Analysis, Gaming

PSX memories ft. Crash 2 & 3. Or vs? Part 1

Ah, the first PlayStation, a console that I remember quite fondly. I was a child back then, and while I liked videogames, I still have way too many great if not amazing titles from that era I should’ve played (and that I should still play), but I’ve yet to even just try. Anyway, I have a good amount of gaming memories related to that console, like the first game I’ve ever played, Porsche Challenge. I still remember how I tried to steer in the game the first time I played it by actually steering the contoller. Ah, that Wii foreshadowing, if only I knew…

Seriously, though, I played several games on PSX, and, I have to be honest, there’s a series I’ve fell in love with back when it appeared on the first PlayStation, and it’s sad to see it now disappeared from Earth (…even if maybe not for long?!?): Crash Bandicoot “original” series.

MAJOR WARNING: This is a 4,000+ blog post, containing spoilers about both games. In case you haven’t played these games yet, avoid the rest of it. For all the others, see you all after the jump.

And by “original” series, I mean the first titles, the first creations from Naughty Dog that made lots of head turn (and, I’m glad to say, not the last ones) in the gaming industry. One could try to define these games as “2D platformers made in 3D” since you’re set on a single possible path made of holes, enemies, obstacles and loooooots of boxes; alongside detours, secrets and backtracking for some levels. Also, apples. Those juicy apples, basically the Crash Bandicoot’s version of Mario coins. Hey, look, Crash’s attack move is a Tazmania devil-like spin and…no, the apples go away if I start spinning near to them! What? How dare they!

If you’re interested in knowing more about how the character (and the first game) came to be, I can’t recommend you enough the multi-part series “Making Crash Bandicoot” by Andy Gavin, one of the founders of Naughty Dog back in 1986. Lots of great stuff in all the parts, here’s the link to the first episode of the feature: http://all-things-andy-gavin.com/2011/02/02/making-crash-bandicoot-part-1/

Back to the main topic of this post…Among older fans, there’s discussion about which of the two games considered almost universally the best classic (i.e. platform games) titles in the series is actually better: Crash 2 with its tower to climb, polar bears, jet packs and the crystal’s series debut? Or Crash 3, with time travel, jet ski, underwater levels and…airplanes? I used to replay both of them, especially the second game, probably because, as time went by, I started feeling it was a better game than the third; however, for several reasons, I stopped doing so. Now, inspired by other friends of mine who decided to replay them, I took the chance to return in both game’s worlds and…and I thought “This could be an idea for an interesting analysis about specific elements of both games, so I can see which one is better overall, with a renewed experience, several years and tons of games after the last time”. And this is why I decided to create this series of posts, each dedicated to single parts of the games, the ones I consider the most important to judge them. Warning: subsequent parts of this series won’t necessairly come one after the other, and there isn’t a fixed schedule; they’ll come when I feel it’s right, basically. Premise’s done, so…time to start, don’t you think?

Part 1: The Bosses

The first element I want to compare between both games are the bosses, what you’re destinted to once you collect all the five crystals in each room, wheter it’s Crash 2 or 3.

One thing that can definitely be said about Crash Bandicoot’s boss characters is that they all look quite different, aesthetics-wise: we have mad scientists, time old travelers with slight Asian facial traits, humanised beasts, doctors using mechas and throwing at you all the missiles they got…a cartoonish hell. But what’s even more important, in a game, is how the play: who cares if they look crazy enough when their patterns or scenario are less exciting than way too many ideas coming from Konami (unless you really love pachinkos! In that case, the lever is there and I won’t stop you from pulling it).

Playing them again has been refreshing, I have to admit: I noticed some things I never thought about back then. Both good and bad. Let’s start by talking about Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back.

The Bosses in Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back

Ripper Roo

The first boss fight of the second game, and it’s decent-ish as a first battle. The set in which is placed looks cool: a sophisticated office with books, ladders, a comfortable chair, a wooden table and…water: a waterfall and a platform where the boss battle happens, decorated with Ripper’s face and math equations, on a river. You can’t deny it looks nice. Ripper attacks twice for each turn: first, he makes appear TNTs on the floor, and you have to avoid them by seeing where Ripper jumps; each square “TNT-ed” has a 6 seconds timer (longer than the usual 3-seconds one) and then they explode. This makes the professor go crazy and shatters its initial sophisticated look. And this is when the second part of each turn starts, since now Nitro squares appear. No timers, just suffering if you happen to go there. Then, Nitros explode, and the mad professor’s defenceless. This is the time you must hit him. So, apparently, it’s a good concept but, to be honest, it’s not that difficult, it’s quite easy. I’d dare to say maybe…too easy? What I mean is that, once you get the patterns, it becomes rather easy to avoid both TNTs and Nitros, but not in such a way that you still feel engaged or challenged enough by it. Even if it’s the first time you encounter a boss in the game, the fight should still make you feel excited for it, and this one doesn’t do that enough. Not that it’s completely devoid of challenge, you have to figure out the patterns at first and they change each turn, even if slightly. It’s far from a though battle, and it’s not that interesting, but I still say that, for a first battle, it’s around decency: nice set, funny boss (seeing Ripper Roo going literally from Dr. Jeckill to Mr. Hyde makes you laugh), decent concept…but an execution falling on the shallow side a bit. Still, not an outright bad boss fight.

Komodo Bros.

While Ripper Roo’s fight was in a rectangular-shaped field, this one is in a circular-shaped field field. In this case, the way to defeat them is to wait for the taller one to end its spinning attack, then just attack him with your own spin move…no need to aim: wherever you send it, it will hit the other anyway. The second and the third hit requires you to avoid the swords thrown by the brother at the center of the stage before getting to the spin attack; and when the other spins around for the third time, there are other swords coming from the center. Unfortunately, this boss fight is not even decent-ish as the other: easier than Ripper Roo’s one and just executed badly. One could argue that the Komodo Bro’s spin attack is too slow, and it could be a bit faster, but it’s a minor concern honestly: while it shouldn’t be as pathetically easy and boring as it is, it’s still a second boss battle, so it can’t be excessively difficult. But there are far worse deficiencies here, all of them severly impacting negatively how interesting this battle is. Surely the fact that you don’t need to aim at all when you attack the defenceless brother after his spin attack ends lowers the difficulty already, but there’s something even worse. You see, it happens several times that, when the Komodo Bro at the center starts his own swords attack, the point where he starts is far from where you are, and it takes even 10 seconds for him to reach you…unless you move, obviously. His attack doesn’t change direction, not even once; there is no sense of threat at all. And, again, it’s sloooooow, so much that it becomes an annoyance. His pattern variety is almost non existent, except for when he throws swords directly at you (thank God) when the other is in his third spin attack: this is when the the fight gets slightly (sliiiiiiiiiightly) more intense. But it’s not nearly enough, sadly. Ripper Roo’s fight had something that could make you feel a bit challenged, and it wasn’t a pity to be on the easy side, even if too much, but you expect something more interesting, more challenging, more engaging as the game progresses: bigger obstacles, bigger satisfaction for overcoming them. The Komodo Bros.? Very shallow, slow elements, too predictable, uninteresting patterns. Not a good boss fight, unfortunately. Probably the best element is the set in which this fight takes place: it doesn’t look bad. Still, not as good as Ripper Roo’s charming “natural office”. But the fight is meh.

Tiny Tiger

Tiny offers a dynamic fight, involving unstable platforms in a futuristic-like setting: it’s probably in a spaceship, with droids traveling across pipes, and Tiny comes from his room by literally tearing off a metal door. He’s strong for sure, but his battle is about jumping. There are nine small platforms and, after a few seconds, some will turn red, as a warning that they’re going to fall. You jump between platforms, and Tiny does the same. What you need to do is to use Tiny’s jumping at your own advantage: simply, make it so he jumps in a spot where one of the platforms has fallen. In the end, it’s not so hard, but it presents challenge, since it’s not that easy to bring Tiny where we want the first times, especially the second and the third time. In fact, the amount and the placements of platforms turning into red changes each time: three (an L), then two, then just one. This doesn’t seem an important change at first, but the pattern variety influences how you need to approach the fight and how to use Tiny’s jumping pattern (which is based on your own path). Both skills and a bit of strategic thinking are needed in order to beat this muscular (even if just for arms, chest and abdomen…just look at those legs! How can they even sustain the rest, it’s illogical!) antropomorphic feline. This battle also requires you to stay careful, since lots of platforms turn red and, then, fall, just when Tiny starts his fall. So, no time to appreciate his funny attempts to fight gravity, watch out for safe platforms. After all, this is a nice boss fight that, while not extremely difficult, it makes you feel engaged and rethink how to execute your strategy due to the pattern’s changes. So much better than the Komodo Bros.

N. Gin

This is a different boss fight compared to the others, since the field in which you move is two-dimensional, not a rectangular / circular-shaped field. But N.Gin is in a robot, distant from where you are, how the hell can you attac-wait, now you can shoot wumpas? Why? But who cares, this fight is good! I remember that I appreciated it already back when I was younger, and replaying it confirmed my feelings on it. First of all, it breaks from the convention of three-parts life bar, since it requires five hits to bring it down. Also, there’s a big variety in patterns, points to hit, what to do, as more parts of the robot are destroyed. Yes, what you need to do here is destroying the five parts on the robot’s body. First the mechanical claws, then the missiles compartment and, at the end, the final death ray. The spots aren’t always hittable, just when they “open” and you see them glowing. As you can see, this battle requires timing to hit the spots in the right moment. Also, the patterns. When the robot is full, the first pattern is a ray coming from one of the claws, with a wave-like trajectory. Once the two claws are destroyed, the new pattern involves the missiles on its shoulders, which are launched from the top of the screen, right on your platform: here, looking at the shadow is essential to reach the part of the platform still safe. When one of the shoulders is destroyed, there’s a new pattern, with just one missile launched every time, but coming from the side. Finally, the central death ray. In this case, you need to use the small moments when N Gin is loading the ray to attack it, then stay safe on the other parts of the platform. Actually, it’s three small platforms attached together, and this is clear in the final act of the boss fight, since the death ray destroys each part, and it won’t come back up if not several seconds later, not after N. Gin attacks you again with the death ray. Once you defeat him, a glorious explosion. I suppose this description caputres well enough why I really like this fight. As already said, it breaks several conventions from the others, and not just for the life bar. In fact, since you need to hit the different points, if you’re good enough, you can make him lose two parts of his life a few seconds between each other. Moreover, it’s challenging, since it requires you to time your shooting at the right time and place (the spots aren’t always available for hits, as said earlier); it’s a bit on the hard side, but it’s the fourth boss fight out of 5 totals, so it’s fitting. Finally, the patterns are great and the variety is pretty interesting. Very cool boss fight, maybe I appreciate it even more now, after so many years. It’s so cool that makes me excited for the final encounter. Come on Cortex, show me your moves! Do your best! I’m ready! I’M READY!

Dr. Neo Cortex

…ready to be extremely disappointed. It suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucks. It’s bad on its own, and an extreme disappointment as a final boss battle. The description? Just hit him three times approaching him with your jet pack. Just follow him, avoid bombs and asteroids, and you’re done. The environmental obstacles aren’t enough to give the sense of challenge, and it’s a pity to see such a cool-looking set wasted on this…thing. It’s even worse than I remembered now, unfortunately. The patterns are non exsistent, and, when you’re hit, he stops too. Not that distant from where you are either. The only “challenge” here is to stop Cortex before he reaches the last ring, the one with the inside glowing, but the path is quite long, you’ll have enough chances to kill him well before the end. It doesn’t feel like the final battle of a long journey, more like a side detour that maybe, just maybe, would be better as one of the first boss fights, concept-wise. But the execution here is bad, between lack of excitement, Cortex still too near you whenever you stop. And this should be the final fight. It’s unfortunate, N.Gin feels much more like the final battle you deserve for playing / completing so many levels.

And now, time to talk about the boss fights from the third game

The Bosses in Crash Bandicoot3: Warped

Tiny Tiger

Tiny is the first boss in Crash 3, and he jumps around again. This time, though, there aren’t falling platforms, the battle is in a roman coliseum, with Cortex watching and so many people cheering for Tiny (so many Cortex’s droids, actually). The atmosphere is nice, but the fight is dull. It consists of avoiding Tiny Tiger’s jumping attack, then attacking him when he’s tired and, then, avoiding all the lions that are unleashed shortly after (twice). Unfortunately, the pattern’s variety is minor, which is always something I don’t look at positively for boss fights; also, the challenge is very low, even for a first boss fight. There’s lot of space on the field to avoid Tiny Tiger’s attacks, and while the lions’ can look scary at first, just spinning and jumping around should do the trick. It’s not interesting enough to engage the player, despite the set where it’s placed, and it’s very low difficulty makes it even more difficult to make the player feel at least excited to play it. As stated earlier, the first boss can’t surely be that harsh, but it should present elements of interest (Ripper Roo’s fight had some interesting elements, on the contrary), and this one doesn’t do that nearly enough. Not good.

Dingodile

Do you remember the Komodo Bros. fight? Imagine if the circular-shaped-field fight were well executed and made it a worthy fight…this is Dingodile’s boss battle. Before even starting, he surrounds himself with crystals acting as rotating barriers, then he starts with his first kind of attack. The concept is similar to the swords from the Komodo Brother at the center, but this time it’s made by projectiles coming from the top of the screen (watch out for the shadows) and, above all, he rotates fast. Yes. And he starts near enough from where you are that the sense of danger is well present. Yes! It’s so fast that a good strategy can be inverting your direction at one point, because he’s going to be faster than you (unless you’re facing him with the Super Speed powerup unlocked, but it’s another story). This attack changes enough, since it’s longer the second time and, the third time, there are two plasma’s projectiles he shoots at once. Good variety. Every time you obtain to overcome this attack, the second part of his whole attack pattern is a shot aimed directly at you. He will change his direction according to where you are, you must act quickly in order to avoid it. This breaks parts of the crystal barriers, which is great since that’s how you can reach him for the hit, but they rotate, so you’ll need to time and place his attacks in order to break enough of all the barriers to reach him. It’s crystal clear why it’s so much better than it’s “predecessor”, between the good difficulty and the challenge it features. The patterns’ variety helps a lot, and all the different elements (crystal barriers, different plasmas projectiles, plasma ray) adds up in terms of how exciting it doesn’t just look, but feels to play as well. You feel challenged, maybe it could be questioned if it’s a tad too difficult considering it’s the second boss fight of the game, but I feel it’s fine as it is. Even if it’s granted you’ll die sometimes because you’re not fast enough. I appreciate to see this concept, which was interesting but botched in Cortex Strikes Back, be back and now executed well. Good job. Also, the penguin who appears is cute and it reminds me so much of Crash 2.

N. Trophy

N. Trophy, the time traveler with his tuning fork. This is one boss fight where the field changes each time he’s hit; we literally travel through space and time in this battle. It’s a nice choice, it makes the battle more dynamic; not that it isn’t on its own. There are several elements that change between turns, and it feels like a good challenge. First of all, at the start of each turn, N. Trophy creates some platforms outside your default one: the width and amount of smaller platforms stacked between each other decreases in each turn, so the difficulty level increases just from the field conformation’s changes, since different space to move = different way to avoid N. Trophy’s attacks. But the attacks are different each turn as well: different shooting tempo, different sequences and directions of lasers coming from his tuning fork (alongside that sound each time a new laser attack started). In the end, N.Trophy for…whatever reason, while resting for the effort, decides to create new platforms, as a way to reach him. Of course, the placement and the form of these agglomerated platforms change every time, increasing the effort needed to reach them (remember that this battle unlocks the Death Tornado Spin, so it doesn’t help the first time you face him. Between the changing environment and, above all, the differencies between each turn, this turns out to be a pretty good and engaging fight; especially considering how it involves actual platforming (the final part of each turn) and how it makes you rethink your strategy by altering the field you play on. Good job, N.Trophy. I almost feel sorry to destory you. …Naaaaah.

N. Gin

Do you remember N.Gin fight back from Crash 2? In this case, the programmers probably thought “How could we make it even better?”. But of course! Now complete the mech from the first game, give to the player the control of an actual spaceship (and this is the only boss battle where Coco comes in in Crash’s place)so he/she can move much more (also, shooting now makes sense, instead of the sudden-an-never-used-again-but-still-funny Wumpa shooting ability out of nowhere), and give to the battle even more dynamicity, with missiles coming at you with a much bigger frequency. And keep the 5-parts life bar, each part represented by a part of the mech’s body. Also, now his arms have laser gatlings mitras. And you’re on the moon. Moreover, this time you have a lifebar as well (taken straight from the plane levels, obviously), which actually allows for the battle to be more difficult, a bigger challenge: now that it doesn’t just take one hit for you to die, there’s more that can be done. What else could be done for a fight like this? …A twist, of course! This is also the only fight featuring such a mechanic, since the defeated space mech enters in a bigger shell, and now the battle renewes (so much your battleship gets a small transformation since now Tiger joins the battle. Wait, Tiger can drive battleships, what). An even bigger lifebar for N.Gin, four missiles allotments, two arms with a different kind of projectiles and, from the bottom, N.Gin shoots what’s probably the most insedious danger: a lingot-like shaped projectile that takes lots of hits to be destroyed. And there are still missiles and projectiles to destroy / avoid while trying to destroy the big mech’s parts. This fight is very hectic, but the major criticism that could be sustained is that it doesn’t stop you from spamming your own projectiles, since you shoot them at a much faster rate than the Wumpas from Crash 2. Now, again, this fight is so tense and faster than the precedent game that, if you could shoot at the same rate as Crash back then, it would be impossible…but, at the same time, I can see where this comes from: just keeping your finger on the button to shoot, you can justN.Gin’s mech while moving furiously from one side to another of the screen. Maybe, a small colldown time (2-3 seconds) after a specific amount of projectiles shoot / time period spent shooting continously could have led another layer for the battle, i.e. how to manage your weapons: shooting always and then wait for them to be loaded again or shooting with smaller pauses that make them “cooler” without resorting to the cool down? Even by taking into consideration this factor, this is an evolution of Crash 2’s battle. And it’s very good.

Dr. Neo Cortex

Third time I uses this kind of question, but who cares: do you remember Neo Cortex’s fight back in Crash 2, right? That dull, unepic, bothced “fight”? Well…here they changed it completely, and for the better. This time, it’s more traditional: Cortex shoots at you a few times, while surrounded by a shield, then he throws mines on the ground, and that’s the exact time the shield disappears. Once you attack him, you need to throw him in the central pit, despite all the mines possibly helping or obstacolating you by sending Cortex’s body here and there. And Cortex’s attacks change a bit between each turn. Not extremely so. But Aku Aku and Uka Uka’s fight is different each time. Yes, the ultimate fight between good and evil between the two masks happens while you’re fighting Cortex. And the dynamics change a lot each turn. At first, it’s just them looking each other in their eyes, shooting lasers, with the distance between them changing costantly. Then, a supernatural vortex that travels on the field. Finally, a fight so intense that, after a few seconds, a big explosion is produced. When you mix the two dimensions of this fight (defend from Cortex’s attacks and attack him + avoid at all costs what the two masks are doing), you get a cocktail that tastes good, difficult and, above all, it has the good old taste of a final battle. Exactly what the second game lacked completely.

So, there we have it, a list of descriptions / analysis of all the boss fights from the two games and…I must admit, I never thought it would’ve been so one-sided. I didn’t ever put so much into looking at each boss’s element and it surprised me to see that one of the game features a bigger amount of good / great boss fights with just one stinker, while the other has one decentish fight, two good ones (N.Gin is very good here as well), and two that are bad, with one being the final boss fight. Thus, in terms of boss fight, I have to say that Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped is the better game, and it isn’t as a close fight as I thought years ago.

Eh, I wonder how this will go with the next parts of this feature. And who knows when they will come up.

See you soon, world

P.S. #westandforfemalesingamingindustry

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