Crash of the Titans «

Crash Bandicoot’s first platforming adventure since 2004 adheres to the free-roaming 3D sensibility of that year’s Crash Twinsanity, but still retains many of the traditional gameplay elements that have grown somewhat stagnant over the years. Simply jumping from one platform to another just isn’t that interesting, no matter what exotic skin is thrown on the surfaces. Don’t count this critter out yet, though: the new tricks up his sleeve go a fair distance toward keeping Crash of the Titans from feeling like too much of a throwback.

Whichever of the 20 flamboyantly bright and colorful levels you’re stomping through, there’s never any doubt where you’re supposed to go next. There aren’t any world hubs or level selection screens, just a straight shot through 20 episodes of pretty but rather predictable scurrying and jumping. You can practically hear the PlayStation 2 straining in some areas, as the frame rate dips below 30, but the old ‘coot’s never looked better on Sony’s aging box.

Crash has some cool moves, like a Tasmanian Devil-esque spin attack, and a handstand kick-spin that makes most martial arts look restful. There’s also more environmental activity than we remember: swing on vines, jump to great heights on spongy mushrooms, run along the side of sheer cliffs with a single hand gripping the edge, and throw Aku Aku the living mask under your feet for prolonged dirt-surfing sequences down steep ravines and conveniently placed bowls. As you liberate “mojo” from the innumerable breakables that border every trail, Crash learns new attacks and combinations, and improves the effectiveness of old ones.

Each episode is broken up by a simple mini-game arena, where Crash has to accomplish some strange task before the timer runs out. Collect a sufficient quantity of mojo, hijack an enemy animal to snipe bombs, or just defeat a whole bunch of wildlife. It’s a shade too simplistic, and really only serves as a fleeting distraction from the pure linearity of the larger adventure. Even with the fancy new footwork and snazzy graphics, there’s only so much punching and kicking a player can take before burning out on tired genre conventions, and those longing for something more progressive in design could expect to be thoroughly let down were it not for a brand-new element that keeps the endless march from becoming too monotonous. The little guys you’ll encounter aren’t much more than cannon fodder to be smacked around, but bigger prey can actually be stunned and hijacked.
Brainwashing the dangerous titular titans to let you ride on their shoulders and direct their wrath is a lot of fun. Kick your way through a Boar’s defenses, and then use him to pound obstacles and bad guys into dust. Beat a Snipe into submission, and you’ll down enemies and tag targets from a distance. Every one of the fifteen controllable beasts has its own combination and special attacks, from tusk swipes to spikes that erupt from the ground. Get a friend to take control of Carbon-Crash with a second controller, and you can even hijack each other. Best of all, as you get deeper into the game you’ll run into conditions where your only chance for survival is climbing the food chain one rung at a time, commanding bigger and bigger nasties in sequence until the largest falls under your spell. This all lends what could’ve been a rote exercise in flavorless combat a tiered strategic complexity.

Unfortunately, battle isn’t always pleasurable. Sometimes you’ll die in a big hurry because two intersecting brawlers never gave you an opening or a chance to escape; on other occasions you’ll drop to the dirt in defeat when you can’t hit an off-screen goon thanks to a camera you have only marginal control over. Such issues seldom tip the scales too deep into frustration territory, since you’re usually dropped right back into the action without having to endlessly repeat the same sequences, but a little tuning on the more aggravating scuffles could’ve gone a long way.

The key to enjoying Crash of the Titans is not to take it too seriously. There’s the usual nonsense about Neo Cortex taking over the world, but the different animal personalities are so charming, and the self-referential humor so relentlessly silly, that you’re unlikely to cry foul too loudly. Crash might be getting on in years for a videogame mascot, and his latest outing falls well short of classic status, but a few disarming new tricks prove he’s not over the hill just yet.


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