I'll be completely honest with you; I haven't played a Crash Bandicoot game since the second game on the original PlayStation back in the mid-1990s. It's not that I disliked Naughty Dog's smart-mouthed mascot character; it's that the Mario and Sonic series seemed to be doing the exact same thing, only better. I looked forward to taking Crash: Mind Over Mutant a spin, if only to see if the series brought back good memories. What I found wasn't exactly nostalgic, but it's also not the worst platformer on the Xbox 360 either. It's somewhere in the middle, which is exactly where I would expect a Crash Bandicoot game to be.
The Crash that I remember was a linear action game that had you running through narrow levels collecting fruit and spinning around. I was surprised to find out that this new Crash Bandicoot features larger levels with a lot more variety. And while in some ways this is a good thing, the result ultimately feels a lot less like the old school Crash and more like a cheap Jak & Daxter rip-off. Any way you look at it, Mind Over Mutant is an average action game peppered with a few moments of brilliance.
The game starts out strong enough; we're reintroduced to the evil Dr. Neo Cortex, who is trying to take over the world with his new personal assistant, the "NV", a headset that controls the minds of both mutants and bandicoots by transmitting bad mojo. This sets up an intriguing adventure that has Crash completing more than twenty missions in an attempt to thwart Dr. Neo Cortex's dastardly plan and save the day.
Oddly enough, Crash Bandicoot is at its best when it's not interactive. This game's target is none other than the evils of commercialism, skewering just about everything that makes the 21st century such a convenient place to live. I'm talking about everything from TiVo to blogging to SUVs to the skyrocketing price of gas. What's more, each of the game's 17 cinema scenes are mimicking other popular animated shows, including old school Warner Bros. cartoons, South Park and even Dragon Ball Z. Throw in the guy that voiced Stimpy on Ren & Stimpy (Billy West) and you have thirty minutes of great animated cut scenes.
Unfortunately the rest of the game doesn't quite live up to the promise of these cinemas. Instead of just being another platformer where all you do is go from one level to the next, Mind Over Mutant features a somewhat open world, similar to what we saw in games like Jak & Daxter and Super Mario Sunshine. Had this been done right it could have given the Crash Bandicoot franchise a real boost of adrenaline, but instead it makes everything needlessly complicated and requires you to revisit areas you would rather not revisit.
At first you won't notice the amount of backtracking you're going to have to do, but by the time you're half way through the game you will have visited each of the game's worlds at least three or four times. This means that you're going to need to complete the same platforming puzzles again and again, even after you've beaten the missions they are associated with. What's more, when you actually beat a level you don't automatically warp back to your central hub, instead you have to go back through the level you just came through in reverse, avoiding the same enemies and obstacles. Had these levels been developed in interesting ways this wouldn't have been a problem, but most of the time it just feels like busy work that is made to extend the game's already painfully short length.
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