I don’t think I’ve ever made any secret of being a child of the PlayStation generation, and one thing that comes with that is being a great lover of colourful mascot platformers. The mascot platformer was once the great colossus of the gaming landscape, with titles like Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong, Spyro and Crash Bandicoot exerting a powerful dominance over players (and players’ wallets). While it lasted a while into the PS2 era, their time seems to be largely over; some of the characters might survive and occasionally even get new games, but none seem to be as massive as they used to be. Not all of the platformers of this age made the transition to the modern day, or even off the PlayStation; the subject of today’s review is one such character. I can remember playing Croc many, many years ago, but it’s not a series that ever made the leap to PS2. Despite that it’s one with some resonance still, seemingly remembered as part of a lesser, but still relevant tier of platformers.
Croc: Legend of the Gobbos (PC, PS1 [reviewed], Saturn)
Released Sep 1997 | Developed: Argonaut Software | Published: Fox
Genre: Platformer | HLTB: 6 hours
Croc’s appeal, and perhaps why it’s still remembered, is immediately obvious. Croc himself is adorable, with his big green snout, expressive eyes perched atop his head, and the way his tiny hands grip his little backpack as he runs around. The titular Gobbos are also scientifically designed to be as cute as possible, appearing as titchy round fluff balls with giant googly eyes poking out the middle. Everyone makes endearing little squeaks and chirps whenever you do anything. It’s also a beautiful, vibrant game, with some lovely, pretty levels – at least at the start. The early stages are lush, with bright and popping greens for the opening meadow levels, and there’s even some well-detailed textures in there for good measure such as the bubbling lakes of lava and cobbled stones of the underground. It doesn’t quite stay as charming throughout the entirety – later levels often have a painted skybox which looks nice, but the textures and designs get blander and darker as you edge closer to the endgame.
The story is about as simple as it could possibly be. Croc is a foundling, who arrives as a baby stashed in a moses basket amongst the Gobbos who raise him as one of their own. When the evil Baron Dante appears with his army of Dantinis and captures the Gobbos, of course Croc leaps to their aid and sets off to save his family. There’s no dialogue at all, so you don’t get much more than that to work with; boss stages always have a couple of short scenes showing Baron Dante transforming a critter into a monster but there’s not anything in these in the way of narrative. While I guess that’s fair enough, Croc is a bit of an oddball in this; although it predates some of the platformer greats, games like Crash Bandicoot and Super Mario 64 both came out earlier and they managed to have far more narrative significance.
Croc is a classic collectathon platformer. Each main level has 6 Gobbos to find and rescue; 5 are in the main part of the level but 1 is stashed behind a special locked door at the end of the stage. This door can only be unlocked by finding 5 coloured gems throughout the level, so you’ve got to keep a sharp eye out for those as well if you want to gather up everything. Other than that, there’s not a lot of inspiring stuff in Croc’s repertoire; you can expect some box breaking and some light puzzling to mark your progress, but there’s not much more than that which you’re ever expected to overcome. As the game progresses the stages get more spread out, with tons of bottomless pits for you to fall into and bleed lives away. It’s quite frankly very lazy design, particularly towards the latter stages of the game, where level design gives way to vague backdrops and if you took those away you’d never really be able to differentiate between what stage is what.
Of course there are also enemies dotted about to threaten Croc alongside the death pits. The game uses the same system as Sonic the Hedgehog to manage your health: around the levels you can collect crystals which protect you if you get hit but if you take damage you drop all your crystals and have a second or two to pick some up so as long as you have at least 1 you’re ok. Annoyingly, if you think you’re good just to grab 1 crystal and speed through the level then think again; you literally have to collect every crystal you come across because the special coloured gems you need to gather are often hidden as regular crystals.
And it’s not like collecting Croc’s many, many collectibles is easy. The game has a dreadful control system which is incredibly ill-suited to a 3D platformer of this type: tank controls. This means that you don’t have free movement but instead Croc needs to be turned in place towards the direction you want to go before you can press up and set him off. This typically leaves you at the mercy of the camera, which is lackadaisical in twisting to follow Croc and struggles to stay behind him so time and time again you will find the camera wedging itself in a corner of the stage or contorted into focusing on some wayward polygons instead of showing you where you want to go. The awkward controls limit Croc’s movement such that trying to do any kind of quick movement is perilous at best, so expect to die a fair few times by Croc inexplicably plunging into lava or a pit.
In fact, the game is genuinely more difficult than you might ever expect from a colourful platformer for kids. Between the awful controls and the insipid levels favouring hazards galore that are hard to dodge, you’re probably going to take more than a few deaths than you’d like. What is especially weird though is that you can choose to save yourself some serious headaches because almost all of Croc is optional. It’s mind-boggling but once you realise you don’t actually need to collect either the Gobbos or the coloured gems to progress then the game becomes not just trivial but utterly pointless. If you so desire you can hightail it through every single stage, collecting just enough gems to make sure you can easily tank a hit and recover before moving on to hit the gong at the end of the level. There’s no requirement attached to unlocking subsequent levels other than beating its immediate predecessor.
So why bother collecting anything? The game relies a little on your weakness for rescuing tiny furry critters, and obviously it makes more narrative sense that Croc actually would bother to try and rescue his family, but then that makes it even odder than you don’t actually need to. To be fair, the game is better if you don’t make the effort to collect things; it makes it a briefer experience, which is a significant blessing, you don’t have to play any of the bonus stages, and you don’t have to deal with the frustration of overcoming the myriad challenges Croc wants you to wrestle past. If you do collect the Gobbos you unlock brief bonus levels in which you’re trying to find magical jigsaw pieces (eat your heart out Banjo-Kazooie) and if you’ve got all of them you get to play an entire additional world after the final boss. Said world is even lazier than the rest of the game’s design as you essentially play through a greatest hits clipshow of rooms from previous levels all strung together without any coherent sense of design unifying them beyond, say, all the ice levels appearing together. At the end of it is perhaps one of the most pathetic secret bosses I’ve ever faced and a budget NES game style ending screen. That might be a spoiler, but don’t sweat it: Croc isn’t worth playing to total completion, and now you know why.
I would guess that if you come across Croc discourse on the internet these days that it will be largely coloured by nostalgia. That’s certainly why I wanted to replay it for the blog, but sometimes nostalgia blinds you. The experience I had with Croc was almost wholly frustrating; with better level design the tank controls might have been less egregious, but instead the encroaching laziness in design as the levels became more spaced-out and built around bottomless pits combined with the dreadful controls makes the game deeply annoying to play. The realisation that all the collection is pointless is the icing on the cake. The PlayStation has some absolutely phenomenal platformers, but Croc these days largely lies forgotten and frankly that’s for the best.
2/7 – POOR.
A disappointment. Best not to bother with this unless you’re desperate for a naff time.