Retro Game Reviews

Retro Review – Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back

(Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back - Sony)

Something I should get out of the way immediately is that Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back is one of my favorite games of all time. It’s not number one or even number two but it’s absolutely in my top ten. Shooters, RPGs, and Platformers are some of my favorite genres and Crash 2 is easily one of my favorite platformers. Super Mario Bros. may have introduced me to the genre but Crash Bandicoot is what fueled my love for it. Even to this day I replay the Naughty Dog produced trilogy (and Crash Team Racing!) every year or two. All three games are great but I can without a doubt say that the second in the trilogy is my favorite for many reasons. The original game helped bring my orange marsupial friend into the world but it was in the sequel where his potential was fully realized. There may be a few flaws, but Crash 2 is the definitive Crash Bandicoot experience that I firmly believe helped show the world that Naughty Dog was more than talented. Like Crash himself they were a force to be reckoned with and would forever change gaming.

(Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back - Sony)

(Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back – Sony)

The original Crash Bandicoot is a great game. I love the level design and the story is as fun as Crash Bandicoot himself. There were a few issues with that held it back from being as great as it truly could have been (read my last retro review HERE for a more detailed analysis on the first game) but I don’t think anything held it back more than the levels consisting of the same general location and how Crash controlled and maneuvered around levels. If any of you have played the original Crash Bandicoot then you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about when I say that Crash felt heavy! Seriously–when you jump in that game it feels like Crash has pockets filled with rocks. He’s not light at all and this weird weight is what makes it so hard to control him. It can obviously still be done but it certainly chipped some of the fun off the top and threw some frustration on top of the experience for those of us that pushed past the flaws. The level variety in 2 isn’t too bad honestly, when you consider that the game takes place on the islands that Crash Bandicoot is from but it is these very locations that prevented too much variety. Naughty Dog did a damn good job in cranking out as much variety as possible with the levels still fitting within the story and setting but there was only so much that could be done. Crash 2 resolved these issues almost completely and I firmly believe it’s these improvements that helped make the sequel so damn good.

Crash Bandicoot controls perfectly in this game. You can’t blame your lack of skill on the controls. Crash controls as sharply as the graphics pop off the screen but more on that later. I do wish that the game came out a bit deeper into the PS1’s lifespan and featured analog stick support but seriously, I can’t think of too many games that feel this good that take place in a 3D plane and feature D-Pad controls. If you don’t believe me then go try playing Super Mario 64 DS! This game controls as well as Super Mario Bros. 3 but in a 3D space. I love how this game controls. This game and other platformers are the reason my hand eye coordination is as sharp as it is. It’s good that Crash FINALLY controls well too because you’ll be going across a wide range of challenges across a few unique styles of levels. Yeah, I know. I said a few different styles of levels but hear me out on this one. There may only be five to seven different kinds of levels but it’s what Naughty Dog does with these locations that really makes this game pop. In Crash 2 you’ll be running, jumping, sliding, belly-flopping, spinning, flying and even riding polar bears across jungle, snow, sewer, space, and even factory based levels. While I did really love the natural narrative inspired flow of the levels in the first game I’m more than okay with the sacrifice of being “confined” to a warp room to access this wider range of levels. The only thing smoother than the tight but well rounded level variety is the graphics. This game is absolutely stunning.

(Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back - Sony)

(Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back – Sony)

I know a lot of people really preferred Super Mario 64 back in the day and that’s fine. Crash Bandicoot 2 was a different kind of platformer. We didn’t need another Mario and Naughty Dog knew that. Crash Bandicoot is a more hand eye coordination and twitch based platformer with the speed of Sonic the Hedgehog, the precision of Super Mario Bros. and the difficulty of Donkey Kong Country in mind. Naughty Dog may have combined a few great aspects from the platforming genre in a unique and beautiful way to create something mostly new but one thing they certainly were completely unique on were the graphics of the Crash Bandicoot trilogy. These games are absolutely stunning and blow the other aforementioned games out of the water hands down. Yeah, there were polygons that were clearly visible but with the magic of Andy Gavin’s programming and the imagination of the entire team they were able to create a unique graphical style for Crash to dash through and it still stands out twenty years later. From the lush jungles to the shivering snow levels these levels are beautiful and Crash looks just as sharp kicking ass on screen.

The music of this game is incredible. The composer’s name is Josh Mancell and he helped capture the spirit of Crash Bandicoot in music. The soundtrack will follow you through each twist and turn in the 25+ levels and is as much of a character as Crash himself. There are tunes that I find myself listening to even when I’m not playing the game; from ‘Rock It/Pack Attack’ to ‘Snow Go’ to the ominous song that plays as you battle the final boss, this music is atmospheric, energetic, and will squeeze past all the vibrant polygons to make its way into your heart. There’s an incredible interview with Josh Mancell that I can’t help but post because of how much I love this soundtrack. Check the channel out when you’re able to as well. Good Blood has lots of great content!

There’s plenty of content to experience in Crash Bandicoot 2 as well and while it may go by quickly for platformer veterans, it’ll still be filled with controller gripping moments and plenty of fun. There are 25 main levels across the game with five secret levels that you’ll find with enough determination. There are also five boss levels that’ll make their appearance as you complete each warp room. The main levels are great overall but there two or three I could live without. As I mentioned before you’ll see some themes repeated but this is largely welcomed as Naughty Dog created some extremely interesting locations that I’m sure they knew players would want to revisit in some capacity. Don’t get me wrong, they are still new levels but just under the same level themes that you’ll have already experienced. As you complete levels you’ll collect crystals that are essential to beating the game and completing the simple but passable story. You’re essentially collecting crystals to give to Cortex so he can save the world, which anyone but Crash would know is a lie. However Dr. N. Brio makes a return in this game and he will call on you to collect the 42 (yup, you read that number right) gems to truly stop Cortex. Now you still have to collect the 25 crystals but as you complete levels you can also conquer challenges to unlock gems as well. If you collect all 42 gems you get the best ending for the game. Many may argue that this is padding for an otherwise (and still) pretty short game but in all honesty I love the gem challenge. Only the most dedicated players would be interested in collecting the gems and it’s those same players that would be interested in more difficult and optional routes in levels, challenges, and of course the five secret levels. I think it’s the perfect way to toss some extra content at those that’d be interested in completing it.

(Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back - Sony)

(Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back – Sony)

Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back is a game built with layers. The core game can get tricky at times but it has a gentle learning curve and by the time it gets almost too difficult for more casual players or those not as skilled at platformers, it’s almost over. The more complex and difficult content is largely optional and so those who want to skip or avoid it are able to do so without feeling like they’re missing too much. They can also always revisit those sections and challenges whenever they want to give them a try. That combined with the shifting level themes as the player progresses through the game helps make this an accessible game that features an almost custom difficulty. In true Naughty Dog fashion, it’s pretty brilliant. Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back looked incredible and played extremely well when it first released and time has been very kind to it. The gameplay is just as sharp as it ever was and you don’t have to take just my word for it. Just look at the huge amount of people (myself included!) looking forward to the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy releasing on Playstation 4 on June 30th! We’ll have a full and in-depth review of that as well from yours truly so make sure to keep it right here on BagoGames!

I absolutely love Crash Bandicoot so I’m happy to see him finally getting some much deserved respect in his upcoming remaster but his original games are ready to be enjoyed on the original hardware or on your PS3 via PSOne classics! Consider downloading this for just six bucks and getting a taste of you missed if you never played. If you have played Crash then feel free to tell me how excited you are by reaching out to me on Twitter at @Mrjoshnichols!

Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back

Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back




    • Tighter controls allow for more refined and precise platforming
    • Beautiful graphics that still look great almost twenty years later
    • A soundtrack from composer Josh Mancell that always hits the right notes--even when you don't as the player!
    • Improved level variety from the last game
    • Gems allow for greater challenge for those interested while still optional for those who just want to experience the core game


    • A few more level themes and less repetition would have been nice

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