Curses ‘N Chaos Review

Curses ‘N Chaos is a wave-based, arena-brawler by indie developer Tribute Games. Though the game is simplistic, its fun co-op gameplay and sharp challenge make for an addicting experience.

Players take control of Lea and Leo, two bounty hunters who have been cursed by the Wizard King, leaving them prey to hordes and hordes of monsters. An alchemist named Allison advises the dup that they can break the curse with the Elixir of Life, but in order to obtain it, Leo and Lea must defeat the monsters.

That’s the backdrop for the action, with each stage being a single-screen arena in which players must survive wave after wave of enemies, topped off with a boss encounter. In between stages, players can purchase items from Allison with the gold they’ve collected, or even have the alchemist combine items to create new tools to aide you in battle.

During gameplay, players can punch, jump-kick, and uppercut enemies, as well as use items to heal yourselves or damage enemies, and dance (with Leo doing a comical gyration and Lea shaking what her mama gave her), which adds to your total points.

Each player has their own health, but both of them share the same pool of lives. Similarly, each player can hold one item at a time, but a third item can be saved for later by giving it to a friendly owl named Owliver, whom you can call back to drop the item later.

Curses ‘N Chaos has some fun tricks up its sleeve to keep things interesting: Each wave includes a timer that, if it reaches zero before every enemy is defeated, will summon Death to the battlefield, who can kill either hero in a single hit (Death himself cannot be harmed, and every enemy in the wave must be dealt with before he can disappear). Players can increase their points if they can continuously defeat enemies without getting hit, but this once again works as a pool, with the combo continuing for both players, and being broken if just one of them is hit. The aforementioned item combinations also prove to be a fun mechanic, as you can create new items that wouldn’t appear during gameplay beforehand, and make items that greatly enhance their normal effects (clovers, for example, increase your combo’d points by five, while the crafted horseshoe item doubles that).

The gameplay is incredibly simple, but it’s equally as addicting. Curses ‘N Chaos will have you and a friend on the edge of your seats trying to keep your combos alive, and will have you both discussing strategies of how to best handle a wave of enemies or how to defeat a boss. Perhaps the only major downside is that said bosses provide a considerable curve in difficulty. Though the bosses can be fun, you may find that you can get through all of a stage’s waves without dying, only for the boss to immediately drain both players of their lives within seconds.

Curses ‘N Chaos is a game tailor-made for two players, and I’m afraid the game loses a good deal of its appeal when going solo. The enemy waves and bosses are the same, but since they were created with two players in mind, playing alone can become really frustrating really fast.

Still, if you have a friend by your side, Curses ‘N Chaos provides a good time. Its addictive gameplay is complimented by charming, 8-bit visuals and a catchy musical score that sounds like a cross between Ghosts ‘N Goblins and Kirby. It may lack substance, but Curses ‘N Chaos makes up for it by providing a well thought-out co-op experience. It may just bring you and your friend closer.




Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage! Review

Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage!

Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage! was Insomniac’s second entry in their Spyro the Dragon series, and continued the Sony Playstation’s unique brand of platforming heroes during the late 90s. It’s sister series, Crash Bandicoot, struck gold with its second entry, and in many ways, Spyro did just the same for his second outing: It was bigger, more varied, and had more polish. But while Crash Bandicoot 2 has only minimally been affected by age, some of Spyro 2’s elements have suffered a bit more with time, thus holding back an otherwise solid platformer.

This second Spyro adventure features similar gameplay to the first title: Spyro still runs, jumps, headbutts, glydes and breathes fire at enemies. His sidekick Sparx the dragonfly still serves as Spyro’s health meter and grabs nearby gems. But there have been some changes and additions to the formula as well.

While Spyro still has to collect gems, he no longer needs to rescue his fellow dragons (a fairy now serves as a checkpoint, and saving can now be done any time via the pause menu). In their place are Talismans and Orbs. Each level contains one Talisman, acquired simply by reaching a certain goal, and are needed to progress in the adventure. The Orbs are optional, and anywhere between two and four of them can be found in a stage or world.

Defeating enemies no longer gives Spyro additional gems. Instead, each level contains a special power-up gate (super jump, super fire breathe, etc.) that requires a certain number of enemies to be defeated before its granted power-up becomes available.

Throughout the course of the game, Spyro can learn how to swim and climb, and even gains a new headbash attack. But it isn’t just new abilities that separate Ripto’s Rage! from its predecessor, as there’s a stronger sense of variety to be found in the gameplay and levels.

Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage!At first, Spyro 2 may seem smaller than the original, with only three hub worlds compared to the first game’s six. But these three are all much bigger, and house more levels within them. Each level presents a different theme, and along with the usual likes of water and forests, some levels introduce more unique themes like the Himalayas (complete with monks and a yeti) or a level built around mad scientists. Although the ultimate goal of each stage is more or less to get to the end and nab the Talisman, each level puts a nice little spin on the premise with different challenges and stories, with each stage beginning and ending with a short cutscene that provides some simple humor and personality.

Additional gameplay variety is provided through mini-games. Most stages feature a good mini-game or two to change the pace from the item collecting. The majority of the mini-games are good fun, but others can be a bit clunky, leaving things feeling a bit inconsistent. There are some particularly annoying instances where not all of the mechanics of a mini-game are explained beforehand. An early stage features a hockey mini-game where Spyro has to keep the puck in his mouth and spit it into the enemy’s goal. In my first few tries I kept trying to headbutt or breathe fire to move the puck, since nothing informed me otherwise. If a mini-game deviates from the overall game’s usual mechanics, it’s nice to be informed of such.

However, the mini-games – and the other methods of acquiring the orbs – ultimately make the game feel more versatile and less repetitious than its predecessor. Even with the lesser mini-games in tow, their addition is more welcome than cumbersome.

Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage! features a more prominent story and use of cutscenes than the first game, and although they end up being a tad excessive, this game’s writing and voice acting are a big improvement over the first Spyro (Tom Kenny now voices the titular dragon and a few other characters), so it’s far from bad.

Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage!The story is simply that Spyro is in need of a vacation, but upon entering the portal to his desired vacation spot, he is instead transported to another world called Avalar. It turns out, a scientist of Avalar, simply called “The Professor,” as well as a faun named Elora and a cheetah named Hunter, have created a portal to other worlds, and accidentally brought the Napoleon-esque dictator Ripto into Avalar. Ripto and his cohorts have taken over the joint, but Ripto has a fear and hatred of dragons, so Elora had the idea to bring Spyro to Avalar to defeat Ripto and his goons. It’s a simple, cartoonish plot, but it works for what it is.

In what seems to be the usual case for these early 3D platformers, the camera can be more than a little unreliable. It hasn’t really been improved from the first game, and when swimming or flying, it can even feel more clunky than before. It’s never game-breaking, but it does feel more noticeable in this second game. The swimming mechanics themselves, while a logical addition to gameplay, also feel a little dated when playing today.

Aside from the camera and some of the new mini-games and mechanics, Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage! is a solid improvement over its predecessor: The core gameplay remains smooth and the collecting is less monotonous. The worlds are bigger and the stages more varied. The graphics are cleaner and more colorful, and the music has also been upped a notch. The characters are cute and the boss fights, while few in number, are fun.

It might not hold up quite as well as Crash Bandicoot’s second performance, but Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage is further proof that the Playstation’s platforming heroes only got better with subsequent entries.



Crash Bandicoot: Warped Review

Crash Bandicoot: Warped

When it comes to discussing the best entry of any beloved video game series, you’ll usually find a range of answers. Very rarely does a series have an entry that’s almost unanimously hailed as the best. Crash Bandicoot: Warped is one of those few, as it is consistently cited as the best Crash Bandicoot game. It’s with good reason. Crash Bandicoot: Warped is the best Crash Bandicoot game.

Threequels can go either way in the video game world. They’re either the point in a series where the ideas have seemingly wrung dry, and the game just seems to go through the motions, or they’re the point where creators really prove their mettle by continuously improving their craft.

Crash Bandicoot: Warped falls under the latter category of course. Taking most of its immediate predecessor’s best assets, Warped added a number of fun ideas of its own into the mix, producing the culmination of Naughty Dog’s vision for the Crash Bandicoot series.

The game uses a similar setup to Cortex Strikes Back, with the “Warp Room” concept now being expanded to one larger room leading to five smaller chambers, with each housing five levels and a boss.

Crash Bandicoot: WarpedCrash retains all of his moves from Cortex Strikes Back, but this time around he also gains new abilities after defeating the game’s bosses. The new moves include a double jump, a super spin (which also allows Crash to glide), and even a bazooka!

Levels are still played in a 2.5D perspective, with the quality of level design equalling and surpassing that of Crash 2. But Warped doesn’t just settle for matching its predecessor, and new types of stages are also introduced in addition to the platforming stages. Crash Bandicoot, as well as his sister Coco, now partake in motorcycle races, jetski obstacles courses, and aerial dogfights, among other new concepts. Admittedly, the number of these vehicle stages comes at the price of less platforming stages than its predecessor, but Warped’s variety is consistently impressive.

As was the case with the second game, a crystal must be collected on every level to progress further, with each stage also housing one or two secret gems (one gem for breaking every crate in a level, with the potential second gem usually being tucked away in a secret area).

Warped ups the ante for completionists however. In addition to the returning crystals and gems, Crash and Coco now have the option to collect relics. Players can return to any completed stages to partake in that level’s time trial mode. Complete a level fast enough, and Crash is rewarded with a relic. Only the third-tier “sapphire” relics are needed to unlock secret stages, but for those seeking the game’s greatest challenge, you can always go for the gold and platinum relics.

Crash Bandicoot: Warped’s levels aren’t quite as difficult as those in Cortex Strikes Back on their own, but getting every gem is as challenging as anything in its predecessor, and completing the time trials is a whole other beast entirely. This makes Warped the most “all audiences” Crash title, as less experienced players will have a decent challenge just getting through the game, while diehards have a hefty task waiting for them with the gems and relics.

The story this time around is that, after his defeat in Crash Bandicoot 2, Dr. Cortex and his space station crash down to Earth, accidentally freeing an evil voodoo mask named Uka Uka in the process. Two notable retcons take place here: The first is that Uka Uka was apparently the mastermind behind Cortex’s previous evil schemes, and the second is that Uka Uka is the evil brother of Aku Aku, the voodoo mask who was previously just a power-up in the past games, but is now a full-fledged character.

Crash Bandicoot: WarpedUka Uka is angered with Cortex’s failings in the past, and once again seeks the power of the crystals and gems to take over the world. But after the events of Crash Bandicoot 2, the crystals and gems have lost their power. So Uka Uka recruits fellow villain Dr. N. Tropy – who dabbles in time travel – to aide them in claiming the crystals and gems in the distant past, where they still have full power. Aku Aku then sends Crash and Coco through time in order to stop his brother, Cortex and N. Tropy’s plot.

While the time travel setup may sound like a gimmick, it actually helps the game stand out from its predecessors all the more. While Crash 1 and 2’s levels stuck closely with themes of water, snow, and the like, Warped instead has stages based on ancient Egypt, medieval times, an under construction Great Wall of China and, of course, dinosaurs.

In an interesting twist, none of the game’s world’s adhere to a singular theme, and the gimmicks are instead thrown about almost randomly. You’ll go from one backdrop to another and back again. In lesser hands this may just seem inconsistent, but here it works in Naughty Dog’s favor, as the sporadic nature of the level’s themes seems to reflect the game’s energy and sense of humor.

The overall sense of control feels more finely-tuned than in the past games, with Crash’s movements feeling more fluid than before. The visuals, while admittedly aged, also look more polished, with the animations being more vibrant than ever. Similarly, the music has taken another leap forward, with Warped having the best soundtrack of Naughty Dog’s trilogy of platformers. Even loading screens are made fun by the presence of various characters speaking to the player as the levels load up, giving you brief glimpses into their entertaining personalities.

As entertaining as Crash Bandicoot: Warped still is, however, the tricky perspectives of its predecessors are still present, and they have only become more noticeable with age. The game’s fixed perspectives still lead to confusion as to the placement of some objects and enemies, leading to some accidental deaths. And while the game’s bosses are a step up from the past two games, the final boss is once again a bit of a letdown (Uka Uka’s presence in the final battle is little more than an obstacle that needs to be jumped over).

Admittedly, some of Warped’s new ideas also fall short of their potential: Coco Bandicoot is introduced as a playable character, but all of her stages involve either riding in vehicles or on the back of a tiger, so she ends up feeling like a missed opportunity at some variety in the platforming gameplay. The aforementioned motorcycle stages, while a nice change of pace, are a bit basic and lack much distinction between one another.

Crash Bandicoot: WarpedWhen all is said and done though, Crash Bandicoot: Warped remains one of the original Playstation’s highlights. Crash Bandicoot started his gaming career as a bit of a manufactured gaming mascot, but with Crash Bandicoot 2 and, ultimately, this title, Crash became a genuine video game star.

It is a little bit of a bittersweet affair. Crash Bandicoot: Warped marked the last time Naughty Dog made a platformer starring the titular character before he got passed around to various other developers like a hot potato, never again reaching the heights of Warped.

Naughty Dog has gone on to make Jak & Daxter, Uncharted, and The Last of Us to immense acclaim, but many still hope that somehow the developer finds their way back to Crash Bandicoot one day. Playing Crash Bandicoot: Warped is still a blast even today, but it’s also a bittersweet reminder of the fruitful future for Crash Bandicoot that could have been.



Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back Review

Crash Bandicoot 2

What a difference one sequel can make. Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back was not only better than its predecessor back in its day, but the years have only magnified what an improvement it really was. The original Crash Bandicoot has its place in history, but many of its aspects now feel archaic. Crash Bandicoot 2 now feels closer to the proper realization of what Naughty Dog was trying to achieve when they created the Playstation’s original mascot.

Crash Bandicoot 2 takes the assets of the first game, and polishes them while also giving the formula more depth.

The core gameplay remains the same: Crash still jumps and spins his way through levels, which are presented in 2.5D. But Crash has some new moves this time around. He can now crouch, crawl, and slide. Jumping while crouching or sliding gives Crash a higher and longer jump, respectively. And Crash also gets his own equivalent of Mario’s stomp attack, but in keeping with the Bandicoot’s sense of humor, Crash falls flat on his face, in contrast to Mario’s fancier acrobatics.

Other then the new moves, a lot of the game is more of a refinement than a reinvention of the series. The graphics are more polished and colorful, the music is a lot more memorable and catchy, and the level design is more creative, with an added dose of story to compliment it.

Crash Bandicoot 2The plot is appropriately simple, but surprisingly thought out for a platformer that relishes in cartoonish silliness: After his defeat in the first game, the evil Dr. Neo Cortex stumbled across a magic crystal, and learned it held immense power. With his armies defeated and his former assistant Dr. N. Brio – tired of Cortex’s abuse – turning a new leaf, Cortex’s only ally is the cyborg-like Dr. N. Gin. Needing someone to help find the remaining crystals to complete a super weapon (mad scientists aren’t made for that kind of work), Cortex manipulates a gullible Crash Bandicoot into believing he’s seen the error of his ways, and convinces Crash to gather the crystals as a means to save the planet.

Meanwhile, Dr. N. Brio, trying to stop Cortex’s evil plot, also seeks Crash’s help in gathering magic gems which can help him defeat his former employer. But Cortex is a bit more convincing, so N. Brio sends his remaining forces to stop Crash, should he continue to aid Cortex (which explains the enemies and bosses standing in the player’s way).

The story continues throughout the game via holographic messages from the mad doctors (and Crash’s sister, Coco) in the game’s hub world. It’s a setup that really works in the game’s favor, and this is a good instance of the plot intertwining with gameplay, instead of being an excuse for it.

Crash Bandicoot 2’s levels all house one crystal – usually found towards the end of a stage and in the open – which are required to progress further in the game, and one or two gems, which are optional and sometimes well hidden.

Crash Bandicoot 2Every level has one gem that is acquired by breaking every crate found in the stage, similar to the first game. Mercifully, having to survive the entirety of a level is no longer an additional requirement. The other gems are found by other means (usually via bonus areas or performing special actions in particular levels), and sometimes involve backtracking and return visits.

The game’s later levels can get decently difficult, but you shouldn’t have too much trouble if you only wish to blast through the game and nab the crystals. But obtaining every gem is a task for those seeking a real challenge. There are a few gems where the tasks required to get them can feel convoluted or tedious, leading to some frustrating moments, but most are a fair challenge.

Another very important aspect that Crash 2 improves on its predecessor is saving. The original Crash Bandicoot’s save feature was more than a little bit of a mess, requiring players to collect tokens to play bonus stages to win the opportunity to save. Cortex Strikes Back instead includes a basic save feature in the game’s hub world, and all Crash has to do is walk up to a wall to save in between levels. Compared to its predecessor, it’s a godsend.

Crash Bandicoot 2Crash Bandicoot 2 also tweaks the level progression, with each stage accessed through the innovative “Warp Rooms.” Warp Rooms are condensed spaces that each grant Crash access to five levels apiece, which gives the game a more unique setup than the original’s more generic world map.

There are a few drawbacks to Crash’s otherwise stellar sequel, however. Along with some of the gems feeling like a chore to obtain, the game retains some of its predecessor’s tricky perspectives, with some areas becoming more difficult because you can’t make out the distance between objects. Boss fights are still nothing to boast about, with the final boss in particular being a big letdown.

All things considered, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back remains a textbook example of how to do a proper sequel. It learned from its predecessor’s mistakes and not only touched them up, but also created a heftier and more varied gaming experience of its own. Time may not have been kind to the original Crash Bandicoot, but Cortex Strikes Back remains one of the series’ finest moments. It’s still a whole lot of fun.



Crash Bandicoot Review

Crash Bandicoot

Back in the 1990s, animal mascots were all the rage in video games. Sonic the Hedgehog was a wild success, even surpassing Mario’s popularity for a time. But while Sonic may have been way past cool, he inspired just about every developer to try their hand at an “animal with attitude” character, in hopes of replicating his success, with mostly disappointing results. Most of the would-be mascots inspired in Sonic’s wake were uninspired, forced, and quickly forgotten. One exception, however, was 1996’s Crash Bandicoot, created by Naughty Dog.

Crash not only became popular, he was even seen as the unofficial face of the Sony Playstation for a time. Crash was successful enough to start a franchise and put Naughty Dog on the map. Unfortunately for Crash, his debut outing has suffered the effects of time, with many of its elements showing their age in prominent ways.

Crash Bandicoot is a 2.5D platformer, with 3D characters and environments, and a mostly 3D perspective, but Crash moves in a fixed path. It was more of an attempt at creating a 2D platformer from a 3D point of view, as opposed to a open 3D platormer like Super Mario 64, released the very same year as Crash.

Crash BandicootNor was Crash’s moveset as versatile as Mario’s. Crash can jump and perform a spin attack to wipe out enemies. A tiki mask named Aku Aku works as the game’s sole power-up (found in some of the game’s many breakable crates), and can be stacked up to three times (the first two work like shields to make Crash more durable, while a third Aku Aku grants temporary invincibility). Additionally, Wumpa Fruits work like Mario’s coins or DK’s bananas, with an extra life granted for every one-hundred you can nab.

The story served as a means to introduce Crash Bandicoot to the world. The mad scientist Dr. Neo Cortex is experimenting on animals, forcefully evolving them to create an army of animal soldiers to take over the world. Crash is an evolved bandicoot from these experiments, but ends up rebelling against the mad doctor. Crash manages to escape Cortex’s lab, but ends up on a far off island. With Crash’s girlfriend Tawna still in the hands of Cortex, Crash sets out to save her.

The plot really is inconsequential, but it does try to give the characters some fun, cartoony personalities, though those personalities didn’t truly shine through until the sequels.

Crash Bandicoot’s level design provides a handful of fun stages, but a lot of them can feel rather bland. The levels themselves can sometimes prove difficult, though you’ll probably lose more lives due to the fixed camera work, which is so focused on Crash himself that you can’t always make out the distances in jumps and the placements of objects and traps. Crash’s less-than ideal jumping physics don’t exactly help, either.

Crash BandicootThere are a few boss fights found in between some of the game’s thirty-two stages, but they end up being rather dull and easy. You may struggle to get to these boss encounters, only to feel the payoff wasn’t worth it.

The worst aspect of this original Crash Bandicoot, however, is the awkward save feature. In a baffling design decision, the primary means of saving is by completing certain bonus stages, which are unlocked in certain levels by obtaining three token’s shaped like Tawna’s mug (tokens shaped like the villain’s faces also appear in certain stages with bonuses of their own). But even if you manage to get to Tawna’s bonus round you can miss the chance to save if you die in the bonus round, and you can’t redo these bonuses again in the same playthrough. 

The only other method of saving is by collecting gems. Gems are secret items that are earned by destroying every crate in a stage without dying. That might not sound too difficult, except that some crates are hidden, and there’s no way of knowing how many you missed unless you’ve completed the level without dying. Worse still, much of the game’s difficulty stems from trial-and-error, and you often have to lose a few times in order to memorize a stage’s layout. This convoluted save feature often means you’ll go through several levels without a chance to save, making game overs feel like a crushing blow as you have to redo much of your progress.

Crash BandicootYou can always quit the stage and start over (being forced to sit through more load times) to reset any possible deaths, or come back and try a level again later, but asking players to jump through so many hoops just to get the opportunity to save the game is beyond outrageous. The ability save should just be included at all times or by reaching certain points and clearing certain levels. Saving your progress shouldn’t be an optional reward.

Still, there is some fun to be had with Crash Bandicoot, but it all only goes so far: The simple gameplay works well enough (though this too would be refined in the sequels). The graphics, while aged, at least show off the game’s sense of humor (Crash’s death animations provide Looney Tunes-style slapstick). The music is fun if maybe not entirely memorable. And every now and again you’ll come across a solidly fun stage.

The sad thing is most of the game’s best bits feel mediocre when compared to both today’s standards and the better platformers of the time (not only was Mario 64 released the same year, but Sega’s Nights Into Dreams as well). The worst aspects of Crash Bandicoot – namely the dumbfounding save feature – have only devolved all the more with time.

Crash Bandicoot may have created a star out of its titular hero, but the framework was bettered by the two succeeding games in the series by some margin. The original may have laid the groundwork for the sequels to justify Crash Bandicoot’s popularity in the 1990s, but the sad truth is the original title may be better left to memories.