Crash of the Titans
I've always got very excited about new Crash Bandicoot games - the games, originating from Naughty Dog, have always had all the classic platforming elements such as collecting items, jumping on the rather pathetic bad guys, and some entertaining boss battles. So I couldn't wait to play the first next-gen title, developed by Radical Entertainment this time around. The developers have taken the series in a different direction, so let's see if it is a good one.
The game starts with Neo Cortex and Uka Uka, the usual villains of the piece, stating that they are sucking the Mojo from Wumpa Island. They are using this Mojo to mutate the inhabitants into large unpleasant monsters. Crash and Aku Aku do not appreciate this, and so begin battling Cortex's mutant creations in an attempt to stop any such nonsense.
This introduces the new concept of the series - Crash can use Aku Aku's power to "jack" the mutants - leaping up on their back and taking control of them. The player can then use the mutant they have jacked to fight their way through Cortex's forces with a series of different moves and powers.
Crash has also been given a bit of muscle, he now has heavy and light attacks, different combos, and a number of special moves. These are effective against the "minions" (Cortex's henchmen) and the smaller mutants, though you do need to deal a bit of damage to the mutants before you can jack them.
However, when Crash meets some larger mutants, it is clear that he cannot do the damage to be able to take control. This is where the "food chain" concept comes in - Crash can jack a smaller mutant, which in turn is able to do the damage in order to jack the larger beast. There are six different strands of enemy in total - the minions, who Crash simply needs to defeat rather than jack, fall in swathes to even the smallest 'jacked' mutant. Next there are the ranged mutants, these creatures that can attack enemies from afar, but will quickly get swamped if melee mutants outnumber them.
There are then three levels of melee mutants, you will need to jack one of the smaller ones to damage a medium one, and then jack a medium one to jack a "Captain" - the largest standard mutant. Captains can wade through minions without taking a scratch, and can easily take on large numbers of the smaller mutants.
With the exception of a few jumping sections, the combat is the sole focus of the game - a real deviation from previous Crash games, which focused much more on platforming trickery and collecting all items in a level. But unfortunately, the concept is simply not deep enough to sustain a whole game it would seem. The majority of the levels are reduced to button-mashing "light attacks" through hordes of enemies - whether controlling Crash against the minions, or a mutant against minions and other mutants. If your mutant gets even slightly damaged, you can simply jump straight to another one to gain full health as your discarded ally slumps to the ground.
In short, the game has simply lost its challenge - I was able to complete the game very quickly indeed. A true "completionist" can attempt to locate all the "hidden goals" - each level including a medal system. You obtain gold medals by destroying enough enemies, achieving a high string of successive attacks in a "combo", and locating all of Cortex's Spy-bots - three in each level. Each level also hides a secret doll, which can unlock concept art, and a Mojo challenge room, which doesn't do much except provide an extra collectible. However, I found a lot of these on my first play through without really looking too hard - they would not provide much of a challenge to any experienced gamer.
A lot of the game was fun - my favourite parts were controlling the largest Captains and wading through hordes of enemies. Unfortunately, the rest of the game was a bit of a grind.
Long-time fans of the series may remember the polar bear levels where Crash rode a polar bear non-stop down a mountain. These levels (two or three in each game) were highly entertaining - but there is no way that they could support the whole experience, from beginning to end. I can envision a similar future for the "jacking" concept - I'd like to see future games go back to the original focus on platforming, but I would definitely enjoy a few levels controlling the largest of the mutants against hordes of enemies. There was definitely something therapeutic about sending smaller enemies flying (literally) with a swing of a large gorilla-like fist.
Let's hope that Crash Bandicoot doesn't go the same way as Sonic the Hedgehog - by all means, introduce new concepts; but don't lose sight of what makes the game great in the process. Crash Bandicoot is one of the all-time great platforming characters, not a brawler, so let's keep it that way.