The first game in the short-lived Croc franchise, Croc: Legends of the Gobbos, originally released for the PlayStation (PS1), was not perfect. But the game was good enough to become a Greatest Hits title for the PlayStation. However, the sequel, Croc 2, never saw the same attention or success as the original. To put it frankly, the first game cast a giant shadow over the sequel and was superior in almost every single way.
To make matters worse for the game’s fate, the PlayStation release of Croc 2 came not even a full year before the release of the much-anticipated PlayStation 2. Another 3D platformer late into the 5th generation, especially after the formula was already perfected, wasn’t an attractive proposition for gamers. But that didn’t stop Argonaut from giving the whole “3D platforming” thing another try.
The first Croc game was different than its contemporaries in a lot of ways, and that’s understandable considering the Argonaut team pioneered the genre. However, Croc 2 was different in that there wasn’t anything unique about it. Many of the elements that made the first Croc stand out on its own were scrapped or reworked for Croc 2, which was clearly trying to emulate other games in the genre. Sadly, these changes are part of the reason why Croc 2 is the inferior one of the two.
The Controller-Shaped Elephant in the Room
When the two Croc games are looked at in retrospect, over 20 years removed from their original releases, people often claim the sequel is better because of the controls. While the criticisms of the first game’s controls are extremely and annoyingly overblown, I will concede that Croc 2’s controls are more palatable to the modern gamer than the controls in the first game.
In case you’re not familiar with the games, the criticism of the first game’s controls can be boiled down to “it has tank controls.”
However, the controls in the first Croc game aren’t actually bad. In fact, the controls are perfectly built for the type of precision platforming that the game is known for. Without the option for “tank-like” controls, many of the platforming challenges in the later part of the game would be extremely difficult because the platforms are small and plentiful and positioning is key. This is in contrast to a game like Super Mario 64, where the platforms are much larger and precision is not as necessary in order to compensate for the more fluid and slippery controls.
Since Croc 2 switched to the “better” control scheme, you’d expect the platforming to be better than the first game, right? Unfortunately, that’s not the case. While there is a somewhat minimized focus on precision platforming, the size of the platforms and the precision required for the jumps haven’t been properly balanced to match the change in the control scheme. This means that jumps can actually more be challenging than those in the first game despite having the “superior” controls.
And as if things weren’t awful enough, the developers of Croc 2 also made the unfortunate decision to add a new platforming mechanic: swinging rope. For the life of me, I could never get the hang of the swinging ropes. There is a shadow underneath Croc that is supposed to help you, but it’s not even accurate half of the time. Depending on the timing, it seems like you could fall straight down or overshoot/undershoot your jump when you let go of the rope, and if you are holding your stick up to go forward, you might extremely overshoot your jump. I’ve never had this kind of issue in a platforming game before.
However, I should be fair here. Other than the issues with the swinging mechanics and my gripes with the controls, the platforming itself tends to be fair. Jumping feels identical to the first Croc game and it is predictable. If you fail a jump, you can feel confident that it’s your fault for not being good, and not for any other BS reason or wacky mechanics (outside of the swinging portions). But it says a lot that the redeeming qualities of this game are the portions copied from the first game.
The Issues With Lives
One of the most frustrating things about Croc 2, especially after playing the first game, is how the game handles health/lives. Like the first game in the franchise, Croc 2 has hearts and gems, but they are used in wildly different manners.
The first Croc game was generous with its health and lives system. You could collect gems throughout the game, which are essentially analogous to Sonic rings. If you get hit, you drop your gems, and you have a brief period to recoup some of them by picking them up. If you get hit while you have no gems, you lose a life. It’s pretty straight forward.
In Croc 2, there is a combined health/lives system that is represented by hearts. If you get hit, you lose a heart. If you run out of hearts, you are given a continue screen where you need to start the level from the beginning with three hearts. Each stage also has 100 gems, but these gems are used for a shop ran by Swap Meet Pete. In Swap Meet Pete’s shop, you can spend gems on consumable items that will help you reach secret areas. But you can also spend 250 gems on one additional maximum heart. So thanks to Swap Meet Pete, you can have up to 9 hearts.
But there’s one problem. If you die, you still only revive with three hearts. How do you fill your hearts back up? Well, that’s a good question. You don’t! You might find some hearts within levels, but it’s unlikely that you’ll reach them without losing hearts in the process. As far as I’m aware, the only way to fill your hearts back up to full is to complete a boss level. This really blows when trying to beat difficult levels.
Absolutely No Soul
Croc 2 doesn’t have bad graphics. The environments and textures are really well done for the PlayStation in my opinion. I’d say they almost look very N64-esque in a way, and that seems to be intentional. For some reason, it seems like Argonaut wanted Croc 2 to be Banjo-Kazooie. Well, I do like Banjo-Kazooie as its own thing, but Croc already had a settled identity with the first game and the Banjofication of the second game sucked the soul right out of the franchise.
To start out, Croc himself changed in physical appearance. His snout rounded out, giving him a more “soft” and less polygonal look. The original Croc had a snout that was more rectangular. This isn’t really a positive or a negative change, but it is indicative of the game’s change in tone.
Additionally, Croc now talks… and so do all of the Gobbos, who are now larger, less spherical creatures and have a tendency to wear clothes. There are also Gobbos who live all around the world with different cultures, ways of speaking, and clothing. And of course, now the villains also speak and any other NPCs like Swap Meet Pete. And all of the characters are given their own gibberish voices akin to those in Banjo-Kazooie. If you’ve played the first game, you could see how this is a huge shift in tone. In the first game, everyone was pretty much mute except for laughter, cries, etc., and everything was communicated through body language. Not much was known about Croc or the Gobbos (who raised Croc), and it gave the world a certain kind of mystique. In Croc 2, by contrast, nothing is left for the imagination and all of the mystery is gone.
In the first Croc game, to go along with the game’s mysterious tone, you had a soundtrack to match it. The soundtrack was able to set the game’s atmosphere with powerful tunes that could well-convey epic, scary, eerie, or happy feelings in the perfect scenarios. Croc 2 had a decent soundtrack, but it never quite hit the same way as the first game’s soundtrack.
Croc 2 also took inspiration from other 3D platformers by introducing hub worlds. In a way, the hub worlds are similar to those in the Spyro trilogy. Croc can run around freely within the hub world and choose to tackle different levels. The first game had more of a map-style level selection similar to something you’d see in a Mario game or the first Crash Bandicoot game. There is nothing inherently wrong with hub worlds, but it definitely makes sense for a game that is trying to be more “soft.” Less emphasis is placed on the individual levels and more emphasis is placed on the world. In other words, you spend a little less time platforming and going through challenging levels because you have a brief reprieve within the hub world.
You could also see the sequel’s tonal shift in each game’s title screens. The first game greets you with the iconic brass-heavy theme song with a beautiful background that showcases the game’s environments. But the title screen in Croc 2 is just a generic run-of-the-mill title screen with nothing really to write home about; it just shows some Gobbos on a beach with the option to start a new game or load a game.
Overall, the direction that was taken with Croc 2 was wildly different from its predecessor. It might be someone’s cup of tea, but I view the game as a huge downgrade from the first game in almost every single aspect.