To many gamers, myself included, Crash Bandicoot was a character who lived and died in the 90's. The first entry was one of the first crown jewels in Sony's lineup, and the two sequels were the finest platformers of their generation. Sure, they didn't offer near the amount of freedom of Mario 64 or the limitless imagination of Nights, but Crash had it where it counted in the gameplay department. With the advent of the PS2, Naughty Dog moved onto Jak, and most loyalties moved right over to their new superstar. Crash wasn't dead, but his severance as Sony's mascot and some less than compelling adventures from new developers removed him from the A list of platformers.
Or so I heard, honestly, I was so enamored with the Jak/Sly/Ratchet trio, Crash wasn't even hitting my radar anymore. When I got the chance to review Crash of the Titans, I honestly had no idea what to expect. Does a fix camera still follow Crash around a 3D course, or did he go full open world? Does the writing still carry an air of intelligent humor, or has it descended to the mindless depths of Saturday morning cartoons? Is he still toting around the spin dash, or does he have a new move pallet? Do I still collect wumpa fruit? What's he done to keep up with his contemporaries? Hey, I know, how about I actually answer some of these questions.
We crash into each other, just so we can feel something
Straight into the first level, the look and feel of Crash is right on par with the original Playstation games. He's still moving forward in a set path in a not-quite open world, and the camera is still completely independent. There appears to be a wider area physical ground to cover, so much that the fixed camera no longer wholly encompasses Crash's surroundings Right off the bat this lead to me getting snuck up on by enemies I didn't see coming, which felt a little cheap. While the older titles were somewhat limited in their freedom, at least you could tell what was heading your way without any worry over unseen foes.
Collecting wumpa fruit is no more, despite the archaic concept of lives not quite yet being put out of its misery, but in its place we have mojo balls. These can be collected from downed enemies or by destroying inanimate objects and, after so many, unlock brand new attacks or extensions of other moves for Crash to use in the field. Mojo balls are definitely worth collecting, Crash's extended arsenal is welcomed, but the sheer amount of them borderlines on ridiculous. I had 42,000 by the third level, given a lot of them were from 2x multipliers or larger quantity pickups, but good lord guys, knock off a few zeros.
Box hunting is totally gone and the platforming has taken a back seat to increasingly frequent sequences of combat. While Crash's trademark spin move still exists (despite an awkward button reassignment) the majority of his melee attacks lie in standard punch/kick combos that populate so many other third person games. Crash gets a little too caught up in his animation sometimes, but the combat system is quite functional and a good bit of fun, at least in moderation. Problems arise when the game starts to use random monster closets of bad guys as its backbone. The ratio of platforming to fighting strongly favors the later, which is far beyond the depth of its otherwise basic melee system. It's not entirely clear what Crash wants to be, his strength has always been in platforming, and there are some good bits of that here, but the combat focus is slightly puzzling.
Rounding out the gameplay styles are hover board sequences and mojo rooms. Mojo rooms are, as the name implies, areas vaguely hidden in each level where Crash can acquire a ton of mojo. Usually attached to some sort of time limit, Crash will have to haphazardly do things like collect a ton of scattered mojo, or take down a significant number of enemies. The rewards are plentiful, you can pick up some serious coin here, but the combat heavy main game doesn't exactly benefit from the extra fighting sequences. The inclusion of hover board sequences is moderately questionable, they're a far cry from the tiger/pig riding mayhem of Crash's past, but their relative infrequency renders them nothing more than distractions.
Remember the Titans
Somehow I've managed to get this far into the review without mentioning the titular hook for Crash of the Titans. Stationed throughout random parts of every level are enemies whom are slightly larger than and beastly than the standard hordes of idiots. Once worn down with a few swift blows, Crash can "jack" them, and take complete control over their bodies. Doing so grants Crash access to a handful of new moves for each titan. Some have powered up melee attacks, others can fire projectiles, and a couple have some profoundly insane elemental assaults. In addition to their increased combat skills, these guys usually have certain talents, such as hitting targets or knocking down walls, which are required for proceeding through the levels.
Actually figuring out how to jack the titans is half the fun. With some of the earlier guys you just have to pound away and get their health down or charge your move to work around their blocks. Eventually you'll find some titans who can only be taken down by other titans, which adds a whole new element of strategy to the mix. Trying to figure out who is adept for which skill, and not getting killed in the dismount process, hits the sweep spot between tension and fun. Sure, a couple of the titan's special moves run together, but, on the whole, the variance and usefulness between each titan are quite spread out.
While "make it to the end of the level" is generally the main goal, there are some additional objectives to complete for each of the games 20 unique areas. These include traditional platformer staples like collecting slightly off screen objects (spybots) or unleashing a set number of combos, but also veer into more hardcore achievement-like categories such as killing/jacking 40 or 50 of a certain enemy. It’s depth disguised as repetition, for sure, but at least some of them have a practical use. Skins, which let you jack titans in just one hit, can be earned by defeating a select number of their particular breed. Most of this stuff is for completists only, as concept art is usually the reward, but it's still reasonably fun if you really get into the gameplay.
The presentation aspects are right in check with the PS1 days. The "Cortex ruined you life, go ruin his" motivation of 1998 still works 2008 I mean, the story is still complete nonsense and largely a vehicle to shuffle you from level to level, but at least they didn't go the Sonic route and overcomplicate it into an insomniac's miracle. The voice acting is competent all around, and the one liners from Crash and bad guys are ridiculously contemporary (one time I heard 4ax0r, really). I guess I missed the transition, but at some point in the last couple years Crash transitioned from a luckless dope to a full blown moron. The hilariously clueless expression he used to wear has become his entire persona, which, while great for the Saturday morning cartoon crowd, gets old pretty fast for anyone over the age of twelve.
It's also important to note that the PSP version of Crash of the Titans is actually a port of Radical Entertainment's console version. SuperVillain Studios was charged with the task of transferring everything over, and their efforts are definitely a mixed bag. They always looks gorgeous with its lush color pallet, surprising amount of visual depth and an impressive draw distance, but a couple hiccups often rear their ugly head. The landscapes tear quite often, some animations seem to be missing, and the some sound effects are either not there or completely off key. Couple this with long (15 seconds for a level) load times, including some in completely random segments (in the middle of a jump, what the hell!?), and you have what amounts to a game that was taken apart and then rebuilt with some pieces left over. I have no doubt that SuperVillian tried as best as they could, but they may have tried a little too hard, trying to jam too much in without sacrificing some small stuff.
Multiplayer is one area that was understandably castrated. The rather involving co-op mode found in Crash's console brethren has been removed in favor of a handful of minigames. I didn't actually get to play these, as I couldn't locate anyone else with a copy of Crash, but they look vaguely interesting. I realize that's sort of a cop out, but I figured mentioning they exist is better than not mentioning them at all.