Publisher: Universal Interactive
Developer: Traveller’s Tales
Release Date: 9/17/2002
When Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex was released on the PS2 last year it was greeted with lukewarm reviews and accused of being far too derivative for its own good, the inexcusably long load-times didn’t help matters much either. Thankfully, Wrath of Cortex has been somewhat refined and enhanced for its debut on Nintendo hardware, but this is still the same game with only minor improvements. And compared to the Xbox version, which was released last April, the Gamecube port pales in comparison.
The legacy that Naughty Dog started on the PSX has been faithfully carried over to current-technology consoles – too faithfully in fact. All the been-there done-that sequences of Bandicoot-past have been revived in full form on Crash Bandicoot: Wrath of Cortex. Everything from the obligatory mine-cart chases to the run-away-from-enemy-tunnel-chase levels are in full attendance. It seems Universal Interactive just doesn’t think Crash should evolve from his original form, either that or they have simply ran out of ideas. This can be good or bad depending on your perspective, but one thing is for sure, the Crash franchise will go the way of the Tomb Raider series if Universal refuses to reinvent, or at least innovate on the current formula for Crash Bandicoot games in the future.
The story for Wrath of Cortex is not unlike that of its predecessors; Uka Uka and Dr. Cortex are working together with the aide of the ‘elementals’ to do away with their long-time bandicoot foe: Crash. The utilization of the four forces known simply as elements will give Dr. Cortex the ability to unleash the powers of earth, wind, fire, water, and a bandicoot-bashing foe named Crunch in an effort to put a stop to his constant meddling. Each world in WoC consists of 5 levels and a boss fight, and are centered around the traits of each specific element, with Dr. Cortex’s world centered around electricity and gadgetry-type scenery. There is a fair amount of side-scrolling portions in the game, which will become apparent once you find one of many bonus stages scattered throughout the game. Water-based levels are also strictly side-scrolling. The majority of Wrath of Cortex allows Crash to move in all 8 directions, giving the game a full 3D style, but since the game pushes you in only one direction at all times you’ll find that progression is very linear.
As with previous Bandicoot games you will find that level design is exceedingly diversified. Stages include lots of cool vehicles, and gameplay dynamics that do a good job of keeping the action fresh. Of the more notable sequences in the game are the Hamster-ball levels that allow you to maneuver Super Monkey Ball-style. Other variations in transportation are the mini-copter, jeep, mech-suit, and one-person submarine. You’ll control various aircrafts in order to dispose of Cortex’s army of minions. Coco, Crash’s sister, will take center stage in a few of the game’s levels. She controls nearly identically to Crash but lacks his special abilities. Most of Coco’s stages consist of simple run-and-jump dynamics. Crash himself controls very similarly as he did in the previous games, all the trademark moves are present, like spin, slide, and crawl.
After each boss fight you will be given a new special move to help Crash successfully complete the following levels. Special moves include the ability to tiptoe, crash-dash, death-tornado or super double-jump. While these new moves are a nice addition, they are rarely necessary to progress through a level.
Since there is no option to modify the camera perspective, you’ll find yourself dying needlessly due to blind-spot pitfalls and out-of-the-way nitro crates. This annoying consistency relegates certain levels to trial and error, having to memorize what you’re supposed to do in order to progress is not something that this reviewer finds entertaining. As you make your way to the end of each stage you’ll collect peaches, after collecting 100 you will be awarded with one free life. You’ll also need to retrieve a crystal on each stage, which reduces the overall power of the four elemental masks.
Graphically, don’t expect much in the way of improvements from the previous two ports, the realistic fur techniques that the Xbox game boasted are nowhere to be seen. Real-time lighting, reflection, and particle effects compliment the on-screen action nicely though. What is puzzling is the fact that the animation seems to run at a sporadic clip in hectic instances despite the fact that the visuals in no way tax the Gamecube hardware. Levels are much larger and draw distances much farther then previous Crash games on the original Playstation, but the environments are far from impressive when the current on-the-shelf offerings are considered. Cut-scenes consist of Jak and Daxter-esque cartoon-like animations and they do a nice job of pushing the plot forward. Sound effects are, at best, uninspired, but you may not even notice since the soundtrack of the game overshadows the played-out sound effects with a cool, addictive, happy-go-lucky-type feel. Each stage offers a new and fun musical track that enhances the overall experience.
Like most platforming games, Wrath of Cortex offers extended play by means of a Time Trial option which allows you to replay levels you’ve already beaten in hopes of besting your previous time and receiving a ‘relic’ as award. Gems are also scattered throughout the game and collecting them all will allow you to watch the ‘true’ ending of the game, but it’s unlikely that you’ll have the patience to replay the game after your first time through since it can get very tedious after only a few hours. Luckily, or maybe unluckily, the game only offers around 5 full hours of gametime – 5 hours ain’t worth a purchase no matter how you cut it.
Crash fans who dig the simple platforming antics of the past Crash titles will be pleasantly surprised with Wrath of Cortex, but if you are looking for an innovative and original experience that does justice to the series you’ll have to look elsewhere. There are a lot better games out there in the platforming department (like Super Mario Sunshine for instance) and truth be told, Wrath of Cortex is really starting to show its age. If you have a choice between the older, and most likely cheaper, Xbox version and the Gamecube version, get the Xbox port.