The platformer genre was, and in many ways still is, the bread and butter of the video game industry. Titles as such Sly Cooper, Jak and Daxter, and the Ratchet and Clank series have gone a long way to keep up the prestige that the genre made for itself. As a fan of platforming titles myself, this week I was glad to be able to sit down with another famous icon of the genre: Crash Bandicoot. The loveable yet often incoherent marsupial returns for his 15th adventure in Crash Bandicoot: Mind over Mutant. In this 2nd Crash title this generation, our fur covered hero will again face off against some of the familiar faces from the series, such as Nitritus Brio and Neo Cortex, with the help of other familiar faces such as Cocco Bandicoot and the magical mask, Aku Aku.
One of the things that can make or break a platforming title is the structure of the gameplay, so it seems best to tackle that first. Fortunately the gameplay in Mind Over Mutant is simple enough that even those who haven’t played a game in this genre before can get used to it rather quickly. A majority of Crash’s functions are linked to the D-Pad, such as fighting and jumping, but the right trigger and control sticks also come into play, especially when Crash uses the creatures called Titans. They aren’t the massive creatures of Greek myth, but they can be formidable in a variety of ways by giving Crash a leg up in physical combat or helping him progress through the game by making new parts of the level available by granting access to new locations.
This is accomplished depending on the creature Crash is using at the moment, as each has a specific ability or control of a certain element. For example, there is one Titan that has ice powers; he can freeze enemies solid for several seconds or even freeze flowing water to permit Crash to cross safely or leap to areas otherwise out of reach. There is another creature that, while not being particularly adept at physical combat, is extremely useful due to its telekinetic powers. The use of Titans is an extremely useful system but it is hampered by the fact that you can only have a maximum amount of 2 Titans available at a time; one stored, and one that Crash is currently using. This means that if you encounter an area that a Titan can’t cross you’ll have to leave it behind. It’s not too bad as you can find Titans practically everywhere in the game, but it still seems to have placed unnecessary limits on such a crucial idea in the title.
If there is a part of the game that is totally without flaw, it’s the quality of the humor which resulted in many laugh out loud moments as the game progressed. There are cutscenes, which usually serve to explain missions or set the story, but always have a twist that substantially increased their humorous nature. The villainous plot was revealed via an infomercial, the opening quest was told to the player via a puppet show, and on occasion it almost became a Ren and Stimpy tribute. The dialogue in these scenes and what you hear from the NPCs are equally as funny — the enemies shout things such as “Masculine noises!” when running to attack you, or “Come back here or I’ll never speak to you again!” when you run away from them.
While the humor is the best part of the game, there are areas that could use some further polishing. After too short a time the game makes your backtrack through several places in order to progress further. It’s like the devilish opposite of linearity — being forced to wander back and forth through the same areas time and again to complete different objectives to get through the game. Yes, it extends the game, but after a while it just doesn’t feel fun hiking back and forth across areas already traveled, to do things that’ll mean you just have to cross the same areas again to get back to where you were. Also the camera, while largely being intelligent enough to keep track of you, sometimes tends to fall down on the job when it forces you into a 2D view. That wouldn’t be so much of a burden if the camera wasn’t fully automatic but, sadly, it is. Once that camera fixes itself, it’s staying there. It’d be nice if they let you move it around at least a little to get a better view for a difficult jump. Mind Over Mutant also has the irritating phenomena of having quick, but frequent, load times between the start of a cutscene or between entering the new area. It’s not that much of a problem considering how quick they are (no more then several seconds) but having them so often breaks up the action and makes the game a lot less smooth.
Crash Bandicoot: Mind Over Mutant is a game with flaws that are just as detrimental as the good parts are beneficial. The combat is easy to grasp and use, the cutscenes and writing are hilarious, and the voice acting is well matched to the characters. However, the mandatory backtracking and the stubborn camera often takes a lot of fun out of what would otherwise be a really fun game. Fans of the series may want to add this to their collection, but for the price they might want to try a rental first.