The goal in each of the game's 30 sections is to reach the end in one piece. Along the way, Crash must collect peaches, which will award him with extra lives, and a crystal, which weakens the powers of the elemental masks. Within each level is a bonus pad that will teleport Crash or Coco to a hidden area where an abundance of peaches and extra lives await. It's not necessary to take on the bonus missions, but for advanced players they can be an excellent way to stockpile extra lives for the boss fights. In traditional Crash Bandicoot style, there are several points in the game where Crash or Coco will run toward the screen. Completing these sections is a matter of memorization because it's impossible to see what lies directly ahead. The hit detection can also seem a bit unforgiving--especially during some of the game's boss fights, where precision jumping is required..
The Wrath of Cortex's graphics are fairly impressive, but they're only slightly above average when compared with the graphics in other Xbox games. Even so, the transition to a new platform has been a good one for Crash. He's finally been constructed with enough polygons to give him smooth, flowing curves, and his animation is much more fluid than in the PlayStation games. Special effects such as environmental mapping, heat blur, particles, and real-time lighting are used abundantly, but the relatively low-poly environments and flatly shaded textures give the game a simplistic look. Enemy animations amount to just a few different movements, but they aid in establishing the appropriate drone mentality. While some of the areas appear a bit bland, others are lush and full of vibrant colors. The underwater scenes are particularly impressive, with flowing seaweed in a rainbow of colors peppering the sea bottom and transparent jellyfish realistically flowing in the water.
As mentioned earlier, the fixed camera angles used throughout the game can cause some problems. They often blind you to enemies nearby or make negotiating platform jumps much more daunting than it should be. It's impossible to shift the camera to get a better view--causing a great deal of unnecessary frustration at several points in the game. The lengthy loading times found in the PlayStation 2 version of the game have been slightly improved, though the minigame that you were allowed to play while waiting has been removed. The frame rates stay the course the majority of the time, with only a few hiccups to speak of, but this is to be expected of a game that is always in control of what is seen. The game's story is told through a handful of real-time cinemas with convincing voice work that occurs after a boss has been defeated. Camera quirks aside, Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex is a sharp-looking game that brings an old franchise into the new generation of video games with some flair.
With just one adequate platforming option available on the Xbox, Crash Bandicoot's latest outing is worth a rental to see if its trial-and-error gameplay is for you. Fans of the franchise will be happy to see that the Crash formula has been not been altered very much, but those hoping for the next evolution in platforming games will be sorely disappointed by The Wrath of Cortex's reliance on the tried and true. The graphics are simple yet solid and the gameplay mechanics are dated, but the addition of new vehicles spices up the proceedings a bit. With that said, there's no hiding that The Wrath of Cortex is a slightly updated version of the orange marsupial's 1998 debut on the PlayStation.