When it comes to the Crash Bandicoot series, I have a long history. We got a PlayStation when I was a little kid, and one of the first games we got for it was Crash Bandicoot. Like a lot of kids at that time, we played stuff out of order, so the second Crash game I played was actually Crash Bandicoot: Warped (the third one; not sure why they didn’t just call it “Crash 3”). Despite the fact that the third builds heavily off of the second, which itself has quite a few differences from the first, I never really found the transition jarring. Chalk it up to childhood, I guess. But the transition probably should've been pretty jarring -- Crash: Warped is an interesting take on how to evolve a platformer series. They say variety is the spice of life, and they certainly added lots of variety to the gameplay for the third installment. I'm not entirely sure it was worth it, though.
Crash: Warped is split up into several gameplay styles, and the most prominent is the platforming style. The platformer gameplay is carried straight over from Crash 2 with one exception: Crash can earn upgrades after beating a boss. These include: Super body slam, double jump, death tornado, fruit bazooka, and running shoes. I like these, because they add to the gameplay without subtracting from it. For example, the death tornado is a much longer spin move that allows you to hover. As a result, the level design changes and there are larges gaps to cross in certain areas. If you go back to the previous levels, there’s often bonuses and secrets you can only find with these upgrades. I would say these overall contribute to my enjoyment of the game. You’re no longer the same bandicoot from beginning to end. Though I never personally liked using the fruit bazooka.
The other gameplay styles, however, I have varying opinions about. A returning Crash staple is the animal riding segments, this time as Crash’s sister Coco Bandicoot riding on a tiger. These stages are all pure memorization, which I usually hate with a passion, but for some reason I’m okay with in these games. Maybe it’s nostalgia, or maybe the challenge is actually balanced fairly, I’m not sure. Coco also has stages where she pilots a jet ski, which are fine. These levels are actually less linear than the platforming stages, which is a nice change of pace, but that’s about it. There’s also stages where you race as Crash on a motorcycle, which seem like they should be fun and maybe even a taste of Crash Team Racing (they’re not), but I never really liked them. Like the animal riding stages, they’re pure memorization, but the controls feel more sluggish and it’s overall just not as fun. I do have to give them credit for making the bike feel like it has some weight to it, though. The worst are the airplane flying stages. You pilot a plane around a fixed area shooting down an objective (e.g. blimps). You have to lead your shots like crazy, and the only way to avoid getting shot by other planes is doing a barrel roll, which doesn’t even work that well.
The story is okay, but is basically there to set up the collection aspect just like Crash 2’s. Though, Crash 2’s story had more ins and outs, three sides playing against each other, Warped’s is a more basic good-vs-evil affair. As it turns out, Dr. Neo Cortex has been working for an evil mask named Uka Uka the whole time. Uka Uka is the evil brother of Crash’s mask Aku Aku (see what they did there with the reversed name?) Uka Uka has enlisted the help of N. Tropy to travel through time to collect the power crystals, and it’s up to Crash and Coco to stop them. There’s actually lots of voice acting in this game, which really fleshes out the characters you’re up against. I mean, they don’t have super complex backstories or anything, but it doesn’t feel like they’re just there for the sake of it.
As said before, this sets up the collectables -- The crystals that you have to collect in each level. There’s also gems that you collect by smashing all the boxes in a level or by finding them hidden, which will change the ending when you get all of them. Additionally, there’s time travel relics you collect by beating levels fast enough in the time-trial mode. I actually quite enjoy this aspect, being a semi-completionist myself. You can even go up to 105% completion because of optional secrets.
The time travel setting really gave the developers a lot of wiggle room for the art and music. All the different eras are represented incredibly vibrantly. Arabian deserts have splashes of color, futuristic cityscapes have neon lights. It’s all really pleasing to the eye. As per the Crash standard, it has some of the best graphics on the PS1. There’s some technical issues that are common to PS1 games, like texture warping, but those literally can’t be fixed (not even in emulation). All of the music sounds very video gamey, in a good way. The songs rely heavily on catchy melodies, and fit very well into the environment the level takes place in. Special mention goes out to the track for the motorcycle stages, which fits the 50’s rock ‘n’ roll theme perfectly, and is one of my favorites from the game.
So, Crash: Warped feels like a step forward but also a step back. It was, in Naughty Dog co-founder Andy Gavin’s own words, “a little gimmicky”. But even so, it still built on the platformer gameplay of Crash 2 in an enjoyable way. Story wise, I definitely feel it was a step back. Overall, I still highly recommend this game, even if Crash 2 is the best in the series.