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This bandicoot's a blast from the past
Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back (PS)
Member Name: BitterFusion
Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back (PS)
Advantages: Great game, challenging
Disadvantages: Easy bosses, dated graphics
I never did play the first Crash Bandicoot game, but from what I can gather, the evil Dr. Neo Cortex was attempting to conduct experiments on Crash. However, when Cortex expelled Crash from his castle and held on to Crash's girlfriend, Tawna, it was up to our bandicoot to defeat Cortex and rescue her. However, Tawna does not make an appearance in Crash Bandicoot 2, nor is an explanation given as to why she was ditched from the storyline.
In this game, Crash is abducted by Cortex and sent to a warp room. However, instead of trying to fight Crash, Cortex appeals to Crash to help him collect crystals in order to stop a destructive force which threatens to destroy the planet. Cortex explains that only he can stop this mysterious destructive force. Meanwhile, Cortex's old friend, Dr. Nitrus Brio appeals to Crash to stop Cortex by collecting gems instead of crystals in order to help him power up a laser to destroy Cortex. Who can Crash trust, if anyone...?
Gameplay is relatively straight forward in terms of what you have to do. There are five warp rooms to access, with each warp room containing five levels. Each level contains one crystal to collect and all levels will contain at least one gem (sometimes two). To collect at least one gem in every level, you have to open all boxes in the level. To collect the extra gems in the level, you will have to locate the gems and collect them (this is much harder than it sounds).
Upon playing, it soon becomes obvious that Crash has a range of moves. He can jump, spin, skid, crawl, and bodyslam. There is no tutorial for the game, and so you are left to figure out yourself (or by reading the manual if you can be bothered) how to work these out. As I mentioned, there are boxes in each level; some helpful, some dangerous:
*A general box with a '?' on it contains Wumpa fruit (a funny name for what essentially looks like an apple). When you collect 100 Wumpa fruit, Crash gains an extra life (and trust me, you're going to want these extra lives). Other boxes also contain Wumpa fruit (such as the fortified box). However not all boxes are opened the same way, and it's up to you to figure out which moves will benefit you best in this way.
*Some boxes contain extra lives or a Witch Doctor Mask. The Witch Doctor Mask is very useful, as he accompanies you and takes 1 hit so that you don't die. If you manage to open 1 or more Witch Doctor Mask box without having been hit in the meantime, your Witch Doctor Mask will upgrade and can take 2 hits. If you manage to do this a further time, you become invincible against enemy hits for a short time.
*TNT and Nitro boxes are explosive and will kill you if you stand close to them at the time of their explosion. However, you must figure out a way to open even TNT and Nitro boxes in order to get the gem for opening all boxes. Can you do it without getting yourself killed...?
Each level also has a bonus round, in which you are able to collect more Wumpa fruit/boxes. Although you don't lose a life if you 'die' on a bonus round, you will lose all Wumpa fruit and boxes collected, and are transported back to the entrance of the bonus round. They tend to be particularly challenging, just to warn your nerves in advance.
The game offers an extra challenge in as much as the camera angle cannot be manoeuvred as is possible in some other platform games (Spyro, for example). It is as though it is stationed behind you as you run forward, and follows you as you run through the level. Thus, if you need to go back on the path you've come from, you're essentially travelling blind, as very little can be seen by going backwards (towards the camera).
The main and easiest way to progress in the game is to simply focus on collecting Cortex's crystals. Once you have collected the crystal from a particular level and reached its end, the level is essentially finished. You must collect the five crystals from the five levels in the warp room in order to progress to the next warp room and repeat.
In my opinion, there are two modes of play to this game: the easy mode where you simply go for the crystals and get to the end of each level OR the hard mode where you try and collect the crystals and try and open every box in the game in order to collect the gems. If you choose to focus on the crystals alone, you'll find that you 'complete' the game relatively quickly. However, the latter option really does require skill, as boxes are generally positioned in all kinds of awkward places. You'll find yourself jumping about a LOT, and there are enemies and bottomless pits at every point of your journey. Crash Bandicoot 2 is definitely tougher than other platform games I've played, as one touch of an enemy/fall down a hole/slip into water will lose all your progress from the last checkpoint, and this can become ridiculously frustrating, especially if you find it happening over and over again at the same point. A slight misjudgement on something can completely ruin all your hard work up to a certain point, and at times, I've found it to take all my willpower not to scream and throw my controller through the screen of the TV. What's worse is that I think the developers knew they'd made a ridiculously frustrating game, and just to accommodate for all the times you die, there are short death animations for Crash once he has died (e.g. becoming an angel, freezing in an iceblock in cold water etc.) Although these are somewhat amusing at first, they soon become annoying, and seem to be a mocking from the developers because you've died YET AGAIN (No? Just me?)
That said, my own frustration at the game only goes to show how challenging gameplay is. This is certainly not a game you can get bored playing. Although levels essentially follow the same principles (i.e. jump over holes, kill enemies, open boxes etc.), they do vary and get harder as you progress to further warp rooms. Also, a fun variation to certain levels is where you ride on the back of a tiny polar bear (you wonder how it doesn't get crushed under your weight). These are my favourite levels, as they are quick and relatively easy to complete, essentially giving you a bit of a respite from the harder levels of the game. Additionally, running toward the camera from a giant snowball or polar bear is wonderfully challenging, as you cannot see what's ahead of you, and once again offer a bit of variation from an otherwise same formula of gameplay.
A criticism I would make of the game is that the bosses that you encounter between each warp room are ridiculously easy. I gave the first boss the benefit of the doubt between the first and second warp rooms, as I expected the bosses to get harder as progression was made throughout the game. However, the second boss appeared to be easier. If anything, I would have made some of the initial levels slightly easier and have concentrated on making the bosses slightly harder if I could offer any points for improvement for the game developers.
Also, if I was to be very picky, I would have added more variation in the themes of levels, as the game seems to concentrate very much on levels which have a sewer/jungle/snow theme and not much else. This doesn't impact massively on the overall experience of the game, but it would have offered a point of interest in terms of just wanting to explore new terrains in the various levels.
Like I said at the start, I haven't played the first Crash Bandicoot game. However, on comparing some screenshots between the two, I would say that the graphics improved by the second game. Although by today's standards, the graphics would be considered dated, I think that the amount of detail put into levels was wonderful and at the time of its release (1997), made Crash Bandicoot one of the best games for the PlayStation.
Overall, this game WILL make you want to scream (unless you're less wound up by games than me) but it is a great game. It may not be as complex as today's games, but it certainly does still offer challenging and entertaining gameplay. Go dig it out of the attic and immerse yourself in a classic PlayStation game!
Summary: Classic game
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