CROC: LEGEND OF THE GOBBOS (1997) – ARGONAUT
Croc is a strange old game. It was one of the first titles I picked up for my Playstation, and although I always enjoyed playing Crash Bandicoot more, it held a certain charm about it that I couldn’t ignore. Indeed, in a recent Facebook fad, the ’30 Days Of Gaming’ challenge, I put Croc as my guilty pleasure game; I knew that it was inferior to its rivals in pretty much every way, and yet I still played it. Hopefully in this review I will be able to explain why that was the case.
If nothing else, one thing that Croc has going for it is that it has a pretty enjoyable plot. The game is set in the Gobbo Kingdom, where small orange balls of fluff with eyes called Gobbos live in peace (the humorous backstory is explained much better in the manual. You know, in the days when manuals where actually worthwhile reading). One day, King Rufus notices a basket moving slowly downstream, with a crying baby crocodile in it. The Gobbos save the crocodile and raise it as one of their own, as it grows rapidly. Then one day, the peace in the Kingdom is broken by the evil Baron Dante and his minions (the Dantini’s) who captures and enslaves the Gobbos. King Rufus manages to summon a magic bird called Beany who whisks Croc away, before he himself is captured by Baron Dante. This leads to Croc traversing the world in order to save his Gobbo friends and kick Baron Dante’s arse.
It’s far from a serious plot, to call it cutesy would be a better term. However, at least there is some motivation for Croc to be doing what he does. Also, for some reason the Gobbos, pathetic though they may be, are really very charming. There isn’t any text or speech for a plot in this game, and as a result Croc is a character that you neither love or hate, and the focus becomes the matter of progressing forward and saving your friends. The boss characters all have some personality however as Baron Dante roams the land and uses his magic to create evil minions; for example a Flibby is a giant boxing Ladybug, and Cactus Jack is an enormous…cactus who shoot spikes at you. Basically, you can view this game as a clean slate, and you either accept the characters or don’t. This does split the potential audience for the game however, and perhaps a more refined plot would have led to better sales.
Or perhaps people were put off by the gameplay. The game is made up of several islands, each of which has a unique theme. There are eight levels on each island (some of which are very cleverly named and full of puns); six standard, two bosses, and two bonus levels. In every level there are six Gobbos to be saved, five coloured crystals to collect which open a door that leads to the final Gobbo, and then there are normal crystals spread around which
ripped off acted like the rings from Sonic: collect 100 for an extra life, and if you get hit you drop all the crystals you had. Croc also encounters several obstacles in his path, such as spinning platforms, balls of lava, and Dantini’s who look to hold your progress up. In order to prevent an untimely death, Croc can run around, jump, attack enemies by spinning his tail and break crates and platforms by dropping on them in midair. Hitting a gong at the end of the level summons Beany, who will take you to the world map to enter the next level.
However, that’s it. Croc is incredibly formulaic and didn’t do anything that Super Mario 64 or Crash Bandicoot hadn’t already achieved. The problem was exacerbated by the awful control system. Instead of utilising d-pad movement, Croc uses a system similar to Bubsy 3D by where you rotate in the direction you need to go and then move forward. While it is much improved from Bubsy 3D, that really isn’t saying much. It’s still a chore to move about, and the jumping mechanics are just as awkward. You can’t really see where you are going to land, due to a combination of a small shadow and shoddy camera work, and there is a lag between pressing the jump button and actually moving forwards. In a game where there is so much jumping required, this is unacceptable. I also think that Croc takes the term ‘platformer’ a bit too seriously. You cannot walk more than five metres before you are presented with another set of platforms to jump across. The levels then basically become a variety of platforms with a different colour palette. It’s very uninspiring and makes the game boring to play through as you continue.
On the flipside, Croc was quite a nice looking game back in 1997 and doesn’t look bad today. The models are solid, and the 3D worlds, while limited in scope and size and mostly repetitive, at least are appealing to the eye. Argonaut went a bit overboard in trying to make the game look as cutesy as the plot though; it seems that big eyes can make anything, even the bosses, look cute. The audio is also something that deserves acclaim; some of the tunes in this game are excellent. The main theme song has stuck in my head after all these years, and some of the other tracks are also very fun to listen to: Flibby’s theme is inspired by Rocky clearly, and the desert theme has a catchy salsa beat. Unfortunately, the audio is cursed by awful voice samples. Croc is a pain to listen to as he screams ‘YAZOOO!!!!’ and ‘KER-SPLAT!!!’ as he jumps around and spins.
Croc didn’t live up to the hype when it was released (being advertised as a Mario/Crash/Tomb Raider killer), and looking back on it now it is painfully obvious that it wasn’t a very good game. And yet; the charm of the game has prevailed, and many gamers around my age will fondly remember the times spent playing this game, because at that time we were sucked into the charm and didn’t really care about gameplay. So Croc, despite the low score I have given, remains a guilty pleasure of mine despite all the flaws, and I do not think that my opinion will ever change on the matter.