As I begin to write this, I am in the midst of the Christmas season, and what can be more Christmassy than a walk down memory lane. Well, perhaps booze and dressing up assorted pets as reindeer, but a nostalgia trip, including returning to your childhood home, is pretty standard. Thus, ladies and gentlemen, I shall blog about one of my absolute childhood favourites: Crash Bandicoot 2.
Why not Crash Bandicoot 1, you say? It’s simply a matter of what I played as a youngster. While the first game I played was indeed Crash Bandicoot 1, it was my dad’s colleague’s copy, and he had only lent it to my dad for a couple of weeks. I played a fair amount of it but I think I called it quits even before the first boss (“Papu Papu”). It was only with Crash Bandicoot 2 that I was lured in by the cut-scenes and the gameplay, and simply had enough time to sample it properly. Furthermore, my aunt, being much better at gaming than I was, managed to get to the 4th warp room out of 5 within just a couple of weeks of borrowing it, giving me the chance to see much more of the game as a small child. Hence, it was scored deep into my squishy, malleable child brains and remains a part of my gamer identity to this day.
Crash Bandicoot 2 kicks off with Crash hanging out with his sister Coco, helping her get a replacement battery for her laptop (girl, official replacements are hard as balls to track down, and knock-offs might fetch your hands off in an explosion – just plug it in at the mains!). However, he is suddenly spirited away by his arch-nemesis, Doctor Neo Cortex, who has kidnapped Crash to secure his help. He needs Crash to complete 25 levels, spanning 5 floors in a tower (5 “warp rooms”), in order to collect all of the crystals needed to harness the energy required for putting his slightly ambiguous plans into action. Putting aside past differences – potentially lethal ones – Crash agrees to the quest, or rather is somewhat forced to by the fact that he has no idea where he is. With that, the platforming world of Crash Bandicoot 2 awaits the player.
The platforming in Crash Bandicoot 2 is fairly basic yet tightly constructed. “Wumpa fruit” are to Crash as coins are to Mario (rather than rings to Sonic); collect 100 and you gain an extra life. Rather than swelling through the ingestion of red or yellow mushrooms, Crash can gain extra protection by, if you’ll pardon the pun, crashing through boxes with voodoo masks on them. These unleash your helper, Aku Aku. One helping of Aku protects you from one scrape with a baddie; two provides twice the protection. Collecting a third mask triggers a speed/invincibility mode, which also makes smashing through boxes much easier. It is great fun to unlock this “Crash on meth” mode and just go full pelt through the level – unless you’re in one of the backwards-running levels, in which case you’d be in for a whole world of pain, since falling down pits and dropping off the sides of stages aren’t covered by Aku Aku’s veil of protection.
As well as the already-mentioned hazards of cliff edges and enemies, which you either jump on or spin-dash into depending on the enemy design, there are those pesky TNT and Nitro boxes to contend with. So much as sneezing on a Nitro box will send poor Crash flapping away to marsupial heaven; spinning into a TNT will do the same, but jumping on it will give you 3 seconds to skidaddle out of there before your internal organs become bushmeat stew. These are sometimes worth triggering because of the crystal-collecting element of the game.
The game promotes extensive replayability through its design, namely through the crystal concept. While Crash Bandicoot 3 started to fuse the series with elements of time-trialling (which I am not entirely fond of, unless it’s within Crash Team Racing), Crash Bandicoot 2 found other ways to set the player alternative, challenging goals. Making your way through the level without losing all your lives yields you a shiny pink crystal, of the variety which Cortex is eager for you to amass, to the point of appearing as a hologram to praise you/nag you at periodic intervals. However, smashing all the boxes in a level, including those tricksy Nitro boxes, will award you with a clear gem, while going down a secret path or laying waste to particular enemies in certain levels will grant you a colored gem. As well as being required for 100% completion, with the percentage towards this being there for all to see on your save file, these gems are also required for the furtherance of a specific sub-plot. However, the reason for collecting even more shiny bits of rock shall remain under wraps, lest I incur the wrath not of Cortex, but of the boss-dude at Skirmish Frogs for dropping spoilers.
The platform to the right of Crash, indicated by a question mark, indicates a bonus level, in which you can collect plenty of lives and Wumpa fruit. Just be careful not to bodge a jump; while there are no penalties regarding your outstanding lives, it will cut short your ability to collect more.
The level designs across the 5 warp rooms are absolutely fantastic. The game avoids water levels in the sense of those in which you have to swim, which may not have been that wise a move given that these levels were executed with admirable finesse in Crash Bandicoot 3. Some of the design choices border on the bizarre yet remain somehow captivating, glinting like one of the game’s hard-to-reach gems with their brilliance: the incinerator level, involving hanging from the ceiling and clambering across a climbing-frame lattice while avoiding enemies, and also the previously mentioned “Indiana Jones”-style backwards-running levels, of which there is one in each warp room, are particularly worthy of praise. You have to give a game and its developers a big slap on the back when they do something unique, but pull it off to such perfection nonetheless. Last but of course not least, the game contains my favourite level out of any game I have ever played, and for which I know the moves pretty much reflexively: Bear It. I am going to inevitably be biased towards games in which I get to convincingly ride an adorable polar bear, particularly when comical facial reactions while smacking into a pole come with it as a package deal.
The boss fights, which are accessible after you have collected all 5 pink crystals in a warp room, are not quite as entrancing. However, I think this is a mark of the era and of the genre, rather than anything necessarily wrong with the game itself. They are a little uninspired and repetitive; once you’ve got the move set down, you’re sorted. In general, this characteristic of Crash Bandicoot 2 makes it not that difficult to play – once you finally do figure out your timings and where to move, in the game as a whole, it’s a breeze. However, the addition of extra difficulty through those awkwardly-placed colour gems keep you returning for second helpings.
I almost always get a little over-excited about game music, though here the score is rather understated. It blends in with the levels well – take, for example, the pounding beats in the backwards levels, which would always get my heart racing as a kid and even frighten me away from touching those levels – but it doesn’t go out of your way to grab your attention. I felt like this was the case more with later platformers, such as Rayman Origins and Little Big Planet 2, which jam in sections of pre-established classical pieces, almost sticking its fingers in your mouth to tug the corners into a smile. While this has its place and can be great fun, especially when hitting Google afterwards to research what you’ve just heard, a fitting yet subtle score can also be the capable sidekick to an action-packed game. This is exactly what was achieved with Crash Bandicoot 2, and it was ultimately music which I never tired of, even after hours upon hours of continual play.
One of the final quirks of Crash Bandicoot 2 which I would request you saviour is the death animations. What makes Crash Bandicoot 2 arguably one of the most popular releases for the PSX of all time, combined with the watertight platforming and secure sense of its own theme, is the slapstick humour. Crash makes it known through his multitude of deaths that he owns a fantastic pair of pink knickers, looks like he’s having a whale of a time when concussed, and can still waddle about for a bit even after his spine has been reduced to little more than a paper concertina. I firmly believe the point is to be liberal with your deaths and not to curse every ill-timed jump or run-in with a spinning penguin, since the game throws extra lives at you like confetti. The game is easy enough that you will succeed eventually, so you are encouraged to take time to laugh at your folly and appreciate how silly a game Crash Bandicoot 2 really is. It is miles apart from the image cultivated for platforming protagonists such as Sonic and Mario, who are respectively depicted as super-cool teenagers or compassionate everymen, rather than somewhat athletic doofuses (doofi?).
Ultimately it is a slice of gaming history that you should pick up as soon as possible. It’s readily available on the PSN; however, a modest investment in a physical copy would not be money squandered, as rest assured you would be buying one of the PSX’s glistening jewels. Remember, though, that you cannot be a true Crash fan if you forego learning his special victory dance.