A fitting end to the PS1 mascot’s adventures, bringing everything learnt from the previous three years to create the most polished and enjoyable experience yet.
EU (Incompatible in US)
World-building & Story
Following the destruction of the Cortex Vortex at the end of Cortex Strikes Back, Warped sees Dr Neo Cortex crash into a mountain range and inadvertently free Uka Uka, a sentient mask and evil twin brother of Aku Aku. Cortex and Uka Uka team up with Nefarious Tropy to build a time-twisting machine, which brings a number of different time periods to one point so they’re able to collect the crystals and gems in order to rule the world. Once again, it falls on Crash to put a stop to this plan.
Plot has never been central to any of the prior Crash Bandicoot games and that isn’t changed here (even if there is notably more than the first game or Cortex Strikes Back). Aside from the starting and ending cutscenes, all story development is handled by talking head scenes as Crash travels between levels – it’s a succinct way to progress things while focusing on the gameplay, although perhaps slightly disappointing given the steps forward rival franchises such as Spyro the Dragon were taking in the narrative department to great effect.
Still, the Crash series has always possessed a great roster of quirky and memorable characters and that’s definitely still the case here. Crash’s sister Coco gets more of a starring role this time around, while old favourite adversaries like N-Gin return for another round. One of my favourite scenes sees the imposing Australian cross-breed Dingodile threatening a defenceless penguin until our titular hero leaps in to help – it’s a funny scene and exactly the kind of moment that gives the series its identity.
Unlike the previous entries which often used the Australian outback to influence their level design, Warped presents a much different world with each group of levels representing a different time period (held together by a futuristic hub world). You’ll travel through medieval lands with knights and wizards, explore ancient Egyptian tombs and take to the skies in a fighter plane during World War I – while it could all be fairly realistic subject matter, it’s all given a cartoony over-the-top edge that makes it wholly unique and clever, definitely the best the series has ever been in world-building terms.
Presentation & Sound
Crash Bandicoot: Warped takes further presentational steps forward over its already-impressive predecessor to create what is undoubtedly one of the most gorgeous titles available on the PS1. Every little minute detail is in place to make you smirk with joy and the design variety is off the chart – it’s easy to see why Naughty Dog went on to bigger and better things.
Character models are, as always, fairly exceptional particularly in terms of animations. Crash himself bounds through the levels with gleeful happiness, doing his trademark dance whenever he finds a particularly difficult to acquire gem or relic. Everything else is great too – Pura somehow manages to be even more adorable than Polar, knights struggle to swing their gigantic swords around to hit anything and the Arabian levels are filled with fire traps thrown by people peering out of windows.
Environments are the best they’ve ever been in the series too – the variety afforded by the time-travel plot device means the designers can go nuts with crazy levels they couldn’t do previously. Racing down 1950’s streets on a motorbike is a simple yet effective shift in setting, while the futuristic levels set in Neo York do evoke a slight feel of the sewer levels from Crash 1, albeit much cleaner and more clinical.
What’s most impressive is how much can be going on at any one time – the Arabian and futuristic levels are particularly good at this, having loads of stuff on screen creating vast hazards you’ll need to weave through. It’s also notable how coherent each level feels – you’ll often step on moving platforms that whisk you away to other parts of the level but you’ll get to admire each zone along the way, making it feel more like each place you visit is its own distinct are rather than a series of platforming challenges.
Sound is more mixed – the music is decent with a few catchy tracks, but nothing compared to other contemporary platformers like Croc or Spyro. Effects are solid (particularly the whoosh of shooting down planes in the flying levels) but voice acting is up and down – Clancy Brown puts in a knock-out performance as Cortex, but other characters like N-Gin and Uka Uka are incredibly difficult to understand.
Gameplay & Content
By following the formula of the first two Crash Bandicoot games to a t but layering new elements on top, Warped manages to be the culmination of years of design and is easily the marsupial’s best adventure. At the same time, some of the new gameplay elements end up more frustrating than fun keeping the title from greatness.
Basic platforming gameplay is the same as ever – Crash either runs up, down or across the screen depending on the level you’re playing, in some tight corridor-based challenges. He can jump on enemies and crates, spin attack them, slide and crawl as well as a few new tricks he picks up from defeating bosses – some of which are extremely fun and useful (particularly the Wumpa Bazooka) and often bring with them new ways of tackling the obstacles in front of you.
Crash’s basic goal in each level is to obtain the crystal, once he has collected all five in a particular area he can progress to the boss. Warped is considerably easier than its predecessors in terms of just clearing the level, but difficulty is added from destroying all the boxes or doing a ‘relic run’ – which means getting to the exit as quickly as you can. This adds a significant amount of post-completion content to sink your teeth into and is well worth checking out, even if the speed runs can get frustrating at times.
The platforming here has been tightened up even further thank before and is the best it’s ever been, helped by a number of really clever challenges and obstacles to make your way past. You’ll regularly be making your way over bottomless pits while sliding through oil, all the while avoiding girders falling from the ceiling – and that’s just the Egyptian levels! The Arabian levels also feature some inspired design as you make your way between flying carpets avoiding fire traps and pot-balancing enemies along the way.
As with many 3D platformer series that spawn multiple sequels, Warped experiments with new gameplay ideas that significantly change the way you’ll play in a specific level – to mixed results. Things like riding animals make a triumphant return, although this time it’s the adorable Pura across the Great Wall of China rather than Polar from Cortex Strikes Back or the warthog from the first game. You’ll still have sections of running towards the screen to escape an oncoming obstacle too, which can be a tad annoying (as you can’t always anticipate what’s coming up)
Successful new ideas include Coco’s jetski levels which require a different approach than usual – slow precision movement to ensure you don’t hit a bomb. The bike racing levels are also a fun distraction – the vehicle handles like a tank which can be a pain, but the race is short enough for it not to be a major issue (you can tell Naughty Dog were beginning to experiment with ideas that would eventually become Crash Team Racing at this point).
The major mis-fire is the underwater Atlantis levels – these are terrible, featuring poor movement and frustrating mechanics such as wind tunnels and the whole thing just ended up being very little fun (I chose to skip these levels as much as possible wherever I could). The dogfighting missions set during World War I are also questionable as I’d often lose ~ 60% of my health in one go while trying to take down a blimp or enemy fighter leading to a lot of pointless flying to grab health packs.
Still, I have to commend the developers for at least trying something different even if it didn’t hit the mark every time. The platforming levels are still the highlight and there are a number of great new ideas at play here too – aside from the brilliant pun in the name, Tomb Wader is a smart challenge that has you running between platforms during high and low tide. Bug Light feels like a holdover from the first Crash Bandicoot, tasking you with dashing between various dimly-lit areas without being able to see very far ahead of you.
There are also some smart boss battles here – they’re not all winners with Tiny and N-Tropy being a bit too easy, but Dingodile and N-Gin manage to be a decent challenge on top of fresh ideas for the series and were a lot of fun to finally beat (the final battle with Cortex also has some comically hilarious mechanics involving Aku Aku and Uka Uka attacking each other).
Overall it’s easily the best Crash platformer and the closest the series got to taking Spyro‘s well-deserved crown – but a few misses with certain mechanics stop it from reaching the dizzying heights it would otherwise have done.
Naughty Dog refine three years worth of design to create Crash’s best adventure yet – a time-hopping journey through some inspired zones to defeat Cortex one last time. Some of the new gameplay ideas don’t quite hit, but everything else here is spot-on and it’s easy to see why this is revered as such a classic after all these years.