Crash of the Titans Review (Xbox360)

After the lukewarm reception to Twinsanity, can this new game light a fire underneath the once triumphant bandicoot’s flagging franchise, or will it cause the whole thing to crash and burn?

Take control of the Titans, and throw things at other grumpier Titans
Crash Bandicoot in Moving Towards Camera Shock!

Crash’s first game was, to many people of a certain age, a bit of a revelation. If the PlayStation was the console that made it socially acceptably for people over the age of 20 to get back into video gaming, then Crash Bandicoot was the game that made it okay for them to get back into platforming. It was so okay that the third game was even featured as a pretty major plot point in an episode of Felicity - Elena and Noel couldn’t finish it. Good episode.

Somewhere along the line, however, Crash seems to have turned into a kid’s game character. Why and when this happened is kind of unclear – it’s been a gradual happening, culminating in the designs seen in his latest game, Crash of the Titans. The designs are a little bit punk, in a half-hearted pseudo-edgy Saturday morning cartoon kind of way. Crash has tribal tattoos on his arms now, or at least something that looks very much like that. Why that’s considered appealing to kids and whether or not this is really the case is another matter, but what immediately stands out is just how generic and uninteresting the models are in this game.

Crash was never a particularly interesting looking figure, but he had an iconic simplicity to him, and that’s all but been wiped away with the addition of spiky hair and tats. It’s disappointing that the process of updating the character also saw the removal of just about everything that made him special, and it’s even more disappointing that it couldn’t be done in a way that did retain some of his previous charm.

The levels too suffer from bland design – Crash’s run-away-from-the-camera gameplay has its charms, and certainly has advantages over some interpretations of 3D worlds, but there’s very little in any of the game’s levels that present anything new or interesting. There are gates that need to be unlocked, and ropes to swing on, and the occasional skating down a hill section. Nothing, in other words, that we haven’t seen in practically every game of this type over the last ten years – including the camera, which seems to be positioned at just the right angle to make sure you have to aim your jumps perfectly, lest you plunge right off an edge.

Knocking out the Titans is where the game falls sadly to pieces
Certain Titans have the ability to move through different substances. This one, for example, is capable of running through lava

Worse still, while there are some great graphical moments, the fact that the game was developed for Wii and PS2 concurrently is obvious as soon as you see the textures. Especially on the walls and floors it’s a blurry mess, and something that should have been picked up and whipped into shape before the game saw release. It’s a pity, because there are some nice touches in terms of the way the game exploits the 360’s ability to render long draw distances. There are some great moments as you approach certain landmarks throughout the game: walking towards them from far away, only to really appreciate their size and splendour as you reach them.

There are also some nice touches in the menus and intro for the game. The menus are based around a knitted toy motif, and while the overall movement through them is a little clunky, the visuals are fantastic. Level goals are represented by knitted versions of the game’s enemies, and the skins that Crash can unlock are represented by knitted interpretations of what they’ll look like in-game.

The intro is shadow puppet based, with a flickering light behind the Hessian screen the figures are projected onto. It’s effective and memorable, with some nicely overstated Rocky and Bullwinkle–style overreactions from the characters. The in-game cut-scenes, however, are abysmal and, worse, unskippable on the first play-through. In a game that rewards players for clearing levels to their fullest, that’s simply unforgivable, and represents a sadly anachronistic form of game design. Why force the player to watch uninteresting and unfunny cinematics over and over again in the day and age? Especially when people have been complaining about it for almost 20 years now, it’s an incomprehensible decision on the developer’s part.

But perhaps the biggest problem with Crash of the Titans is the decision to move further away from the simplistic attacks of the early Crash games, and into beat ‘em up territory. Combos and special moves are the order of the day: you’ll need to move the stick around once and hit the light attack button just to trigger the spin attack that made the early games such a simple joy to play. For a series aiming itself increasingly at a younger market, this is a serious flaw – complexity in attacks is fine in games like God Hand that thrive on the need to learn and perfect moves, but it should have stayed far away from Crash.

Smaller enemies can generally be defeated with a little judicious button mashing, but the larger enemies – the titular Titans – prove the game’s stumbling block. These creatures, mutated from regular animals by Cortex, are enormously powerful and can generally knock Crash out in three or four hits. Fortunately, Crash can knock them out first and ride them, allowing him to take control of their powers. But when knocking them out proves to be as frustrating an experience as in this game, the whole design mechanic falls rapidly to pieces.

When you hit a Titan, a number of stars light up above its head. Light up all the stars and it’s yours to control. The problem is, in order to light up all the stars you’ll need to keep pummelling it, otherwise the previously lit stars will dim once more. However, the game rarely puts less than three Titans in one area, so while you’re mashing combos in order to break through the Titan’s overuse of blocking, frantically trying to knock it out before it recovers, there’s another Titan smacking you in the back, killing you. You can start with smaller Titans some of the time and work your way up, but you’d better hope that bigger Titan doesn’t get knocked out, otherwise you’re left in a pack of similarly large Titans trying desperately not to get knocked out yourself. And failing miserably, mostly.

For a game aimed at a younger audience, that seems a little silly. Shouldn’t it be fun? Shouldn’t the player feel like holding onto his or her controller, rather than pitching it through the television screen?

Nice particle effects; pity about the textures

The thing is, the times where you are able to walk through reasonably simply are fun. Not great fun, but good unremarkable fun – the kind of game that a reviewer might recommend as a good Christmas stocking filler, or something. For the most part, though, Crash of the Titans isn’t fun; it’s frustrating as all get-out, which really just leaves it as “unremarkable”. What should have been the noisily trumpeted and triumphant return of a great gaming hero is, in fact, just heralded with the soft sound of Crash fading into an uncomfortable bargain-bin obscurity.

Top Gaming Moment:
The draw distance used in some levels is cinematically spectacular, and is used to great effect.

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