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"The Crystals. Of Course!" (match goes out) "D'oh!"
on 27 September 2010
December 1997. I remember that time fairly well. I was gearing up for what would be the last ever Christmas school play I would ever participate in. I always found the plays to be embarrassing, but unfortunately the teachers insisted on saving the most embarrassing part of my childhood for the last play...having me and the rest of the kids in my year singing the Spice Girls song "Who Do You Think You Are?" I appreciate the Spice Girls' music today, but back then...boy! I just wanted to get out of that school hall quickly. Anyway in that same month of that same year, Naughty Dog released the sequel to their platform creation Crash Bandicoot on the PSone, entitled "Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back." There was certainly nothing embarrassing about it. It was very, very good, and because of it Crash took one giant step towards becoming a platform icon.
In this second Crash outing -picking up just after the final fight from Crash Bandicoot- Dr.Neo Cortex, platforming's favourite evil bearded turd, crashes into a dark cavern and discovers a crystal, after which his match goes out and he does a passable Homer Simpson impression. One year later and Cortex has discovered a destructive force in outer space that threatens to destroy the Earth. Insisting that he's a changed dwarf, he enlists the help of our orange furry hero to collect 25 crystals (in addition to the one he picked up a year earlier) in order to contain this threat. But is Dr.Cortex's motive for real? Has this one-time evil-doer really turned over a new leaf and embraced a life kindness, charity, and optionally boring himself to death through watching endless Jennifer Aniston romcoms? I'm sure you've made up your mind already. I don't know why I even bothered asking.
CB2 was an improvement over CB1 in several departments. First, and probably the most obvious, the game structure is more flexible than a yoga teacher. In CB1 you had to play through the same levels in the same order; NO exceptions; much like platformers on consoles older than the PSone, like the Master System, the Mega Drive and the SNES. Not a particularly big deal for me since I enjoyed every level in that game, but it may have annoyed those who liked certain levels but had to play through two or three other ones before they could get to it. But in CB2 things are different. You're in a warp room with access to five different levels, which you can take on in any order you see fit. Once you've collected the crystals you face off against an end-of-warp-room boss, and spin a hundred shades of poo out of them before you reach five more levels which can again be "de-crystaled" in any order. The flexible game structure is convenient. If you dislike playing a certain level, you can put it off for a while and tackle the other areas; or if you're having a tough time in one place (not likely) you can simply come back to it later.
The save system was given a much needed tidy up and dusting down, probably by Naughty Dog's finest butler. In the first game saving could only be done in one of two ways. 1) Finding three tokens in a level in order to access a bonus area and then completing that area. Or 2) Completing a level without dying AND breaking all the boxes in that level in order to grab a gem. This was something of a nuisance, especially as the later levels in CB1 were tricky and required really careful timing with jumps and enemy attacks. You may have found yourself needing a rest from video games for the night and so you switched off the console; but when you switched the console back on the next day there was a good chance you had to replay the last level you played on the day before. Not just that, but possibly the level before that one as well. Sounds annoying, doesn't it? But in the second game the save system went from complex to simple. The save area is in the warp room. After collecting a crystal and completing a level you can then save your game in the warp room before moving onto the next level. This review has got some pretty long paragraphs, huh? I hope you're not trying to read them all in one breath!
To the casual gamer it would seem rather pointless to talk about the graphics in a video game from the 90's. However anyone with a self-proclaimed mild case of OCD (like me!) will be pleased to know that the graphics here are better than the first game. The colours used in the designs of the characters and levels' scenery are not overly saturated like before (it was a little distracting in CB1 in my view); and while the scenery maintains a cartoony look, it's more detailed. The reflections on the ice in the snow levels in particular are still fairly impressive today. There are a few more variations in Crash's death scenes as well, some of which will put a smirk on even the Grim Reaper's boney face. My personal favourite? When Crash gets blown up by a Nitro crate he turns into an angel and floats up to the sky while playing the didgeridoo. The angel thing looks like a homage to Alex Kidd if you ask me.
Other improvements include more variation in the level's themes. You have traditional jungle levels, snowy arctic levels, dark dank sewer levels and many more. There's the entertaining company of several characters who communicate with Crash via a warp room hologram, like his computer loving sister, Coco; all of whom have some decent acting provided to their voices. There are sliding and crawling abilities for the bandicoot to play around with; and there are numerous secrets hidden throughout the game which lead to special levels and more gems...?...What are they? Hey, that's for me to know and you to find out!
To get 100% completion of this game you still have to collect gems and you still have to do that by breaking every single box in the level, except for the colour gems which are hidden away in certain areas. But the gems here are easier to obtain. You don't have to get through the level without dying. Any boxes you break before you hit a checkpoint remain broken, meaning that you only have to worry about the boxes after the checkpoint. But this isn't necessarily a good thing, and this leads me onto CB2's one and only flaw.
Due to the improved save system and the game's leniency regarding gem collecting as mentioned above, CB2 is easier to complete than CB1. The save system is convenient and should have been in the first game. However the gem collecting thing combined with the general lack of challenge from the boss fights made this second Crash game a little too easy. Gaming veterans will be able to polish off this game completely in around two sittings. Possibly even just the one. Even relatively inexperienced gamers may find themselves covering a lot of percentage ground after just a couple hours of play.
But don't let the lack of challenge put you off experiencing a classic like Crash Bandicoot 2. The bright level scenery, likeable voice acting, and generally enjoyable gameplay all make this a lovely PSone platform game for everyone to enjoy. If you've yet to experience the delights of CB2, then you really need to buy a second hand PSone console and a copy of this game and do so. It's great. Simple as that...What?...The secrets again?! Alright, ONE freebie and that's it! Get through the whole of Level 1 "Turtle Woods" without breaking a box and you'll earn yourself a blue gem. There you go, now scram!