game design. The game received positive reception; 8.6/10 from Gamespot and 8.5/10 from EGM. Crash Bandicoot is a nostalgic figure of his generation and with Crash Bandicoot: N.Sane Trilogy releasing a few months after the date of this review it is the ideal time to look back at this gem from the Playstation.
Controlling the orange marsupial, Crash Bandicoot, the player must venture through a variety of different environments each with their own unique feeling and mechanics to collect every crystal and gem to defeat the nefarius Dr Neo Cortex.
This game holds its spot as one of my favourite games ever made but after returning to play it after so many years does it still hold that position?