Crash Bandicoot – The Wrath of Cortex

This game continues the Crash Retrospective and the first game in this series to leap to the PS2/GC/Xbox era of consoles. Sony was done with the IP at this point and it was completely in Universal’s hands. Signing on talented developer Travelers Tales, we got the fourth mainline platformer in the series. Without Naughty Dog, how does this turn out? A lot better than many give it credit for honestly. It has issues, but in the end, it is a nice first shot with the franchise by a new studio and Travelers Tales understood what made Crash great.

The game started development in 2000 around the time Crash Bash released on the PlayStation One. Universal knew that Naughty Dog will not make the next title in the series, so Mark told Universal that ‘Let me help you guys out, worked with Naughty Dog on the series after all’ and his own studio dubbed ‘Carney Games’ would develop the title.

It was going to be a free-roaming adventure title ala Jak & Daxter or Mario 64 with puzzle elements with Crash going to different planets. He and Universal signed on a studio called ‘Travelers Tales’ to assist production on the title after an impressive prototype pitch.

If they sound familiar, then you should know them from the LEGO titles. But before they made that series of games their own, they worked on a number of projects like movie titles with Disney that were very solid like Toy Story 2 and even with SEGA on a few Sonic titles on the Genesis and Saturn.

But Universal went into an agreement with Konami, announcing they would be publishing the series titles while Universal produces the games. This lead to Sony and Mark falling out with Universal and Crash becoming a mascot character for Universal, rather than him being one for Sony.

Having just about 10-12 months to get this new version to get the game complete, Universal told Travelers Tales to rework the game into a more traditional Crash adventure. Crash got slightly redesigned by Craig Whittle (Travelers Tales) and Sean Krankel (Universal), with two features considered during production dropped. One being the concept of mini bosses during levels and the other being multiplayers support. This concept returned much later with the Titans series of games.

The final boss was originally different too, with Crash fighting Crunch in a robotic suit, but toward the end of the fight, it would break apart and the pieces of it taking out Cortex’s mind controlling device he had on Crunch.

The majority of the characters and vehicles in the game were built and textured by Nicola Daly and animated by Jeremy Pardon. The main game systems and game code were coded by John Hodskinson and the game’s music is composed by Andy Blythe and Marten Joustra of Swallow Studios. A rearranged version of the original Crash Bandicoot theme by Mutato Muzika’s Josh Mancell also appears in the game. The game’s sound effects were created by Ron Horwitz, Tom Jaeger, John Robinson, and Harry Woolway of Universal Sound Studios. The game also carries over voice talent new and old, with Clancy Brown voicing Cortex & Uka Uka while Mel Winkler voices Aku Aku. Some new VA’s include Debi Derryberry as Coco and Mark Hamill voicing the elemental mask Py-Ro.

Universal still wanted to be on good terms with Sony despite the deal with Konami, so they let the game have a timed exclusive run on the PS2 for a few months before getting later GameCube and Xbox ports. This is the most interesting part of the games development, as the PS2 version got two releases. The original run and Greatest Hits run. Why does this matter? As the later version fixed the loading issue (reducing it to 17 seconds) that the original print of the game had (which was a long 47 second loading screen). Originally, Traveler’s Tales was going to have a mini game in the loading screens but due to Bandai-Namco (just Namco at the time), they had to gut the mini game out of the game but did not have time to change the coding of the loading screens. This was a major issue people had with the game during launch.

The Wrath of Cortex was the very first multiplatform game in the series, with it releasing on PS2 in October 2001 and later on Xbox January 2002, with a late GameCube release in September 2002. The game when it released in Japan contained the hint system from past JP versions of the series games, with Aku Aku giving the player tips as they played through the game.

The later Xbox and GameCube versions fixed the bug, with the Xbox version having added graphical features like fur effects on Crash & friends alongside more detailed textures and higher fidelity. The game also has two cut levels; one being a fire level code named ‘Fire Island’ and its design indicates that it would have used the buggy or some other ride Crash uses. The second one is an unused flying level that has Crash take out Cortex’s airship from the Weathering Heights level. You use the plane and its quite feature complete, indicating that it was likely cut late in development. Other things to take note of is the differences between versions of the game are listed bellow before we move on to the story. PAL Differences include the following: a few levels have a few more enemies and that Coco’s levels having frame dips at points.

Japanese Differences:

  • Aku AKu hints (also a few more of his crates in general)
  • Some enemies are missing
  • Crash spin animation is longer.

GameCube Version:

  • Has cut effects and graphical features, but has cleaner polygons than the PS2 version.
  • Pressing jump in GC version has a slight delay.
  • Connecting a GBA to the GameCube version will unlock a mini-game; you shoot targets with a Wampa Bazooka.

Xbox Version:

  • Crash and Coco have fur.
  • Special effects everywhere
  • Shortest load times
  • Better graphics
  • Monkey Bar climbing is slightly faster.

After the events of Crash 3 Warped, Uka Uka continues to show annoyance with Cortex and his minions repeatedly failing against Crash. N. Gin brings up the idea of using a special weapon Cortex has been working on and after telling Uka Uka of this, he give Cortex the power source he needs through four elemental masks. They are called Rok-Ko, Wa-Wa, Ry-Ro and Lo-Lo.

Like Uka Uka, they were sealed a way but not that they got unleashed, Aku Aku warns Crash and Coco about them, with them going to a familiar warp room with Cortex introducing Crash to Crunch, another more powerful Bandicoot. He hates Crash but really is under mind control. If you get the good ending, he lives with Crash and Coco, apologizing for his actions across the game.

So, like Crash 3, the different elemental masks taunt Crash in-between level warps and they merge with Crunch for really fun boss battles. In the end, the story is decent. Great voice acting all around and the lines the elemental masks offer are funny at points.

I could literally copy and paste a majority of my Crash 3 Retrospective right here and move on to presentation. I’m serious saying this, as this game is more or less Crash 3.5. The same structure with five tiers of levels, five levels per tier, a secret tier if you collect Time Relics and all the power ups you get form bosses outside of a tip-toe one (which lets you walk over Nitro Crate) are the same. But here are a few points that seperate Wrath of Cortex and Crash 3.

  • Some vehicles and Power-Ups, Including new ones like the sphere & jeep.
  • More platforming levels
  • If you’re under something you can slide infinitely so you don’t have to slowly crawl tot he other side.
  • Climbing on the Monkey Bars/Celling is Slower.
  • Crates that make you invisible/invincible.
  • CoCo can platform now
  • Levels are longer
  • Technically you fight only one boss in this game.

One major change though is how the levels are a bit more open. You have paths on the sides this time out in some levels and while they are small (just side platforms to hop on), it’s nice that the levels play with the added space you have.

This leads to some issues with the level design, with some levels feeling ‘empty’, causing some of the games platforming levels to get stale after a while. Crash 1-3’s levels are tight and linear, so that allows for more focused platforming. Wrath of Cortex has that too, but with levels being slightly larger, it could lead to some bland levels. I never felt that personally when I played the game, but I can see others having this issue with the game.

Crash controls very close to his PS1 self but a bit more stiff. He still controls fine and all versions of the game run at a locked frame rate, so things feel smooth. You can also play as Coco in more traditional platforming levels this time out. Her attack is like Crash’s (spin kick instead of a spin) but she is still fun to play as.

The gimmicks that were in Crash 3 come back and it is interesting; they are more common but at the same time, the implementation of them feels a bit better at points. One example is a level where you start out on a mine cart, moving between lines but after 2 or so minutes, you hop off and you are in a traditional Crash level now. Another case is a jungle level where you are playing a traditional Crash level and midway through, you hop in a buggy to run away from large creatures behind you.

You still have levels focused on a specific gimmick like a monkey ball-styled gameplay or hover pack stage that can be a bit boring. But overall, Travelers Tales does a good job with the gimmicks I feel. Naughty Dog had a nice balance but Travelers Tales makes them feel more integrated into the core Crash gameplay.

This means that the core traditional stages with no gimmicks aren’t common; they make up for 40-50% this time out but I didn’t mind the gimmicks much. One element that comes back from past games though is the death routes, where if you do not die until you reach a specific point, you can access a secret area. Same with bonus rounds too, they come back from Crash 3.

The last part of the gameplay is the time relics and they come back, working like how they did in Crash 3. You have three tiers (Gold, Sapphire, and Platinum) and they are needed to unlock the secret tier of stages.

In addition to the relics, the gems and the crystals return and you collect them across the game. Both work like they do in past Crash adventures, so will just sum that up here; Crystals are in plain sight and are very easy to spot, Gems are either collected from going down secret paths (colored or grey) or from smashing all the boxes (grey).

The bosses against Crunch are all very fun and rather than having a complete breakdown of each one like in the Crash 3 Retrospective, will just cover them here swiftly. The first one works like the Monkey Ball like-stages, another one is a platforming level where you dodge attacks before you can spin into him and another one has you fighting him in a plane shooting him down after merging with the Thunder Mask. They are all quite fun and I enjoyed going through all of them.

The game is quite the looker even years later. The Xbox version has fur effects that look really nice and match the games art direction and style. Visually the game looks solid, continuing the Naughty Dog look that the series had prior on the PS1 and seeing it migrate on newer consoles at the time was impressive, despite the characters looking a bit off at first.

Musically, this is a fantastic score with many strong tracks. We have the Warp theme from Crash 3 return but many of the tracks are brand new. They match the tone of Crash and I really enjoyed listening to the OST while running through the game.

Warp Room ThemeTornado AlleyCompactor ReactorSea Shell ShenanigansH2 Oh NoTsunamiWeathering Heights (My favorite track in the game)

This game isn’t perfect; the over usage of gimmicks can turn people away…..but that happened with Crash 3 too. Like Crash 3, this is a very solid game that does a lot right. Level designs feel fun, the controls are good, it looks great visually and in the end, Travelers Tales made a great Crash title.

Just wasn’t the ‘leap’ many wanted from the series during 2001, more so when we were treated to Naughty Dog’s own ‘Jak & Daxter’. But we got a great game here and the next game is a treat to cover. Crash Twinsanity is a game I wanted to really sit down and write about for a long time, and honestly, is a big reason I started this Retrospective series. So, let’s all get crazy as next time out we will be visiting N. Sanity Island once more with a new adventure for Crash.
The Crash Retrospective is on NeoGaf.

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