(First published on Gamepad Magazine, 8th February 2011)
CRASH BANDICOOT 2 (1997) – NAUGHTY DOG
Crash Bandicoot was a great platformer to launch the Playstation with, and its popularity would lead to it becoming the fifth best selling game on the Playstation with 6.8 million copies sold (more than the mighty Metal Gear Solid). Now, a general rule of thumb for platform games is that if the first one is popular, a sequel is almost inevitable. So Naughty Dog went back to the drawing board and cranked out the second game in the series in the space of a year. So, does the second spin for Crash beat the original?
The plot of Crash 2 picks up directly from the end of the first game, as the evil Dr Neo Cortex plummets to his doom. However, he survives and wakes up in a dark room with a Crystal, a new source of energy that he can use for the construction of a giant space station. However, the one crystal will not suffice, and so he plots to use his old adversary, Crash (who is enjoying his time off on the beach with his sister, Coco) to collect more for him. Cortex warps Crash to a set of warp rooms, each containing five crystals, and after convincing him that he has turned good and is trying to save the universe (despite trying to kill him for the entirety of the last game) Crash blindly sets off on his way to collect the precious items, oblivious to Cortex’s true plans. Overall, it’s a better plot than the original game, and watching Cortex make excuses throughout the game to try and convince Crash is quite hilarious.
The overall set-up of the game has also changed for the best. Instead of gradually working through a set of islands like last time, Crash 2 introduces a more regimented system of levels; there are five warp rooms to complete, each with five levels that can be done in any order. The objective is to collect the Crystal (which will usually be in plain sight during the level) from each level, and when you have five you can advance to the next warp room…after you defeat a boss on the way. Although I liked the idea of progressing round the islands, having the freedom to do levels in whatever order you want is quite welcomed. Also of note is the vastly improved save system; you can now just wander up to the save screen in any warp room and record your progress, making it far less awkward than the first game.
Thankfully, Naughty Dog didn’t make the mistake of changing the basic controls or gameplay: Crash can still jump and spin at will, and there ware still several boxes in each level that need to be broken if you want to collect the Gems (which Dr N Brio will encourage you to collect). However, little changes have been made that improve the experience. Crash can now do a belly flop manoeuvre to open up reinforced crates, and he can also slide and crawl to move past obstacles and attack enemies. Nitro boxes have been introduced as a new form of danger, along with the old favourite, the TNT box. Every level now has a optional bonus level that you can complete for more lives and Wumpa Fruit. And perhaps best of all, now you don’t have to collect all the boxes and not die for the gems; simply collect all the boxes and you get the gem regardless of whether you die or not (and there is a counter that runs at the top of the screen that tells you how many more boxes you need to collect in a level, making it much more user friendly). Finally, Crash now has a new set of zany death animations, which are quite hilarious to watch at times.
The actual platforming has been improved as well. You still get the normal mix of missions were you run into the screen and play via a 2D format, all of which provide a suitable challenge, but then there’s some new stuff. The popular boulder missions are here in spirit…except now you run away from a enormous polar bear instead. Also introduced are some jetpack missions, where you must navigate Crash through a zero-gravity environment full of broken wires and other nasty things waiting to end the marsupial’s lifespan. Finally, there are some five bonus missions to unlock in a secret warp room by doing some secret stuff in the standard levels, which you adds more to the experience.
I will say though that Crash 2 has one negative element to its gameplay: compared to its predecessor, it is much more forgiving. There seems to be more protective masks around, lives are easier to come by thanks to the more abundant bonus levels, and the boss fights all seem just a bit too easy (the final confrontation with Cortex in particular is far too easy). This isn’t to say that it’s a bad game, far from it; but if you were expecting more of a challenge, you may be a tad disappointed.
The original game wasn’t ugly, in fact it was one of the most attractive games on the market at the time. Even so, its good then that Naughty Dog didn’t rest on their morals and improved the graphics for the sequel. Everything still maintains the sense of colour and vibrancy, but models have been sharpened up and do not look so jagged, especially Crash, and the backgrounds have been improved. It’s also nice to note how the theme of the warp rooms change depending on which one you are in, so one resembles a mine, and the first represents a lost tomb. Overall it’s a very tidy game to look at.
Soundwise, again Crash is pitch perfect. How Naughty Dog managed to keep producing such…Australian sounding music, I do not know, but it works. Some of the themes are perhaps used a bit too often in similar stages, but its nothing to be concerned with; my personal favourite piece of music being the Polar Panic level theme. Improved voice acting in this game also boosts the score, with the fantastically named Dr N Gin and Coco Bandicoot offering Crash hints…and threats along the way.
Overall then, Crash Bandicoot 2 is a worthy successor to the original. It doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the genre, but that was never its purpose. Moreso, it was intended to allow those who loved the first game to get their hands back on the spinning wonder from down under and just have some fun, and the game accomplishes that with aplomb. It would take a while for another platformer to come along and take its crown as the best of the genre on the Playstation (whether it was Spyro The Dragon or Crash Bandicoot 3, I’m still unsure), and it still remains great fun to play. Indeed, with its recent re-release on the PSN Network, you can relive the experience whenever you want. Now where did I leave my polar bear…