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 bar for 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.

You can tell right from the start how much effort has been put into improving the presentation. 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 unmatched by other games of this era, even going as far as lip syncing everyone's spoken lines (a big deal back then). Crash himself has tons of fluid animations that make him feel even funnier and more alive (or dead, should one of the various slapstick death animations occur). Additionally, there's a lot of dialog between levels for the other characters that fleshes out their personalities along with the plot.

The visual and musical variety is even greater than before. Ice-skating and using a jet-pack in outer space are just a few hints of how much larger the level themes have become. Fittingly, Josh Mancell outdid himself with the music in this game, with a collection of catchy tunes that can be very distinct from one another while remaining consistent. They're appropriate to the point where you can often guess where a level will be set by just listening to the music.

Your main objective besides finishing levels is retrieving a new type of pink-colored crystals. There is one in each level (excluding secret ones), but they're just there to move the story along, so it's pretty much impossible to miss them. Levels are no longer accessed from a map screen, as that role is now fulfilled by Warp Rooms — small chambers with 5 level gates each. This grants you a greater freedom in what level you want to do next, as you can choose any level from any Warp Room you've unlocked. A boss awaits you after beating a whole Warp Room, and with the exception of the last boss, they're all pretty neat and memorable, if not a bit easy.

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, and his 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, but it works fine on the Vita). Jumping is also notably different from before and takes some time getting used to, since Crash will now stop in a dime 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's also gained a belly flop that can smash through sturdy stuff and enemies, as well as quickly break a stack of crates. Not all of Crash's new moves are attacks, though. For instance, he can crouch under hazards and 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 are 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 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 be belly-flopped if you want them broken. 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 hit it, detonating 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 in 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. You see, checkpoints now remember which crates you've broken, so you don't have to 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 very good.

if getting everything in the game is your jam, keep in mind 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 Death Routes. Most of these are accessed through skull-and-crossbones platforms that appear halfway through certain levels, 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 frustrating design, 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. Thankfully, things never get 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 a checkpoint. This sort of thing even applies to more specific cases, like boulders becoming slower if you get crushed by them too often. 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 benefit this time is that the game remembers how many lives, fruits and Aku Aku masks you have when loading a save file (and in fact, even the dynamic difficulty adjustments will still be there), plus you can have up to 4 different save files. This means that the password system was 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 neat things further, and still manages to deal a good amount of new content and features, all wrapped up in a nice package filled with detail and a lot of fun stuff. A must-have for any Crash fan or platformer lover.

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 disappointing

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