Publisher: Activision Blizzard
Developer: Radical Entertainment
Release Date: October 7, 2008
Crash Bandicoot is truly a fallen icon. Once one of the central forces behind the original PlayStation, Crash has changed developers, the quality of his games have taken a dramatic downturn, and most of his fans have abandoned him. The latest release, Crash Bandicoot: Mind over Mutant, hit shelves with almost zero fanfare. Nobody seems to care about Crash anymore, and making things even harder on this game is its release among the ocean of triple-A titles that are being released around the same timeframe. Mind over Mutant doesn't deserve much of your attention, as it continues the trend that the series has taken since Naughty Dog left the helm.
The previous title, Crash of the Titans, introduced a new game mechanic that has you "jacking" some large creatures to control them, which added some much-needed variety to the series. Mind over Mutant keeps this gameplay mechanic, and you'll find yourself juggling your time among the various mutants. Crash can only carry around two mutants at a time, one that's currently in use and one "stored" in his pocket. However, Crash is almost always the best pick for the platforming sections because of his double-jump ability, so if you're using two mutants, you'll have to abandon one of them to use Crash, which can be very frustrating. The game's very light platforming puzzles can be pretty fun; most of the puzzles are extremely straightforward and simple, even for a platformer. Helping out the platforming sections are very sharp controls, which are very easy to use and make the game very easy to pick up and play.
Mind over Mutant begins with a lot of promise. Great tutorials introduce you to all of the game mechanics, and some hilarious cut scenes parody several animation styles and TV shows. The game is set up for what looks to be a great time, but this all falls apart in a hurry. Mind over Mutant is split up into 23 missions, and several of these missions require a lot of backtracking. There are entire missions devoted to running through areas you've already seen before just so you can take a left turn at the end instead of the right turn that you took the last time.
It's also a fairly short game, with the main story mode clocking in at just over four hours, and more than one-third of that time was spent running through areas I had already traversed. (There's one area of the game that you end up having to repeat four times, and it's not even one of the stronger platforming sections.) It's really frustrating to have to deal with this tremendous amount of backtracking and tedious platforming, as some of the cut scenes toward the end of the game feature the best parodies and some of the funniest dialogue. This doesn't mean that there isn't a large amount of content to play through, though. Upon beating the game, my completion rate was at 30 percent. For completionists, there is a ton of hidden items scattered throughout the game world, an arena mode to beat, and several co-op puzzles.
I can't state enough how much I loved the cut scenes in Mind over Mutant. Each one has a different animation style that parodies something: Dragon Ball, Sock Puppets, South Park, infomercials and even the Hulk's "lonely man theme." The writing in these segments is fantastically funny, so it's a bit disappointing that the game's story line isn't very interesting. It's a platformer, so the story isn't the main concern, but it does seem a little odd that my motivation for continuing to play the game was to see the next parody.
Adding to the cut scenes and delivery is some fantastic voice work from just about every character in the game. The soundtrack manages to be pretty good, too; instead of simply being a mindless tune that plays as you platform, most of the soundtrack manages to set the mood for what's going on.
Graphically, Mind over Mutant is very disappointing for an Xbox 360 title. The cartoony style is fine, but it doesn't look like the developers had the 360 in mind. With the flat, low-resolution textures, many of the characters are somewhat blocky, and everything looks like it could have run on the PlayStation 2 without a hitch. For a game that really doesn't push the system very hard, the frame rate sure has a lot of trouble keeping up. In combat, especially when you're controlling one of the game's many mutants, the frame rate will often start to chug, getting noticeably choppy and conveying a certain lack of polish. The unpolished feel is also present in a few other areas of the game: load times before cut scenes (often accompanied by a very sudden shift to the black loading screen), invisible walls all over the place and noticeably painted-in backgrounds. While it may sound like nitpicking, when the main game is only a four-hour experience, it become very noticeable that these bugs couldn't be ironed out.
Co-op play is a new addition to the Crash series, but it's pretty useless in this title. At a certain point in Mind over Mutant, you unlock the co-op feature, which allows the second player to hop in as either Aku-Aku, the floating tiki mask, or Coco, Crash's sister. Although Player 2 can have full control over Coco, the already-problematic camera follows Crash, which means Coco isn't going to be on-screen very often unless you're platforming together with the ability of a gold medal-caliber synchronized swim team. (I also found that I was able to solve and complete many of the co-op puzzles on my own.)
There's some fun to be had with Crash Bandicoot: Mind over Mutant. Before the backtracking kicks in, the game is a lot of fun and had me thinking that I'd be getting a good gaming experience. As you continue to play, the technical problems start to rear their ugly heads, and many of the new platforming sections just aren't a lot of fun to play. By that point, you feel like you're going through the motions and the game mechanics have overstayed their welcome. When you're halfway through a four-hour-long story mode and you're already feeling fatigued, you're probably not going to want to dig in for the long haul. It's almost unfortunate that the voice work and cut scenes are so good because they're worth watching and genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. Those cut scenes can't save Mind over Mutant from its mediocre platforming, extreme amounts of backtracking and technical issues. Fans of Crash may find something to like here, but the rest of us should save our money for the big titles coming out this fall.
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