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Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex - Overview


After a hefty dose of racing and partying, Crash returns to his platforming roots and continues where he left off two years prior, this time on a whole new console generation. It's time to see how well Crash handled the jump to the different hardware.

The leap in hardware makes up for some stunning special effects, despite an inconsistent and arguably botched art style.

Developed by Traveller's Tales, The Wrath of Cortex sports an all-new graphics engine that is nothing short of amazing for its time. Not only is the game's frame rate twice as smooth as before, but there are several reflection and lighting effects that look amazing, so you can see stuff like Crash's image being reflected on ice, water, and even shiny pick-ups. Additionally, the Xbox version adds a complex fur effect for Crash and a few other characters, though it also goes a bit overboard with it, making them look like like plush dolls. The GameCube version is the definite worst of the bunch, though. Ported by Eurocom Entertainment Software, this version of the game not only does away with many visual effects, but it's also noticeably uglier with flat lighting and many graphical glitches and oversights.

Graphics aside, most characters look quite off-model, and the enemy design is all over the place, as if each level had its enemies drawn by a different person, and yet never achieving that distinct and lovable style from the original PlayStation games. The animation is also noticeably downgraded, and Crash no longer has all the funny death scenes besides a few basic ones. The environments themselves look mediocre, with a lot of ugly textures and some of the weirdest foliage you'll ever see in a video game (hope you like plastic spheres as leaves).

The music sounds completely different from previous games. This soundtrack has a much more synthetized feel to it (some tracks would be right at home in an electronic dance compilation), which ends up feeling out of place for a Crash Bandicoot game.

Also worth noting are the abysmal loading times present in the original PlayStation 2 release, something that is very jarring compared to the previous games. Fortunately, the Greatest Hits and Platinum releases of the game managed to cut down the loading times drastically, and the Xbox version loads things even faster. It's a good thing you can skip the intro too, because it's by far the longest in any Crash game to date, taking exactly 6 minutes before you can start playing (and even longer if you count the loading screens and the usual Warp Room dialogue).

Crash controls identically to previous games, though with some occasional shortcomings.

When it comes to playing the game, Crash feels a bit slower than usual, but the controls are quite similar to the previous games. Like in Crash 2, Crash's stops in mid-air if you jump and let go of the direction you're holding, and now the spin attack stops a little too soon compared to previous games, but nothing you can't get used to. Sliding now has the neat benefit of letting Crash go under a pile of stacked crates without them breaking on his head (useful for sliding under TNTs unharmed, for example). Jumping when using the Crash Dash ability cancels your extra momentum, so you can't perform long jumps like in WARPED. The most noticeable change in Crash's controls, however, is the speed at which he moves while hanging on to a mesh, which is now an excruciatingly slow process for some reason.

Super powers are back and you get all the same ones from WARPED, along with a new Tip Toe ability. This lets you cross suspended rows of Nitro crates without exploding like fireworks, but it's also gimmicky and has a very limited use. Though not quite super powers, there are also some rare Invisibility Crates (which, for some reason, make you invincible in the process). Other than showing off some neat special effects for its time, their potential is mostly gone to waste.

The level design is quite problematic. To start with, most levels are much longer than usual, which presents an immediate problem where Time Trials are concerned. Since there are no checkpoints in Time Trials, losing a life implies restarting from the beginning every time, which is only aggravated by the level length. This is especially true if you mess up near the exit. The game also plays things a bit too safe for its own good, so there aren't many new features to speak of compared to WARPED.

Any signs of enemy AI are completely gone.

Enemies are practically brain-dead. All of them do scripted routines, like throwing projectiles in a preset direction or walking back and forward. While this is true for many enemies in previous games, most of them at least followed Crash or took aim at him, and the few that didn't were placed in a way that they still acted as decent obstacles. You could rarely stand right next to them unharmed, at least. This doesn't mean they're always easy to avoid though, because some of them move or shoot too fast for you to dodge, and you won't even see them coming sometimes. There's little consistency in how dangerous enemies can be, sometimes in the same level.

Boss fights are a little different from usual because of two things: you always fight the same guy (newcomer Crunch) and there's often a vehicle involved in some way. A weird thing about Crunch is that he always seems to die at the end of each boss fight, but once you're kicked back into the level select hub, you'll see him doing fine and dandy as if nothing happened. The fourth fight is particularly odd, showing Crunch's skeleton blowing up into pieces (no graphical violence is involved, but it's still a weird sight compared to how the games usually go). He's a bit too serious in this game for a Crash Bandicoot character and lacks that Saturday morning cartoon flair that all the previous villains had.

Crash will sometimes have to roll inside an oversized hamster ball.

Vehicles are back with a vengeance. Often considered the most divisive aspect from WARPED, these are without a doubt the worst thing in this game. While vehicles in this game are more varied than before, they're also much more useless and frustrating. The sad thing is you're still forced to use them, and now they can sometimes be found in the middle of a platforming level.

Some of these vehicles are simply borrowed from previous games with different names and looks. This includes Crash's plane, the jet-pack, and a jeep, which is functionally the same as the motorcycle. Strangely, there are no animal buddies to ride this time. The recycled vehicles actually work fine; it's the new ones you need to be wary of.

The first new vehicle is a hamster ball that Crash rolls inside of. This is admittedly a pretty interesting mechanic, and for the most part, it works. It's fun to make use of Crash's momentum while rolling to get across slopes and corkscrews, but the problem is that you often come across hazards that are hard to dodge given the rolling mechanics. While Nitro crates become easier to dodge as you get used to it, by far the most annoying hazards are pits (which are very easy to accidentally roll into) and Dingodile. Yes, Dingodile and some of the other baddies now appear as common enemies in a few levels, but none are as annoying as him and his flamethrower, which has a tendency to sneeze fire everywhere just as you're crossing his way. You kind of wonder why Crash has to roll inside a ball to begin with, since there is never anything he couldn't get past on foot.

why

The term "down the drain" gains a whole new meaning with the underwater levels. Not only do they harbor the fastest enemies in the game, but they're also home to the worst and slowest vehicle ever — the submarine. There is nothing right with the sub. It's a mind-boggling amalgamation of terrible decisions. WARPED had a sub and it was great — not only could you move faster and shoot coral reefs with it, but you also gained an extra hit point. In The Wrath of Cortex, the sub is slow, there is nothing you absolutely need to shoot with it, and you die if it touches an enemy, which becomes all the more likely now that you're a bigger target.

The sub doesn't even get something as simple as changing directions right: unless you keep holding the opposite direction (and not the slightest bit diagonally), Crash will just pointlessly face the screen, leaving him completely vulnerable and unable to attack anything coming from the side. What's the point? And to make things even worse, these levels are filled with mines that rapidly drop from above, so the only way to stay safe is by sticking to the top of the level and shooting blindly, because if you hear a mine dropping on you, that sluggish sub just isn't going to dodge in time. Then there are fish that appear out of nowhere and kill you faster than you can say "bandicoots". But the worst part? These levels have Time Trials too...

Speaking of yellow vehicles that only exist to make things pointlessly frustrating, let's talk about the mech. You'd be forgiven to think this would be fun to control (it is on the game's cover, after all), but again, disappointment rears its ugly head. Controlling the mech is a chore — you can't move or jump as freely as on foot, and since it's so big, it's easier to run into a hazard (again, you lose a life if it breaks). Not only that, but the only way you can attack (other than barely being able to jump, which for some reason takes even longer if you're not running) is by shooting, but this requires you to come to a complete halt like with the bazooka (and good luck getting that arm cannon to actually aim at something).

Coco is fully playable, but unfortunately, she is a mere Crash clone with inexplicable limitations.

The final and by no means least useless addition in The Wrath of Cortex is a fully playable Coco. Crash's sister will tackle some levels (for no given reason), but she's also worse than him in every way (for... no given reason). Imagine if Crash couldn't slide or use any super powers besides the Crash Dash and the Super Belly Flop. Then just put a wig on him and you get Coco. To add insult to the injury, Coco's only exclusive move is a low kick that stops her dead in her tracks and is never required for anything. No one in their right mind would play as Coco if they weren't forced to. Case in point: one of her levels is a carbon copy of one of Crash's, but several things had to be tweaked just so she wouldn't get stuck. If the developers were aware of how bad she is, couldn't they have just given her Crash's abilities in the first place?

The Wrath of Cortex is the first true disappointment in the series, thanks to a plethora of bad design choices and an ugly art style (despite some impressive effects for its time). Crash's controls and some of the vehicles are successfully recycled from previous games to a certain degree, but the enemies aren't interesting, and there are lots of forced and useless gimmicks that do nothing but hamper your enjoyment. Proceed with caution.

The good

  • The PS2 and Xbox versions have great visual effects for their time
  • The hamster ball provides an interesting momentum-based mechanic when you're not surrounded by hazards

The bad

  • No evolution from WARPED
  • Coco is absolutely useless
  • The sub and the mech are unbearable
  • Moving while hanging is really slow
  • Brainless and inconsistently designed enemies
  • The levels are too long for their own good
  • Time Trials are more frustrating than ever
  • Most characters look off-model
  • The animation is sub-par compared to previous games
  • The music feels out of place
  • Extremely long loading times in the original PlayStation 2 release
  • The GameCube version has terrible lighting and is graphically inferior to the other two versions


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