Being a games journalist, I spend much of my time on my own with only a PC and my numerous games consoles for company. It's sometimes a lonely life but I love it and really wouldn't have it any other way. My flat might be tiny and cluttered, stuffed to the gills with consoles, code and DVDs but it's home and, unlike many journalists, I thrive on the isolation.
While I readily accepted reviewing Crash Boom Bang! on the DS, I soon discovered one slight problem. To play it you need friends (I have some, but they're scattered across the planet) and get them in the same room with their beloved DS and DS Lites. Yes, here is a game which is beyond boring if you have fifteen friends with lots of time to spare but really, really useless if you're on your own.
Crash Boom Bang! sees the return of The Bandicoot to the DS in board game format. A board game, you cry? Yep, it's a bit like Mario Party blended with Itadaki Street but without the infamous Plumber, the Final Fantasy cameos, perky music or, indeed, the fun. Board games are things you are forced to play at Christmas when you'd rather be sleeping off a turkey dinner. The collective term should be a dead give away and the decision to port so many to home and portable consoles is beginning to get tedious.
Many of you will already be familiar with Crash Bandicoot, the hyperactive orange whirlwind who took the PSone by storm, breaking boxes and snagging apples in his attempt to recover crystals. The game sees the return of Neo Cortex, Crash's sister Coco and other characters who will be familiar to fans of the franchise. All of whom are trying to win an obscenely astronomical sum of money which has been put up as a prize by Viscount Devil, who intends to use the participants to find a lost city and mystical treasure.
From the moment the comic-strip style intro begins, it's unfortunately clear that this title is vastly inferior to previous instalments. The animation quality is stunningly poor, the graphics in general are terrible and the music off-putting. While Crash and the rest of the gang are three dimensional, you can see the polygons and the cartoonish 2D opening doesn't even scroll properly. Indeed the gameplay itself is pointless, comprised of repeating the same mini-games over and over again until throwing your DS out of the nearest window becomes incredibly tempting. These are fun on the first try but soon get boring. Especially when several - such as a donkey race - are rigged so that no matter how hard you whip your poor mount, all four racers always finish together.
It wouldn't be half bad if you actually got to control the characters but this game only allows you to choose a direction (usually only one) for them to travel on the main board game, decided when to roll a dice and use an item. Even in the mini-games, it's a tedious case of manipulating the environment to roll a Super Monkey-style ball or direct a plane using the stylus - that is if the stylus is even recognised. Developer Dimps has tried and failed at using the touch-screen and, to be honest, the game would be better off without it.
The biggest selling point in Crash Boom Bang! is the ability to simultaneously chat to your pals - who are sitting six feet away - whilst playing. However, the gameplay is such that you'll be too busy trying to shoot down other players, roll dice or just do laps around the same desert island over and over again. Messaging will be the last thing on your mind. As Crash Boom Bang! is aimed at kids, this feature is useful but for entertainment purposes, we recommend PictoChat, which is of course built into the system.
If the boring gameplay wasn't bad enough, this title also teaches your kids the concept of gambling. Bets can be placed on the (rigged) outcomes of most mini-games, allowing you to increase your points. Even this is only entertaining for ten seconds and it's a wonder why such a feature was included entirely.
And if there's one title where you need to read the manual, it's this one. The game dumps you straight in at the deep end but even after reading the instructions, scouring GameFAQs and Googling the title, it still took me four days to figure out what the heck was going on. Few instructions are provided on-screen other than 'pick an item' or 'press this' - why you need to do these things is left up to your imagination and the stylus recognition is so bad that it's easier to use your finger. Even worse, some of the mini-games require you to literally punch a hole in the screen, which cannot be good for your shiny DS.
In terms of practicality, there's no real option menu or pause feature other than closing the DS and I am yet to locate the save function - not that saving my progress on this game is at the top of my list of concerns right now.
Some days I wonder how games like this get published, but Crash Boom Bang! seems to have slipped through the cracks in terms of quality control. It could have been an interesting title but the problems with control, weird gameplay style, terrible graphics and rigged, repetitive games just kill any joy that would be garnered from playing it. If you want to destroy a child's love of videogames then go ahead and spent your Ł30, otherwise, please, don't buy this.