Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back is the superior sequel to the original Crash Bandicoot, improving upon pretty much everything!
|Publisher||Sony Computer Entertainment|
|Purchase (PS1)||Purchase from eBay.|
One year later, we got Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back, the direct sequel to the reputably hard Crash Bandicoot. The events of this game occur soon after. Literally, the first scene is Dr. Neo Cortex falling from the sky after his defeat.
But Dr. Cortex accidentally stumbles on a magical Crystal, the big MacGuffin plot device for this game. Cortex discusses his next plan with his new second-in-command, Dr. N. Gin, and they need to collect 25 slave Crystals in order to power a new Cortex Vortex. But because they have no agents left (presumably, all of those mutant animals from before went on their separate ways), Cortex decided to recruit Crash for the job.
We meet Crash and the next new character Coco Bandicoot, Crash’s little sister. And this is where a bit of controversy began.
Remember when Crash in the first game had a “girlfriend” named Tawna, who’s pretty much the furry version of Pamela Anderson?
…Haaaaa. My childhood is bit weird, isn’t it.
Well, according to the Japanese manual for this game, Tawna left Crash for Pinstripe Potoroo (one of the bosses in the first game) and she’s never heard from again. But the biggest reason for this is executive meddling. For one thing, Sony of Japan objected to the idea of a sexualized female character as Crash’s sidekick (yeah, really, Tawna was going to be considered as a sidekick character). Universal, the distributor for the games, had a similar reason, thinking Tawna is “too sexy” for what is supposedly a kid-friendly game.
So Coco Bandicoot randomly came into existence in the canon. Even though she was never tied to the first game and it was never established that Crash had a little sister… well, here she is. Computer wiz supergenius bandicoot girl.
So begins a quest for a laptop battery in the middle of a jungle, until Crash gets spirited away into a different location by Cortex.
Dr. Cortex speaks to Crash via hologram as a giant talking head, claiming that the world is in danger and that he needs Crystals to fight this new threat. Crash, being kind of a doofus, takes the job.
I will admit that this premise is weak, considering we ALREADY know that Cortex is lying. And here we are, collecting crystals for him anyway. It’s actually nice to hear more voiceovers in the sequel, but there’s really not much else to this story. There were even moments where Coco appears as a hologram talking head, trying to tell Crash that Cortex lied to him in his face.
Naw. You don’t say, computer wiz? I never would have figured that one out.
But we’re not playing this game for the story, are we? But I will admit that the dialogue can get entertaining at times.
Back to the Jungle
Crash 2 possesses the same 3D platforming gameplay as its predecessor. However, the controls are noticeably more polished this time around. No more jerky movements and hard-to-steer jumps.
Crash now has two new attack moves: a sliding kick and a body slam. The sliding kick is quite useful, as there are many enemies that can only be defeated by it. It also gives a good jumping boost. The body slam is very situational, used to defeat certain enemies and break certain boxes.
The boxes you break in this game are mostly the same as before. However, we get two new boxes. The nitro box is basically a more dangerous version of the TNT box. It will explode immediately upon contact and has this sickening noise like the sound of glass imploding. There is also a reinforced box that you can only break with a body slam, which is rare to encounter.
As instructed by Dr. Cortex, you need to collect a Crystal from each level. Even though you KNOW he’s still evil, you have to collect them anyway to advance the contrived plot. But don’t worry. They’re always out in the open, so you really can’t miss them.
TO THE EXTREME!
The addition and improvement of secondary gameplay elements are great. In the previous game, there were levels where you ride a hog in an on-rails style. While those levels were fun, they were very stiff to control and enemy placements throw you off since they tend to move quite fast. In Crash 2, you ride a baby polar bear instead. The controls for these segments feel smoother, and you can also urge the polar bear to move faster to clear large obstacles.
The river stages also added in a jet-powered surfboard. This is a simple yet fun mechanic that turns these stages into tricky obstacle courses. While the controls feel like you’re operating a tank, jumping off the ramps after a boost is euphoric.
Overall, the gameplay is pretty much a more polished version of the first game. Aku Aku serves the same role as the previous game, acting as Crash’s health meter. You collect most of the Gems by breaking all boxes in each level. It really does feel like that Crash 2 introduced some necessary changes in order to make a better gaming experience.
Finding the Extra Goodies
Remember the Gems from the first game? They make a return here, playing a similar role. The standard way to get a Gem is to break all of the boxes in a level. And yes, this time, that also includes every box in the bonus stages. Thankfully, you don’t need to complete this task with one life like in the predecessor. Thank god.
But some levels have a second Gem you can collect, by performing a specific task. For example, you can get the blue Gem in the first level by completing the entire level… without breaking a single box. For some other levels, you need to find a secret route—whether it’s an optional path that you can access via colored gem or take a ride on these skull-and-crossbones platforms (which ONLY appear if you haven’t lost a life in the level yet).
Collecting a Gem will trigger a cutscene from Dr. N. Brio, the former second-in-command to Dr. Cortex and and a former boss character. Apparently, N. Brio had a falling out with his boss so he instructed Crash to collect all of the Gems to help power a superweapon that will destroy Cortex’s space station. You know, like a giant middle finger to his former boss.
So for the completionists out there, you need to collect 25 Crystals and 42 Gems (five of which are colored). But that’s not all.
Crash 2 has secrets. Plenty of neat secrets. One of them is a secret hub area that lets you access two secret levels and three hidden areas of past levels. You need to access all of these to get 100% completion in the game. To access this hub, you need to find hidden warp points that are at fixed locations in the game. For your convenience, here they are.
Level 7 (Air Crash) – There is a lone platform on the water that you can reach by hopping across some boxes.
Level 13 (Bear Down) – Progress through the stage normally until you reach the end. Instead of going to the goal, jump across the floating ice platforms on the water to the lone island.
Level 15 (Un-Bearable) – Ever wondered what happened to that little polar bear at the end of the level? Well, go check up on him! You will see that he’s all fine and dandy, and NOT stepped on by the giant polar bear. So… it’s time for YOU to step on him! Because animal abuse in this game yields rewards! Whoo!
Level 16 (Hangin’ Out) – During the level, you will drop down into a hole, which will lead you to a checkpoint box and a Crystal. Instead of moving forward, move back and drop down the secret hole. Finishing the next section will take you to the secret hub.
Level 17 (Diggin’ It) – Later on, you will see one of those plant enemies on top of a pillar (right before the nitro box detonator). Body slam that one plant to transport to the secret hub.
The nice thing about these secret warp points is that they’re subtly hinted to exist. The best way to find them without looking up a walkthrough is trying to get to a seemingly uninteresting location. I mean, who could resist trying to reach a platform that seems empty?
I certainly didn’t. And I actually did somehow reach those carnivorous plants. Want to know what’s there? NOTHING. Just another spot to drown Crash.
Generally, this is pretty good level design that doesn’t tell you to your face on where to find the secrets. Instead, it just leaves you with “a feeling.”
Speaking of which, there are some other nice secrets to find. Funny ones too.
Remember when I said animal abuse yields rewards in this game? I’m not kidding about that. When you get to the second hub area, there’s a baby polar bear sitting next to one of the portal. That cute, lovable, beady-eyed creature that barks like a dog? BODY SLAM HIM. You get ten extra lives from it. You sick bastard.
Ever wanted to fight the bosses again? Well, just hold down any button while on the center platform of the hub area and move up. You will transport back to the boss room.
There are also many hidden areas in levels, usually hiding Gems or extra boxes. In the example above, you might be wondering why there are so many nitro boxes at a dead end. Well, guess what? The valve door at the back is an illusory wall. It takes you to the green Gem.
See, clever visual cues like that are what will help you finish the game without a walkthrough. Anything that seems off may possibly be a secret. And when you find said secrets, you will be proud of yourself for noticing them. It’s how you feel accomplished while playing these games.
The bosses are easier than those of the last game. Easier to figure out weaknesses and easier to pick apart said weaknesses. This is a bit of a double-edged sword, seeing as how you don’t need to try nearly as hard as you did playing the game normally. This especially goes true for facing off against Cortex as the final boss, who doesn’t attack you. No, he flies away from you and you have to catch him. Pretty lame, Naughty Dog of the past.
But when all is said and done, I will admit that collecting everything yields a pretty satisfying cutscene. You know how the completionist route in the first game ended with an anti-climax with a non-canon ending? Well, this is nothing like that. The completionist ending in Crash 2 IS the canon ending, and more satisfying than the game’s normal ending.
The soundtrack is a noticeable improvement over the previous game’s, which tended to vary in moods with some dark undertones. Crash 2’s soundtrack is more upbeat and catchy while still remaining pretty atmospheric.
From my review on the previous game, I mentioned towards the end that Crash Bandicoot lacked “charm.” Now, what exactly what do I mean by that?
Well, let’s quickly examine this game. The soundtrack is more catchy. The levels are more thematic. The characters have more… character, of course.
Crash himself is more or less the same character we knew from the previous game. But with the addition of new animations and expressions to his character model, we can tell he has a bit of a childlike, laidback and brave personality. His idle animations can be neat to watch.
We can tell that the newcomer Coco Bandicoot is a computer geek and a capable hacker.
Dr. Neo Cortex went from a generic mad scientist from the last game to a manipulative mastermind, who can feign concern and pretend he’s Crash’s ally. It also helps that his voiceovers were replaced by Clancy Brown, who had a deeper and more commanding voice. Yeah. Dr. Neo Cortex was voiced by MR. KRABS before Mr. Krabs even existed. Mind blown.
I guess my point is that Cortex Strikes Back is where the series truly begins developing its identity. It’s a better and more polished game overall. My only real complaint is that the endgame kinda peters out, with four similarly themed levels and one lame final boss.
So yeah, give this one a shot. It’s a fun, challenging game with a fair difficulty that fixed where the previous game fell short on. A great 3D platformer that stood the test of time and a great PlayStation classic.
Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes BackPrice Varies
- Controls and camera have improved over the previous game.
- New attack moves and stage hazards unlike those of the predecessor.
- The game is more beginner friendly than the previous game, keeping away from unnecessary punishments and sudden difficulty spikes.
- Many secrets that encourage exploration.
- The polygons of 3D models are smoother this time around, whereas they noticeably pop out in the predecessor.
- Excellent, catchy soundtrack.
- Forgettable story.
- Bosses are a little too easy.
- The endgame is a bit weak.