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Crash: Mind Over Mutant

Score: 80%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Radical Entertainment
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Action/ Platformer/ Platformer (3D)

Graphics & Sound:

I don't mind saying that I approached this one with a healthy skepticism. Crash Bandicoot, back from the dead and ready for a new generation, etc. As that old Who song goes, I have a "won't get fooled again" mentality when it comes to stale franchises that are best left on the garbage heap. Last year's punnily named Crash of the Titans was a glimmer of hope or outright salvation, depending on your perspective. A rich depiction of characters, environments, and solid gameplay mechanics made Titans a welcome return to our beloved bandicoot's roots. Crash: Mind Over Mutant builds on this by mixing some of Titans' mechanics with more expanded gameplay and level design. Much to my surprise and pleasure, Crash: Mind Over Mutant is almost exactly what I would have had as a mental picture ten years ago for Crash on a next-gen console.

Naughty Dog squeezed every ounce of processor mojo out of the old PlayStation by the time Crash Bandicoot: Warped and Crash Team Racing came out, about ten years ago. The graphics on the Wii aren't maxed out as in a Platformer like Super Mario Galaxy, but they are very respectable. It would have been nice to see sharper detail, but in exchange, we have extravagant level designs. Levels are large, stuffed full with areas to explore, and built over beautiful backgrounds. The bias here is to showcase all the eye candy, but the casualty is a flexible camera. Much of Crash: Mind Over Mutant plays "on rails" so that the perspective can remain fixed on whatever obstacle, jump, or goodie-pickup should be your focus in any given moment. This isn't all that much different than past games in the series, but the camera was almost always pulled back too far for my taste in this game. The benefit of a wide-angle view is that jumps, pickups, and enemies are easier to size up. The downside is that character detail and the feeling of a fast-paced action game is diluted. The biggest problem with a fixed camera is finding your next waypoint or objective. Cut scenes show you landmarks that help identify where to go, but it is no substitute for being able to switch to a first-person viewpoint or scroll over the landscape. The world-view map that is supposed to help is virtually worthless, but it sometimes helps you in a "getting warmer" type of way.


Gameplay:

The difference in opinion on this game with Wii owners compared to other consoles may come as a result of generally poor Platformer offerings since the system launched. Sure, Wii gamers have perhaps the pinnacle of platforming achievement in Super Mario Galaxy, and there are reams of classic games available for download. Apart from a list of licensed titles that we'd just as soon forget, Mario and Dewy's Adventure still stand out as the best platforming the Wii's had to offer in the past two years. Crash: Mind Over Mutant and its predecessor are welcome additions to a weak platforming library on the Wii.

As the story plays out, Crash's old nemesis Cortex is attempting to take over the world with a mind-control device that purports to manage every part of your life, including social networking, productivity, and entertainment. The irony is that putting on the device really will manage your life, by turning you into a mindless, drooling mutant. Hey, it sounds implausible, but if it can happen to Coco, it can happen to you. Crash must once again saddle up and ride out to foil Cortex's evil schemes. If you played Crash of the Titans, you know those cowboy references aren't just symbolic; Crash: Mind Over Mutant brings back the gameplay device where Crash uses Titans as mounts. The concept is extended now to include possessed Titans along with the friendly residents of Wumpa Island that didn't fall for Cortex's marketing ploys. The idea of the stupid consumer buying stupid gadgets is thoroughly mined in the game, with some hilarious sequences and cut scenes. Crash: Mind Over Mutant pulls in many pop culture references in these sequences, showing off what must be a very adept design, animation, and development team. There is also a steady stream of dialogue running through the game itself that is hilarious. The timing on dialogue is not always very strategic or well moderated, creating some grating repetition that isn't helped by having to replay areas.

The big world that Crash explores in Crash: Mind Over Mutant lends itself to diverse level design, and the developers did some smart things by unlocking new parts of the world over time according to Crash's new abilities. There are optional missions scattered through the game that usually involve gathering a specific number of items, either timed or not timed. The primary missions must be completed in sequence, but once you unlock several mounts and have access to more than one part of Wumpa Island, the optional missions can make for an enjoyable distraction. Progress in Crash: Mind Over Mutant is synonymous with mastering the mount system. Finding, defeating, and capturing Titans is a necessary skill that helps you defeat enemies, gather items, trigger switches, and unlock new areas. The idea of storing a Titan for retrieval opens up a lot of gameplay, where levels are built to be accessible to both Crash alone, or while riding a mount. You learn that some Titans are especially good at doing certain things, and you become well acquainted with the attack style of Titans as you go up against them untamed. There is a nice co-op multiplayer that uses the second Wii-mote as a device for gathering energy and defeating enemies, a shameless variation on the way co-op multiplayer was implemented in Super Mario Galaxy, but no less fun as a result. What would have been nice to see as an extra is the type of mini-game action that appeared more prominently in later Crash games for the PlayStation, both for the single-player experience and for possible online play. It hurts to see online implemented poorly or missed entirely for a console that has 24x7 connectivity via broadband, but as the man says: It is what it is. At least we have some nice extras included with the game, such as art submitted from fans that appears after you complete missions.


Difficulty:

Multiple difficulty levels make this an easy game for anyone to pick up. The lowest setting ("Mild") is great for even the youngest platforming fans, as it reduces enemies and bosses to complete softies. It is almost impossible to lose to a boss playing on Mild, even just standing around with your virtual hands in virtual pockets. The bigger issue we'd take with Crash: Mind Over Mutant from the standpoint of difficulty is the silly camera system and the usual foibles of 3D platforming. Without the ability to zoom in, you lose a lot of perspective while setting up jumps, regardless of the camera angle. Many times, there are elements in the environment that block your view of a jump, or the action taking place when you trigger a switch is somewhere just off-screen and out of view. The battles with enemies sometimes take a similar path, as you move around trying to get a lock-on, but not really knowing where the punch you throw is going to land. Many instances of frustrating controls in the game could have been avoided with a more flexible or intuitive camera system. The upgrades Crash gets make him more fun to play over time, which is to say that the Crash of your first hour won't be the best Crash you've ever played. Game designers take a huge risk by creating underpowered versions of their characters for later upgrades, since people will tend to judge a game quickly. If most players aren't won over in the first hour, they may not stay for hours two and three. Crash: Mind Over Mutant does most of its upgrades to attacks, but Crash's special moves (that make him a lot of fun to play) are introduced at a fairly slow pace.

Game Mechanics:

A great example of this that ties into mechanics is the signature spin move. The spin that is available initially feels mighty weak, although the mechanic of shaking the Wii-mote is exactly what you would have wanted and expected. Gathering "mojo" power-ups helps to increase the spin attack and other moves. An interesting model is used where the power-ups gathered as Crash apply to Crash and those gathered while riding a Titan apply to the Titan. This seems smart as long as you recognize when to put away that Titan and increase Crash's abilities. Various light attacks are triggered by use of the (B) button, with the opposite hand (Nunchuk) controlling heavy attacks. The heavy attacks are almost worthless in most situations or when perfect timing isn't possible. Crash uses the (Z) button to trigger defensive counters while fighting big enemies, which is cool in theory but rickety in application. The approach most players will prefer is to whip out their stored Titan when battling bigger enemies. The Titans' heavy attacks are both awesomely powerful and awesomely slow, so you'll probably just be content with jumping and using light attacks. Outside of battles, there are lots of interesting features built into levels, some like the nitro blocks that have always been there, and others like climbing surfaces and swinging ropes that affect navigation. The Titans you collect later in the game have special abilities that can help you get around in a level, such as rolling into a ball and riding tracks or levitating objects to trigger switches. There is a neat context button that helps to remind you of each Titan's ability after you've collected more than a few and may tend to forget how to use them.

The ultimate take-away on Crash: Mind Over Mutant is that it will be lauded by platforming fans feeling left behind on the Wii. Just as Mega Man 9 was a big splash for the NEW-is-the-new-retro crowd, Crash hasn't been on a platform in such good shape for years. Complain about the 3D platforming idiosyncrasies and we'll reply that it has always been thus. Many a classic Crash game included all these foibles and we still flocked happily to it. Worry less about the imperfect camera and more about your twitch reflexes and you'll enjoy yourself. There is plenty of depth here for core gamers willing to seek out every item and play every boss on the hardest difficulty level, but Crash: Mind Over Mutant also can be dialed down and enjoyed by gamers that don't know Crash from M.A.S.H. Especially for the new generation of gamers, it's a plus to have Crash back in fine form, even with a few bumps. Who said you can't teach an old bandicoot new tricks?


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

Nintendo DS SimCity Creator Sony PlayStation 3 BUZZ! Quiz TV

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated