It's not as if the Crash storylines have ever troubled our frazzled synapses for any length of time before, but this time we're having a few issues putting our disbelief on 'suspend'. For as long as there have been PlayStations the mute Marsupial has been a thorn in the evil Cortex's side - and now he's teaming up with him and all his henchmen? Oh come on, just keep them all encased in ice and do the job yourself!
But no. In a turnaround more unlikely than George Dubya putting Saddam in charge of defence in the White House, we've got the Crash and Cortex show, attempting to save their world from the evil Eagle Twins, the 'masters of the infinite dimension'. Common enemy and all that, forgive and forget... but this is Cortex for Wumpa's sake! Did he learn nothing over the last eight years?
"I've ruined the lives of so many, I can't remember them all"
If it makes things any easier to stomach, Crash doesn't really take any crap from Cortex, using and abusing him in all manner of violent ways over the course of the game. If he's not making a mallet out of his head and smashing him through windows, he's using him as a rather effective snowboard or throwing him into dangerous territory to zap sentries with his laser, activate switches or even act as a means of destroying boss monsters. For about half the game you're involved in some sort of clinch with the bearded foe, and while you are, the previously staid Crash gameplay is revitalised.
There are a number of standout moments that make you realise that Traveller's Tales really didn't want to make just another Crash game. The chances are, multi-million-dollar profits aside (The Wrath Of Cortex has sold over three million to date, believe it or not), that TT was almost as bored at the prospect of developing another formulaic platformer as we were about playing it. One such moment near the beginning of the game apes Super Monkey Ball as Crash and Cortex get involved in a comedy punch up, to the extent that you can roll them Super Monkey Ball-style around the environment, avoiding pitfalls and setting off rockfalls to avoid certain death from a giant industrial digger.
Later, just as Cortex is musing about the simple lives of the Tribesmen and the beauty of the humble Bumble Bee, you're suddenly tasked with saving his life on about 20 different occasions as he almost blunders into one death trap after another. Such occasions are not only excellent diversions from the standard run and jump Crash gameplay, but are very well implemented and proof that Crash games don't necessarily need to rely solely on jumping over traps and busting open crates.
But for every standout section (of which there are many), there seems to have been almost an obligation to pad out every level with a return to the tired old platforming formula of old, with pixel perfect jumps aplenty, dodging the inevitable Nitro explosions, setting off TNT charges with great care and attempting to avoid instant death falls at every turn. This, on its own, wouldn't be particularly tough to swallow - after all, there's a humungous core audience out there that have bought previous Crash games in their millions and probably expect some of the old style gameplay in there. On the other hand, for what is acknowledged as a game for the more casual, possibly younger demographic, it strikes us that TT has overlooked some of the fundamental principles of creating a fun experience that you'll want to come back to, weeks and months later.
Let's play mind games (or at least let's mess with it for a bit...)
Chief of the game's problems is its autosaving/checkpoint mechanic, which, put simply, fails to do its job. How many games, for example, would fail to autosave the game after killing a boss? None that we can readily think of, yet Crash Twinsanity not only commits that sin, but then follows it up by allowing you to die if you touch the corpse of your enemy, or gives you an opportunity to die instantly by falling off a ledge straight after. Be still my beating fists. After about the sixth time of asking and about a half hour of wasted time, new expletives are forming at the double the rate of your average Tourettes convention. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is not our idea of a fun gameplay experience for all the family.
To be fair, there are instances where the save mechanic is sensibly positioned, and on many occasions levels are further populated by checkpoints that you'll be dumped back to should you slip up - but slip up you will, and then you'll run out of lives, and then you'll end up right back at the start of a very long, very tricky section and quite frankly, really really cheesed off. No gamer worth their salt appreciates having to prove again and again that they can do a particular section; it usually comes down to one specifically tricky part of the level, and constantly having to backtrack just to get yourself to that point is not only a gigantic waste of time, but eventually takes all the fun away from the experience.
The main reason for all this frustration isn't so much the overall principle of putting the player back to the beginning, but making it just so damned easy to die in the first place. Crash's limited health, for example, hardly helps; by default, just two hits from an enemy are enough to kill the hapless hero, although the occasional placement of power ups might add another. Regardless, Crash's defences are always weak, with his spin attack rarely possessing the required range to take out anything that isn't directly next to him, and the belly flop attack also limited in its range.
Add to this the dreaded bugbear of any platform game - the dodgy camera. Tricky jumps are never far away in Twinsanity, and yet it always seems harder than it looks to make simple leaps of faith. If you're not totally overshooting, you're missing the mark entirely, or making the jump then falling straight off because of crazily overcooked inertia - and as someone who's played practically every game this genre has had to offer over recent years, this kind of failure to nail the control, camera and save mechanic basics just serves to undermine all the obviously good things the game has to offer.
Of furrowed brows and repeated deaths
If you can stomach these brow-furrowing issues, and deal with the kind of repetition that results from repeated deaths and retreads of levels you've already almost conquered numerous times then Crash Twinsanity delights with some occasional flourishes of charm, humour and smart design. The cut-scenes, taking their cue from the kind of polish lavished on Insomniac's and Naughty Dog's recent efforts, are genuinely funny at times, no doubt thanks to Jordan Reichek's (Ren & Stimpy) involvement, and certainly mark a welcome break in proceedings when they do arrive.
Technically there have been some major improvements in terms of making the environment appear seamless, with players able to wander back to previous levels in order to pick up previously overlooked goodies, and players no longer have to suffer the extensive load times endured during The Wrath Of Cortex. Having said that, the visual standard lacks the impressiveness of the Sony-backed efforts; scenery lacks texture and detail, pop-up is all-too evident and at this stage in the console's life span gamers have every right to expect more from TT. We don't necessarily expect benchmark setting here, but some attempt to keep up with the Rubins would have been nice.
Audio, on the other hand, is occasionally inspired. Most platformers include a few catchy ditties, but for some unearthly reason some of Twinsanity's are top drawer tunes that really add a great deal to the game (take the 'three switch' Ice boss, for example). Others, however, numb the brain into mulch so don't expect undiluted quality, but hopefully you'll know what we mean when you get to the good ones. A major surprise, you have to say.
We know where you live
All things considered, Twinsanity marks a definite improvement on its last outing. The gameplay variation is there for all to see, and when it hits the mark it - believe it or not - is every bit as enjoyable as the very best the genre has to offer, with some true high points to look back on. It's therefore such a crushing disappointment to find out that a developer as experienced as TT has managed to drop the ball on some of the basic principles of how to make a platform game fun. With just a few very minor tweaks and the removal of some of the more generic done-to-death elements (you know who you are) we could be talking about an inspired platformer to rival those being produced in the States, but as it stands it's docked a few marks for committing the cardinal sin of not keeping fun at the top of the agenda and playing it safe in a transparent attempt to keep its huge audience onside. You have to ask, though, if forcing your loyal audience to replay sections unnecessarily and relentless killing your player is rarely much fun, and often in Twinsanity it's an expletive-generating chore. Another case of what might have been, in truth.