There was a time when the plucky orange bandicoot we know as Crash was locked in competition with the lovely Lara Croft as they both battled to become the mascot of the new PlayStation console. At that time the SNES and Mega Drive were far from distant memories, and there was an unwritten gaming rule demanding that a platform-leaping figurehead supported all consoles.
While it is certainly arguable that Lara won the fight, for a few years it looked like Crash might manage to establish himself as a worthy member of the top class of platform heroes. Sadly, as the series developed, and Naughty Dog stopped working on the series, the Mario wannabe rather lost his way.
With that in mind, and considering the prevalence of third rate action games released for the Wii, I was quite understandably worried about Crash of the Titans. So the fact that Radical Entertainment's reinvention of Crash is actually fairly enjoyable comes as quite a surprise. It's certainly not anywhere near revolutionary, but is a decent enough platform game, and it does a rare job of making good use of combining traditional and motion sensitive controls.
In many ways, this latest iteration marks a return to the proven formula that made the first games so popular. As with the earliest Crash Bandicoot games, Titans is what might be best described as a corridor platformer, in that the path is mostly very linear, often enclosed, and rarely is anything other than the obvious just ahead of you. This is no bad thing however, as it keeps things moving nicely, and guarantees almost no back tracking. Lose all your lives though, and you can see yourself sent a rather unjust distance back to the beginning of a level, which of course means lots of treading over old ground.
'Upon defeating one of 15 types of larger enemies, a quick tap on the d-pad launches you onto their shoulders...'
There are as many new features as familiar elements too, with the most significant being the 'jacking' system. Upon defeating one of 15 types of larger enemies, a quick tap on the d-pad launches you onto their shoulders, upon which you can harness their power and control their movements. Most have a pair of basic melee moves, but their real use comes with their specific powers. Some can make projectile attacks, while others can deliver huge rock shattering blows.
Initially they appear throughout the levels in sections clearly designed to make use of their talents, but around a quarter of the way into the game you are introduced to 'food chaining'. This process involves jacking a relatively weak enemy which can be used to tackle the next biggest monster, which when repeated in cycle lets you move from one to another, until you can eventually straddle the shoulders of some enormous beasts.
Occasional levels do end up feeling a little too much like they are from a lazy brawler, but as you open up an array of combat moves new to Crash, scrappy button stabbing does give way to more practised fighting. During the moments in each level when you enter a huge arena filled with foes things can become really quite exciting as you struggle to climb from the smallest enemies to commanding the end of level bosses themselves.
As ever in a Crash Bandicoot title, the plot sees you attempting to thwart the evil Neo Cortex, and he returns on top form as an eccentric, likeable, blathering idiot. The dialogue is fairly sharp and the voice acting of a high standard, despite being a little brash and sporadically a touch heavy on the Americanisms. There are countless cameos from all kinds of characters from the series, and there is no doubt that the army of Crash fans who still maintain a vocal internet presence will likely give this one the thumbs up.
There's also a return of Mojo as the game's currency, which automatically rewards you with new abilities as you reach predetermined benchmarks in the number you have gathered. Destroying both enemies and scenery unleashes a satisfyingly high volume of the blue crystals, which can be picked up with the Wii pointer. In the early levels, scooping up Mojo using the cursor feels a little lazy, and takes some of the magic out of getting Crash to the hovering crystals yourself, but later in the game when you find yourself tackling multiple enemies whilst you teeter on an edge, having time to sweep your Wii-mote over the screen is quite a challenge. There's even a little strategy in choosing whether to prioritise targeting your enemies as they surround you, or garnering crystals from immediately around you in the hope of levelling-up and making the aforementioned enemies a little easier to defeat.
There are problems however. Apart from the relative lack of originality, Crash of the Titans quickly becomes rather repetitive, and despite all its wit and charm later levels do start to drag. The two-player co-op mode is rather ungainly too, and all too often one player can find themselves stuck at one end of the screen while the other is pinned against the opposite side, both trapped by their team mate's position.
Still, it is a pleasure to find that while lacking in any real finesse, Titans does feel like a proper Crash Bandicoot title. It is likely to be eclipsed by the attention Mario Galaxy attracts, but if you are after something more accessible, or just long to revisit the unofficial mascot of the first PlayStation, there are far less enjoyable Wii titles out there than Crash of the Titans.