Version tested: Xbox 360
First of all: worst pun ever. Come on Radical. Come on Sierra. You can do better than that.
We can all forgive dodgy punnage if a good game resides within, but, in this case Crash of the Titans is, depressingly, one of the weakest Crash games to emerge in its 11 year history. Admittedly, the series has been stuck in a critical wilderness ever since Naughty Dog left it behind, but Traveller's Tales seemed to be onto something with Crash Twinsanity, and Crash Tag Team Racing wasn't too bad either.
So what went wrong this time? More of less everything, that's what, but we'll unpick its many flaws in a moment.
The game relies on the central hook that it's great fun to beat up other, bigger monsters and hijack them. At the lowest end of the 'food chain', you have to rely on your ability to make the best use of plucky Crash's combo moves, duff up your assailants until the star meter above their head is full, and then tap B to hijack them. Jumping on their dazed heads, you take full control of their movements and benefit from their powerful combos - which in turn may give you level-solving abilities like being able to fire projectiles to flick switches or destroy obstacles blocking your progress.
Each level basically plays out the same every time - a bunch of mutated monsters enters the scene, you duff them up until new, more powerful ones spawn to replace them, you hijack them, destroy the next wave, and then the design of the level eventually forces you to revert back to Crash Bandicoot in order to tackle some basic platforming acrobatics. After a small section of simple jumping, rail-grinding and ledge-shimmying, it's back to arena-based combat again. And so on, until you face a 'boss' of sorts, which you only stand a chance of hijacking if you've worked your way up the food chain first. It's all very basic, very repetitive, and evidently very specifically designed for the youngsters - unlike previous Crash efforts, which had a much more universal appeal if you liked your platform collectathon nonsense.
As such, the combo system is exceptionally simple, with multiple presses of a single button yielding the kind of results that get you through half the levels in a blink of an eye. Beyond that, it rarely gets more complicated than pressing one button and rotating the left stick, or pressing one button, landing, pressing it again at the right time, doing it again, and so on. Basically, combat boils down to either hammering one of three buttons until something happens, or blocking with the right trigger and waiting for your foe to stop attacking for a moment. On the Wii version, these button presses are replaced by Wiimote 'gestures', and, in theory, it's more fun to see your physical actions translated into special moves, but the simple gameplay and level design boils down to the same thing. Don't be fooled.
Where it all gets a bit irritating is when gangs of much tougher enemies start to appear all at once. The game essentially goes from being way too easy to dangerously close to annoying in no time at all as they take it in turns to whack you with their special moves. If you're not careful, you can easily find yourself getting stuck in helpless loops where one enemy attacks and his pals do the same just afterwards until you're dead. Rather than make the combat more interesting, Radical's only answer to making the game more challenging is to basically to spam combat arenas with more enemies than you can reasonably deal with at one time, and no food chain to work up.
With a limited lives system, once you're out of them you have to start the whole episode from the beginning - highly irritating in this day and age, and something that causes needless repetition and nagging frustration. Admittedly, the episodes are pretty short-lived affairs, and getting back to the point where you died won't take ages, but that's not the point. Mid-level save points would have gone a long way to making the game a friendlier prospect - particularly to younger players. Without these, it robs you of the incentive to carry on.
With the basic crux of the game simultaneously lightweight and laboured, it doesn't exactly help that the game suffers in several other respects. Take the camera control for instance. It might seem as if the game is designed to be more helpful by taking control away from the player, but when it comes to the platforming sections, it's just a big fat pain in the arse. Jumping from rope to rope, for example, can end up being a lottery because the perspective does nothing to help you judge whether you're lined up correctly or not. It's the same deal with some of the seemingly simple jumps from platform to platform, and a recipe for the kind of eye-rolling irritation you'd think Radical would be all too aware of by now. Presumably Radical wanted to make sure the co-op mode wouldn't end up being confused by two players wrestling with the camera control, but frankly we could have done without co-op entirely if it meant actually being able to see what's going on properly.
If you thought that Crash's first appearance on the next generation of platforms might enhance its appeal from a technical standpoint, forget it. This is very much a game designed primarily with the PS2 and Wii in mind, with a fairly lazy high-def makeover late in development. From a commercial standpoint, it's easy to understand why you'd design a game like this for younger platforms, but in late 2007 any version of the game feels like a relic from a bygone age. As one of my colleagues remarked when seeing the game running last week, "I feel like I've played this game a hundred times before". The narrow, linear levels, the shallow unsatisfying combat, the done-to-death platforming, and the entirely underwhelming look and feel of the game...it's a major disappointment for platform starved gamers to see Crash of the Titans turn out to be so painfully average in almost every respect.
5 / 10