Crash Bandicoot was one of the defining titles of the early Playstation era, helping to mould the image of the system. It has come a long way since those early days of linear, scrolling action - the fact that the game is no longer developed by its creators at Naughty Dog but has since been farmed out to Publisher Vivendi Universal and UK developers Traveller's Tales (themselves no strangers to working with outside entities, having developed the Sonic 3D and Sonic R games for Sega in the past) is something of a testament to how the property has fallen to the wayside of late; a sadly familiar pattern; comparable to other famed Playstation darlings such as Tomb Raider or Wipeout.
Is Crash Twinsanity, then, merely an attempt to polish up an old great with little success? Sadly yes - the bad news is that this latest game is unlikely to herald the return of Crash to the forefront of cutting-edge 3D platformers. There is little to no evidence of creative vision here, and in few examples is this more evident than in tacked-on elements such as the stealth sections. Twinsanity sees a number of alterations and additions to the formula of Crash Bandicoot, the most notable unique selling point being the inclusion of Crash's nemesis Dr Cortex, as both a playable character and an extension of Crash's attacking repertoire. The biggest consequence this has on the game is the ability to throw the good doctor across un-jumpable spaces to switch levers and raise bridges. Rarely is this used to much more devastating effect, the solution to the problem being always apparent from the outset. While some interesting and satisfying puzzles are present, they are far too few and far between to make up the slack. There are also sections where the player gets to control other characters and these can be interesting asides at times, however their contrived nature is difficult to mask. At its absolute best, Crash Twinsanity is convincingly pedestrian - echoes of the series' previous heights ring literally in the ears of the player as they collect apples, smash crates and spin around the levels, and feelings of deja-vu permeate much of the game.
One thing the game does have going for it is its polish and considered presentation. Crash is animated beautifully and his movement is smooth and precise. The visual style of the game is highly reminiscent of Saturday morning cartoons. The cartoon appeal of the game is heightened by its comedic slant; with dialogue written by a former Ren & Stimpy writer, Crash Twinsanity can at least make a rightful claim to being the "funniest Crash adventure ever". The game also provides a fun, toe-tapping soundtrack which fits in perfectly with the cartoon theme, characterised by kid's nursery tunes such as 'Row Row Row your Boat' and so forth. All are well produced and typify the style and content of the game.
The most damning criticism of the game is that, underneath the occasional bugs and questionable design decisions, the play mechanic is solid and shows that, with more care and attention (or perhaps more time), the game could have been very good indeed. Platforming is precise and Crash moves with fluidity. His abilities are clever and the traditional Crash gameplay shines through despite the shortcomings of the more exploration-based sections of the game. Indeed, Twinsanity is at its best when you are being chased down-screen by an angry bear or anthropomorphised ships come looking for fresh meat, jumping, spinning and dodging as you go. Fun too are the sections where you must protect another character (usually Cortex) from being attacked as they make their way along obstacle courses seemingly designed by Wyle E. Coyote himself. Errors made in these sections are acceptable as mistakes made on the behalf of the player himself. Keep trying, remembering and reacting and you'll pass through to the next sections.
The same can't be said for the rest of the game, unfortunately. Indeed, as previously mentioned, the game has been the subject of some rather lazy design - the promise that the game so clearly shows on most levels is dashed resolutely by the trial-and error gameplay. While most levels are impressive to behold in terms of scale and overall design, they frequently prove to be choresome to tackle - checkpoints are often placed frustratingly before un-skippable cut-scenes, while the player is often expected to make daring and altogether unfair leaps of faith in order to progress; in other words, the only way to find out how to do it is to find out what kills you first. In more ways than one the game is genuinely unfair - very surprising given the young age category the game is clearly aimed at. Rules change constantly (hazards which instantly kill you have no effect on enemies, Cortex has a teleport ability which the player can't use at all, etc), which serves only to aggravate the player. Any level of imprecision is punished harshly, usually with instant death and a return to the last checkpoint (yes, meaning you have to watch the cut scene again) - this is offset by simply giving the player a shed load of extra lives so that they can progress eventually. The game also sees the player engage in stealth areas - no real consideration has been made for these sections and they really epitomise the way the game has been designed and also tie back into the way it cheats. Why bother with stealth when a spin-attack is enough to see off most other foes?
But the annoyance of these faults is nothing compared to the game's disturbing amount of bugs, glitches and generally low level design errors. Pass a jet of flame one platform below you and you might just end up burned; push a ball object across a series of platforms, but look out for the hole in the ground you have to walk over but can't see. Watch in confusion as an enemy remains rooted to the ground, spinning uncontrollably, or as the bear chasing you suddenly stops moving. Quite why the designers felt the need to include teleporter pads which send you back to the beginning of levels without telling you where they go first is truly a mystery for the ages. One thing is for sure though - you won't be happy about it when you get there.
Indeed, this lazy approach is taken in almost all areas of the game. Falling into holes kills you, touching water kills you, touching enemies kills you and touching hazards kill you - all instantly (apart from enemies - if you've got Aku Aku, Crash's protective Voodoo mask, you can withstand 2 hits). The fact that the game gives you such a plentiful supply of lives is a clear admission from the developer that the game is ridiculously punishing. Boss fights are another example of this, with victory or death assured within the first few seconds of the fight as the player either lands a succession of hits or dies trying. Suffice to say, there is little enjoyment to be had in such engagements or indeed reward - an enemy's weak spot is usually pointed out to the player with an on-screen textual reference.
Indeed, as the game is, it's a peculiar creation. On the one hand it is clearly designed with children in mind, while on the other it is difficult even in the realm of oft-tricky 3D platformers. The game gives no quarter, and seldom is this more keenly felt than on the inexperience of youth. Altogether the game is nothing short of average - it impresses occasionally, but disappoints and frustrates more often than not. With many superior games on the market, it's hard to recommend something which can be so acutely felt as a missed opportunity, even to fans of Crash Bandicoot. As a comical cartoon caper it succeeds, however as a return to grace for the aging bandicoot that is Crash, this is a disappointing letdown, and one that could well have been avoided were more time and consideration taken.