Crash of the Titans (Xbox 360)
To be just, like most former A-list videogame mascots, everyone's favorite dim-witted, super-speedy marsupial has seen his fair share of highs (Warped), lows (Twinsanity) and meh-who-gives-a-craps (The Wrath of Cortex). But frankly -- and pardon our French -- ever since token spin-off Crash Team Racing first raised the checkered flag on corporate America's sprint to cash in on his good name, a certain bad-ass bandicoot's been pimped out more times than the average Thai whore.
A shame, really: At this point, we're as inclined to like said hero's latest adventure -- workmanlike but unspectacular 3-D platform-hopping romp Crash of the Titans -- as much as any of his last half-dozen-odd faceless, thumb-numbing outings. The rub, of course, is that if you're a longtime fan of the lovable lug nut, you're probably going to feel a crushing sense of d&eacure;jà vu set in all too quickly for comfort after dropping $40 to $50 on this puppy. Then again, the truth is that whether you'll actually get your money's worth depends on how much you appreciate the core changes made to the title's otherwise bog-standard formula. Specifically, the addition of punches, kicks and upgradeable attack combos, as well as options to 'jack,' or stun and ride enemies, thereby stealing their moves, leave it feeling more like a brawler than a typical head-stomping romp.
For starters, let's ignore some of the less diverting, but still welcome distractions -- say, skating around on Aku Aku (your ever-witty, talking tribal mask of a pal) or having to hop on perilously spinning ledges -- the title naturally offers. More strikingly for series vets, you'll rather find yourself entranced most by new powers that let you swing away at mastodon-esque monstrosities, drop-kick giant bear-like critters, nick your enemies' special abilities by leaping up on their shoulders, or take random beasties for a joyride. Sometimes, this mechanic leads to truly compelling showdowns, as you leap from one spike-hurling or laser beam-spitting baddie to the next, especially during madcap boss fights. Others times, it just makes what was once a proud, hyper-caffeinated run-'n-jump jaunt devolve into a taxing waste of time, as there's only so much successive swiping, clawing and stun-inducing roaring one can do before tedium eventually sets in.
That's not to say you won't find the usual distractions (i.e. leaping bottomless gaps, twirling to hover above hordes of beaker-wielding grunts, and exploring twisted forests or temples filled with geometrically-impossible architecture) available -- quite the opposite in fact, especially when one considers quest creator Radical's obvious penchant for textbook-level design and juvenile laughs (get ready for some seriously lame one-liners and cheeky, pop culture-skewering puns -- including, go figure, the odd not-so-subtle poke at Mario). Offering a couple afternoons' worth of nutritionless entertainment, gallivanting around collecting gooey mojo (used to enhance Crash's powers) in random mini-game-style interludes or hurling projectiles at faraway, puzzle-solving targets can indeed prove amusing in short spurts. Nonetheless, the action's largely limited to a process of running and bounding along a linear path; encountering/defeating some low-level enemies; jacking a monster; using it to defeat other monsters; watching the path ahead open; then repeating the procedure until you've reached the end of the stage -- hardly noteworthy stuff.
Pleasingly colorful and inventive visuals as well as a sizable assortment of gnarly-looking beasties (nothing beats giving lesser beings a good tentacle-slap with your Yuktopus) do help the saga save some face. In fact, it's one of the finer cotton-candy-consistency outings on the Xbox 360 (the version of the game we most recommend), with the sense of big, dumb fun only heightened by zany backgrounds and characters that truly spring to life in high-definition. But despite their garishlylit thrills, most areas you'll sprint across sadly lack any real atmosphere or inventiveness, feeling like clich&eacure;d genre set pieces (mounds of carbon-copy trees, crumbling caverns and tribal statues -- how novel!). Take our personal favorite: You fall to your death inches into chasms that seem more like fuzzy, still pictures superimposed on flat surfaces than fully three-dimensional drop-offs with any sense of height or depth. The simple storyline doesn't help, either (oh no, Dr. Cortex has -- gasp! -- captured Coco and friends... yet again), nor do vocals that universally fall into two camps: painfully high-pitched and gonzo, and even more ear-shatteringly annoying.
Kids will, one supposes, definitely appreciate the setup more, especially with two-man co-op options also available. But really, even with support for literally lugging a friend around in your backpack or swapping player control after every jump, a single playthrough will surely prove more than enough. Partial blame lies with the usual issues that plague this sort of adventure, e.g. camera positioning problems and obligatory bouts of repetitive button mashing. Even so, regardless of age, you're also be bound to be frustrated at times by the game's tendency to let enemies hit you with cheap shots while you attempt to stun other opponents (a process that requires several uninterrupted hits in quick succession -- hard to do when foes block incessantly or you're surrounded by large groups of adversaries...).
In other words, try before you buy -- and expect to see all the game has to offer in a single weekend rental. Old Crash himself may be better-looking and more armed to the teeth than ever, but we still remain unconvinced that next-gen sequels like this offer much above and beyond previous, more instantly gratifying adventures.
This review was based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.