Here's something I haven't touched in a while, Crash Bandicoot. The first game was the second review I ever did. Can't believe it's been four years since I came back to this series. Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back was released in 1997, only one year after the original, and picks up right where the last one left off.
This time around instead of rescuing a damsel in distress, you're collecting 25 Slave Crystals on Earth for Dr. N. Cortex who is pretending to be using them to save the world. In reality, he's just using Crash to achieve his own ends. Give the guy some credit, using your own worst enemy to your advantage like that is pretty clever. Too bad it makes Crash look like an idiot. Cortex isn't exactly the greatest at disguising his intentions. I can still smell the amounts of bullshit long after turning the game off.
Huh, subtle WCW Nitro advertisement.
Something new introduced to the gameplay is the crawl and slide. By holding down the circle button you can make Crash crawl under objects, or have him slide into enemies that can't be killed by the more convenient jump. The rest of his controls are pretty much the same as the previous installment.
This game came out into the early stages of the dual shock controller, so you're better off playing with the D-Pad than you are the analog sticks. They aren't very precise and can steer Crash in the opposite direction of where you want to go. Such a simple feat can prove deadly in the chase stages where direction is everything.
Crash himself have been redesigned to appear skinner and smaller overall than the first game. I don't have much of a preference on this. Both designs work for their respective games and are pleasing to look at, although at times it feel like a couple of years have passed rather than one.
Most of the crates are the same with a few exceptions. First of them being the green Nitro crate in the picture above. They're similar to the TNT that they explode, only you don't have to even touch them. Get more than a few inches too close, and boom! You're dead.
Two iron crates can be found throughout various stages; first of which is the gray crate that makes invisible boxes appear after being hit, and the second is green being connected to the Nitro crates. Destroy it and it takes out all the Nitro in that level. Problem is, they always put it AFTER the Nitro you encounter. Why not put it back at the beginning? Sometimes you don't find it until the END of the stage. What's the point of hitting it by then?
Returning enemies include Lab Assistants, Venus Fly Traps (which were changed to purple for some reason), Crabs, as well as some new enemies like the Penguins, Spitter Plants, Spike Rats, and Armadillos. Enemies are a product of their environment and naturally grow more complicated to deal with the farther into the game you get.
Death is still funny. Whenever you die it triggers a humorous animation that the designers always intended to soften the blow of losing a life. At first it tends to catch you off guard because you don't expect it, but after a while you get used to it and you're right back to getting frustrated over losing again. Still, points for originality if nothing else.
Seems like a long way to go for a Coca-Cola commercial.
Stages such as the water levels, boulders chase, and ride the warthog return with a few minor changes. For instance the warthog have been changed into a little polar bear, and at one point the giant boulder is replaced with a giant man-eating polar bear! They even add the latter two together for added difficulty.
One new re-occurring theme they introduce is the jet pack stage. Crash puts on a jet pack and glides his way through to the end. The controls are as aggravating as they can be. Up is down, down is up, and the slightest tap of X and Circle can make Crash go too far in one direction. Why can't up be up and down be down? Is that really so hard?
>can make any space an explosive
>leaves blank spot for enemy to stand on
Boss fights occur in-between Warp Rooms and are fairly easy to figure out. Maybe not so much to a child, so we at least know the game isn't unforgiving to kids. I dare say the bosses are easier than the regular stages with the exception of the last two, Dr. N. Gin, and Dr. N. Cortex himself.
N. Gin attacks you using his mech and the timing to avoid his attacks can throw you off your game. Cortex is only a pain in the ass because you have to fight with the jet pack controls while avoiding obstacles and hit him three times before he can make his escape.
Ripto and Cortex are the only bosses from the first game that return, meanwhile N. Gin, Tiny Tiger, and the Komodo Brothers all make their first appearances becoming re-occurring enemies in the Crash franchise. N. Gin and Tiny Tiger would go on to make returns in Crash Warped, while the Komodo Brothers were set aside to the spinoff games.
Incoming message from the big giant head!
The holo-projector also makes a return not as an enemy, but as a means of communication with three key characters: Dr. N. Cortex, Dr. N. Brio, and Crash's sister, Coco. Yeah, Crash has a sister now. She was brought in after complaints of Tawna being inappropriate for a kid's game, and Sony of Japan wanting a more family-friendly companion for Crash. I can see why, Tawna's design only helps to further furry fantasies.
Cortex will speak with you in the Warp Room after you collected a certain amount of Slave Crystals. He'll even appear to be frustrated with Crash if you don't bring back a crystal from one of the stages. Nice Easter Egg. Brio will only appear when you start collecting gems, which are needed for a 100% ending where Brio destroys the Cortex Vortex.
Coco manages to hack into communications to speak with Crash and reveal Cortex's sinister plot, so she's actually a very intelligent and handy ally to Crash which is nice to see. The Warp Room acts as the central hub to all the different levels and your save area. You don't have to complete any unnecessary bonus stages just to save.
I'm not going to end up in one of the Riddler's tedious side-quests, am I?
Graphics have held up pretty well for a game that came out in 1997. From my experience games with unrealistic character designs tend to last longer than those that do. Nothing strange to report on the sound, and the music compliments the overall tone of the game nicely.
They even managed to get some decent voice acting and avoid the cringe-worthy dialog that plagues a lot of kids games. Both Clancy Brown and Vicki Winters excel at Cortex and Coco respectively. Brown is the best VA for Cortex by far in all the Crash Bandicoot's games.
When I get the hang of this control scheme, you are so dead!
Cortex Strikes Back is a worthy sequel to Crash Bandicoot that improves upon the gameplay, design, and makes an already good game even better. Lovers of the genre will be more than happy to play this game if for some reason you missed it after all these years. This is one game that makes an already impressive library that much better.