Pardon me, is that a Bandicoot on your back?
Crash of the Titans is a surprising game. The Crash Bandicoot series has done more than enough to earn itself a dubious reputation over the past several years with some lackluster kart-racing games and a couple of limp mini-game blowouts. Even when the original Crash Bandicoot was released on the PlayStation back in 1996, it was hard to take seriously as anything less than a mascot-exploitation platformer constructed at the behest of some nefarious marketing department. Still, the series has quietly persisted as one of the best-selling names in video games, which brings us to the present installment. For all the recent baggage the series has accumulated, Crash of the Titans is an entertaining action platformer, designed with imagination and some impressive twists on the standard brawler that easily put it shoulder to shoulder with the very best games in the series. It’s a title geared directly towards younger players, so more experienced gamers might not find as much here to enjoy, but for what it is, Crash is a remarkable return to form for the Bandicoot.
Like its predecessors, Crash is constructed as a linear platformer and brawler, though here the brawler elements take precedence over the platforming. In contrast to your average 3D Mario game, there’s little to no exploration, and you won’t even be able to manually control the camera. Instead, players move through each level down a single path, hemmed in on each side, and fight through a series of arena battles with a clever array of mutant animals that are interspersed with light platforming sequences. What’s specifically new to this Crash game is the ability to hijack a number of the bigger mutant bad guys that you’ll come across. With Crash in control of these bigger beasts, players will be able to lay waste to smaller enemies and bash obtrusive environmental objects blocking the path forward.
Combat in the game is greatly streamlined, with a few special moves unlocked later in the game. Crash can do his trademark floating spin when players shake the Wii remote while he’s in the air. It’s a simple application of waggle, but it feels appropriate, especially during sequences where you’ll have to glide Crash over a long series of gaps by floating a great distance. Constantly shaking the remote to keep up the dizzying spin is a pleasing, if shallow, addition to what has otherwise become an over-familiar gameplay element. It’s not a revolutionary re-imagining; it just makes an old idea a little more fun than it might otherwise have been.
The only other area of the game to use motion controls is for special attacks when riding one of the game's jack-able beasts. Here, Crash can unleash a variety of different attacks by shaking the Wii Remote or moving it and the Nunchuk up and down in conjunction. These motions don’t add too much to the game, but it generally feels a bit fresher than the button mashing combo required in versions of the game on other systems. When you’re watching a giant mutated bat shoot out little whirlwinds by viciously flapping his wings, it feels fundamentally pleasing to have to flap your own arms to trigger the attack. There is frequently a 1-2 second lag between when you make your motion and when the game executes the corresponding attack. While this is partly by design to make players think more strategically about how and when they try to pull off some of the game’s more brutal attacks, it also highlights the fact that all the motion controls in the game aren’t specifically calibrated to take advantage of the Wii Remote; they’re substitutes for a button press.
Another area where Crash demonstrates some interesting new twists is the necessity of pulling off extended combos to take down bigger enemies. All but the weakest enemies will have a kind of energy bar above their heads, consisting of a line of white stars. The more damage Crash does to the enemies, the more stars will turn green. When all the stars are green, the enemy will become stunned and Crash will be able to "jack" them. What’s unique is that if Crash stops attacking before the star meter is filled all the way up, the enemy will start regaining health (a sort of inversion of Halo’s regenerating shields). This basically means that players will have to learn to combo and attack in long strings of melee moves, you won’t be able to conservatively "nickel and dime" health away from enemies by sneaking in a cheap shot every now and again. It’s an idea that’s never fully exploited in the game because the default difficulty is predictably forgiving, but it’s a fantastically unique approach to brawling that could definitely shake up the entire genre of brawlers and action games.
Crash of the Titans looks very nice on the Wii. While it’s essentially an upgrade of the PlayStation 2 version of the game, Radical has definitely taken advantage of the Wii’s added power to flesh out the color palette and bump up texture resolution for a number of the game’s assets. To be clear, they haven’t leveraged the system’s strengths in the same spectacular way that Metroid Prime 3 and Mario Galaxy have, but they’ve noticeably added a layer of graphical sheen that is appreciated. More importantly, the art direction of the game is robustly implemented in an ever-increasing series of whacky and detailed levels that will be impressive on any system. The game looks like a kind of Tim Burton tropical fantasy with looping tendrils and exaggerated angles crammed into the game's twenty-some levels. It’s all implemented in a really impressive, hand-drawn style that looks like a series of moving panels from a children’s storybook. It’s not an entirely original approach, but it’s a convincing and detailed one that should win you over by the end.
To complement the look of the game, Radical and Sierra have done a great job implementing the game’s audio, from the kooky Danny Elfman-esque score to the surprising variety of enemy voice samples in the game. Indeed, you’ll hear enemies talking to each other as you approach them, sometimes about nothing at all, and sometimes in reverential fear of the Bandicoot. It’s all very reminiscent of the Grunt chatter from the Halo series, but no less entertaining. Voice acting in the game’s cut-scenes is also impressive, featuring appropriately exaggerated performances to match the nonsensically cartoonish story. The writing is also surprisingly sophisticated, adding some clever asides and loads of effective irony to help keep adults engaged in what is, admittedly, a story aimed squarely at kids.
Crash of the Titans is a satisfying platform brawler that should easily please younger gamers while providing enough action and humor to keep older gamers interested. Experienced gamers will be able to whip through the game’s single player mode in 8-10 hours. There’s a two-player co-op mode too, but it doesn’t add too much to the experience, though it might be fun to play with a younger friend or relative for an hour or two. Crash definitely comes out of the paradigm of last-gen game design, but it takes ideas from the best games and implements them in a unique way that freshens up the formula in some small but satisfying ways. It won’t hold your attention for too long, and once you’re done with the game you probably won’t have much incentive to revisit it. For what it is, though, Crash of the Titans is a solid and amusing take on a familiar genre of games that should be at least basically entertaining for most fans.