Friday, July 23, 2010

Croc: Legend of the Gobbos (PSX) Review

AKA Croc! Pau-Pau Island [JP]
1997 Argonaut Software/Fox Interactive
Distributed by Electronic Arts

When I was little I grew up with the PlayStation (and the Game Boy). I did, however, manage to play SNES and Nintendo 64 games whenever I visited my relatives. The original PlayStation was my very first video game console, and there are many games on it that I'm fond of and enjoy revisiting. Croc: Legend of the Gobbos is one of them, and one that I absolutely enjoyed. The first time I played it was at a friend's house when I was six ('97) or seven ('98), and I really had fun with it. I also remember when my dad brought the game over at our apartment (back when we used to live in Italy). It was a moment I'll never forget.

One day, as King Rufus the Intolerant (to Lactose), ruler of the Gobbos (small, cute, furry, rotund creatures), was taking a stroll at the beach when suddenly a basket floated ashore. In the basket was a baby crocodile named Croc (the main protagonist). King Rufus and the Gobbos decided to raise Croc as one of their own. Croc learned a lot from his friends, and he was very playful. Everyone enjoyed his company. However, one day, Croc grew spontaneously, as tall as three Gobbos stacked together, due to the over-consumption of peas. Croc begins to feel ostracized because of his sudden height, when suddenly, the evil Baron Dante and his minions the Dantinis began to steal all the Gobbos away. They could not stand the Gobbos' and Croc's happy life, so they decided to put an end to their happiness. Before he would get caught, King Rufus summoned Beany the Bird to save Croc from the evil clutches of the Dantinis. The Gobbos enjoy each others' company, and if it's one thing that makes a Gobbo sad is being alone. Croc can't stand the thought of a Gobbo being alone, so he sets off to save all his friends. Croc will go through the tropical, icy, and sandy worlds, and finally, Baron Dante's castle. The Baron will turn innocent creatures into his pawns, and transform them into monsters, and it's up to Croc to break the spell. The plot is quite decent. The manual is quite hilarious, and it mentions things like: how the Dantinis had beautiful singing voices, but were disqualified for eating the judges; or how, in the Year of the Soupspoon, "the Gobbo high priestess would announce the kitchen utensil that, when put down their pants, would bring good luck. Gobbos took this very seriosuly, although some began to question the practice during the Year of the Electric Can Opener." Okay, so it's a bit silly, but its silliness and randomness is what's so funny about the manual. It gave me quite a laugh back when I first read it in 2007 (I don't think I read it when I was little).

This game is a traditional 3D platformer, with quite an interesting scheme in it. To go to the direction where Croc is facing, press Up; to back up, press Down; and to slowly rotate or change directions, hold down the Left or Right buttons. It's interesting 'cause in most 3D platformers, you could walk in any direction by pressing any button; while in this game, you just press Up to go the direction Croc is facing, though you can run in the upper left or upper right direction as well. I personally never had a problem with this control scheme, though I can imagine how others might. It takes a bit to get used to. With the X button you make Croc jump, but press the X button again while in mid-air and Croc will pound the ground. It's the only way to smash open boxes, and stomp out certain enemies. The Square button makes Croc whap his tail on his adversaries, the Circle button makes Croc do a 180 (turn the opposite direction he was previously facing), and while holding down the Traingle button, you can control the camera angle. The L shoulder buttons make Croc sidestep to the left, while the R shoulder buttons make Croc sidestep to the right. There are eight stages (six normal stages, two boss stages) in each world where you can save up to six Gobbos in each normal stage. These Gobbos can be collected in many different ways; i.e. finding the key to the cage where the Gobbo is trapped, "Three Cups and One Ball"-style, hidden in a box, and more. There are also collectible gems, and if you gain one hundred of those (in total), you earn a life (common video game logic since Super Mario Bros.). You can decide to end the stage early (by hitting the Beany gong before reaching the multi-colored gem door), or you can end the stage by hitting the Beany gong once you get the remaining Gobbo behind the door. There are five colored gems, and they are all required to open the door. If you want to get all six Gobbos in the stage, you have no choice. Some colored gems are concealed as regular gems. However, if you get attacked by an enemy (or boss), or fall on lava or mud, you lose all gems no matter how many you collected like in Sonic the Hedgehog, and you only have a few seconds to recuperate some gems before they disappear. But, get hit or fall on volatile substance without the gems and you lose a life. Croc can jump on platforms, hang on to ledges, use monkey bars, ground pound, and even swim. The swimming controls take a bit of getting used to, but it's not very complicated. Now, during the boss stages, you're not required to collect a Gobbo, but you can get some gems before taking them on; and many of them are pattern-based and simple. There are two methods of progressing: by password or by Memory Card. The passwords are very long and are composed of button combinations; though you won't have to worry about doing passwords if you have a Memory Card (which I recommend you use when playing this game, if you have one). This game was also one of the first PlayStation games to use the Analog Stick, though, to be honest, you're much better off using the Directional Buttons.

The soundtrack is very lighthearted and uplifting, and they work so well in the many expositions. The music that plays in the very first stage of the first world is such a memorable song, and my favorite. The icy world themes are pretty, and the sand themes are fiesta-like. The castle theme is menacing and dark, but not as dark as the dungeon theme. The boss themes are all different, and the music doesn't start over whenever you die, which is a plus in my book. The sound effects are decent, as they are well-chosen. Croc makes sound effects whenever he whaps his tail and does ground pounds, like "Whapow!" and "Kasplat!". The Dantinis make cute little meniacal laughs on occasion. The gem sound effects are nice, and the sound for whenever you release a Gobbo is magical.

While the graphics might be showing their age, they're still wonderful to look at, even today. The colors are so vibrant and alive, and the expositions are a sight to behold. The icy landscapes are so beautiful, and the dark areas are really dark. There are moments when the lighting and shading are so realistic, that it gives a true sense of visual depth. The animation is very smooth and fluid. The bosses are designed nicely, too. There is also variety with the Dantinis that you encounter; one will look like a court-jester, and another will look like he has a spiky mohawk. The character designs are cute.

The game is not really hard, although there are some moments when your skill will be tested. Some Gobbos are easily reachable, some not so much. If you miss a Gobbo, or a colored gem, that's okay, 'cause you can start the stage over again to get another chance at getting all six Gobbos. There are moments when, in the sandy world behind the colored gem door, that a ghost will race you; not only will it take the gems for itself, but the key for the cage as well, so you must get the key before he does. There are some platforms that are small, so you have to make precise jumps. There is also a moment in one of the final stages, where you have to jump on many platforms that flip to the side with spikes in a matter of seconds, so timing is crucial. The bosses, as I mentioned earlier, are pattern-based, which makes them easy. But, they're still fun bosses nonetheless; one of the bosses actually takes place underwater.

Maybe it's nostalgia, or maybe not, but I still enjoy this game, even today. It may not surpass Super Mario Galaxy by any means (not even close), but it's a good game in its own right. It's mostly normal difficulty-based, with a tiny bit of challenge (when it comes to getting all the Gobbos). The soundtrack is uplifting, and the visuals are still beautiful, even though they're showing their signs of age. This game also has a bit of replay value: if you get all the Gobbos in the first three normal stages of the world, you'll unlock a secret stage; same thing if you get all the Gobbos in the second set of three normal stages of the world. There are eight secret stages in total, and in each of those eight you will find a Jigsaw puzzle piece near the end of each stage. By collecting all one-hundred-forty-four Gobbos (thirty-six per world {six per normal stage}), you will uncover the final secret stage. By getting all eight Jigsaw puzzle pieces, you will open up a way to a secret world comprised of five stages; the first four stages being a recap of the worlds you have been in, and the final stage being one where you will fight the secret final boss. If you defeat this boss, you will receive the true end credits where you get the message, "Congratulations! You've completed the game 100%!" and in the end "Croc will return. Take Care." At least it didn't pull an Axelay where it said it was gonna have a sequel at the end of the credits, only to never happen, 'cause Croc: Legend of the Gobbos really did get a follow-up: Croc 2. Personally, I always preferred the original, though the sequel's not bad. This game is a fun, charming platformer, and one of those few PlayStation games I played to completion.


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