Sunday, August 31, 2014

Month Overview: August

Games finished in August:
 Darksiders 2                                                                        9.0
 Crash Bandicoot                                                                  6.0
 Mario Kart 7                                                                        8.0
 Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back                               9.0
 Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped                                                 9.0
 Crash Team Racing                                                              8.0
 Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex                                 8.0
 Crash Nitro Racing                                                               6.5
 Crash Twinsanity                                                                  6.5
 Crash Tag Team Racing                                                        6.0
 Crash of the Titans                                                                7.0

 I played through most of the Crash home-console games in one month. In one month! And classes started this month(Which is why I didn't have much to study or stuff). I DID IT. It was a great month, tons of great games and tons of good games, I don't really have anything to complain about.

 Game of August:
 A worthy sequel to one of my favorite games of the last generation, Darksiders 2 added a ton of new(and borrowed) features, and for the most part, they work really well and spice up the gameplay. I kinda like the older game's setting a little bit better, but that's just a matter of personal preference.

 To think that Crash 2 used to be my least liked Crash game back in the day! To be fair, I never really gave it a chance. Crash 2's greatness took me by surprise, it's sooooo good, fixes everything Crash 1 did wrong and fleshes out the formula pretty neatly. It is another antropomorphic animal platform game, but it does its own thing, and does it so well. SO WELL.

Review #147: Crash of the Titans

 And thus ends the Crashtravaganza.
 After Traveller's Tales pseudo rebooted the franchise with Twinsanity, there was only one way left to go.... reboot it again. Seriously.

 It's hard to pinpoint when it takes place, if it even takes place in the previous timeline, but the basic outline is that Crash and the rest of the bandicoots are enjoying another day in their care-free life when Cortex and Nina arrive in a machine and steal Coco away. The story tries to be funny, but it never manages to be Twinsanity-funny, but it does have its moments. Another thing to keep in mind is that this is a hard reboot. Crash now has a life bar, Wumpa Fruit now simply restore Crash's health, crates as you know them are gone, gems and crystals are gone and every single character has change both physically and personality-wise, this is not the Crash you know and love in any shape, way or form.
 Oh boy, has gameplay changed. The game no longer features a HUB or anything like that, and instead became a linear, stage-based platformer. There are no real secrets hidden on alternate paths or anything like that, the bonus areas are laid out pretty much in the open, as are the collectible voo-doo dolls and the Mojo. Oh, yes, Mojo, instead of Wumpa fruit, you can now find Mojo stashed behind objects, laying in plain sight or dropped when enemies are defeated, and collecting a certain amount of Mojo will unlock new combos(Yes.) or abilities. Crash now runs on a life bar, so he can take much more hits than before, and just his luck as the game now has a lot of focus on combat. There's also a multiplayer mode that places the second player on the role of "Carbon Crash", a white Crash that can, basically, do everything Crash can do. Pretty cool.

 When it comes to fighting enemies, Crash can, initially, land a 3-hit punch combo, a Strong kick attack that breaks the enemy's guard, double jump, block and sidestep. This is most definitely not the Crash that you used to know. The combat is fairly functional, it lacks depth, but it's quite decent and Crash will earn new abilities throughout the game, like the classic Spin attack, that initially leaves him dizzy after a while. Regardless, some of the combat sections can feel a bit long in the tooth, even though the combat works well, it can grow old really fast when not spread out. As for the platfoming, it works really well, and while there aren't any challenging platforming sections, it works pretty well and the environments through which you jump around are fairly good-looking.
 Then we have the Titans, bigger enemies that Crash can ride. There's about 15 different Titans, with different skills, attacks and combos, which means there's definitely some that you will like more than others, but you'll never get to keep one for long. In order to ride a Titan, you must first hit them until you stun them(Gauged by  6 green stars that appear over them when you hit them), and once they are dazed you can press the circle button to ride them, or if you leave them dazed for too long, they'll die. There's a rather small issue with this, when you are left with Crash on-foot against more than one titan, it becomes frustratingly impossible to deal with them. Y'see, Titans will pursue you at the same time, and while you hit one of them, the other will hit you. Sure, you can block the attack, but while you are blocking, the Stun gauge on the other Titan will decrease, leaving you at an impasse that will most often than not end with your death. At least when you respawn, whatever you had killed remains dead and you can now try to get the attention of only one of the Titans and stun him.

 The game is downright gorgeous, environments are beautiful and characters look great. The camera is so pushed away that the only times you'll get a good look at Crash is during cut-scenes, but whether you like the redesign or not, the fact that the model looks great is undeniable. As for the stages, they are fairly creative, and going through them is fairly enjoyable, the stages set on the Giant Tree being a good example of how good stages in the game can look. Music... tries to imitate the style of the older Crash games, but it never manages to reach their level, personally, I think the Twinsanity-styled music would've suited better. Voice acting is another strong point, while a lot of the jokes fall flat on their face, the deliveries are strong.

 A lot of people probably wrote off the game as soon as they saw the redesigns, I know I did, and the few videos I had seen seemed lame, but after playing the game first-hand I can say that it's a very good game. You know it did something right when my biggest gripe with the game is that it doesn't feel like a Crash game.
 7.0 out of 10.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Now Playing: Crash of the Titans

 A new hop. Seriously.
 Since this is the last Crash game I own(Planning on getting mind over mutant later), this marks the end of my Crashventure. So, what can I say? The gameplay is decent, good even, but, BUT, it doesn't feel like a Crash game. Crates are basically gone, now you have a lifebar, the gameplay departs heavily from other games.... but it's not a bad game.

 So yeah, fun, but doesn't feel like a Crash game, which may or may not automatically make up your mind about it.

Review #146: Crash Tag Team Racing

 Fun, in all the ways that don't matter!
 Crash Team Racing was fun. Crash Nitro Racing was Ok, it tried to imitate CTR, but lost its spark. And now we have Crash Tag Team Racing which is nothing like the other two, a pretty risky move, but it's not all bad.

 The story this time is about a deed to a theme park. Seriously. For some reason, Crash and Cortex really want to earn that deed, so they will race across five "theme" lands around the park to earn Power Crystals and ultimately, earn the deed. Sadly, the roster has been reduced to 8 characters, with two new characters, and the other six(Crash, Coco, Crunch, Cortex, Nina and N. Gin) have been drastically changed, personality wise. N. Gin seems to have father issues, is now a sadomasochist and is a closet homosexual, Crunch became a Mr. T parody and Coco, the "smart" one is now dumber. Story shouldn't matter in a game like this, but it's rather jarring seeing these new portrayals, Twinsanity's Cortex worked because it was a more exaggerated version of Cortex, these are completely new characterizations.
 Everything you knew about Crash racers? Throw it out the window. Firstly, the hub worlds have been changed for on-foot segments. These are very simple(Crash only has the Jump, Spin and Slam) and easy, but movement feels very floaty, everything is veeeery floaty, initially it looks terrible, but eventually you get used to it and it becomes quite alright, if somewhat fun. As you go through the game, you'll have to do more and more platforming to get to the gates that unlock each race, but it's very easy, and conveniently, once you unlock a track, you can pick it from any gate. This overworld also has the rest of the racers standing around, and you can talk to them to trigger missions(They are simply "Get me X amount of coins, get me X amount of power crystals, find me X item in Y zone") and unlock Karts, stronger weapons and costumes. I actually prefer this unlocking method to the "play each track a ton of times" in previous Crash racers, but that's just me.

 As for the on-wheels gameplay, it's been extremely simplified, to the point that it no longer offers the depth previous games offered. Power Sliding is now done by tapping break before a curve, the longer you hold the break, the more "Boost gauge" you earn, fill the gauge and you get a free turbo. As for the racing itself, it lacks punch, it feels dull. The weapons you can pick during the race lack any kind of personality, you throw... exploding monkeys? Chickens? Half the time I didn't even know what the hell I was throwing. The tracks themselves are very generic, they lack soul, they lack personality, they could've been lifted from any other mascot racer, they don't even reference the Crash series in the slightest. Not cool.
 It's not all bad, the game introduces the new "Clashing" mechanic, by pressing triangle and approaching another racer, you can clash into them, if they don't reject the clash. Clashing makes one racer man a turret and the other man the car(You can swap seats) and each racer comes with their own gun(Though the gunner can switch between both his gun and his partner's). Whoever gets to man the turret gets the best deal, since gunning down racers feels very satisfying and it's all around fun. You can also gun down incoming projectiles, and when you pick up weapons they now turn into overpowered weapons of mass destruction that can destroy multiple karts in one shot, which encourages clashing between racers. Oh, and you can screw your partner, whoever unclashes first gets a boost of speed and leaves his partner behind, so you can steal the first place for yourself, and in one particular occasion, we got two second places and no first place. These mechanics make Battles very fun, and races between clashed karts are much more fun than simple races, if only because it makes the game actually fun, so you'd better think of this game as a combat racer, instead of a mascot racer.

 As for the types of races, besides battle, you get Fastest Lap, pretty self explanatory, Crashinator in which you must hit as many objects as you can before the time runs out, Rolling Thunder, a one-lap race in which you start clashed with unlimited ammo and must destroy as many karts as you can, and then there's Run and Gun, which is just like Crashinator except that now you are manning a turret. There's also a Stunt mode which has you using both analogs while on air to turn and roll to earn points, but it doesn't work very well.
 Graphics are alright, but the problem lies on how generic and soulless everything looks. It's not a bad looking game, just a very uninspired one. Music on the other hand is fantastic since it's in the same vein as Twinsanity's. Voice acting is also really good, but your mileage may vary depending on how much you like the new personalities characters have. Still, during races characters tend to run their mouths way to often which can become a bit annoying.

 The thing about Crash Tag Team Racing is that it lacks the depth previous games had. It lacks personality. And the racing itself is so-so. Clashing does somewhat manage to pull the game forward, but one decent mechanic can't make up for the racing itself, which should've been the focus of the game.
 6.0 out of 10.

Now Playing: Crash Tag Team Racing

 The Crashventure continues...
 Almost 8:00 AM, I'm dead tired, so I'll make it short and sweet. Firstly, no, I haven't abandoned Devil Summoner, heck, some days ago I cleared two chapters. Two! But I feel like I can finish this one before the month ends EVEN if I go out tomorrow(Today?)'s night, so why not?

 As for the game itself... it has interesting ideas, poorly executed. The on-foot overworld feels so off, and these are the guys that developed the next two Crash games? I'm scared!. The racing is alrightish, Clashing is alrightish, but where it really shines is in Battle Mode. The tracks lack soul, they are so generic, might as well been lifted from any other mascot racer. Seriously. The character roster also suffered massive cuts, but at least we get unique karts.

 Single Player: Probably the Crash Racer I enjoyed the most, but as for the racing itself... the one I'm enjoying the least. Now off to bed I go.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Review #145: Crash Twinsanity

 Crash's beginning of the end.
 Over 6 Crash games, which followed two kinds of formulas: The platforming one and the racing one, so for this entry Traveller's Tales chose to somewhat reboot Crash, and thus Twinsanity was born.

 Three years after The Wrath of Cortex, N. Cortex returns and plots vengeance against the bandicoot... except that two seemingly alien parakeets quickly come into the picture, and now Cortex, Crash, Aku-Aku and Uka-Uka must team up in order to stop this new threat. The script is easily the game's strongest asset, unlike the last game, the story is hilarious. Cortex is now a more exaggerated version of his previous self, and he steals the show(Partly due to the fact that Crash is a mute, and most of his humor comes from actions, while Cortex gets both to speak and act). The rest of Crash's enemies have gotten make overs, and for the most part, they look pretty good, even if some only get a few seconds of screen time.
 Gameplay received an almost complete overhaul, instead of getting a hub World from which you chose which stage to tackle, you are now left in some more open ended areas, with all stages seamlessly connected with each other. There's a total of 16 stages, divided in 4 different "Areas", and each of the sixteen stages has 6 hidden gems, however, you no longer need to destroy all creates, now you need just find them, and usually solve a puzzle to get it. Honestly, I liked this new approach, and if the rest of the game worked properly, it would've made for a fun experience, if only...

 Here's the thing, in this game you'll be playing as Crash, Cortex, Crash and Cortex and a rather short, but enjoyable, stage with Nina Cortex. Crash plays just like he did in previous games, without the bonus abilities he'd earn from bosses. Cortex trades Crash's spins for a gun, and loses the double jump. When Crash and Cortex team up, you play primarily as Crash, and can spin around Cortex or use him as a hammer, plus, throw him away to have him hit switches or attack faraway enemies. As for Nina, she doesn't have a double jump, but she can spin attack, and gets a hand that doubles as a grappling hook.
 So far, so good, but the more you play, the more the game starts to frustrate. The largest problem, by far, is the fact that Crash doesn't project a shadow over crates. The game will demand a ton of jumps over crates floating over bottomless pits, but there's no way to tell where you are going to fall. Even worse, most of the hidden gems are locate over floating crates platforms, which will cost you a ton of lives if you aren't lucky. Something slightly less aggravating, is that they changed the bouncing physics, bouncing off crates doesn't feel as good and doesn't give you as much air time as before to plan your fall, coupled with the lack of shadows quickly grows vexing. Another issue are the "pushing" controls, in order to push something you must run against it and then continue to run, stop running and Crash stops pushing. It's as dumb, impractical and imprecise as it sounds, this makes the level in which Cortex spends his time trapped in a barrel incredibly hard, for all the wrong reasons. Oh, and once Cortex got stuck during an automated scene(He travels from pipe to pipe) forcing me to kill myself. At least you don't lose a life when Cortex falls, but you must restart back from the last checkpoint. Speaking of checkpoints, they are poorly spread out, and makes you wonder why they let you save your game anywhere if it will only save up to the last "hard" checkpoint(These are golden crates instead of the usual "C" crates). These two flaws, the lack of shadows over crates and the terrible pushing mechanics, are impossible to ignore, you'll be doing a lot of these actions during the game, which is why they affect the game so much.

  The game can be quite fun when it's not frustrating. The very last stage features a ton of very tight platforming sections(Over platforms on which Crash does project his shadow!), these are the most challenging sections of the game(which isn't saying much), but they were very well designed and were fun to get through, if only the rest of the game was this fun. Oh, and after this fantastic section... you are greeted with a pushing puzzle which quickly reminds you of how bad the game can get. And that's another issue, when the game is at its finest, the first stages, Nina's stage and the last stage, it's really good, but when it's not, it's pretty dull and frustrating. The game offers plenty of interesting ideas, like when Cortex is running away from enemies and Crash must open up a path for him, or when they fight over a crystal and you must move them together as if they were a sphere, but the game conspires against itself. Another issue is that you can't skip most cut-scenes, if you die during a boss, you will have to watch the entire pre-battle cutscene again.
 On a happier note, the game looks beautiful. The character redesigns are fairly good, the cutscenes are funny and well made, in-game models animate fairly well and look really good, and the environments are colorful and appealing. Soundtrack is very quirky and unlike anything else you've heard in a Crash game, and in my opinion, it's fantastic, but I'm sure it's gonna be hit or miss between different players. Voice acting is absolutely perfect, particularly Cortex, although the fact that N.Brio didn't get a voice actor is painfully obvious, he doesn't even moan during his transformation.

 Crash Twinsanity makes me kinda sad. There's so much untapped potential, so many good ideas, which I admit felt were gimmicky when I read about them, but after playing with them in the context of the game, they are fairly decent, but for every good thing the game does, it has a couple of catastrophic flaws that make it needlessly frustrating. It also started off so good, the first world is very entertaining, but as it goes along, it gets worse and worse...
 6.5 out of 10

Now Playing: Crash Twinsanity

 Surprisingly good.
 Look at the cover. Whenever I wasn't staring at the terribleness that they tried to pass as a cover, I was reading about controlling them together and those hijinks, and thinking to myself: "This game looks terrible, and plans to ride on a terrible, terrible idea". I just cleared the first four stages, and holy smokes, I'm liking it a lot. Sure, it has some flaws, like unskippable cutscenes, or Crash not having a shadow over crates(Which makes platforming over crates a real nightmare!), oh, and the physics have changed so you have to get used to that, but despite all that... it's really good. For starters, unlike the last game, it's really funny. It looks gorgeous, and the soundtrack is phenomenal(Although it's probably gonna be hit or miss), controls work well, and the gameplay is fun.

 All in all, a pleasant surprise, I'm looking forwards to this one.

Review #144: Crash Nitro Kart

 In which Crash tries to turn into a Saturday Morning Cartoon.
 You know how Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex tried to emulate previous Crash games? Well, Nitro Kart tries to emulate Team Racing, and by emulate, I mean become a carbon copy of its predecessor, just not as good.

 The story is pretty much the same as in Team Racing, an Alien being kidnaps Crash, Cortex and the rest and has them race in order to save the earth, simple stuff. This time, the game is told through beautiful cutscenes, they really do look good. They also try to be funny, but I found myself cringing, I guess kids should find it funny, which is surprising since most Crash fans would've been a bit older by now.
 As far as gameplay is concerned, it's almost the same game. First of all, Adventure mode returns, and it behaves just as it did in CTR. You go through 4 Hubs, with 3 stages each and a boss battle, and beating a World's boss unlocks the dull, and sometimes annoying, Crystal collecting race. In order to unlock everything, once again, it will require at least, and I'm being generous, three playthroughs through each track. First you need to earn first place, to continue with the game, then get the C, N and K letters(And also finish first. In a game were one item attack can cost you the whole race. Fun. And no, it can't be done on your first run through the stage, that'd be too convenient.) and then beat the time trials. It feels like padding, and it's the only way to unlock the rest of the racers, no cheats in this one. Oh, and in this one, you need to finish adventure mode with both Crash and Cortex team in order to unlock the last character. If you are into racing games, it's probably gonna last you a while, if you don't like racing games, like me, it's gonna be a chore. Then you also get the obligatory 1 player racing modes, time trials and cups, with a multiplayer mode with up to four players to race against, or do battle in the battle modes.

 As I mentioned before getting sidetrack, gameplay remains relatively unchanged. You race around tracks, and try to get crates which either hold Wumpa fruit, which raise your max speed and once you collect 10 your items become Super Juiced(Stronger), or the items themselves which you use to gain advantage on your opponents. Almost every item from CTR returns, with the flasks getting swapped for electric and ice mines and the energy ball with a Tornado, and they never feel as strong as their Mario Kart counterparts which is, in my opinion, a good thing. The fantastic drifting system returns, in which you must tap the opposing shoulder button as you drift, while timing it with a gauge that appears next to your racer, in order to get up to three boosts, it's more strategic and involved that other mascot racer's drifting mechanics. A new feature is driving on ceilings and sides, Crash Nitro Kart did it before Mario Kart 8!, but it feels mostly aesthetic. Regardless, the game feels quite slower than CTR, which makes it a bit less fun, and the physics feel a bit awkward, sometimes even bugged(Like falling under the track for no reason!).
 If there's one good thing to say about the game, is that it looks really, really good. Racers feel a bit lazy, as the sixteen characters were divided in four teams of four, and every character in a team share the same cart with each other, I think they could've given each character an exclusive cart, but no biggie. Tracks look beautiful, even though they don't really borrow from Crash's previous games, something that CTR did and made it feel much more cohesive in the Crash universe. Music is... well, it's there. It's not bad, but it's nothing special. The voice acting, however, is pretty impressive and compliments the fantastic cutscenes quite nicely.

 Crash Nitro Kart is a game that tries too hard to be like its counterpart, but since it doesn't manage to be as good as the other one was, it feels like a pale imitation. At least the cutscenes look really good.
 6.5 out of 10.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Now Playing: Crash Nitro Racing

 It ain't terrible.
 Before playing it, I had read how superior CTR was to this one, and, so far, I would agree, but Nitro Kart isn't bad by any means. I've gone through the first three tracks, they were fairly good, mechanics wise, it plays just like CTR, albeit a bit slower. Oh, and the "Have to play each track at least three times" returns, except that there are no cheat codes.... oh boy.

 The cutscenes look great though.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Review #143: Crash Bandicoot - The Wrath of Cortex

 Just about what one would've expected of a then-next gen Crash game.
 By this point in time, Naughty Dog was done with the series, so Universal Interactive Studios got a new developer to create the next Crash game on next generation consoles, Traveler Tales.

 Y'know the drill, Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex takes place right after the last game, with Cortex and Uka-Uka defeated. So Uka-Uka decides to hold a meeting between all of Crash's enemies(Actually, the ones featured in 3) in order to come up with a way to destroy Crash, turns out Cortex has another genetically engineered bandicoot under his control, Crush Bandicoot, plus, they wake up four elemental masks in order to aid them. Now it's up to Crash, Aku-Aku and Coco to thwart their plans. Crash Bandicoot 4 saw a huge number of character redesigns, from small ones, like N.Gin's face, to bigger ones like Aku-Aku and Uka-Uka's shapes. All in all, the redesigns weren't needed, but they didn't ruin the characters in any way, and the story is very typical of Crash Bandicoot.
 Gameplay is almost exactly the same as in Crash 3. Large HUB, divided in five sections with five levels each(Plus 5 unlockable levels). Each level houses a Crystal, one to two gems and a time trial ankh. And just as in Crash 3, defeating a boss grants Crash a new skill... except that this time you are basically earning your moves back, except the Super Ground Slam which was changed with the sneaking ability. Sneaking is downright worthless, you are only expected to use it on some Bonus sections of the levels, and it allows you to walk over Nitro Crates, but it does have a fundamental flaw... if you walk over a Nitro box while possessing an Aku-Aku mask, it will trigger the Nitro boxes, costing you the Aku Aku mask. Oh, and loading times are a bit on the long side, making replaying levels(Or exiting-returning if you wanted to trigger a Skull platform) a bit more annoying than on previous games.

 Levels are now wider and larger, which makes evading enemies incredibly easy. About two thirds of the levels possess enemies that have Crash Bandicoot 3-like range in their attacks, which means you can simply walk by their side and evade anything they throw at you. The levels themselves are also the easiest they've been in a Crash game yet, but they aren't as tightly designed as before, with a couple of stages that have obstacles that are impossible to avoid unless you know they are coming, the stages in which you pilot the robot being particularly bland in this regard. This game also features some of the worst underwater levels I have ever played, with bombs falling all over the place, most which you can't avoid unless you have very fast reflexes, and have to remember that underwater movement always works against the player, and know that they are coming. Definitely some of the most unfun moments I had with the game. On the bright side, the game does have a couple of interesting ideas, like having vehicle sections during a platforming level, which sometimes works against it, different vehicles have different controls which can confuse you and cost you a life, sometimes X will accelerate, while others it will make you jump and so on. Other standout ideas being the levels in which Crash must roll around inside a sphere, or the new mine cart levels, one being a 3-lap race against Crush, with different routes, and you must take all at least once if you want to break all crates!
 The game boasts about having Coco playable on foot for the first time, and it's a neat idea, on paper. Coco plays just like her brother Crash, but with a widely limited moveset. She doesn't get the double jump, instead of crawling or sliding she gets a sweep that takes ages to go off, and instead of spinning, she gets a spin kick(Which looks much cooler, but is less useful). This makes playing as Coco a bit disappointing, since she doesn't have any unique qualities to herself or advantages over Crash, although she does get to drive different vehicles, if that's your thing. Lastly, there's five bosses in the game... except that all five of them are against Crush Bandicoot. True, the fights are different, but having the older bosses reduced to obstacles or racers on racing stages feels a bit of a waste, Crush isn't so charismatic as to deserve five fights against him.

 Presentation is one aspect where the game shines. Character models do look fairly dated, no in small part to some animations feeling a bit off. However, this game has the most visually appealing stages in a Crash game yet, they all look gorgeous and there's a wide variety of them, it's a shame some of its platforming sequences aren't on par with the older games. Music is as good as ever, with very fitting tunes. It looks and sounds like a Crash game.

 Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex is exactly what one would've expected of Crash's jump into the next generation. It follows the formula to a T, and while it doesn't really add much to it, it does have some original ideas that spice it up, even if just a tiny little bit. Crash Bandicoot fans can do no wrong with The Wrath of Cortex.
 8.0 out of 10

Monday, August 25, 2014

Review #142: Crash Team Racing

 Crash and burn!
 Naughty Dog had three platforming Crash Bandicoot games under they belt, so it was time for Playstation's then pseudo-mascot to get his own Kart Racing Spin off. Just as with the Crash Bandicoot taking a little bit of other platformers, but having its own spin, CTR borrows a lot from Mario Kart(Particularly the SNES version), but still manages to feel very different.

 The game offers a surprisingly decent amount of modes. Adventure, Arcade, Time Trial, VS and Battle Mode. Adventure features a very silly story where a new enemy, Nitros Oxide threatens the earth, so now Crash, Coco and their enemies must join together in multiple races. The game is set up in a hub world, not unlike Crash 2 or 3's, where you must eventually go through 16 tracks and 5 boss races. In theory, it's a great idea, but in practice you have to beat each stage at least three times. The first time you must finish in first place, the next one you have to beat a certain time record and the third one you must collect three letters(CTR) and finish in first place(And no, you can't do this on your first time throught). I guess if you like racing games, the repetition won't bother you to much, but for me it was too much. There's also the four unlockable Crystal Collecting missions which were, on someone like me, way too challenging. The game does allow for cheat codes to unlock all the unlockables, but if you want 100% save file, you gonna have to work.
 Arcade Mode allows up to two players to play single races or full 4-track cups, Time Trial is pretty much self explanatory, VS mode is for up to four players and functions like Arcade Mode but removes all other CPU racers and Battle Mode takes place in special arenas in which you must make the most points or take all the other racer's lives away(You can choose the rules). The game has over 20 tracks, and they are all very, very creative and fun to race through, with not a single dud among them.

 The gameplay is just as with any other mascot Kart Racing game, you go through a track, usually 3 laps around it, and if you collect boxes, they grant you an item(Usually a weapon) which you can use to attack your enemies. Weapons are fairly varied and aren't as strong as Mario Kart's counterparts, which means skill matters a little more than luck, but just a little. Borrowing from Mario Kart SNES, you can collect Wumpa fruits(up to 10) to raise your max speed, plus, having 10 Wumpa Fruit will "super charge" your item, making it much stronger, however, getting hit or falling off the track will cost you some fruit. Lastly, the game has drifting in the form of "Power Sliding", which is done by pressing R1 or L1 when turning the wheel. What's more, holding the slide for a while will make the exhaust pipes' gas will turn black, pressing the opposite shoulder button will grant you a little boost, for up to three boosts in a row. Unlike Mario Kart, you have to earn your boost, and they end up being much better as they can make you zip through the track. Be warned that if you miss your window you lose a boost, and holding a slide for too long will make you spin out.
 The game looks beautiful, slightly better than Crash Bandicoot 3 I believe. Characters are taken all throughout the Crash series(With guest "Trash Bandicoot"), and while being in a kart means they don't have a ton of animations, they do have their unique celebrations or lamentations when on the podium. The real stars of the show are the stages and the amount of detail they pack, couple with the speeds at which the game moves! Music feels very "Crash Bandicoot", besides the returning tunes, which is a plus as Crash tends to have great music.

 Overall, I liked Crash Team Racing. The racing feels very good, the power sliding mechanics seem overwhelming at first, but after you get the hang of them, they become a very fun mechanic, and tracks feature some unique pieces that I haven't borrowed by other games. My one complaint, but a big one in my book, is just how much the game expects you to replay each stage, maybe it's because I don't particularly like the Racing Genre, since I had no problem with the Crash Bandicoot games, but at least three times to get 100% is a bit too much, at least there's cheat codes!
 8.0 out of 10.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Now Playing: Crash Bandicoot - The Wrath of Cortex

 Here's the skinny: It feels, really, really good. Graphically, it has that early PS2 vibe, with awkwardish animations and simple graphics, but that aside, moving Crash around feels really good. His jumps are a bit floatier, but moving on ground feels much tighter. You can really tell that Traveller Tales were fans of Crash, as it feels like a Crash game. HOWEVER, the new stages are much larger and wider, but enemies have the same patterns they used to have... which means they are very easy to avoid by simple moving to the sides, they are basically harmless. I'm by World 3, and already have over 40 lives. Oh, and I can see a pattern, Crush will be the boss in every world, that's not cool.

 Overall, I can't see why people dislike it so much. Sure, loading times are kinda long and level design isn't as good as Crash 2 or even 3, but it's fairly good and feels like a Crash game.

Now Playing: Crash Team Racing

 Repetition is the name of the game.
 And now, the only PS1 Crash game that I hadn't played, Crash Team Racing. It's no secret that I'm not a racing game fan, but CTR feels really, really good. What isn't "really, really good" is how the game expects you to play each track at least four times. And that's in a best case scenario, which is why I'll probably unlock everything with cheats after I'm done. The Gem collecting missions are really hard actually, too much for my poor racing skills, I had to retry the first one at least 2 times, and I couldn't finish the second one...

 At least the game plays really, really well, and the power slide-to-turbo mechanics are very fun after you understand how to do it, unlike Mario Kart, you have to earn your boosts. It also feels a bit more... fair. Track design is also really good, so far my favorite is, probably, the icy one with multiple paths and seals running about. Items also don't feel as strong as in Mario Kart, which is a good thing if you value skill over chaos, but it still managed to pull me from last place to first place a couple of times.

 As it stands, I just beat Komodo Joe, and while comparisons to Mario Kart are inevitable, the game does its own thing, just as the Crash Bandicoot games when it comes to platformers. I like this game.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Review #141: Crash Bandicoot 3 - Warped

 A fitting end to the trilogy.
 Crash Bandicoot 2 was an amazing game, a fantastic platformer game and a Playstation must have. Could Naughty Dog top themselves in just one year?

 As per norm, Crash Bandicoot 3 takes place directly after Crash Bandicoot 2, N. Cortex's plan thwarted by Crash, and now he must answer to his boss, Uka Uka, Aku Aku's evil counterpart. Uka Uka introduces a new Villain, N. Tropy, who can control time(And thus give an excuse for the new settings), so Crash must gather crystals again, in order to stop them. You know the deal, story isn't the game focus, and it really shouldn't matter, it's a simple bad guy vs good guy approach. Worth mentioning, this time they gave all five bosses more personality, as they now taunt you before levels, which is a really neat touch, and the voice acting is pretty good!
 It should come as no surprise that gameplay remains relatively unchanged, pick a level from the hub, platform your way through the level, using your spin attack or slide to kill enemies, grab wumpa fruits for extra lives and collect the crystals. The game is definitely easier than previous Crash entries, the slide-jump has been toned down, and there's no instances in which you are required to use it, unlike Crash 2, it also feels a bit less rewarding as a consequence, Crash 2 had gotten the difficulty just right. Crash 3 also has a lot more "variety levels" in which you ride an animal as Coco, on a nonstop ride through a set track, racing levels in which Crash drives a bike, a few airplane levels and some that take place exclusively under water. Variety is appreciated, but I would've like more platforming levels, kinda like Crash 2, but that's just me. And, to be fair, besides a certain boss battle that takes place in Space, the vehicle levels feel fantastic, with spot on, responsive controls.

 One of the best new aspects is that every boss drops a new move after their defeat, and they are all incredibly useful, a beefed up body slam, a beefed up spin attack(which can double as a gliding tool!), double jumping, a bazooka(Seriously) and Running, to aid in the time trials. Time Trials? Time Trials. After collecting a level's gem, you can tackle the Time Trial, in which you must dash in order to beat certain time limits and earn Ankhs. While you are basically replaying a level, the way in which you must tackle them changes a fair bit, and they are more fun than they deserve to, much challenging too since you can't die at all. Lastly, collision detection seems to have been ironed out, not once did I feel a death wasn't my fault, which is something that had been bugging me since Crash 1. Worth noting, Crash's movement has been altered, he feels a bit... faster, but it takes a couple of levels to get used to it, and it's not a bad thing at all.
 There's a ton to do and collect in Crash 3, even more than Crash 2. Each level has at least one gem, one crystal and one time trial ankh. Then there are levels that have gems tucked away in alternate paths, and levels hidden withing other levels, and 5 extra levels(Technically 3) if you collect 25 ankhs... you'll certainly find yourself busy with this game. Regardless, a basic playthrough of the game(Without stopping to collect everything) is on par with previous Crash games.

 The game looks about as good as Crash 2, but enemies do seem a bit more detailed, and so do the levels(Though it might've to do with the newer settings). While Crash 2 felt as if it expanded on Crash 1 environments, recycling a few, all environments in Crash 3 are new, it's nice finally stepping out of the snow and jungle levels! The new areas take place in Arabia, a futuristic city, a medieval city, the prehistoric domains of a very angry triceratops and on more modern streets for the racing stages. Music is as catchy as ever, and there's really not much else to say about it!

 Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped might not be a huge improvement over Crash Bandicoot 2, but it manages to reach the same level of quality while also feeling new in many ways. Personally, I would've liked a few more platforming stages, but I'm not against variety!
 9.0 out of 10.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Now Playing: Crash Bandicoot 3 - Warped

 This used to be my favorite one...
 As I mentioned previously, I played the whole Crash Bandicoot trilogy on PS1, with the third one being my most played, then the first one and lastly the second one. I loved CB 3, but after finishing Crash Bandicoot 2(93%, I just really, really wanted to start this one!).... I dunno, the last one was SO good, this one seems to be lacking... something.

 It's the easiest one so far(Up to level 16, 35%) and there's a lot more "Variety" levels, meaning vehicles or underwater sections, which I don't really mind, but I would've preferred more platforming levels. Still, it's almost as good as 2, but I'm gonna save my final judgement until I'm done with it.

Review #140: Crash Bandicoot 2 - Cortex Strikes Back

 So good. SO GOOD.
 Remember that little platformer, Crash Bandicoot? One year later, it got a sequel, and it's not just an "Assassin's Creed" kind of sequel, it's a sequel that manages to improve or fix almost every single thing the previous game got wrong. Plus, it hasn't aged as badly.

 Crash Bandicoot 2 begins exactly right after the previous one ended, and now N. Cortex seems to have turned over a new leaf and needs Crash's help to save the world... or so he claims. You don't really need to know or care about the story, it's not the game's focus and it's just there to give you purpose as you go throughout all 27 levels, hunting for gems and crystals. There's new characters, like Coco, Crash's sister, and a whole new slew of bosses(And a few returning ones) and they make for a decent cast, even if the don't get much screen time.
 Core gameplay remains the same, jump around, and spin to kill enemies, or use either to break crates and collect Wumpa fruits to earn lives, Aku Aku also returns to grant Crash up to two "hit points"(Since Crash dies in one hit), but there are a variety of new additions that make it much more involved and fun. Crash has new moves, crouching, sliding and a ground pound, and you can jump off a slide for a long, high jump or jump off a crouch for a slightly higher jump, finding all the game has to offer will require the use of these new skills. The game also introduces the new Nitro crates, which explode on contact, a variety of new enemies that need to be defeated in different manners(Some can't be jumped on, some have to be killed with a slide, etc). By this time, Sony had introduced the Analog sticks to the Playstation's joystick, and it's a godsend for the precise jumping this game requires.

 Not only does the game add upon its predecessor, it also fixes and tweaks some of its most frustrating and obnoxious elements. Instead of an overworld, the game now has a HUB from which you pick which level you want to play, but there's also a new section where you can save your game. You can actually save your game at anytime while on the HUD, and now it also saves the amount of lives you have hoarded, genius. Getting Gems is a much easier affair, not longer requiring you not to die on a level, however, some levels have some platforms that will only be available if you haven't died up to the last checkpoint before said platform, it also means that if you die while on the the secret section, you can retry it without having to restart the level. The game has a total of 27 levels with a ton of secrets to find, there some levels have more than one gem with special requirements, some levels leave to warps for alternate sections of other stages or even two secret stages, and finding all of these is actually fun thanks to the game being more lenient on players.
 Speaking of leniency, if you die too many times in a row, the game will grant you a free Aku Aku mask. Bosses are also pretty easy and forgettable, the last boss being particularly disappointing. So yes, the game is a bit easier than the previous one, but it does offer some pretty challenging bonus sections if you aim for 100%. Furthermore, a lot of Crash Badicoot 1's challenge game from the lack of analog support and the frustrating saving system, it was more frustrating than challenging, which this game remedies pretty well, it's hard without being vexing. One thing that remains a bit iffy is the collision detection, just as with the last game, sometimes you'll be wondering how or why you died at times if you aimed that jump just right or what have you, regardless, just as with the last game, it will sometimes work on your favor, allowing you to stand on air and recover from a botomless pit falls!

 The game looks slightly better than the first one, but it's mostly reflected on the environments which now feature a higher degree of detail and more variety, although it could've used less Jungle levels, since they all look very similar! Crash also received a ton of new animations when it comes to dying, and the enemy selection is almost entirely new, although they still look a bit too simple. Music is as good as the last one, with catchier tunes than before, it also has voice acting on some characters and they sound pretty good! And the sound effect for collecting Wumpa Fruits sound so good that it actually makes you want to collect as many of them as you can.

 Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back is everything a sequel aims to be. It fixes almost everything the previous game did wrong, and while the collision detection still needs work, it's not a deal breaker. The simple, but satisfying gamplay, the tricky, but rewarding platforming sections and huge amount of secrets makes it one of Playstation's finest.
 9.0 out of 10.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Now Playing: Crash Bandicoot 2 - Cortex Strikes Back

 Now THIS is a sequel.
 Crash Bandicoot 1 was a great game back when it was released, but it hasn't aged very well, regardless, Crash Bandicoot 2 improves on almost every aspect of Crash 1, fixes most of its most frustrating issues and introduces new mechanics.

Where to start? The new analog support is a godsend, the camera angles aren't as awkward and you get more than a second to react to upcoming obstacles when the camera takes weird angles. The collision detection is still a bit off, and just like Crash 1, it sometimes works in your favor, allowing you to stand on air instead of falling to your death. Remember how frustrating it was to earn gems? Not any more, you no longer need "perfect runs" which is fantastic, and you can save any time you want when in the HUB, fixing the most annoying aspects of the last game. There's new moves as well, sliding, crawling, slide-jump and even hanging over railings.

 Crash 2 is already shaping up to be a great game, it does have challenging sections, though it hasn't managed to get Crash 1 hard yet(I'm on level 18). Interestingly, Crash 2 is the game I played the least from the original trilogy, I don't really know why. Crash 3 was my favorite, and I played a fair amount of Crash 1(Though I hadn't finished back then), but Crash 2? I only played a tiny bit, which now I deeply regret!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Review #139: Mario Kart 7

 I really can't think of a one-liner good enough for this one, sorry!
 Nowadays, if Nintendo releases a new console you can already expect a new entry in their long running mascot racing game franchise Mario Kart. Mario Kart 7 does away with some mechanics, tweaks some and brings back a few, while adding a couple of new ones of its own.

 In case you've been living under a rock, Mario Kart is, at its core, a racing game, but adds weapons into the mix. Sadly, bikes have been removed from the game, ironically, they felt like a gimmick but wound up being a very entertaining new gameplay mechanics. The irony lies in that the game has new mechanics that end up feeling as gimmicks in their place, underwater driving and gliding. Admittedly, when they do it right, having different parallel routes (Water, air, ground) is fun, but at times it feels as if the gliding/underwater routes where added just for the sake of having them. Annoyingly, there's one stage in which going underwater actually counts as "falling" off the stage, which is easy to forget as this game makes the other instances of water an alternate route. The other new big feature is kart customization, which ends up being very simple, but engaging. Depending on which body, tires and glider you pick, you'll get different stats on your vehicle, having a vehicle tailored to your style is a phenomenal idea, and works perfectly. Unlocking these parts isn't as fun, seeing how you can earn up to ten coins per race, and you are going to need over 10000 to unlock everything.
 They also introduced a new type of track, instead of having the racers do 3 laps around it, it's a single, long track divided in three segments. I actually liked these and would've lucked to see one or two more. Drift works similar to how it did before, where holding a drift would generate a boost after you let go of the button, with two different strengths to it depending on how long you drifted, this time it feels as if getting the faster boost is a bit harder. Since the 3DS has no motion controls(Hallelujah), to get boosts from jumps, you must press the drift/jump button after you get some air, it works just fine. A previously mentioned, coins are back and work just like they did on previous Mario Karts, allowing you to reach slightly higher speeds as you collect them, with a maximum of ten. Falling off the track or getting hit will cost you some coins though.

 As per usual, you get 16 new tracks and 16 retro karts, with 4 different classes(Speed), 50cc, 100cc, 150cc and Mirror Mode. Honestly, half of the new tracks are very forgettable, while the other eight are really good. As for the retro tracks, they made excellent choices. and the way they brought these older stages up to date was spot-on. Overall, it's a very good track roster. As for the character roster, eh... It looks as if they tried to trim the fat, removing all baby characters, or characters that felt a bit out of place, but in their place we get... Wriggler? Lakitu? Mario Galaxy's Queen Bee? It's not the best character selection Mario Kart has ever had, but at least you get a couple new faces, I guess.
 Single player is where the game suffers most. Firstly, no mission mode or nothing of the sort, you just get: Grand Prix, Battle, Coin Battle and Time Trials. Notice something? Vs CPU is gone, which I think is a huge oversight. You could argue that it's made up by having online mode, but I beg to differ. Handheld games are meant to be played on the go, you might not always have access to an online connection. Maybe you are short on time and just want to play a couple of races, maybe you just want to get random tracks... too bad, either play against your own ghosts(Up to seven!) in Time Trial or... do one of the eight cups, with their four predetermined four tracks. This also means that you can only earn up to 40 coins(Assuming you manage to avoid getting hit) for unlockables every time you play. Unlocking characters can also be a bit of a pain, since you need to get first place in each cup under the 150cc class, playing to win against the rubberband AI can be vexing, as just one blue shell on the last lap could cost you your first place. On the other hand, Online is very smooth and getting matches is a very straightforward, simple process. Coins earned Online count to your totals, so that's also a plus.

 Visually, the game is gorgeous, it looks almost as good as Mario Kart Wii. 3D on this game looks beautiful, I'd actually encourage its use and it doesn't hamper the FPS in any way, keeping the silky smooth framerate. Music, as with all Nintendo games, is always charming and pleasing to the ears, both old and new tunes. They also added a neat little touch where music will sound different when you are in first place.

 So, what do I make of Mario Kart 7? While it was fun, and the online is pretty fun.... when it comes to going away on trips or what have you, I'll actually pick Mario Kart DS over this one. Otherwise, Mario Kart 7 is a fine entry on a series known for its good, even if unfair(The unavoidable blue shell feels especially punishing in this one), games.
 8.0 out of 10.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Review #138: Crash Bandicoot

Playstation's original pseudo-kinda mascot!
 Crash Bandicoot was the first entry in the long running Crash Bandicoot platforming game series, back in the day, it was considered a classic, Playstation's answer to Mario, but has time been kind to it?

 The story is all kinds of ridiculous, and unless you possess the instruction booklet, you'll be oblivious to it. Basically, N. Cortex is the big bad who not only created Crash, but kidnapped his girlfriend, so now Crash must stop N. Cortex's evil plans and save his girlfriend. The story doesn't really matter and it's never expanded upon in the game, you shouldn't care about it. As for the characters, bosses, while not exactly charming, aren't terrible, N. Cortex and Crash do sport timeless designs and as for Crash's girlfriend, well, there's a reason she never returned, but given her relationship to Crash and how she looks(compared to Crash), it does fulfill her purpose.
 Gameplay is fairly simple, a jump button and a spin attack button, that's all you get and all you need. The game takes place through different stages, each with different sets of obstacles and gimmicks. While Mario 64 took place in big, open environments, Crash's stages feel cramped. It's not necessarily a bad thing, it's the game's style and it gives it a different flavor. Crash can, normally, only take one hit before he bites the dust, but running across Aku Aku masks will provide an extra hit, up to two, grabbing a third Aku Aku mask will provide a couple of seconds of invincibility. Early in the game, Aku Aku masks are plentiful, but the latter half of the game is rather stingy with them. The series' trademark are the crates, spread throughout each stage are various crates that contain fruit(Collect 100 for an extra life), extra lives or Aku Aku mask, with the occasional TNT crate that you need to avoid unless you want to die.

 The game starts off easy enough, but progressively gets harder and harder, but the difficulty curve throughout all 32 levels does scale appropriately. There's a couple of stages that are extremely challenging later on in the game, but the game is fairly generous with extra lives. The game can be beaten in a day without major issues, but, if you aim for 100% and the secret ending... you must finish each and every level without dying while smashing every. Single. Crate. This is all kinds of nuts and more of a chore than anything else, back when I was younger it was a non issue, since I had anything but time, but nowadays it's crazy to expect anyone to invest so much time in something so repetitive and obnoxiously challenging. The terrible save system doesn't help either, you can only save your game after clearing one of the bonus stages(The one with Crash's girlfriend), and this is a one time thing. Fail the bonus stage, and you have to replay the entire stage. What where they thinking? The cherry on top, is that every time you reload your save file, you start with 4 lives, just dandy.
 Sadly, those aren't the only problems with the game. The game was made before analog sticks were a thing, and Crash's movements are pretty floaty, making for very imprecise movements. For as many times that you'll die due to an error on your part, Crash's movements will cause the other deaths. Collision detection is a bit off as well, sometimes in the players favor, like on the dreaded "Slippery climb", you can sometimes stay on the air when certain blocks turn into a slide, instead of, well, sliding down. Furthermore, certain stages have a behind-the-back camera angle that can make it hard to see where you are jumping, or to measure the distance towards an enemy.

 The overall presentation has stood the test of time fairly well. Graphics are very pretty for its time, it's actually surprising just how much Naughty Dog got out of the PS1 so early in its life. Stages aren't very varied, you've got jungles and mechanical themes and that's about it, common enemies are fairly simple and forgettable, but as previously mentioned, bosses fared a bit better. Music is fairly good, with a couple of very memorable songs(Which I'm fairly sure where reused in the following games!). Sound effects deserve a special mention, since it makes collecting fruit in-masse very satisfying.

 Crash Bandicoot was a classic, it was a great game back when it was released, there's no denying that. However, as it stands today, it hasn't stood the test of time. It remains a fun game, frustrating if you aim for 100%, but there's no reason to go out of your way to play this one when the next two sequels are so much better.
 6.0 out of 10

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Archile's Grab Bag - Crash Edition

  Puzzle Quest - Challenge of the Warlords: I used to play this on the computer, it was really good. I considered getting it on the PSP, but since the DS is the console I take away on trips... yeah, DS it was.
  The Sims: I'm not particularly fond of The Sims, but this one has 2 player co-op. TWO PLAYER CO-OP. I needed this one back.
  Shinobi: I loved this game, and I remember finishing it, somehow. And then you unlocked a character that made the game even harder... yeah, I didn't finish it with that one xD. Still, I've been wanting this one for a looong time.
  Crash of the Titans: First game in this package I hadn't played yet, part of the Crash series, so... yeah.
 Crash Bandicoot - Action pack: Three Crash games I haven't played before, Twinsanity seems terrible, but the other two seem Ok.
  Crash Bandicoot 3 - Warped: My favorite Crash game back in the day.
 Crash 2 - Cortex Strikes Back: I didn't realize the cover was missing until I reread the product description, oh well, it's Crash 2.
 Crash Bandicoot: The game that started it all, it was quite decent, but I discovered it at the same time I did the other 2, so I kinda like it least, they perfected the formula so much over Crash 2 and 3!