Hey there, folks! It’s been a while since we last met, and to be honest the Video Game Dozen project has been kind of on the back burner for a while now. I was playing through Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and got further into that than I have for many years, but it was getting kind of repetitive and I’ve put that on hold for the time being. Recently, however, I did restart Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex on the GameCube, a game I have completed before but have never finished 100%. In a break from tradition, this evening I managed to fully 100% complete (or in this case 106% complete!) the game, and because it was my first time doing so I felt it qualified as a VGD entry. So, here comes the dissemination!
Warning: The following post contains potential plot spoilers. Please do not continue reading if you do not want to encounter these.
As you may or may not know, Wrath of Cortex is the fourth main entry in the Crash Bandicoot series, and follows on from Crash Bandicoot: Warped, the third game and final one released on the PSX. Wrath of Cortex was the first game in the series to be released on ‘next-gen’ consoles, i.e. the PS2, Xbox and GameCube, and sees Cortex and Uka Uka unleash a quartet of malevolent masks known as the Elementals to wreak havoc alongside Cortex’s newest bandicoot warrior creation: Crunch. Once again it’s up to Crash and Coco to stop Cortex and Uka Uka by gathering crystals to imprison the Elementals and save the world.
Unlike later Crash games, Wrath of Cortex is the last in the series to use the traditional ‘hub and individual levels’ format, with 5 hubs (and a secret sixth hub), each with 5 levels where you’re tasked with collecting a crystal, at least one gem, and a relic. Crystals are needed to advance the game, and they’re lying around in a usually easy-to-spot place on the level. Gems can be collected by smashing all of the crates on a level, as well as by completing death routes or gem routes and for a couple of other reasons as well (like completing the slalom course on Avalanche, for example). Relics can only be collected after getting the crystal on the level and require you to run through the level in a certain time limit, with time crates to temporarily stop the clock positioned along the route. Each offers its own unique challenge and counts towards the overall completion of the game, but as previously mentioned its only the crystals that are necessary to collect, so essentially you can make the game harder for yourself if you choose to do so by going for a completionist run, or simply play through the bare minimum and enjoy…most of the story (there is a special secret ‘true’ ending for 100% completing the game as well).
Initially, Wrath of Cortex starts out pretty low on the difficulty scale, but this quickly escalates as you get into the second hub and beyond. Some of the levels are hard enough just to get through even without the additional challenge of trying to get gems and relics in them. Indeed, there were times while I was playing the game where I was very much playing on out of stubbornness and determination to get 100% rather than out of any kind of fun or enjoyment, which is a shame because a game should always be fun even when it gets challenging. I think the thing that really did it for me was the relic challenges, because some of the levels are so long and have so many complex moments that you really don’t want to have to tackle at high speed, and when you throw in the complete lack of checkpoints on relic runs it really makes it that much harder and more frustrating when you’re on course to complete the level and then die somewhere stupid 20 feet from the end.
There is a great variety of levels in Wrath of Cortex, and a lot of them require the use of gimmicks that were introduced specifically in this game, such as the ‘hamster ball’ levels, plane levels, mech suit levels and so on. Even in the normal running levels there are no real consistent tropes or themes that are shared across more than a couple of levels, and even those that do generally have different interpretations of the level, such as a walking ice level and a hamster ball ice level, for example. This helps to keep things fresh and unpredictable but does make the game feel a bit gimmicky sometimes as it almost feels like they had to throw as much as they possibly could into this game and then create circumstances where you can use it for more than one level. One thing I don’t quite understand is why Coco doesn’t have access to the majority of the power-ups you collect through the game, such as the double jump, bazooka or tornado spin – trust me, you become so reliant on the double jump to get you out of situations and mishaps that having to play as Coco and not use it feels like you’re restarting the game from scratch…but on a much harder difficulty! I also coined the catchphrase “Thank goodness for a mask” during this playthrough for the sheer number of times Aku Aku saved me from really cocking up and having to do horrible and/or annoying bits over again. Believe me: this game definitely offers a challenge despite what the relatively simple first hub may suggest!
While there are bits of Wrath of Cortex I really like, I still think it falls short of both Crash 2 and Warped in terms of overall enjoyment, especially if you’re going for that 100% clearance. The graphics are very outdated, and to be honest don’t look much better than the original PSX games, and definitely fall short of what we’ve become used to now thanks to the N-Sane Trilogy on the PS4, Xbox One and Switch. After the first opening cut-scene, the story seems somewhat underdeveloped, and a lot of the dialogue is delivered rather unenthusiastically or is completely arbitrary, like the Elemental masks’ single line interruptions as you travel through their hubs. I was rather disappointed with the ‘true’ ending, not so much because of the plot line but because of the thoroughly half-hearted dialogue, script and animation that really seems sub-par for any video game let alone the fourth entry in a popular and successful series. Or at least, successful to this point – I guess there’s a reason why in TwinSanity Cortex is quoted as saying “Wrath of Cortex didn’t do as well as we’d hoped…” XD (I mean, who needs that fourth wall anyway, right Shawn?)
Out of the first four Crash games, I think Wrath of Cortex is probably the easiest to 100% complete because it doesn’t really require any lateral thinking – once you know that you have to get to the death route platform without dying and that for each coloured gem you collect a special route opens in another level, that’s it really. There’s no secret routes on any of the levels, and to unlock the secret hub room you simply need to collect relics from previous levels. The music throughout the game is really good although I am a little sad they dispensed with Cortex’s classic battle theme for some utterly generic music for the final boss battle. The boss battles in general are OK, you essentially fight against Crunch in all of them but with different elemental powers and gimmicks; I wouldn’t necessarily call all of them fun, but there’s enough variety there and the wind boss of hub 4 is quite a nice battle and harks back to the great N. Gin battle of Warped, which is awesome. Overall the game is a decent entry into the series and for what it is I would definitely rather play Wrath of Cortex than, say, Crash of the Titans. But I can see why they didn’t remake it when they did the N-Sane Trilogy.
Remember this? Here’s the VGD mural as it currently stands.
So… As I said, this project has been on the back burner for a while now and may well stay that way as we head towards the second half of 2019. One thing I am working on at the moment is attempting to play through all the main series Pokémon games in time for when Sword and Shield come out later this year. Currently I’m about halfway through Pokémon Yellow so I’ve got a long way to go, but if this works out then I would have 2 more games for the VGD in Crystal and Emerald, so that’s definitely something to consider. In terms of future updates, I wouldn’t encourage anyone to hold their breath, but, as they say, never say never. With that in mind, I guess…
I’ll see you after the next end credits!