|Developed by:||Naughty Dog|
Having foiled the dastardly Dr Neo Cortex and sent his Cortex Vortex crashing to the planet surface, Crash’s heroics inadvertently release the Uka Uka, evil brother of your own spirit guide Aku Aku. With the help of Dr N.Trophy, they use the power of time travel in an attempt to enslave the Earth. There’s only one marsupial who can save the world (can you guess who?) by collecting (gasp!) crystals to prevent them falling into the wrong hands.
This would be the final instalment in Naughty Dog’s Crash trilogy before the furry tyke was handed over to other software houses in his jump to multi-platform before coming full circle in 2017 with the remastered N.Sane trilogy.
The evolution of the Crash formula, which began with Crash 2, reaches its pinnacle here.
As with the second instalment, the warp rooms are back, giving the player a degree of freedom in tackling any of the levels within each zone in any order you like. Indeed much of the core mechanic is retained – zones feature a combination of traditional platforming, into the screen and out of the screen races whilst the staple diet of boxes, timed jumps and bonus stages are all present and correct.
Warped though goes a step further. Added to the formula are vehicle levels, Crash hitting the road on his Harley and blasting boxes with his jetski. Even Coco gets in on the action, hopping on the back of a cute tiger and shooting hot lead in plane-based levels.
And on top of that, for the first time the series introduces power ups each time an end of level boss is defeated, giving Crash the ability to perform a higher jump, a longer spin attack and even whip out a bazooka to blast wumpa fruit at unsuspecting enemies. It’s a neat addition that aids the replay factor of levels. More than once I found myself negotiating a tricky section and wishing I had a projectile weapon. Once unlocked, I can now go back to that level for another playthrough, weapon slung over my shoulder.
You will likely want to revisit it too. As ever the key driver behind each level is to collect the pink crystal but additional crystals are available for smashing every box and completing a speed run in the quickest time. Playing this again brings back fantastic memories of Uni, passing the joypad round our student abode as we took turns attempting to 100% the game.
Level design also reaches a zenith. The first Crash was the most difficult, the second instalment frustratingly inconsistent. This hits the sweet spot of easing you in gently, the ratcheting up of difficulty when it comes never feeling unfair, each section a test of skill, failure due to lack of application rather than any fault in level design. Gone are the ‘die until you learn it’ levels of Crash 2, gone are the pixel perfect frustrathons of Crash 1. In their place are well paced, perfectly judged levels, each hitting that all important Goldilocks zone of length.
The time travel mechanic helps provide some context too, each zone broadly capturing a period of history from medieval times to Aladdin-esque levels up to futuristic tunnels of death. Vehicles add a nice touch of variety, each easy to control, thereby giving you the freedom to play rather than feeling like you’re wrestling with an untamed beast.
As much as it is a platformer, Warped feels like a supremely designed adventure. It is the type of game that doesn’t put unfair barriers in front of you; it wants you to complete it and to have a ruddy great time whilst you do it.
If I’m guilty of anything in my gaming tastes it is often an inability to see past the first game in a series, often favouring the original over the sequels regardless of what improvements may be made. No such troubles here though. By some distance this is the best of the PS1-era Crash games, effortlessly combining joyous platforming with variety, replayability and challenge.
Simply put, this is just incredibly fun to play and for a videogame, I cannot think of any greater praise than that.