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RELEASE DATE (NA): October 31, 1997 GENRE: Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

I'd like to crash this bandicoot into a mountain.

We meet again, Crash Bandicoot. I remember you from a couple of years back when my sweaty, swollen hands collided with your first adventure. You thought that we would have a grand ol' time, but you were wrong. The original Crash Bandicoot game was a horrid mess, devoid of any inklings of pure fun and excitement. Whoever designed you clearly had a vendetta against me. I never wanted to touch you again. But I'm apparently a patient and most generous person, as I am giving you a second chance. In my hands now is Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back, the sequel to Crash Bandicoot. And I must say, you have indeed matured. Just not by much.

Little has changed for our marsupial hero. Dr. Neo Cortex, formerly your sworn nemesis, now needs your help to prevent the destruction of the planet due to a strange alignment of the planets. Crash is kidnapped by Cortex and sent out to various locations to gather crystals. With these crystals, Cortex can restrict the power of the planetary alignment and save the world. Yuh-huh. We all know how antagonists suddenly becoming good turns out. I believe we call this "Dr. Wily Syndrome". In any case, you have quite a trek ahead. To make matters even more complicated, another of your arch-enemies, Dr. Nitrus Brio, wants you to collect gems instead of crystal so that he can stop Cortex's evil deeds. We're not sure who to believe, but Crash just ends up collecting everything in hopes that someone will do the right thing.

The original Crash Bandicoot had some level designs that caused bile to rise in my throat as though I was a human Vesuvius. Crash Bandicoot 2 takes those levels designs... and keeps them. Yes, there are still those irritating stages where you are being chased by boulders (or, on one occasion, giant polar bears) and you have to run TOWARD the camera, enduring obstacles that are coming at you at a moment's notice. These levels are 50% skill and 50% memory, as you need to always remember what's coming up, lest you be very surprised when you fall in that pit or become electrocuted at the hands of an unexpected electric fence.

The game also suffers from additional horrid design choices. A few levels are set in the dark, which ridiculously inhibits your ability to plan out your next move. Fireflies join you and light the way, but their powers are limited, and if you're not quick enough to get to the next fly, you'll be wandering in the dark, hoping a pit is not in your path. There WILL be a pit in your path. Ice is also a prohibitor of enjoyment: I swear Crash can't handle himself on that very well, and you end up pulling off moves you never intended. There are several levels where Crash rides a polar bear, which I admit are the fun highlights of the game. The action is quick, and it's merely a case of avoiding the many obstacles. Granted, if you combine bear riding and darkness, it's hardly pleasant, but I still like riding bears. Who doesn't?

Yeah, just keep on smiling, you big brown vermin...

I arrived in the final world of the game, and in two of the five levels, Crash is required to don a jetpack and fly his way to the end. As soon as Crash took off and I had full control, I knew the game had sunk to a new low. Crash controlled like a fart in a tornado. That is, if you can call it "controlled". He's floaty and unpredictable, and the pace of these levels has to be slow, or else you will die. Luckily, you can change the controls so they're not inverted (see also: devastatingly awful). These may be the... gosh, what's the opposite of highlights? Lowlights? Downlights?

For what it's worth, the game is not entirely unplayable. It's more enjoyable than, say, the first Crash Bandicoot game. Boss battles are actually fair this time around. They may take a few tries to conquer, but there is a sense of balance among them. None of the battles are excruciatingly difficult; in fact, they're far easier than the regular levels. As well, developer Naughty Dog took the smart route and provided save locations in every warp room. You don't have to be a bandicoot wizard to earn your right to save anymore, a major flaw that has thankfully been removed from the series!

As with the last game, it actually looks half-decent. The PlayStation was never a graphical powerhouse, but it can at least offer a passable polygonal playground. Some enemies have some sharp, pointy corners on them that ought not to be there, but it's still an excellent example of what can be accomplished on the ol' gray mare. The music, cheerful and tropical as it is, can be annoying after the twentieth or fiftieth loop. It DOES keep the game upbeat, though, even when it feels as though everything around you wants you dead and is succeeding at their hunt.

Crash Bandicoot 2 made me curse at the television more often than during the Grammy Awards. It still makes many of the design mistakes that its predecessor solidified as part of the bandicoot formula. This entry in the series does illustrate that the developers were slowly learning from their mistakes, but that there was still work to be done. I don't loathe this one as much, but there is still a long journey ahead before Crash Bandicoot could ever chance upon a truly epic adventure.

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