Prior to playing this one, the only Crash game I'd ever played was the very first one for PS1. I skipped over the two "main" games and the various spin-offs in between. So I thought I was going to have to catch up on some serious Crash gameplay evolution, maybe get adjusted to an open-world style. Turns out, no, not really. Wrath of Cortex is really almost an identical experience to the very first game. The only major differences are that Crash has a slide-kick thing now, the levels look nicer, and there's more gimmick/vehicle levels sprinkled into the standard platforming action.

We open the game with a cutscene of the various Crash villains discussing their failure to be able to kill off a guy in a clunky fursuit who dies when he brushes up against pretty much anything. Some floating tiki mask gets mad at them, then the mad scientist Dr. Cortex volunteers that he's secretly been 'roiding up another Bandicoot to take on Crash, but he needs the powers of the Elementals or something, which I guess were sealed away in a previous game. So I guess they just go ahead and do that off-camera, because the next thing you know the five Elementals have taken over five different worlds (neatly comprised of five levels each) and Ripped Bandicoot is taunting Crash to go mano-a-mano with him at the end of each world.

The game has a very "first-gen PS2" feel. Aside from having one of those thick discs with the blue bottom that spin noisy as hell (even in the Greatest Hits incarnation), there's super-long load times here and there, and the environments and menu system just kind of have that rough, sparse look and feel of games still coming to terms with the PS2 hardware. Being a virtual clone of the first game isn't entirely a bad thing, because the first Crash actually had some fresh and fun ideas and many of its levels were quite enjoyable to platform your way through. Unfortunately, the first Crash also had some serious warts in the design department, and a bunch of those are still present here.

You've still got the "tunnel" platforming style where you run towards or away from the camera most of the time. It's often hard to see oncoming projectiles, judge distances, and notice pits coming toward you, and in the segments where you're being chased by something while running toward the screen, you have a split second notice to avoid all sorts of instant death traps. Fortunately the game plies you with extra lives as the first game did, so the frustration is largely mitigated, plus you can now save whenever you like between levels from a hub.

More of a problem is that most of the gimmick/vehicle/non-platforming levels are really not fun because they're either too easy, or too cheap. The godawful water levels were what eventually drove me away from the game (why are water levels in games so universally awful?) The game seems like it's trying to do too much to surprise you with new gimmicks in each level, and probably would have been better served sticking with the platforming that it executes best. The boss battles are also largely disappointing and of questionable design. All game long, Steroid Bandicoot keeps taunting you that he's going to rip you to peices when you meet him. And he really looks like he could do it, too. But instead, he always insists on fighting you in some weird gimmick battle. Like, in the first one you're both encased in rock balls, and you have to hit four balls before he does to change them to your color so they somehow do the Meteo on him for no sensible reason.

As with the first game, I feel it's not an entire waste of a couple bucks, but I wouldn't bother with it beyond that.
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