November 13, 2008
Crash Bandicoot has endured as one of the major players in the platforming genre; a genre known for dozens of would-be mascots who usually only see a game or two before fading into obscurity. While never reaching the legendary status of Mario, Crash has avoided the level of hard times and critical blasting suffered by the Sonic franchise over the last several years. Now returning for his second round of action on the Xbox 360 in Mind Over Mutant, Crash hopes to keep alive the platforming genre; a genre which has been in steady decline for several years, and has too little of a presence on the 360.
Series villain Neo Cortex returns, and has invented a super-gadget, called the "NV" which seems like the ultimate all-in-one device. Cortex is even good enough to distribute this device to all the inhabitants of Wumpa Island for free. Of course, these devices do more than advertised, and once everyone on the island is enjoying NV bliss, Cortex engages a function that turns them all into mutated slaves under his mind control. Crash, of course, must venture out once again to save the day. Mind Over Mutant does a great job of telling this story is a humorous way, full of pop-culture parodies and references that will fly over children's heads, which giving older gamers a few chuckles. Over the course of the game, cartoons of various animation styles tell the story, and these styles often seem to be a deliberate type of parody on their own. Some scenes will evoke South Park comparisons, while another is blatantly Dragon Ball. All the sequences are well put together, and surprisingly, one of the most enjoyable parts of the game is watching the cartoons that come at story milestones.
The gameplay is also solid, if extremely traditional to genre conventions. Controls are tight and responsive, with the camera well positioned to provide a helpful view of the action. Besides traditional platforming action, players will be able to "jack" various mutants to make use of their combat prowess or special powers; from freezing water to telekinesis to slowing down time, there's a good amount of variety to be had in the game's roster of controllable mutants. These mutants, as well as Crash himself, can level up and become more powerful by collecting "mojo" orbs scattered throughout the game, which can be obtained by smashing objects, or they're dropped by defeated enemies. Landing multiple attacks without getting hit multiplies the amount of mojo received, so careful combat pays off.
Combat in Mind Over Mutant couldn't be more basic, and plays like any beat-'em-up game ever made. There's a light attack, which causes less damage, but is fast, and a slower heavy attack that deals more damage. The heavy attack becomes useful for breaking enemy blocks, and a well-timed press of the heavy-attack button can cause Crash to evade and counter an incoming enemy attack. While controlling mutants, Crash can no longer counter, but he has access that mutant's special ability. The quality of mutants varies, with the melee mutants feeling incredibly powerful and fun to use, and the mutants with ranged attacks feeling useless. Aiming controls for distance attacks are just too awkward and inefficient to make ranged attack mutants very viable in combat. The system is simple enough that kids will be able to pick up this game and play it without difficulty, however, the lack of depth to it threatens to make it repetitive and boring as the hours tick by.
Level designs do a good job of mixing up platforming action with combat, as well as throwing around obstacles that require the talents of a specific mutant to pass. However, like the platforming mechanics, the level selection is completely genre standard. Forest area? Check. Desert zone, Ice world, caves galore? You bet. All these areas are connected to each other in a way that lends Mind Over Mutant an "open world" feel too it. Unfortunately, this will lead to much suffering for the average gamer. For that first hour or two, Crash is traditional platforming bliss, but then the back-tracking starts, with story objectives requiring players to travel clear from one end of the game world to the other, and back again. There's no warping ability either, or any other option to quickly get from one area to another, meaning players will re-tread some areas of the game four or more times by the time they reach the ending! It's so bad, they even a joke about it in a cut scene late in the game. While a limited warp ability is granted near the end, it still can't prevent a large amount of back-tracking through previously cleared areas. Ultimately, while the levels are fun, that fun is sapped by having to tread through them over and over, making Mind Over Mutant feel like a game designed to pad what content it has, instead of offering more for players to enjoy. Since the story will only take a measly six to seven hours to complete on the medium difficulty, there's really only 3-4 hours of fresh content here, if you don't include back-tracking.
When looking at the game, it's clear the graphics were scaled up from the Wii version. While the graphics are bright and colorful, the level of detail isn't nearly what we've come to expect in an Xbox 360 game. The audio, fortunately, fares better, with a surprising amount of spoken material, delivered in a style appropriate for the game's cartoon nature. The music, while peppy and in-keeping with the style, quickly becomes repetitive, making custom soundtracks an appealing option for extended play sessions.
Mind Over Mutant's achievements are a horribly bland affair. Some will come with story progression, while others involve defeating X of a certain enemy type. The other achievements, however, are a complete grind-fest, requiring hunting down a large number of collectables, or fighting enemies forever to max out the levels of each type of mutant. By the time I finished the story, I was still light years from having all the possible mutant upgrades. The co-op achievements were nice in theory, but will be quite an annoyance to anyone with out a buddy to play with, since co-op is local only. Seriously, who wants to wade through and grind and collect a billion things anyway?
I really, really wanted to like Crash: Mind Over Mutant. The controls, with the exception of ranged attacks, are solid, and it has all the makings of a great platformer, from abilities to level design. However, that basic fun in spoiled by the fact that the game can be completed in under seven hours, and at least a third, if not a half, of that time gets spent back-tracking through areas previously explored. It seems like the back-tracking and collectables are designed to pad out the time players will spend in this game to the very limit and beyond... There just isn't enough content here to justify more than a rental.
The voice acting is great, but the music gets repetitive in a hurry.
Graphics are colorful, but lacking in detail. Mind Over Mutant is very clearly a scaled up Wii game.
The controls are usually tight, but the aiming controls for distance attacks leave something to be desired. The combat system is so basic, it threatens to become overly repetitive and boring as time goes by.
What levels exist here are well designed, but there are far too few of them; coupled with an inexcusable amount of back-tracking, and the story takes under seven hours to complete.
It's a very standard, uninspired list that will ultimately entail a lot of grinding to get the mutants leveled up, and finding all the collectables is a chore.
Mind Over Mutant has the building blocks of a great platformer, but with a dearth of content and an inexcusable amount of back-tracking, it's impossible to recommend this game for anything more than a rental.