Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back - Overview

Hot on the heels of the original game's huge success, Naughty Dog's Crash Bandicoot 2 raised the stakes on the direction of the franchise and added many new elements to the gameplay. Let's take a close look and see if the new additions make this a sequel done right.

Crash slides along the icy floor inside a tunnel formation near a penguin and a seal.Crash Bandicoot 2 introduces ice levels with slippery ground.

Right from the start you can tell how much effort has been put into improving the experience. The scenery is even more luscious and detailed than before, and the characters look amazing for a PlayStation game. Charles Zembillas's designs for the new characters are combined with rich 3D models and animation unmirrored by other 3D games from this time, including lip syncing for everyone's spoken lines (a big deal back then). Crash himself has tons of different and fluid animations that make him feel an even more comedic character who is truly alive (or dead, whenever one of the many new slapstick death animations occurs), and there's a lot of dialog between levels for the other main characters that fleshes out their personalities along with the plot.

The visual and musical variety is even greater than before. Why stick to jungles and temples when you can do other activities like skating on ice (despite Crash not appreciating it very much) or floating with a jet-pack in outer space, to name a few? Fittingly, Josh Mancell outdid himself with the music in this game, with a collection of catchy themes that can be very distinct from one another while being essentially consistent. They're appropriate to the point where you can often guess where a level will be set by just listening to the music before setting foot proper.

Your main objective besides finishing levels is retrieving pink crystals. There is one in each level excluding secret ones, but they're mostly there to advance the story, so they're all impossible to miss unless you intentionally avoid them. Levels are no longer accessed through a map screen, as that role is now fulfilled by Warp Rooms, small chambers with 5 level portals each. This grants you a greater freedom in what level you want to do next, as you can choose any portal from any Warp Room you've unlocked. Bosses return and are fought when transitioning to a new Warp Room for the first time. With the exception of the last boss, they're all pretty neat and memorable, if not a bit easy sometimes.

Crash hangs on to a mesh in the ceiling above some hot pipes inside a giant sewer. A surveillance robot patrols the area nearby.Crash can perform many new moves in the sequel, including hanging.

Most of the core mechanics from the original game make a return, but Crash feels pleasantly lighter to control, and the basic movement has been refined. The original game came out in a time when PlayStation controllers had no analog sticks, but Crash 2 comes with full analog support, which makes running a whole lot smoother (it's worth noting that, due to an oversight on Sony's behalf, the PSN version of the game annoyingly disables analog controls on the PlayStation 3). Jumping is also notably different from before and takes some time getting used to, since Crash will now stop in a dime while in the air as soon as you let go of the direction you were holding.

Crash also has several new moves. One of them is a quick, frontal slide-tackle, which is especially useful against enemies with harmful tops. He has also gained a belly flop that can smash through sturdy stuff and enemies, as well as quickly break a lot of crates stacked on each other. Not all of Crash's new moves are attacks, though. For instance, he can crouch under hazards or crawl underneath narrow passages. By crouching (or sliding) and then jumping, Crash will go higher than usual, which is great for covering greater distances or reaching higher platforms.

Other moves are context-sensitive, such as hanging from meshes or burrowing under soft ground. There's a couple of tools thrown into the pot as well: a jet-ski for river levels and a jet-pack in space stations. You are never required to push more than the same three buttons, keeping things simple and intuitive (though it's worth noting the jet-pack takes a while to get used to - especially if you don't like inverted flight controls, but you can turn these off in the Pause menu). Some features from the first game also make a comeback, such as running away from boulders and riding on an animal - this time it's a cute baby polar bear (just remember to flee from the not-so-cute adult ones).

Crash rides a jet-ski along a river, with various crates floating in the water.One of the new gadgets Crash can use is a jet-ski that helps him cross rivers.

It wouldn't be Crash Bandicoot without crates, so of course they're back too, and they bring a few new ones to the mix. Locked crates are reinforced with iron and must to be belly-flopped if you want them in pieces. Nitro crates are the stuff nightmares are made of, and they make regular old TNTs wet their pants. Give them the slightest touch and you'll go kablooie. The only way to get rid of them is to find a green switch box and activate it, which detonates all Nitro crates in the level instantly. The 10-fruit crates return mostly untouched, but bouncing 10 times on them is much slower now, to the point where you'll often just smash them to get it over with.

Returning with the crates are gems, but there's a bit more to them than before. For instance, colored gems are no longer obtained the same way as clear ones. You'll have to find them hidden somewhere in the levels by putting your common sense on hold and do crazy, unusual things. Breaking all the crates in a level always gives you a clear gem, but this is a much less stressful task this time because you're no longer required to do a perfect run - checkpoints now remember which crates you've broken, so don't worry about losing a life. Not only that, but you can also check how many crates you've broken at any time by bringing out the HUD (Heads-Up Display). Getting all the gems unlocks a second ending, but it's worth noting that neither ending is actually very good.

Just remember that there are branching paths here and there, so get ready to do some backtracking to break the crates on both sides (this gets a bit frustrating sometimes because the camera in these levels doesn't go far enough for you to see what's coming when you're going backwards). Some levels have an additional clear gem in optional, deadlier paths. Most of these paths are accessed through skull-and-crossbones platforms, but they can only be used if you haven't lost any lives since you started the level.

Crash flies inside a space station with the help of a jet-pack. A few laser beams in front of him block his way.In zero-gravity levels, Crash can fly around with the use of a jet-pack.

It's not easy getting everything in the game, but unlike the original Crash Bandicoot, where this stemmed from crates respawning upon losing a life, the difficulty now comes from exploring and finding all the secrets. Most of the time you'll have to pay attention and see if there's anything suspicious, like a random platform with seemingly no purpose or a path that doesn't look like it leads anywhere. Pursue these oddities and you may find yourself being suddenly whisked into a secret Warp Room.

Though the game is generally less difficult than its predecessor, there are still some tough segments. Things never get near as frustrating as before due to the dynamic difficulty that adapts to how well you play: lose too many lives and you'll respawn with an Aku Aku mask. If you keep losing lives after that, one of the crates in the proximity will turn into an earlier checkpoint. This means that experienced players can enjoy the levels as originally intended, while those who find themselves having too much trouble will get a helping hand when needed.

One last returning feature from the first game is the presence of bonus rounds. Most levels have one, and these can be replayed as many times as you like. They've also become mandatory for gems, since the crates inside them now count towards completion. You can get to them by stepping on platforms marked with interrogation marks. You don't need them to save your game anymore, as you can now do it on any Warp Room whenever you like (thankfully). Another huge benefit this time is that the game remembers how many lives, fruits and Aku Aku masks you have when loading a save game (and in fact, even the dynamic checkpoints and masks you've triggered will be there), plus you can have up to 4 different saves if you like. This meant that the password system had to be scrapped entirely, but most games had already stopped using that anyway, and PlayStation Memory Cards were more widely available when Crash 2 came out.

Crash Bandicoot 2 is a remarkable sequel. Easy to pick up and not lacking in challenge, it fixes the few things wrong with the original game, improves the good things further and still manages to deal a nice amount of new content and features, all wrapped up in a neat package filled with detail and a lot of fun stuff.

The good

  • Fixes everything that was wrong with the original game
  • The level design is much more enjoyable than the first game's
  • Looks even better than its predecessor
  • Catchy soundtrack
  • Dynamic difficulty adjusted to the player's skill

The bad

  • Going backwards after a path splits is awkward and inconvenient
  • The final boss and the endings are quite disappointing

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