Multiplayer Mayhem

A great way to enjoy video games is to share the fun with friends and family. Who doesn't like the occasional couch session where everyone fights for victory? And what about letting friends be friends and help you out on your adventure? There's a bit of everything to be found in Crash Bandicoot games, so we're going to take a look at the multiplayer experiences they have to offer and understand what makes it special to play Crash with company.

Mano-a-Bandicoot-o

Crash, Coco, Cortex, and Tiny drive karts around the beach. Cortex's kart has exploded, ejecting him in the air. Tiny, who drives behind everyone else, holds a bomb in his hand.

In any competition, things are much more enjoyable when everyone has the same chance of winning, or else it can get boring for one participant and frustrating for another. Crash Bash, for example, features simplistic mini-games, and this no doubt helps making its competitive modes the game's highest point. Racing in CTR is more prone to get disadvantageous for one of the players, but it immediately makes up for it with two things: Players who get left in the dust will have much better power-ups than those in the lead, and if racing is just not your thing, Battle mode could be right up your alley.

To this day, CTR remains one of my favorite games when I just want to have mindless fun, more specifically thanks to its multiplayer component. My cousin and I would spend countless afternoons playing against each other when we were kids, and when we meet up under the right circumstances, chances are we'll still do it. We might do a few races, but she and I both know we'll end up doing battles at one point, if not immediately upon booting up the game.

The Battle mode in this game is extremely accessible, even more so than racing proper. You don't need to worry about going fast, powersliding, or using any of the more advanced techniques in order to properly enjoy it. You just drive around in a cozy arena, pick stuff up, and use it against your friends, or flee when they have the upper hand. It's like the ultimate game of tag, with more explosives and power-ups than you can shake a stick at.

A typical battle in CTR. Crash and Fake Crash are both using invincibility masks.

Perhaps thanks to its simplicity, my cousin and I always had more fun with this than racing against each other. I think it's because I played through single player mode more often than she did (I was also a more experienced player from the start), which meant I'd always beat her at racing. Things are more balanced during battles thanks to their set-up, so she has a better chance there, and this keeps us both on our toes and forces us to be more strategic and creative.

I love doing things like planting beakers inside crates where they can't be seen (which, by the way, leads to a game-freezing bug if the battle ends when you hit one of them). Then you have things like the invisibility power-up, which is not only sneaky and a joy to use, but it can also save you from being chased by your opponent or an active missile. Combine it with a mask or a shield and your friends won't even know what hit them!

As an aside, I spent so much time playing this mode with my cousin that we even started making our own rules and habits at some point. For example, every time we start a battle in Rampage Ruins, we both drive directly in reverse so we'll fall down the hole, leading to a short duel with whatever power-ups we get inside the temple before moving out. We didn't even decide on this; we just started doing it one day and it's stuck with us ever since.

Being a sequel to CTR, Crash Nitro Kart brought back the battle mode, but like the rest of the game, we just never found it all that fun in comparison with the original thing. I think most of this stems from the fact that all the arenas are too large now, so it's harder to catch up with your opponent or hit them from a distance, making battles drag (not to mention the karts aren't quite as nimble and satisfying to control). A decent try, but we'll take CTR over it any day. Besides, nothing beats the satisfaction of hitting someone in the face with a well-aimed shield!

Unlocking the Fun

Competitive multiplayer games should already come with most (if not all) things unlocked. It's easy to illustrate the reason for this by putting together two games like CTR and Tag Team Racing. Let's say you just got the former and you're ready to duke it out against your friends. Right from the get-go you have sixteen tracks unlocked out of eighteen, and even though half the playable characters need to be unlocked, they're just clones of the ones you can already pick. Most of the content is there for you to enjoy.

Now let's assume you got Tag Team Racing instead. When you're just starting out, you can choose from three tracks out of the game's fifteen, and you can only play as either Crash or Cortex. Indeed, thanks to this baffling choice, the ability to play with more than one friend needs to be unlocked. In a game with a multiplayer component, that is absurd. Granted, unlocking two more characters doesn't require much effort, but it also makes this decision all the more pointless. Though I guess PlayStation 2 owners don't need to worry about this at all — Despite four player split-screen being promised on the box, this version is limited to two players only (yes, technically it has LAN play for up to eight players, but good luck setting that up).

Crash, dressed as a caveman, runs towards a caged yeti. There are two ninja penguins standing beside Crash.

The reason locking multiplayer content like this doesn't work is because, at least in this series, it's always been locked behind single player modes. This gives you two choices, neither of them particularly convenient: You can either play through single player mode with your friends in different turns (which is frustrating and hinders each person's learning process somewhat) or you can play through it all yourself, making you a lot more experienced than your friends in the process, to the point where it might not be fun for everyone anymore.

The solution is simple: If there needs to be locked multiplayer content, make it also available through, well, multiplayer modes. CTR and Crash Bash have dabbled in this, letting you unlock new battle arenas and mini-games with a friend in specific modes, but there's still room for improvement. I'm thinking of something in the lines of: "To unlock this track, beat Ripper Roo in Single Player mode OR race 10 times in Multiplayer mode". This structure preserves the game's longevity while letting you enjoy the game the way you want, with how many people you want. It's important to note, however, that this doesn't mean the game should have most of its content locked either way. After all, many players would like to jump right into the game with their pals, and you can only play the same content so many times before it gets repetitive.

Cooperating Towards Victory

Crash and Coco ride on some mutants' backs.

When it comes to cooperative play, Crash has you covered with a few games. The first one that comes to mind is Crash Bash, which lets you take on Adventure mode with a friend to share all the pain and frustration that comes with it. I recommend that each person chooses a character from a different alignment, just for the added spectacle of betraying each other at the end, while Aku Aku and Uka Uka continue to sit on their nonexistent butts. Just make sure the two of you beat the game together, lest you end up with a dead weight tied to your ankles when your friend is not around (the number of players in each file is set in stone for some obtuse reason).

Crash Nitro Kart offers some semblance of cooperative play with its team mode, but it's such a barebones feature that it barely counts. Staying close to your teammate for a short burst of unlimited power-ups comes across as an afterthought, especially when you're already in the lead. For a more substantial take on this concept, choose Tag Team Racing and join up with your friend so one of you is driving the car and the other one is shooting. At least until one of you decide to bail and leave your former partner in the dust. Plenty of opportunities to be a jerk, that's for sure!

Crash and Coco run in the forest.

But if you're looking for an actual platforming adventure to share with a friend, you can pick between Crash of the Titans and Mind Over Mutant. A second player can drop in and out of an ongoing session at any point. Even if your friend isn't that good at either game, they can switch to a passive mode and leave the hard parts to you.

I find Crash of the Titans to be better than Mind Over Mutant in this department thanks to the leapfrogging option. When your friend is in passive mode (a.k.a. riding inside your backpack), the active player is switched every time you land from a jump. In other words, jumping gives the other player the controls until they jump again. This is fun for sliding sequences where only one player is allowed to move at a time, or if you just want to do platforming this way.

Mind Over Mutant replaces leapfrogging with a new mode where one player shoots chickens with a crosshair, which despite being just okay (if not a bit annoying to the active player) doesn't justify removing leapfrogging altogether. The two modes would have been able to coexist just fine. Another thing that annoys me in this game is losing my combo multiplier when a friend hits me. Despite these issues, the simple drop-in/drop-out nature is a plus in both games, and that brings us to our last what-if.

Crates for Two

Crash and Cortex on N. Sanity Beach.

Although the Titans duology has provided us with our first taste of a cooperative Crash adventure (at least one that wasn't a spin-off anyway), it begs the question of how well a more classic Crash game would play with a friend onboard. This idea has been toyed with in Skylanders Imaginators, thanks to its Thumpin' Wumpa Islands pack, but it's not quite the same thing. After all, it's a Skylanders game first and a Crash game second.

We can take an important lesson from Skylanders and the Titans games: a co-op platformer needs ample areas to accommodate for more than one player. This is certainly not the case in the classic games, thanks to the narrow hallway design of most levels. The gameplay mechanics as they are now would probably still work, but the levels would need to be more complex and pack in more content. This would give all players something to do, rather letting someone take the lead and undo all the hazards, or break all the crates.

Since this hypothetical multiplayer Crash game of ours could still be played by a single person, there should be a sensible middle ground in its level design. If the areas are too big, breaking all the crates in one go shouldn't be required (something Twinsanity did right), or the game needs to remember which ones you've already broken in subsequent playthroughs. Maybe those crates could respawn with a distinctive element (like a blue stripe, for example) that lets you know you've already found them on a previous run through the level.

Without all of these things in consideration, a classic Crash game would only have one thing going for it when it comes to multiplayer: Competition. Bring in that vertical split-screen and let's see who gets to the end of the level first, or who breaks the most crates and collects the most Wumpa fruits. Throw in some special crates with random effects and power-ups and we've got ourselves something great to play with a friend. N-Tranced already had races (though players couldn't interact with each other), so why stop there? When it comes to enjoying Crash with someone, I think this has as much potential as a cooperative adventure, if not more.

Bring Your Controller

There's definitely not a lack of options for friends and family to enjoy Crash Bandicoot together. From competitive modes to cooperative sessions, the series has had it all. Some games make these aspects more enjoyable than others, and as always, there's still room for improvement. So here's what we can take from this analysis:

  • The more accessible a game is, the easier it is for everyone to have a good time;
  • Optional handicap features and balance options are always welcome;
  • Multiplayer content should never be locked behind single player modes;
  • Most (if not all) competitive multiplayer content should be available from the start;
  • Cooperative modes should offer substantial features not seen when playing alone;
  • There is potential for a multiplayer classic Crash game, both cooperative and otherwise.

Oh, and before I forget: The invisibility power-up is no excuse for screen watching! Tsk, tsk.



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