Game Reviews

Retro Review – Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex – Same Recipe, Less Flavor

(Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex, Universal interactive Studios / Konami)
(Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex, Universal interactive Studios / Konami)

It’s hard to talk about Crash Bandicoot without first acknowledging his history, impact, and legacy. Many younger gamers may not remember Crash Bandicoot when he was in his prime but there was definitely a time when he was trading punches with Nintendo’s Mario – and he put up a great fight that won over the hearts of many, including myself.

Naughty Dog helped create a franchise that was a force to be reckoned with at the time and the games they created continue to bring joy to gamers of all ages. This unfortunately has not been the case with the series since Naughty Dog’s departure. Universal retained the rights to Crash Bandicoot when Naughty Dog left to become a second party developer for Sony and the orange marsupial has never been the same.

The Wrath of Cortex does some things right technically but there’s just so much heart missing. It begins right after the the events of Crash Bandicoot: Warped with Uka Uka discussing their next strategy to try to defeat Crash and team and finally harness the power of the crystals. Everything feels very familiar but somehow still very different. Have you ever copied off a friend’s test in class? Okay, me neither but remember how we changed just enough for it be different while still having the same answers? That’s exactly what Traveler’s Tales did with The Wrath of Cortex. They studied Crash Bandicoot: Warped and then made a slightly different clone that is less inspired despite having Naughty Dog’s entire Crash resume to use for inspiration and even more powerful technology.

Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex

(Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex, Universal interactive Studios / Konami)

The gameplay is still largely the same as previous entries in the series. You’ll go level to level from the Warp Room to collect crystals, gems, and relics and defeat bosses along the way. Levels are typically in the front facing 3D format that’s been established since Crash’s first entry on the PlayStation with some attempted variety thrown into the mix. You’ll defeat enemies by jumping, spinning, sliding, and belly flopping while maneuvering through a semi-3D space with obstacles placed in between enemies. It’s straightforward and easy to pick up and there are some moments where the game manages to be fun. Too often though it just feels repetitive, bland, and like it was designed with no real inspiration or creativity. I’m almost certain that Universal picked a developer out of a hat and said “Hey, there’s a new generation of systems coming out and we haven’t released a Crash game in a few years. Naughty Dog is gone. Figure it out.”

Level design feels bland and lacks the punches that earlier Crash games used to consistently pull. There are few levels that provided some fun but many of the levels in The Wrath of Cortex go on for far too long so the few moments are drowned out by poor pacing. The checkpoint system is inconsistent with many of them being too close or too far from each other which can cause some frustrating sections to go on much longer than they need to. When I died it normally didn’t feel like it was even by my doing. Keep in mind – the original games are among my favorite games and I’ve achieved 100% completion in Cortex Strikes Back, which is my absolute favorite Crash game. I’m not only good at Crash Bandicoot but I’m also very good at platformers in general and yet I still ended up dying in this game much more than I did in earlier games in the series. The Wrath of Cortex just doesn’t feel right. We took the fine tuning controls and brilliant level design that Naughty Dog brought to the table for granted.

Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex

(Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex, Universal interactive Studios / Konami)

The game looks strange too. Textures look bland and lifeless and it never made any sense to me. Traveler’s Tales attempted to add to the game with the added technology of the new generation of consoles but all they succeeded at was diluting what made the original games feel so alive and full of life. There’s no reason for this game to look less sharp or contain muddy and bland textures. Naughty Dog brought the world of Crash Bandicoot to life on much less power on the original PlayStation by utilizing different colors and lighting to bring a vibrant world to life in the mid 90s on a launch title.

Controls are never really an issue which is nice, though Crash does feel more floaty than previous entries which can cause some problems. In earlier games, Crash controlled in a much more precise manner. The original game had some issues with feeling floaty but Naughty Dog sorted it out completely with the sequel and just added further polish with Warped. The game is still playable but rarely manages to be fun or exciting. Everything feels very safe and by the book, as if the developer was just going down a checklist when they made the game.

Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex, Universal

(Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex, Universal interactive Studios / Konami)

Speaking of copy and paste jobs, the soundtrack just depresses me. It’s just largely recycled themes and the fun and bouncy tracks that used to fill earlier games with such life and energy are gone. The sound effects aren’t changed much but they still feel off. The music being bad is such a bummer for me because the soundtracks to the original four games from Naughty Dog are among my favorite video game soundtracks. Many of the tracks feel like the composer was just counting down the minutes until he was finished and could go home.

I feel like the biggest offender of all with The Wrath of Cortex is the over-reliance on gimmicks with vehicles and other non-traditional platformer levels. Crash: Warped had too many vehicle levels for my taste and that’s certainly one of the reasons that I prefer Cortex Strikes Back but many of the levels in Warped were still fun at least. This really isn’t the case here. In Warped it was, “Oh, a level where I race a motorcycle … That’s neat I guess.” Whereas with The Wrath of Cortex it’s more along the lines of, “Oh. I’m driving … a jeep …and there’s a stampede.” It may sound neat on the surface but the gimmicks in The Wrath of Cortex never amount to that much fun and largely consist of poor level design and just feel like filler in a game that is already filled with mediocrity in even the best levels it has to offer.

Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex

(Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex, Universal interactive Studios / Konami)

Traveler’s Tales went through the checklist and included much of what technically should have been a Crash game but too much was lost in the translation. It barely feels like a Crash game despite having the majority of the attributes that the other games all possess. There are a few moments of fun but again, even these moments don’t ever manage to reach the heights that were possible on less powerful hardware only a few years earlier. My favorite moments in this game are honestly the levels where Crash is trapped in a ball and needs to navigate the level from inside it. Even then though, I’d much rather go play Super Monkey Ball where this sort of concept originated and is done on a much higher level of quality.

I’ll never forget the first time I played The Wrath of Cortex because of how much I disliked it. My expectations weren’t that high because I was aware that a different developer was handling it but I expected something much better than this. A lack of inspiration and a copy and paste mindset kept this game from being half as fun as any of the original games. I’ve tried to revisit this game numerous times over the years as I age and mature as a gamer and as a person but my opinion has never shifted from my original thoughts.


I’m a huge fan of Crash Bandicoot and have found some fun in a few of the titles that have released since Naughty Dog dissolved their relationship with Universal Studios but The Wrath of Cortex is just a game that is never fun or enjoyable to me. It’s an unfortunate example of the casualties that take place due to the business side of the industry. I plan on revisiting many of the other games in the series, including the original games to provide retro reviews incase anyone is considering playing through them or just wants to know what I think. To see my articles as soon as they’re published and follow my journeys as I play through these and other games, make sure to follow me on Twitter @Mrjoshnichols. For more great news, reviews, and more make sure to keep it right here at BagoGames!

Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex

Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex
5

Score

5/10

    Pros

    • Some brief moments of fun shine through at times
    • Super Monkey Ball inspired levels can be fun but feel out of place

    Cons

    • Bland graphics and uninspired level design
    • Jumping feels very floaty
    • Music doesn't inspire much emotion
    • Feels like an uninspired and mediocre version of Crash Bandicoot: Warped

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