Reviewed: November 26, 2008
Released: October 21, 2008
Crash is back with the umpteenth title in his illustrious career with the recent release of Crash Bandicoot: Mind Over Mutant. It has been many years since Crash first landed (nice pun, eh?) on the original PlayStation console as Sony’s inaugural first-party platformer, developed by Jak and Daxter vets Naughty Dog.
Over the years, our favorite marsupial has been passed from hand to hand, and much like the similarly fated Spyro the Dragon (from Ratchet and Clank vets Insomnia) the results have been varied from good, to great, to downright terrible. Crash’s last outing, Crash of the Titans, was one of the better titles – sadly, Mind Over Mutant is not.
First and foremost, Mind Over Mutants might possibly hold the record for loading sequences on the PSP. At first, I thought it was just me being overly critical, but when my six year old son cried tears from the back seat of the minivan bawling “I keep trying to play it, and all it ever does is show me footprints!” – I knew it was the real deal.
It is almost as if Mind Over Matter was developed as an old school dungeon-crawler, with load screens between each room – only the loading screens drag on for a minute or more, with nothing more than a series of bandicoot footprints plodding across the screen. I would venture to say that over a quarter of the game is spent watching these hypnotic snooze-inducing sequences – and by guessing a quarter, I’m being conservative.
What’s worse is that these extended loading sequences are pretty much the only respite you get from the incredibly aggravating gameplay that is fouled completely by the most irritating camera system I have ever experienced in a game – hands down. I mean, if any hardcore gamers are actually reading this review, let me preface by saying that I was able to successfully manage the cameras in Panzer Dragoon Orta and Gunvalkyrie (both on the original Xbox, and both notorious for their difficult camera controls) – and I could not cope with Mind Over Matter’s horrendous fixed-angle camera at all.
The game nearly sent me to the asylum as I tried in vein to gauge Crash’s running and jumping on the scores of precarious ledges and drop-offs. I mean, c’mon – this is a platformer, people! Once developers came up with the moveable camera a decade ago, I though we all agreed to never go back – at least not with a 3D platformer.
And heaven forbid if Crash has to run toward the screen, because there is absolutely no warning about upcoming obstacles or enemies – they just appear out of nowhere and Crash immediately takes a hit, or plummets to certain doom. It doesn’t help that Crash’s entire body length is about a fifth of the screen height, either – he is hard enough to see as it is, at least they let us pan around to see what he is supposed to be jumping over!
I would like to say that the gameplay makes up for the terrible camera work – but even that would be a lie. The platforming itself is dull, boring, and often confusing. I don’t know how many times we wandered around aimlessly, searching for the next objective. This is especially in the underground tunneling sequences, which show as a semi-transparent Crash navigating around the Rorschach-inspired mazes. There is a bit of enjoyment to be found in controlling the mutants in the boss battle sequences, but these hardly make up for the game’s numerous other flaws.
One shining spot is in the presentation – which is truly above average, featuring a great number of well-produced cutscenes, and some of the best voice work found on the PSP. Each sequence is bookended by outrageously long loading sequences, of course, but at least the cinematic payoff is better than the gameplay.
I’m an old fan of the Crash Bandicoot license, and I have always loved the games for their clean, family friendly fun. Whether a blockbuster or a barnburner, I have always shared the Crash titles with my kids – and they have always had smiles on their faces. Mind Over Mutant is a different story in that it actually brought tears of frustration – for all of us.