Remembering Crash Bandicoot 2 – Cortex Strikes Back

Crash Bandicoot 2 Cortex Strikes Back Game Cover.jpg

Crash 2 continues our run through the series history and this one came out only a year after the original came out. With such a short development period, the game must of suffered, right?

Nope, it ended up being on of the strongest games in the series and lets see how it compares to the original PS1 classic.

The game started development not long after Crash 1 released; October 1996. Naughty Dog had a budget of 2 Million dollars and had 13 months to get the game out the door.

The concept art for the game’s environments was mainly created by Naughty Dog employees Bob Rafei, Eric Iwasaki, Erick Pangilinan, Charlotte Francis and Jason Rubin. The jungle levels were originally going to feature ground fog, but this was abandoned when magazines and the public began to criticize other developers for using fog to hide polygon count. Sunlight and depth accentuation was experimented with for these levels. Naughty Dog created the sewer levels as a way to work some “dirty” locations in the game.

Colour contrast was added to the levels to show depth and break up the monotony of sewer pipes. The character of Coco Bandicoot was created by Naughty Dog as a counterbalance to Tawna (Crash’s girlfriend in the first game) that would appease Sony Computer Entertainment Japan, who weren’t comfortable with a “super sexy” character being alongside Crash. Character designer Charles Zembillas drew the first sketches of Coco on March 18, 1997.

This was incredibly interesting to hear, considering Tawna ditches Crash after the events in the first game, so Coco replacing her makes sense in a lot of respects.

One thing that Andy Gavin did to help the games development was create a game engine called ‘Game-Oriented Object LISP 2’, which allowed the game to get a massive upgrade over the original in many ways.

The game’s engine was three times faster than the Crash 1’s engine, with it handling ten times the animation frames and twice the polygon count.  A flat plane z-buffer was created for the game; because the water surfaces and mud in the jungle had to be a flat plane and be exactly flat on the Y-axis, there could be no waves and the subdividing plane could not be at an odd angle. The effect only worked on objects in the foreground and was only used on Crash, some enemies and a few boxes at the same time. Essentially, the game got a huge graphical overhaul and it lead to the game not only running better but looking better as well. The title released in Fall 1997 and was a hit on many levels. High review scores and people calling it one of the stronger platforming titles of the year.

The team behind this game includes the following.

Director – Jason Rubin
Producer – Mark Cerny
Programmer –  Andy Gavin
Artists – Charles Zembillas, Erick Panglilinan, Bob Rafei
Writer – Jason Rubin
Composer –  Josh Mancell

Before we move on, I must address the marking push Crash had back then. Well before Crash 1 released, Sony heavily marketed the game across Japan and Western markets. One of the most famous ads was one of Crash literally going in front of Nintendo of America’s building with a megaphone and telling them off with how great Crash 1 is.

Japan also got its own commercials and this was major, as it was the introduction to the infamous Crash dance that we see in both this and future Crash titles. There is a lot more to find here, so hope you enjoy watching this road to advertising history.

The story is set after Crash 1, where Cortex lands in a cave after being blown up by Crash but finding an odd glowing crystal. He laughs and we cut to a later point where him and N. Gin are trying to use the crystal to power their space station.

Cut to Crash and Coco (Crash’s sister) relaxing in the Jungle, with Coco waking Crash up to look for a new laptop battery for her computer. Crash spins into action and we run though a mini-jungle level before we are warped into space. Crash sees a holographic Cortex asking him to get the Crystals to help save the world and Crash like a dummy listens to him, even despite Coco telling him via intercepting the messaging that something is wrong. Even N. Brio tires using him, telling him to find the gems to use the cannon in destroying the space station  to the point where most of the bosses you fight are from HIM trying to stop you getting the Crystals for Cortex.

What makes this different from Crash 1’s plot is the fact more is going on and we have a decent reason to continue through the game, but we get a lot of personality in every character. Cortex is voiced by Clancy Brown, none other then the voice of DC’s Animated Lex Luther; he adds a lot to Cortex’s character and his line delivery is great. Just for the fun of it, replay the first stage and not get the crystal a few times. Try it, you will be treated to a fun cut-scene of him starting to lose his temper!

The characterization being stronger extends to Crash as well but we will touch on that in the presentation portion.

Gameplay is more Crash Bandicoot, but taken to the next level. The jump in gameplay mechanics can be compared to that of Uncharted 1 to Uncharted 2. It really did a lot to make Crash 2 the classic that it is today.

Crash still has his core moveset from the original; jumping and spinning. But we get a few new moves to play around with, like sliding, crawling and even digging into special patches in the levels to hid underground. The slide jump is one of the best moves in the series, with it making you move faster and have a higher jump. One interesting addition is of Nitro Crates and they are insta-kill if you run into them unless you have a Aku-Aku mask on. Crash also has the spin-slide, which is a faster way to spin into foes.

The game also adds more gimmicks into the mix that add into the platforming action. Crash can now hang on ceilings for different kinds of navigational challenges and use two kinds of rides; a Jet Board and a Jet Pack. The former is used a few times and allows you to move over water, with you being able to dash and use ramps to fly higher. I like this gimmick as it pushes you to be careful with your movement but give you a bit of ‘speed’ in some ways.

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The later is used in only two levels and a boss fight, with the Jet Pack being interesting. You have a button moving you forward and backward but you use the stick/D-Pad to move up/down/left/right. Interesting control style that takes a bit to get used to but once you get it, man is it fun.

Level design in Crash 2 is ace, with the game feeling tighter and in some respects a bit more fair compared to Crash 1. You have similar tropes from Crash 1 like temples, jungles and darkness sections but Crash 2 has more tropes to explore.

Running around in toxic sewers, flying around in outer space and running across snowy planes & icy caves; these add visual verity that Crash 1 lacked at points. But these do more then add visual gimmicks. The jet pack is exclusive to the space levels, the ice stages have the animal riding returning (using a polar bear this time out; jump in its head when you reach the second/third warp room a few times for a lot of lives) and the toxic sewers use ceiling navigation heavily.

You also have the 2D and fully 3D stages returning but we also get Death Courses. These are accessed if you get through a level without dying and hit a specific point in the stage. Once you land on the platform, you can go back to it as many times as you need until you lose all your lives. They are harder platforming challenges and normally end with you getting a grey gem.

The gem system is back and in some cases, its more fair compared to Crash 1. You do NOT have to fully reset the game when you die now; the check-point boxes mark how many boxes you broke now. That is a huge plus and makes going for 100% fair now.

You can even retry bonus rooms now and a few small things help streamline the design/flow of the game; the warp rooms having save stations for your progress, each warp room has icons telling you what is in each place and you even have a secret warp room to visit and the check points also save the amount of boxes you smashed. Also, try jumping on the polar bear in Warp Room 3 a few times; will get 10 extra lives for jumping on the poor thing.

Gem collection is really clever this time out, as the colored gems ask you do some ‘what?!’ actions that you would have never expected. See those piles of Nitro crates on the side? Hop on them and climb up to the top set of them. The first level? Don’t break any boxes and head to the goal. One of the Jet Board stages? Rush to a specific point in a time limit.

That happens for every colored gem and it makes going out for all of them so rewarding. The big issue with Gem collection is back tracking through levels and some were not built for this in mind. Thankfully, you get lots of lives and the game is generous if you save frequently.

The save system in this game is much better compared to Crash 1 as well, with it being very simple; walk up to the wall that says ‘Save’ and wait a second. Pick your file and done, game saved. Much better then trying to hunt for icons in stages and beating an extra level.

Boss fights were something I glossed over for Crash 1 but that was from them not being that special.

Here, they are a bit better, with Ripper Roo having a new fight with Crash and it being more rewarding to get through. Same thing (hop on TNT creates to blow him up) but easier to do with the tighter controls. You also fight a boss inside a little space ship and how do you take him out? Toss Wampa Fruit at it! Not only is that a nice change of pace but also hints at a special power Crash will be getting on his third adventure.

The final fight with Cortex is a Jet Pack level that is very short, but its nice seeing a gimmick we were introduced to in two stages being used for the final boss.

Visually, Crash 2 looks leaps and bounds better compared to the original PS1 Classic. Thanks the new engine Andy put together for the game, we have so much added life to everything.

The animations are crisp and smooth, everything looks like it has higher poly-models and the game really pushed the PS1 to its visual limits. Love the usage of color in this game, with every place having such a sense of identity and location.

Before going to the music, we have to touch on the death animations. The game has a ton of new death animations that are extremely creative, and really added life into Crash’s personality.

The music in the game is also great, with it having the same ‘sound’ as Crash 1, but some of the tracks playing with more unique beats. You have the space level ‘Rock It’ being a great case for sound design, as it gets faster and faster the more you get through the stage the track plays in.

Here are other tracks we really enjoyed from the game.

Warp Room – Forest – Snow Go – Hang Eight – Bear It

This game is a fantastic sequel that takes what the original Crash did but does that style of platforming better. It really is a classic and a game many love a lot. Many consider this the strongest game in the
Naughty Dog line of Crash games they worked on.

Next up we have Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped and I hope you all look forward to our thoughts on that PS1 Classic!