Crash Bandicoot. Merely saying the name will send many a gamers’ mind on a trip back to the 90’s, that golden age of platformers. From Croc to Spyro, the PSOne era was a cavalcade of platform hopping, level running, thing-collecting goodness. But not a one of these were as famous as Crash Bandicoot. Tight controls and an overabundance of personality made Crash stand out from the crowd, and even to this day, many will proclaim Cortex Strikes Back and Warped (the second and third games in the series respectively) to be among the finest games ever made in that venerable genre.
The story was simple enough. Doctor Neo Cortex is trying to take over the world, and thinks he’s found the perfect plan for acquiring help: to genetically modify a bandicoot named Crash. But Crash, as is typical of a heroic marsupial, decides instead to impede Cortex’s plans. With help from his brilliant sister Coco, and his magical tiki mask guardian Aku-Aku (it was the 90’s, don’t ask) Crash stands in the way of Cortex’s plans time and time again.
Luckily (or unluckily) Cortex has help on his end, in the form of a colorful rogues gallery of mutated monstrosities including: Tiny, the not so small mutant tiger, Ripper Roo, a clinically insane blue dog in a straight jacket, and Dingodile, an Australian dingo-crocodile hybrid with a penchant for flamethrowers. Cortex also had a revolving door of right hand men including the brilliant Doctor Nitrus Brio, a meek biochemical engineer with bolts in his head who becomes an off-and-on again ally to Crash, and Doctor N. Gin, a short unstable little scientist with a nuclear missile lodged in his head. Later on, an evil tiki mask (and evil younger brother to Aku Aku) named Uka Uka joins the fray, and brings even more strange underlings into the mix.
It was these memorable personalities that made the Crash games so fun to play. But, time marches on, and like most of the idols of that lost time, Crash faded into obscurity. His license was sold off and original developer Naughty Dog moved on to other things, such as Jak and Daxter and, more recently, the Uncharted series. But unlike the others of that era, Crash still survives, and his games are still coming out with appreciable regularity. As one would suspect, several of the games after the sell off sucked horribly, but something unusual happened in 2004. Travellers Tales, then the ones developing the games (not to mention existing in a time before they became slaves to the “Lego” series of games) released Crash Twinsanity to extremely low expectations.
And what was the response? The game was…actually kinda fun. Actually, it was pretty damn good (well, according to some reviewers). Crash wasn’t back to set the world on fire, but he did have the privilege of starring in one of the more solid and entertaining platformers of the post-Playstation era.
Going Through The Motions
So what is it that makes Twinsanity stand out? Well, let’s hit the unremarkable parts first. The graphics for the game are, in a word, unspectacular. Worlds are colorful, but extremely undetailed, leading to stages feeling more like sets than actual locations. Character models fair a bit better, benefitting from the traditionally appealing Crash character designs, and animation remains consistently smooth.
The storyline is the typical Crash fare, with a few twists. Cortex is, once again, out to destroy Crash. He lures Crash into an ambush, which predictably, fails. But a wrinkle is thrown in when the evil bird-like twins Victor and Moritz crash the party with their reality bending powers. After some chases and amusing hijinks, Cortex realizes that he will need his rival’s help in order to stay alive.
Gameplay, although by no means boring or intolerable, simply serves its purpose. The Crash system works like any old platformer. You get “X” number of lives. You run through an environment, collecting things like extra lives, apples (100 apples = 1 extra life), and little Aku Aku masks to protect you from harm. Usually, you can only take one hit, but having a mask will absorb the damage. You can collect multiple masks and, depending on how many you collect, you can survive more hits. Collecting three will make you temporarily invincible.
The trick here comes in the form of the various “doubles gameplay” sections. On occasion, Cortex and Crash will team up to do things they couldn’t otherwise do. Crash will ride down a mountain using Cortex a sa board, for instance. Or perhaps they will get into a brawl which turns them into a literal ball of chaos that you role around the stage. Other times, Cortex might simply refuse to let go of whatever Crash is holding at the time, and you will need to traverse the stage dragging him along. In addition to the doubles stages, sometimes you will play exclusively as non-Crash player, like in Cortex’s shooter-like stages, or his niece Nina’s more acrobatics-themed courses.
Admittedly, this lends gameplay some appreciated variety, but at the end of the day it’s still all pretty standard. You run, you jump, you try not to get hit by things and die, and you collect stuff. Unlike previous Crash games which worked on a “hub-world system” the world of Twinsanity is a large, persistent universe. But GTA this ain’t; there are still clearly points where the engine is loading a “new level” as it were.
Double Your Pleasure
I know that was all very dry and boring, but now we get to the good stuff. To put it simply, Twinsanity is blessed with the most personality and charm I have seen this side of a Tim Schaffer game. Characters are wonderfully presented, with each of them having memorable, quirky personalities and fantastic voice acting (more on that later).
The graphics, though unspectacular, do allow for some very entertaining sight gags. The image of Crash skating on Cortex is endlessly amusing, and Cortex’s plan to trap Crash by dressing as Coco is hilarious in all the ways you would expect. All of this is trumped, however, by some of the best writing I’ve heard in a game. Every cutscene is an absolute joy to watch, due to the entertaining interactions between, and constant one-liners by, the characters, especially Cortex, who is a veritable quote machine. It would take forever to list the best gags, but a couple of my favorites include Cortex’s unsettling amount of joy at the above crossdressing segment (“It’s true! Blondes DO have more fun!”) and his proposal of an alliance to Crash (“…With my brains and your vacuous stupidity, we’ll be unbeatable!”). Fourth wall breaking jokes, endless puns and references to past games, naughty little gags snuck in under the radar, it’s all here. All the characters get at least a few memorable quips in, and the game positively oozes personality because of it.
All of this is supported by some absolutely wonderful voice acting. All the actors do their jobs perfectly, from Alex Fernandez’s Uka Uka to Quinton Flynn as the Twins/N. Gin. But the trophy definitely goes to Lex Lang as Neo Cortex. The Crash games have always had a tradition of great voice acting, all the way back to the first one. After hearing they were switching out Clancy Brown (who many of you most likely would recognize as the voice of Lex Luthor in the Justice League Unlimited cartoon and it’s related Superman show) I was kind of worried. But Mr. Lang is spectacular, delivering every line with gusto and giving Cortex a gleefully maniacal undertone in everything he says. He really does steal the show in every scene he is in.
Finally, the music must be mentioned. All the music in the game was performed by A Capella band Spiralmouth, lending the whole game an extremely distinct sound. Most of it is incredibly catchy, and adds to the strange yet fun mood the game produces. It is definitely a stand out soundtrack in a world more and more populated by either overly hammy orchestral music or grating, generic rock.
Gameplay is king. This is one of the unbreakable truths of game making. But every now and then, a game comes along that, although not breaking that sacred tenent, circumvents it slighty. Twinsanity is one of those games. Coming from a base of average gameplay and appearence, the game manages to distinguish itself with endearing characters, genuinely funny writing and vocal performances, and one of the most unique soundtracks in gaming. It isn’t a perfect game; It’s short (only about 8 hours) and won’t stick Crash back in the limelight by any means. But it has more heart than 90% of the other games you probably own, and I personally had more fun with it than I ever expected. So If you want an experience that is, above all things, fun, then go out and get this as soon as you can.
The Little Bandicoot That Could: 8/10