Crash of the Titans marks Crash Bandicoot’s return to platforming following a series of spin-off titles such as Crash Tag Team Racing, a multi-format racing title, and last year’s Crash Bang Boom, a party game for the Nintendo DS. With a heavy focus on combat in addition to platforming acrobatics, Crash’s rebirth had the potential to win back some of the series’ original fans, but does it make the most of the opportunity, or is it back to the drawing board for Radical Entertainment?
As the game begins we see Crash Bandicoot with an assortment of his nearest and dearest as they are confronted by Dr. Neo Cortex who appears in a giant airship and immediately captures Crash’s sister Coco and Aku Aku (the talking voodoo mask who has appeared in every Crash outing thus far). From here players are thrust straight into the game’s first level (or Episode), by the end of which they will have rescued Aku Aku and moved onto a confrontation with Cortex himself, who kindly explains that he and Uka Uka have stolen all the ‘Mojo’ from the Temple of Zoom and are using it to create an army of powerful mutants who will in turn create a giant robot that will destroy the Wumpa Islands and “take over the world”.
These mutants not only lend Crash of the Titans its name, but also its most interesting gameplay mechanic; jacking. The idea behind jacking is to allow Crash to take control of the enemies he defeats, which are intrinsically more powerful and useful than he is on his own. Crash must attack each Titan/mutant in order to stun them before he can jack into them. However, some of the more powerful Titans are too much for Crash alone and must be stunned by a less-powerful Titan. Exploiting this food-chain system is crucial in overcoming the game’s more powerful foes, particularly end-of-level bosses and sub-bosses, which cannot be damaged by any of Crash’s normal attacks.
The actual combat system is fairly simple and remains consistent regardless of which Titan you are currently jacked into. Crash initially has access to two attacks; light and heavy. These can gradually be improved and combined into combos as the player progresses through the game and unlocks new abilities. Titans have the same basic setup, but their attacks can vary greatly, some have access to long-range projectile attacks whilst others are designed for close combat. Many of the more powerful titans also have access to a special attack (usually initiated by waving the Wii Remote/Nunchuk), which can only be used when the Titan Meter is full. These special attacks range from ground-shaking moves that damage all nearby opponents to grouped-projectiles that can hit multiple targets simultaneously.
Unfortunately, despite being the game’s biggest strength, the combat system also gives rise to the game’s two biggest weakness; erratic difficulty and extreme-linearity. The first problem is most noticeable on the game’s hardest difficult setting, which loves to throw players into battle situations that they will almost certainly lose many lives to. Now, we’re all for challenging gameplay (it’s the reason we chose to play through on ‘Hard’ after all), but not when it’s completely unfair and unbalanced. On more than one occasion we were brought to our knees and forced to restart a level after breezing through the platforming sections and finding ourselves confronted by so many Titans that it was nigh-on impossible to jack one before we were beaten senseless. In fact, it often had more to do with luck than skill when we finally did progress.
The second problem is present in both the platforming and combat sections. Almost all of the game’s twenty levels are set up in the same way: a platform-jumping section > a walled-in combat arena > more platforming > another combat arena, and so on. Whilst playing as different Titans does help spice things up, there can be no denying that Crash of the Titans is an extremely linear game, a fact that is reinforced by the fixed camera which stays behind you at all times, urging you on and causing problems of its own. For example, more often than not a combat arena will be too big to fit on the screen, meaning that if you wander too far forward you can soon find yourself under attack from opponents that you can’t see, let alone avoid or counter. When combined, these two problems can result in extremely frustrating confrontations. However, if you’re lucky enough to avoid them there is definitely some fun to be had smashing around with oversized mutants, even if it is a tad shallow and repetitive.
The actual platforming sections are less irksome, but ultimately end up as little more than a means to move you from one combat arena to the next. However, that’s not to say that you can’t enjoy yourself along the way. In addition to the usual moving platforms and bouncy foliage, there are a few racing-esque sections in which Crash rides Aku Aku like a snowboard and attempts to avoid bombs, jumps pits and collect Mojo. It’s all good fun, even if it is a bit on the easy side (Crash can spin around like a helicopter to slow his decent, making it very hard to actually to miss a landing and fall into the abyss). With the exception of the motion-controlled special attacks we mentioned earlier, there is only one use of the Wii Remote’s unique features: you can point at Mojo on the screen and it will fly towards you. Whilst it’s hardly a game-defining feature, it is surprisingly satisfying and helps to keep combat flowing when you don’t have to worry about running around picking up goodies.
All of the aforementioned features are wrapped up in some very nice, although not outstanding, visuals. Crash and his fellow Titans’ all have access to a wide array of animations that help to make the already good-looking character models even better. For the most part environments are pretty standard, with the notable exception of massive set-pieces that loom in the distance. These usually mark the end of a level and look particularly great close up. Everything is coated in luscious primary colours that will surely please the younger gamers at which this game is aimed. So will the many lines of occasionally hilarious dialogue. The best way to describe the game’s overall essence is to compare it to a children’s cartoon: it’s got the over-the-top characters, simplistic good vs. evil plot and the occasional farting gags to boot. But of the game’s 7000+ lines of dialogue (!) there are some gems tucked away for the older gamer. Along with a nod to an “Italian Plumber” and other ‘1337’ jokes there is a great scene where a host of minions (basic opponents that can’t be jacked) run towards Crash shouting “Leroy!” Classic.
So we’ve covered the gameplay, the graphics and the audio, what else do we need to fulfill the ever-present yet inane review criteria? Ah yes, bonus content! Crash of the Titans actually includes a fair amount of the stuff. Each of the game’s twenty episodes contains a hidden Voodoo Doll which when collected unlocks a selection of concept artwork for said level. Some of it’s pretty damn nice too, in fact some pieces are more inspiring that the actual levels themselves. Beyond that there are unlockable skins based on the various Titans you encounter over the course of the game. These are unlocked after completing certain criteria such as jacking a certain number of the Titan in question, or after being awarded a certain number of Gold idols. These idols are awarded to players depending on how thoroughly they complete a certain stage. Bronze and Silver idols are awarded for completing only one or two of the three necessary criteria.
When you’re not being overwhelmed by too many Titans at once, the combat can be fun if it a little shallow and repetitive. Platforming and riding sections are also enjoyable and the Mojo-collecting pointer is a nice Wii-specific feature.
Great character models with plenty of animations to boot, but some of the game’s environments are a tad bland. Most content is nice and polished and there are few truly excellent set pieces scattered throughout.
No real catchy tunes to speak of, but some of the dialogue is excellent and you just can’t argue with the variety when there are more than 7000 lines of the stuff included!
There’s a fair amount of unlockable content (character skins, concept artwork, etc), but due to the game’s ease you’ll find that you’ve already unlocked most of it after your initial play through, leaving little to return for. We still managed to rack up 12 hours of game-time, though.
Crash of the Titans is built on some nice ideas, particularly being able to jack into your opponents rather than simply pummel them. Unfortunately, a few extremely-frustrating problems combined with linear progression and repetitive gameplay means that the more sophisticated gamers amongst you won’t find much more than a few hours worth of enjoyment before you move on, never to return. Having said that, your younger brother or sister would probably love it, so why not buy it for them and have a quick go for yourself? It might just be enough to keep you distracted until Super Mario Galaxy arrives.