IGN Review of Crash of the Titans
The last time Crash Bandicoot hit the Nintendo DS was in last year's absolute disaster of a party-style game: Crash Boom Bang! I'm sure any game developer would have loved to grab the next Crash project simply due to the fact that it would've taken effort to make a game that was worse than that awful Crash! Boom! Bang!. Perhaps it's convenient that after that trainwreck of a Nintendo DS product Sierra decided to do a little housecleaning with the franchise and give it a fresh restructuring. The result is Crash of the Titans, a more action-focused take on the original Naughty Dog design, and on the Nintendo DS it's really the first time that Nintendo handheld gamers are getting a game that's extremely close to the same quality of the PlayStation original. It's not quite there, but man, it definitely comes close. And at the very least, it's a fantastic apology for Crash Bang Boom.
Just as Spyro the Dragon had himself a restart last year, Sierra's doing the same thing with Crash Bandicoot - sort of. Crash of the Titans is more a continuation of the franchise than it is a rebooting of its stories and characters, with the company giving the characters an upgrade in style, and the gameplay a kick in the pants. Crash looks a little floofier and a lot edgier, gaining a spikier Mohawk and trading in his fingerless gloves for tribal ink all up and down his arms. He also now squawks incoherently, almost like the bird from Banjo Kazooie. With all the alterations, though, ultimately he's been changed for the better. He looks a little cooler and more appealing than his more "Japanese-inspired" edits over the years.
For Crash of the Titans, at least on the Nintendo DS, the game returns to the forced-perspective action platforming of the original game developed by Naughty Dog more than a decade ago. Lots of ledge jumping and item collecting in this game, with a fixed camera that stays a solid distance away from the character as it slides along a determined rail. The downside is that you don't have control over the viewpoint like in more dynamic 3D platformers, but on the flipside you don't get a wonky camera because the levels have been laid out with specific camera routes.
The biggest change in the gameplay is its focus on punch-kick combat instead of head-stomping. Crash starts out weak but throughout the game you build up his attributes using the Juju tokens collected along the way. The real hook in Crash of the Titans is the ability to "jack" onto all the enemies in the game and control them as if they were you. All enemies big and small can be controlled, each having their own special abilities in hand-to-hand combat. Half the game's fun is swapping from one enemy to another to get through certain situations. Of course, none are as versatile as Crash himself - he's really the only one that can jump the highest and furthest, as well as cling to ledges and rail slide to different parts of the level. But he can't swim, so finding a waterbased enemy to piggyback on is important in getting through many challenges.
Amaze Entertainment fluctuates wildly in quality from one Nintendo DS game to the next, but when the studio was put to the task of working with Radical Entertainment in bringing the Radical-designed console game to the dual-screen handheld, it's pretty obvious that Amaze put it's "A" team on the project. Crash of the Titans may be a "restart" for Crash Bandicoot, but it retains a lot of the specific gameplay elements from the original PlayStation game, and the DS development team manage a game engine that looks great and moves smoothly, coming ever so close to reproducing the impressive visuals of the PlayStation Crash games. And it plays pretty well with great level designs that have some clever alternate routes and hidden secrets.
Of course, the game isn't without its problems. Some of the touch-screen control elements aren't exactly well thought-out: to "jack" an enemy you're encouraged to flick the on-screen mask towards the enemy, but in a game that requires both hands on the system for D-pad/button control, the touch screen mechanic doesn't work. It's the same for all the different characters in the game - each has a touch screen or microphone attack that, many times is impossible to pull off on-the-fly. That's why it's a good thing the designers simply allocated the B button for any touch screen and mic attacks. They should have axed the DS alternative altogether since it makes the game feel a little clunky with the unnecessary (and unused) option.
When the touch screen is used exclusively, it's fine and works well. The game isn't just run and jump platforming - there are also secondary challenges where players roll around atop an armadillo critter using the touch screen as a trackball, or piggyback on another creature maneuvering it with an analog slider. There's even a pachinko mini-game where players flick the lever using the stylus. Crash definitely has variety in its design, and the developer doesn't waste an opportunity to keep things changing
the game doesn't feel stale because of it.
But what also makes the game clunky is the stiff hand-to-hand combat. The "feel" of an attack seems to be a really hard element to nail in a brawler, and this one has that same problem of missing the "feedback." Attacks don't really connect with that needed "oomph" to really show you're whalloping the enemy with an impressive, powerful strike.
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