With interest in the Crash Bandicoot series waning over the past few years, Naughty Dog decided to sell the rights to the franchise and trudge on with its new ideas. With the Crash Bandicoot license firmly in its grip, Universal Interactive is attempting to seize the opportunity to bring the orange rodent to the Xbox before a rash of other platforming games can trump its appearance. But in its haste to get its product to market, Universal forgot to allow Traveler's Tales, the game's developer, to take advantage of the Xbox hardware. Featuring no improvements to its PlayStation 2 cousin, The Wrath of Cortex for the Xbox simply toes the line.
The story in Wrath of Cortex is just enough to hold the game together, but not much more. After suffering defeat at the hands of Crash in the past three games, Dr. Cortex has devised yet another vile plan to stop the bandicoot dead in his tracks. Cortex is working on a secret weapon, but in order to finish it, he calls upon the god Uka Uka to provide him with the power of Uka Uka's four elemental masks. The masks possess the power to conjure avalanches, tornadoes, tsunamis, and electric storms, so Cortex decides to use their abilities to bring his latest diabolical creation, Crunch, to life. Crash must destroy all four elemental masks before they can be used to animate Crunch and ultimately destroy his perpetual enemy, Dr. Cortex, once again.
Through three installments of the franchise on the PlayStation, controlling Crash remained relatively the same. Up until Crash 3, the sales numbers for the first two Crash games warranted such a design choice, but technology has marched on while the Crash series has treaded water. Traveler's Tales has erred on the side of caution and decided not to mess with what was a winning formula in the past. All Crash's signature moves have returned, including the spin attack, the body slam, and the slide attack. Crash is rewarded with more moves, such as the double jump and the ability to glide, after defeating the game's bosses. Older Crash Bandicoot games have included special vehicles to take control of, but The Wrath of Cortex has more alternative vehicles than the other three games combined. Crash can pilot a jeep, a submarine, a beelike flying contraption, a mech suit, and more. The special vehicle stages provide the best experiences the game has to offer, but the controls for the different vehicles can take some time to get used to. There are several stages in the game where you must control Crash's sister, Coco. Coco's levels are more traditional platforming affairs in that the jumps are more difficult and the combat is somewhat subdued. Veterans of the Crash Bandicoot series will be able to jump right in and start playing The Wrath of Cortex, but those who hoped for a wider variety of attacks for Crash's Xbox coming-out party will be disappointed.
The developer behind the original Crash games may have moved on to new projects, but you'd never know it by playing The Wrath of Cortex. Like in previous games in the series, the action takes place on a predetermined path, and invisible barriers quickly squash any attempt at exploration. This isn't a huge issue in itself. Crash Bandicoot games have been this way from the beginning, and fans of the franchise have grown to love its simplicity. But the fixed camera angles make negotiating what would be easy platform jumps a chore, and it's made more difficult by the fact that Crash dies after just one misstep. Consequently, the entire game is one huge exercise in trial and error with some level memorization thrown in for good measure.