Developer: Traveller's Tales
Release Date: September 28, 2004
If I weren't such a fan of really absurd cartoon violence, this game would have a lower score.
I've never really bought into the whole line of Crash Bandicoot games, but what I do know is that they were, at least at first, Sony's version of the "mascot platformer" in Mario and Sonic style. Crash has endured a surprisingly long time given that most critical reviews seem to find his games pretty darned mediocre, and with Twinsanity, I got to see why for myself. I'm still a bit confused over how he's made it this far, but I'm not gonna complain.
Okay, that's a lie. I am going to complain a fair bit.
Crash is a goofy, not particularly bright little creature with great big pants and no brain who lives on a far away mythical island, or possibly Australia. The game's a little unclear on this point. He seems as if he'd be perfectly happy if his daily routine consisted only of hanging out at the beach and trying to eat his own shoes. Like other mascot-based platform games, though, the hero is nothing if not for his villain, and less than thirty seconds into the game one Dr. Neo-Cortex shows up. Crash's creator and his nemesis, Cortex makes the scene by cross-dressing to imitate Crash's sister, luring Crash off into the jungle. He then attempts to savage our hero with a giant robot. I can find no fault with this plan.
Several bizarre coincidences and tussles later, Crash and Cortex together are attacked by small blue birdlike aliens from Dimension 10, and resolve to kinda-sorta team up to fight back. (The aliens also steal Cortex's brain, but he's still far brighter than Crash is. I am amused by this.)
These two only occasionally work together, most of the time you'll be futzing about as Crash alone, run-and-jumping through the levels. When Cortex shows up, you can grab him off his feet and the two will join at the hands to toddle about. There are a couple scenes where you play as Cortex alone, plasma gun a-blazing, and there are a few levels where you spend time as Nina Cortex, the Doc's bionic-armed niece. These are more like afterthoughts to Crash's game, though.
The box promotes that having these two characters working together at all is a milestone for the series, and it's done well for what it is. Most of the team-up attacks come at the expense of the Doc, as Crash hefts him up and uses Cortex's big flat head like a hammer, or violently twirls him around, or just hauls off and pitches him at the bad guys overhand. The duo also rolls down hills in a cloud of cartoon dust, beating the snot out of each other, and there's a memorable sequence in which Crash becomes so fascinated by Dr. Cortex's swaying rear end that he feels compelled to leap atop it and use it as a snowboard, Cortex screaming bloody murder the whole way downhill. Later in the game, you'll get to stuff the Doc into a mail-tube and shoot him painfully through a series of pipes.
I don't make this stuff up, folks. I just play the games.
I've touched upon probably the most fun part of this game with that last line: Dr. Cortex spends about 90% of the time he's on camera having abuse heaped on him like a classic Warner Brothers character. From being chased and assaulted by bees, to learning firsthand what it's like to be used as a Whack-a-Mole hammer, Dr. Cortex never catches a break... and his dialogue makes it clear he doesn't deserve one. Just about all of the game's best lines come from Cortex, and his voice actor brings it home solidly. He may be on the way to being my favorite mad scientist ever and that's a heck of a feat. Someone get his voice actor into another role RIGHT NOW. I want more of him.
If Cortex pulls down the best lines of the game, Crash has the best facial expressions. The boy is about as sharp as a sack of hair and he proves it every time the camera zooms in on him, or every time his attention span visibly wanders off to play with the butterflies while other stuff is going on around him. He's great to watch.
The whole game is great to watch, really. It's a beautifully detailed world and there's a lot of variety in it. You spend most of your time towards the start of the game in a tropical forest, then swing off into a land of ice, with a detour through the engine and storage room of a battleship, as well as a bop through Cortex's Giant Fortress O' Evil.
Twinsanity is also a fantastic game to listen to. The musical stylings of a group called Spiralmouth are all over this thing, and while I'd not heard of them before I'd like to hear more from them now. Just about anything you could expect... rock, classical, funk... gets tossed around in the background, a cappella. In other words, almost all the music is some guy or a group of some guys going "doo-wah, oo-aah" at you. There's a rendition of The Blue Danube done this way backing one of the otherwise dull levels that makes me yearn for a sound test mode. There's also, for example, what sounds like a version of Ride of the Valkyries scored for kazoo, whistle, and Guy Who Goes "Na Na". The voice acting, as mentioned, is all pretty darned solid stuff. The sound effects can get a little grainy-sounding at times, but they're all pretty obvious. Bonk, beep, fwee, ding. The usual platformer noises.
It's great to watch. It's great to listen to. How's it play?
I wish I didn't have to talk about how this game plays.
Twinsanity is a platform-hopping game in which the camera, the general physics of the main character, and often the level layout itself make it extremely difficult to (for example) hop between platforms. In addition, the game often seems to have a direct personal grudge against the player, and while it does offer unlimited continues, it seems designed to make you use ALL of them, even if this is not technically possible.
Let's start with the camera, which usually seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Either it's swinging away from your carefully-positioned perspective to show you what the level designers think you should be looking at, or it's holding a fixed angle and letting Crash bounce off the screen (thus making it very hard to maneuver him), but only rarely is it in the proper position to aid in actually progressing in the game. Crash's falling animations are funny, but not -that- funny.
(Dear Video Game Developers,
When we rotate the camera in your 3D action games, it is because we wish to see something not shown in the default camera view. When you rotate it violently back to its default setting as we are trying to make precise jumps, thus changing the direction of our controls in mid-jump and sending us careening into the abyss, it hurts our very SOULS and makes them want to rise up in bloody revolution against you. Stop doing that. Please.
Love, Gamers Everywhere)
Maybe it's this odd camera perspective, or maybe it's the way Crash jumps, but he never seems to land where you'd expect. Usually you can use his shadow to judge about where you'll be coming down and that's fine, but when you're leaping for a target the size of a single box, absolute precision is demanded, and it's just not there. Add this to the way platform edges have a very fine coating of, I don't know, polygon grease or something and you find yourself skidding right off the edge of a tricky hop more often than you find yourself making it. Additionally, Crash has a 'slide jump' move listed in the manual that as far as I can tell just isn't -there- in-game. I'm not sure if it'd have helped, maybe I had the timing all wrong, but it just wasn't popping.
The levels for the most part are pretty straightforward, and the boss fights are something of a joke. (You can avoid every hit from at least three of the bosses in this game just by holding the control pad to the left to run in a great big circle around it.) If you're looking to get all the secret bonus gems -and- finish the levels, though, you'd better have a good supply of caffeine and tranquilizers handy to keep you going and your hands steady as you memorize jumps down to a pixel. Twinsanity does not come packaged with much forgiveness, particularly not as you get further into the game and save points come few and far between. To take an example level, "High Seas Hi-Jinks", you'll be making your way through the underbelly of a battleship, jumping between pylons and over pools of water, until you hit a boss fight, then an incredibly difficult sequence in which Crash is chased by a hungry walrus and runs straight at the camera (giving you very little time to react to explosives and pits), followed by a -second- boss fight. Dying along here drops you back outside the ship again, to go through the entire sequence over. The sequence is peppered with unskippable cutscenes.
There's also a nasty glitch I should warn you about, be sure to keep your hands off the controller during cutscenes, or you stand a good chance of coming out of them having just walked off into an enemy or bottomless pit. Speaking of the enemies, they do not always strictly have to make contact with you to kill you. Occasionally Crash will fall over and flop on his back while actually in mid-air, and you can kiss THAT life goodbye. Toss in a smattering of slowdown and some good old fashioned terrain bugs (there's at least two spots where you can slide straight into the level geometry and get wedged there until you squirm free or something kills you off) and really, this game's not nearly as fun to play as it is to watch someone else work through.
It is a blast to watch though, and that puzzles me. It's clear that lots of energy went into making this game look fantastic and sound just as good, the characters are heavily animated and expressive, and the writing may be the funniest I've seen in a PS2 game this year. Somehow, flubbing the gameplay itself surprises me; it's like showing up to a party and finding that the snack bar consists of really butt-kicking salsa and a bowl of live lobsters to dunk into it. It's just not what you'd expect out of a high-profile company like Traveller's Tales, who make their living whipping out this kind of game. Twinsanity is therefore worth a rental at least, to snicker at the cartoonishness of it all, but unless you're a big fan of the series (and thus you've already stopped reading this review and are possibly already on your way to my house with a crowbar) I can't really recommend laying down the purchase price for this one.
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