At some point in the late 90s, Sony entered the video game fray with the Playstation 1. And we were still in a time when it was considered common for a console manufacture, and most companies in general, to have a “mascot”. A figurehead that could sit next to the Mario’s and Sonic’s as the “Face Of Video Games”.
For Sony, their first success with this came with Crash Bandicoot. A quirky series of platformers (and eventually spin-offs following the Mario spin-off pattern) started up then unknown developer Naughty Dog. Naughty Dog would go on to make the Jak games, and of course, Uncharted. Flagship exclusives for Sony consoles, and generally well-received and very polished video games.
But all good things must come to an end, and eventually, Naughty Dog parted ways with Crash and the franchise fell into other hands, even going so far as to no longer be an exclusive Sony property.
And the first of those hands? Belonging to Travellers’s Tales. A British developer that’s been around since the early 90s. Often making games for Psygnosis, Traveller’s Tales has now become known as “that company that makes all those popular LEGO movie games”.
Their first Crash game, Wrath of Cortex wasn’t too well received, but it didn’t stop them from making more. Twinsanity was the second of the TT headed Crash 3D platformers, and one that I recently stumbled upon for a few bucks at a thrift store.
In my tween years, I played a lot of the Crash trilogy on PS1, and still to this day find them to be great games. But I’d never ventured out of the Naughty Dog Crash games before, aside from a few levels of the admittedly kinda fun GBA Crash series.
And man, I wish I’d stayed ignorant to this…
What IS Crash Twinsanity?
Crash Twinsanity mixes classic Crash-style platforming with a slightly more PS2-era open world approach. I use the term “open world” very reluctantly, for reasons you’ll see later.
Twinsanity puts Crash and his nemesis Neo Cortex as a team against an alien invasion. It’s a simple storyline that cleverly lends itself to gameplay mechanics. Having the hero and villain of the franchise team up isn’t anything new (Mario + Bowser for example), but having it be a very brutal partnership is something rather funny and refreshing. Watching Crash swing Cortex like a hammer or having one of their attacks literally be them beating each other up in a cartoon dust-cloud style ball rolling around is a great idea. And it would have worked too if it wasn’t for the fact that the game is a complete mess in ways I’d never before experienced.
First, The Good
I want to stress this right away: this game isn’t AWFUL. It has some really great ideas, and given a few more months of work, it could have actually been a pretty excellent 3D platformer and a pleasant addition to the Crash franchise.
Visually, the game is actually quite lovely, for the most part. Fans of the franchise will love the call-backs to the ridiculous (albeit somewhat racist…) tribal islanders from the original Crash. As well as a bunch of familiar faces returning in cameos, such as N. Gin and Dingodile.
The game is also quite charming in the sense that it’s well-written. The cutscenes are generally amusing, and there are moments where the game twists conventions for hilarious results. For instance, at one point a NPC is asking Crash and Cortex to help him clear his garden. As a reward, one of the Crystal Fragments. Without hesitation, Cortex pulls out his laser and shoots the guy, stealing the crystal, ending with a “What did you expect? I’m a bad guy” wink to the camera. This works to great effect, and plays to the “teaming with the antagonist” mechanic perfectly.
It’s moments like this where the game genuinely shines. There are so many great ideas at play here, making for a varied and interesting platformer.
The trouble comes in the execution.
Where It Falls Apart
That screenshot is Crash clipping through a tree. Oddly enough, it’s the only tree in the game this happens in. Not really a problem, just a silly random collision issue that happened five minutes into the game. This is the LEAST of the game’s issues…
For those of you that have played the old Crash PS1 games, you know the games can be hair-pulling difficult. With tough jumps and levels stuffed full of traps. But the game gave you the tools for success. You could learn and improve.
Crash Twinsanity acts like a Crash game in it’s design, but throws out most of what made the difficulty less frustrating to overcome. For instance, jumping from tiny platforms in the early Crash games could be less threatening thanks to the utilization of Crash’s shadow, and very tight jumping controls.
Twinsanity does not have this. For some reason, when you jump, the camera pans upwards (especially when you double-jump), which ends up actually cutting off the area below Crash’s feet. This makes it INCREDIBLY hard to position jumps onto single crates or tiny moving platforms. This is made twice as annoying by Crash’s shadow simply not showing up on certain platforms. It’s there on solid ground, but half the time it doesn’t seem to show up on small platforms or crates, giving you almost no indication where you’re actually going to land. And given how many tiny crate-jumping sections there are, this proves to be tremendously frustrating, leading to many pointless insta-death falls. Add in a few deaths I lost to hitting a ceiling during jumps, or not even being able to see pits ’cause of them being almost the same color as cave floors and you have a lot of insta-deaths sending you back to where you last checked in.
This wouldn’t be TOO awful, it if wasn’t for the game’s atrocious checkpoint system. Checkpoints in an open-world game feel out of place. When you run from one side of a small chunk of island to the other, attempt a platforming piece to get a gem, and die, you often get sent way back to the other side of the level. This means you have to trudge through a lot of empty space just to get back to the mini-challenge you attempted. This happens often.
In fact, the game loves to send you back large chunks just for exploring or attempting a challenge for a side quest or pick up. It’s got open-world aspects, but almost always punishes you for actually exploring or digging for secrets. Eventually, I just gave up exploring and looking for secrets, and instead ran straight to each objective, rendering the open-world aspects completely moot.
Being sent back wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t for the game pulling out the much-maligned Gaming Sin of the unskippable cutscene. The little scenes in the game are pretty entertaining… the FIRST time you see them. But when you’re forced to watch a 30 second clip ten times in a row ’cause of insta-death and cheap game design, it starts to irritate to no end. And believe me, you will rewatch a lot of scenes, a lot of times. It’s inevitable, especially in more trial-and-error sections of the game.
Want more moments of “wtf” design? For a chunk of the game, I was fighting those islander tribals, little spear-equipped guys. Aside from bad collision detection, they were usually easily gotten rid of. At one point, I’m dropped down in front of two of them and the chief. He sends them after me, and the game gives me back control. Of course I think “let’s kill them”. I try to attack them and am instead killed.
The game wanted me to run. This was one of those Crash staples, the “run towards the screen” segments. Usually it’s a boulder or a dinosaur or something huge and intimidating chasing you, but this time, it was just AVERAGE ENEMIES. Ones I’d killed dozens of earlier in the game. And the game gave me no indication I was supposed to run towards the screen. That’s punishing the player for not thinking the game suddenly introduced a new mechanic to it. Dick move, TT.
Now, these may sound like simple design issues, and they are, but believe me… it gets worse. Oh so much worse…
And Then This Happens…
Here we go… time to dig into the personal experiences that I reluctantly write knowing some of you may not even believe me. These are just that bad. Things that forced me to stop and stare at my tv and go “…nope. NO WAY did that just happen.”.
First, a minor dick move that I was shocked to stumble into.
After battling my way through a handful of “levels” (the game plays out in one continued stretch of gameplay), I finally reached one of the game’s first bosses. As is customary with first bosses, he wasn’t much of a challenge, and after I beat him another cutscene played telling me where my next destination was. I was then left in the middle of the boss arena with the corpse of the giant totem guy I just beat. Now that I had camera control (well, PS2-era platformer camera control…) back, I wanted to look around the boss arena. Nothing there, but the boss himself looked like I could climb on him. So I jumped onto the fallen statue’s hand.
And was hurt. And died.
That’s right. I got killed by a boss I already killed. Just by touching his dead, stone hand. I died.
And when the game reloaded, I was BEFORE THE BOSS FIGHT! I had to watch a cutscene, beat the boss, and watch the second cutscene AGAIN. Because I dared to go “I wonder if I can climb the boss’ body!”. I was punished for exploring and trying to have fun for a second.
That’s pretty bad. But then it got worse.
Remember that sequence I mentioned earlier, about Cortex killing the NPC instead of playing his minigame? Well, right after that sequence, you’re given a chance to explore again. This game has hidden collectibles in different sections of the game, but no level-select to go back and look for them. It fixes this by giving you a few paths back to old sections. At this point, there was a cliff I could jump down to get back to a previous area. I decided to explore a bit before I went on with the game.
Until I found out I couldn’t get back up the cliff. Great. Now I have to trudge through some platforming to get back to where I was.
As I went along the path I’d tread before, I suddenly triggered a cutscene.
That I had already watched. THIRTY MINUTES AGO.
That’s right: the game RESET ITSELF! By backtracking to an old area, I somehow erased my progress! I re-triggered the event sequences and had to replay sections of the game that should have been done, over. I sequence-broke the game IN REVERSE. I traveled back in time and witnessed the same events, the same cutscenes, the same action sequences I’d already played, finished, and moved past!
The game not only punished me for exploring it’s open world, backtracking in what looked like a path planned for just that, but it did it in a way that reset all my progress somehow. Of course, I went to reload the game… only to find I accidentally hit one of the auto-save points.
Yes, the game auto-saved over my progress with my reverse progress. I essentially deleted my save just by playing the game by it’s rules.
I’ve never come across a game that has event flags that can be REtriggered simply by exploring it’s open world, let alone ones that allow those retriggered event flags to reset the progress in the game. This is one of the most baffling glitches I’ve ever seen in a game, and speaks volumes about how badly the game handles it’s faux-open world design.
That was the moment I realized I was playing a bad game. A bad, bad, bad, shitty bad game.
Twinsanity could have been good. Hell, it has enough going for it that it could have been GREAT. The creative concepts and charm ooze out of every pore of this thing. It has all the makings of a classic PS2-era platformer. But it’s so unpolished and messes up things previous games in the franchise nailed, that it ruins any chance of being anything more than a frustrating mess. Add in some mind-melting breaks, and it’s a truly painful experience.
Should you play it? Only if you want to experience the decent ideas and can deal with a constant stream of frustration from poor design and breaks. For a few bucks from a thrift store, it’s worth a look, but be prepared for major issues. This is not a good game.
By the way, all of this? Only happened in the first hour of the game. I’ve only played it for an hour.
I’ll let that sit in.
Now… I suppose I should keep at it… if only because I want to see if the game comes up with more incredible ways of breaking itself…