IF WE DON’T HAVE ANY FRIENDS LEFT ON THE SURFACE, THEN WE NEED TO FIND AN ENEMY.
Do you remember Crash Bandicoot? If you’re still in high school, probably not. Back in the 90s, when Sony had first entered the console race, a little known developer called Naughty Dog developed Crash Bandicoot, a platformer that had the 3D visuals and mechanics of games like Super Mario 64 but the level design of a classic 2D platformer. The original was a big hit and the appeal of Crash himself made him the company’s unofficial mascot. A sequel was released a little over a year later and is widely considered to be the best in the series. Let’s see if that remains true today and take a look at Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back.
Despite being Crash’s nemesis in the first game, Crash 2 shows the bandicoot helping Dr. Neo Cortex save the planet from a catastrophic event by collecting crystals that have the power to contain it. The story is fairly basic, same as the first game, and is only told through cutscenes with Cortex and occasionally Crash’s sister Coco. However, their personalities help keep the premise entertaining. Clancy Brown’s portrayal as Cortex particularly is memorable as he chuckles, enunciates, and proclaims like a James Bond villain version of Brain from Pinky and the Brain.
Graphically, the game is bright and colorful. The cartoony art style gives the graphics a charming look, whether it’s the cute enemy models or the funny death animations. The levels each have a different aesthetic look, ranging from jungle to sewers to futuristic factories, that give great variety to the presentation. However, games from the beginning of the 3D era tend to age poorly, and the blocky and blurry graphics will probably turn some newer gamers away. To me, it’s endearing and it brings back nostalgic memories of when I first played games like this back in the day. Sonically, the music is well done with island and tribal influenced tracks that help with the tone of the game. Sound effects are as cartoony as the art design and give the game a lighthearted feel.
As a platformer, Crash 2 doesn’t do anything too different. If you’ve played a platformer in recent years, this game will feel very familiar. There’s a small hub world that you begin in and you can choose between five levels to go to. Once you do, you’ll jump, spin attack, slide, and body splash your way through the level. Unlike other platformers and the first Crash game, reaching the end of the level is not the main objective. You need to find the crystal in the level before you reach the end. Failing to do so will require you to go through the level again. Luckily, these crystals are often in clear view. After clearing the five levels, you will move on to the next hub world with another five levels, though not before taking on a boss fight.
The game’s level design is very linear. While Crash can move left, right, forward, and back, the levels have very straightforward paths to follow with no room to explore. There are alternative paths and knowing these are required for secrets and 100% completion but there’s no wide open areas. Also, there are 2D side scrolling sections interspersed with the 3D gameplay as well as some water surfing, polar bear riding, escape sequences, and jetpack flying that helps diversify the levels.
The level design is extremely well done as the game’s difficulty rises to the point where you’re making really difficult jumps and dealing with tough enemy placement. However, the game does a great job of teaching you how to play. So when these moments come, you are up to the challenge. Most important, the challenge is fun. It’s enjoyable to jump off a ledge, bounce off an enemy, spin attack an enemy as soon as you land and slide away from a pillar.
I personally have a pet peeve with 3D platformers as I find the controls for most of them not as responsive as 2D platformers. However, that is not true with Crash Bandicoot. Crash controls with precision and is instantly responsive. This game controls better than most 3D platformers that would be released afterward. However, there is an issue concerning two different versions of this game. One version of Crash 2 supports the analog stick and the other doesn’t. The analog stick controls feel a lot better than the d-pad and unfortunately, the PSN version is the one without the analog stick support. It’s completely playable still, but it’s worth mentioning.
For completionists, you can collect not only crystals but gems. Breaking all the boxes in a level will earn you a gem at the end of the level. Other gems are earned from going through harder alternate paths, finding secrets and more. There are also hidden paths and levels that can only be accessed from finding hidden teleports within levels. Getting all the gems isn’t a severely hard challenge but it does give the game replay value. There are a few gems that I will say are quite hard, especially the ones that require you to backtrack through the level.
There’s not a lot wrong with Crash 2 in my opinion but there are a few complaints I can make. The boss fights are not entertaining. They are all too easy (except for the fourth one) and none of them are interesting. Also, the game is not very long. Unless you are going for the gems, you can finish the game in 5-6 hours. Luckily, collecting the gems will add another few hours to the runtime. Finally, the gameplay never really evolves from the beginning of the game. Sure it gets more difficult and it’s rewarding but you never do something other than jump, spin, slide and splash.
The Verdict: 8.8 out of 10
Runtime and boss fights aside, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back is a great game that has stood the test of time. The platforming is top notch, the difficulty is not too hard, the characters are entertaining, and it still has a great look to it. It’s quite surprising that after 18 years the game is still playable and as entertaining as it originally was. Crash 2 was the very first PlayStation game I ever played and going back to it now felt as inviting, comfortable and enjoyable as it did back then.
For more information about what the score means, check out our official review scale.