and so the adventure begins (again)

Croc: Legend of the Gobbos was a charming foray into full 3D platforming for Argonaut Software, and despite its oddball standing among its peers (read all about it if you haven't!), it made a decent impression for itself. Sales were good, enough to prompt a reissue under the Greatest Hits and Platinum lines in the US and Europe, and reviews were pleasant enough, at least to make it a solid recommend for younger audiences. For a brief time, its crocodilian star was entertained by magazines as one of several warring mascots for the PlayStation.

It was only natural for a sequel to emerge, though Croc was a little slow off the draw compared to its competition; Croc 2 emerged on PlayStation in Summer 1999, nearly two years after his debut. While the blurb on its packaging is pretty low-key, magazine previews had hyped up its technological advancements, promising a game that was much more robust than its comparatively quaint predecessor.

After the defeat of Baron Dante, Croc and the Gobbos are free to live in tranquillity, with nothing to upset their status quo... until a message in a bottle washes up on their shore. On it is a plea from a family for anyone who can reunite them with their long-lost son, with a crocodile paw print as its signature. Croc's adoptive father, King Rufus, assumes the letter could only have come from his true family! With Rufus' support and blessing, Croc sets out to the neighbouring Gobbo tribes to help him find his long-lost family.

But it's not all sunshine and roses -- Baron Dante, thought a goner after his explosive defeat at Croc's hands, has risen from the dead and is out for revenge. He'll do whatever it takes to hit Croc where it hurts, and he's not above terrorising his new friends among the Gobbo tribes, sending his Dantinis on the warpath once more!

Where Legend of the Gobbos was very much a 3D approach to classic platforming, with jumps and platforms abounds, Croc 2 takes a very different tack -- one bearing a closer resemblance to the more explorative fare that had become the new norm.

Croc's moveset is unchanged for the most part; jumping, stomping and tail-whipping are still his primary means of interaction, with a couple of new jumping techniques that largely go unmentioned -- a so-called triple jump (actually a high jump, achieved by pressing jump again while mid-stomp), and an "acrobatic tumbling jump", performed by pressing both sidestep buttons and allegedly used to cross long distances... but the total lack of course correction makes it a mite impractical.

Rather than sequential stages selected on a map screen, the game attempts to organically weave levels together via a central hub. Each world (represented by a Gobbo tribe) features a large safe space to explore and talk to the residents; a Gobbo standing next to a doorway denotes they've got a problem in need of solvin'!
Entering the door will take you into the level, where you're given an actual mission to complete; it's no longer guaranteed to be a simple jaunt to the exit. These range from rescuing Gobbos to finding lost objects, chasing down baddies on the run, or even a variety of vehicular stages where Croc is in command of a race car, a hovercraft, a hang-glider, or rolling on top of a giant snowball.

Levels are also much larger and expansive, covering more ground than an entire level of Legend of the Gobbos within a single screen! While some levels place the exit next to the final objective, others are built to loop around on themselves or are simply a non-linear space, allowing you to double-back for any items you might have missed or leave at your leisure, exiting the same way you came in.
This results in more complex, layered spaces to explore; you may enter an area walking under a bridge, and then later find yourself on that bridge crossing over where you once were. After the self-contained chambers of the last game, it's fun to see worlds built with a sense of cohesion like this. It's almost like they're three-dimensional or something!

In addition to climbing up cliff faces and across monkey bars, Croc can now interact with a few new context-sensitive elements. Crossing gaps is occasionally spiced up by swinging ropes, often with a Dantini hanging on that needs disposed of. Croc can also pick up, carry, and throw small handheld objects, be they barrels, crates of TNT, or even baby Gobbos to escort back to their playpen, employed in a few minor puzzle-solving sequences.

Croc even has an inventory! It's mostly for holding his "Magic Eye Zoomers", allowing him to survey his surroundings in first-person, but he can also carry items that react to special pads found throughout stages. If he has a Jelly Jump or Clockwork Gobbo in his possession, he can use it in their designated area, the former producing a spring pad to let him reach inaccessible areas.

The latter is used to take part in a small mini-game: the wind-up toy motors forward on a narrow track, and your goal is to collect all the items in the area before it putters to a stop. Each Clockwork Gobbo can only be used once, so if you whiff it, you'll have to spend another to do it again; Croc can carry a maximum of nine Clockwork Gobbos and Jelly Jumps.

How do you get those items? They're not collectibles, that's for sure! One hundred Crystals are found in every stage, and serve as currency to be spent in Swap Meet Pete's shop. The travelling salesman can be found in every hub, and allows you to purchase the three types of Jelly Jump, Clockwork Gobbos, as well as Heart Pots to increase your maximum health capacity.

Since Crystals no longer act as a shield for Croc, he now has a health metre instead, and can withstand up to 3 attacks before he falls. Hearts must be found to restore them, and running out will take you back to the hub. Checkpoints exist in the form of Save Gongs, and Croc will return to them should he fall down a pit or into lava... but only in those specific circumstances.


swap meet pete

The biggest addition to the cast is this forever-smiling capitalistic cat, described by Gobbos across the globe as "a little weird, but a nice guy!" He serves as contrast to the Gobbos' simple homebody lifestyle, more knowledgeable and worldly, selling Croc items in his shop and helping him travel between tribes through nebulous use of his crystal ball.

It's a little hard not to dislike this guy, honestly. The Gobbos' constant shilling of him feels like a heavy-handed attempt at endearing the audience to him, without the need for Pete himself to make a good impression. What does he do that's worth liking anyway?
He's the face of the game's shop and currency system, something that feels needlessly tacked on to pad out the play time, either through grinding for Crystals to afford these trinkets, or even unwanted memorisation -- there's three types of Jelly Jumps, and your attempt at 100%ing a stage is bust if you're missing the right one. You don't gatekeep players from progress and tell them they like it.

That, and he's just a gormless character. He's a large rotund cat in a fez and a thawb, just one of many cultural stereotypes in a game all about 'em, and somewhat at odds with the established character design ethos of past games.

Of all the characters' verbalisations, his is perhaps the most obnoxious, sounding like he's yelling in your ear even when he's behind the shop counter.

The Retro Pals described him as "Bubsy's racist dad", which is perhaps a low blow, a bridge too far, but it's hard to shake the notion.

Although prerelease footage showed him as only marginally taller than Croc, he's among the largest characters in the game, which adds an unconscious power dynamic. If he's so big, why isn't he doing something about all this? If he's got friends in so many places, can't he buy me some help? Fat lot of good you are, Pete!

On the bright side, he's almost entirely optional if you don't care about 100% completion; once you buy his supply of Heart Pots, there's no reason to darken his doorway again. Not quite the bright side I was hoping for, but in this game you take what you can get.

Each world is composed of 5 levels, and can be entered in any order; once half of them are complete access to a boss stage is opened, and once all levels are complete, you automatically enter the second boss stage. These present themselves in a variety of ways, from timed platforming challenges to vehicular gimmick stages, but often manifest as bludgeoning them with thrown objects. Once the boss is defeated, access to the next world is granted via Swap Meet Pete's shop.

This formula is shaken up a little towards the end game, where your stay in the Inca Village is cut short by a marathon of stages set in Dante's lair, eschewing the traditional missions for back-to-basics platforming. It's perhaps a little jarring, but it's an appreciated escalation in difficulty; after a whole bunch of wandering around, here's something high octane to get your blood pumping!

The game ends with Baron Dante sealed away once more (OR IS HE???), and Croc finally reunites with his family -- his mother, father, baby sibling, and yet more relations who have yet to hatch. With his old and new Gobbo friends along for the ride, he's got all the family he could ever ask for. And they lived happily ever after, surely?

Well, not quite -- Dante's hand emerges in a coy sequel hook to steal the eggs, and if you collected all the Jigsaw Pieces (found in Golden Gobbo Stages, unlocked by getting all five Colour Crystals in each level), you must complete a marathon of stages across three of the Gobbo villages to retrieve them all! This is purely gameplay content, with no story attached to wrap up that last minute switcharoo.



left: PlayStation | right: PC
Croc 2 was first shown off at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in May 1998, proposing skews for the PlayStation, the Dreamcast (originally listed for the Saturn in some magazines), and even the Nintendo 64 for a hot second, forecasting a December release date. That was then pushed back to Summer of the following year[src], and only the PlayStation version made it to market, with a Windows PC release emerging the year after.

With only two skews, there's not a lot of meaningful difference between them! The PlayStation version has quibbles emblematic of the console -- a shortened draw distance, requiring the environment to fade in as you get closer to it (the train in the example above is barely visible before it disappears into the tunnel on PlayStation), as well as pronounced loading times.

left: PlayStation | right: PC
The PC version supports better graphics capabilities depending on your computer specs, with a rounder high-poly model for Croc and a good dose of resolution options to choose from, going up to 1920x1080, though stretching its 4:3 display in the process. It allows you to install to hard drive, reducing loading screens to barely a second long on a modern computer... meaning they flash by too fast to display the level title!
It has a few small tweaks from the console version, including some different textures and even the exclusive option to enable tank controls! It struggles a bit with mapping controls to analogue gamepads, as well as running its installer on Windows 10, but it's otherwise the ideal version to play in this day and age, boasting better compatibility than the last game's computer port.

The PlayStation version was published in Japan by KOEI, its title renamed to Croc Adventure (クロックアドベンチャー), but otherwise seeing very few meaningful changes. It does have the courtesy to start you with 5 Hearts instead of 3, an unexpectedly kind gesture to make the game's beginning that more palatable.

Unlike the last game, its names and vernacular are largely untouched in the trip across the pond -- the "Pau-Pau" are back to being Gobbos, the Dantini are no longer given unique names for every variant, and punny titles are abbreviated. Swap Meet Pete is simply Pete, Cannon Boat Keith is Kaizoku (Pirate) Keith, and Baron Dante becomes Dante Danshaku -- the literal translation for baron.

It clearly wasn't given the same push as Pau-Pau Island. There's no unique marketing materials created for this version, no guidebook, and not even a proper manual from the looks of it -- all you get is a fold-out sheet!
The translation appears to be pretty rudimentary; not that it's working with A-grade material to begin with, nor am I in a position to judge a translation into a language I'm barely acquainted with. All I'm saying is reading an entire game's dialogue in katakana is so 1988.

advertisement from the Croc: Legend of the Gobbos SEGA Saturn manual

Despite a SEGA Saturn version being shilled in early advertisements for the game, it was never definitively on the cards; Jez San giving the wishy-washy answer[1], "there might be a Sega version but it might be produced for their next generation system."

The Dreamcast version was still being previewed after the game's PlayStation release, and according to Fox Interactive producer Dave Stalker in Official SEGA Dreamcast Magazine[3], "by the time it gets to you, we're going to add another Gobbo tribe to save, and there'll be forty-two levels to play through in total."

While never outright stated, it implies this would have been an opportunity for Argonaut to included stuff they had to cut. Promotional materials depict a cowboy Gobbo next to the other tribes, and early screenshots show Croc swimming through a sunken ship, suggesting we lost out on a wild west world and even an entire means of control -- there's no underwater sequences in the finished game!
Despite the retail box boasting it has "over 40 levels within four Gobbo tribe villages", the real count is 31 (excluding the post-game egg hunt); the first three tribes have eight levels each, and then seven haphazardly split across the Inca Village and Dante's Peak. Another eleven stages would even it out, you'd think!

scrapped underwater stage from an early trailer

The last preview I'm aware of was in the March 2000 issue of Official SEGA Dreamcast Magazine, but not once did they ever show footage of these proposed new levels, nor screenshots that weren't lifted from the PlayStation promotional materials.

According to the team and programming leads on the game, development never even truly begun on this version, only rough concepts for the new levels. If we knew that, the port's quiet cancellation might not have been so surprising.

And that, basically, is Croc 2. It's a whole heap of words to explain the game's structure and flow, and I've done my best to phrase it politely and neutrally, but there's an important point that's a little harder to convey without just stating it outright.

It doesn't feel like Croc.

It's logical for sequels to change and iterate upon their old attempts, but... this is so changed it seems like a very different product. It barely feels like a sequel. "Inspired by" if we're being generous, but far from what you'd expect from a follow-up to the first game.

The structure is completely revamped. The controls are the same yet totally off. Every familiar element is flipped on its head. It looks different. It plays different. It feels different. Whatever I hoped for from a sequel, this wasn't it!

After a careful, nuanced study of how to make the transition to 3D platformer, Croc 2 just throws out the baby with the bath water and completely reinvents itself.

It's almost like Argonaut was racing to play catch-up, gleaning from the rulebook of other 3D platformers, without regard for how well it fits Croc -- just whatever makes them look competitive. It's a cut-throat market, but the game loses a part of itself in trying to be things it can't.

So... what was it trying to be?

"Sequels Suck!"

Despite its meritable sales, Legend of the Gobbos released at a funny time, mere months before its competitors were releasing sequels, just as the genre was finally beginning to finetune itself.

Coming out when it did was perhaps a bitter pill to swallow, and Argonaut CEO and founder Jez San says it as such in a 2016 interview[5]:

"We weren't the first 3D platform game. We were maybe the second one. We were the first to start, and we were the first to have the idea, but we weren't the first to come out."

While they spent at least two years designing a gateway into the genre, the roads were already being paved by other competitors; some of which were already releasing sequels mere months after Croc's big debut. It's a bit like having the rug pulled out from under them -- this was meant to be a trailblazing venture, dang it, and we're being seen as an also-ran imitator!

They had every reason to want their product to blossom and make a splash, and Fox Interactive was counting on them -- they had a stake in this marketable mascot!



With its adorable presentation and loveable hero, Croc was just begging to be commercialised, surely! Fox Interactive were very keen on this angle from the moment Argonaut pitched them the idea, with company president Jon Richmond saying as much in the November 1997 issue of Ultimate PC:
"We got involved very early on and have been working with them to try and develop the character set with the focus being to take it into other mediums like television, publishing and maybe a film someday."
The same article even featured an inset saying a CGI cartoon was a go, under development by Fox Kids Worldwide and due to debut "during the last quarter of 1998 -- around the same time Croc 2 will be launched."

This was corroborated by Jez San in Official SEGA Saturn Magazine[1]. While it was very much Fox's move, Argonaut were helping them however they could. "Fox will help us develop this into a franchise much like Nintendo, Sony and Sega have today with their central characters."

Indeed, by the time Croc 2 was being previewed in Official SEGA Dreamcast Magazine in November 1999, they were dropping not-so-subtle hints that there would be plush toys of the game's characters as well.

The game had already missed its December 1998 release date by this point, and it's implied if ever there was to be a merchandising blitz, it was to coincide with the proposed Spring 2000 release for its Dreamcast edition (then pushed to Q3 2000 four months later).
For whatever reason, that never happened; the Dreamcast port fell through, and all word of Croc as a multimedia icon fizzled out in an instant. Evidently there were prototypes made of proposed merchandise, plush toys and apparel, according to Nic Cusworth in an interview with Retro Gamer, though they never made it to retail.

a Croc 2 PlayStation Memory Card, the only Croc merch sold at retail, with interchangeable image display
image from @CressOfLight

The cartoon is a particular mystery, with no record or evidence of its production beyond press releases; it was "under review" as of March 2000, but not even Argonaut staff were aware of it beyond distant rumblings, it seems.

TV and animation is a fickle business, with new prospects often having terminally short lifespans. Computer animation was blossoming at the end of the 90s, and video gaming was no stranger to it, Donkey Kong Country and Rayman having their own bizarre French-produced adaptations...

... but I'd hazard a guess that the cost was a risk factor during its first proposal. That, and Croc's viability as a bankable mascot was waning by the time of the sequel. What could've been, I guess!

Not that Croc didn't get some merch... but nothing as tasty as store-bought toys or anything. Croc 2's official website featured a contest to win a variety of limited-edition goodies, including a watch, a yo-yo, and even a "Lifesize Stuffed Animal", said by other sources to measure 48 inches tall!

I've yet to find any surviving images of this, sadly, so who's to say how on-model it might've been, or even if it was meant to be Croc. That could've been any stuffed animal.

Interviews with Argonaut around Croc's release were relatively candid about where they wanted to improve, namely increasing the game's scope, but the official website for Croc 2 had an unexpected feature: a Designer Diary! A four-part series with insight into the game's development courtesy of Nic Cusworth, lead designer on both instalments, going into the thought process behind its development. The Internet Archive has only the first part saved, sadly, leaving it unclear if the other parts were ever published at all.

It's by no means an industry level dissertation or a full game design document, but it's a refreshingly upfront take on what gets discussed when a sequel is underway, presented in a pleasantly breezy manner.

Using the "sequels suck" scene from Scream 2 as a springboard, Nic addresses how games are constantly making sacrifices to make it out on time, only to become overshadowed by fierce competition in a matter of months, and there's always things they wish they did differently.

He adamantly wished for Croc 2 to be more than just a "level add-on"; no publisher wants a product without a fresh angle to advertise! Their game design document zeroed in on elements worthy of improvement, listing these as their wishlist:

  • New game structure
  • Much bigger levels
  • Continuing story throughout the game
  • Unique goals for each level
  • Interaction between characters
  • No loading times within a level
  • More intelligent camera
  • Loads more graphical styles
  • Improved tools
  • Engine improvement and speed-ups
On paper, that sounds fantastic, and it's easy to see why Fox signed off on that and Argonaut were keen to pursue it. During Croc 1's development, 3D platforming was but a pipe dream, yet once it was stacked up against the competition, they realised they'd taken an unconventional route. You want to push your limits on the next thing you make, and to brush shoulders with the competition is how you make a name for yourself. Making it bigger than ever and filing down the rough edges seem like pretty clear positives!

Discovering this page was fascinating, a demonstration that even upon release we were getting some insight into the game's development -- we wouldn't have to wait for after-the-fact interviews decades later!

Croc 2 accomplishes all those goals in some capacity, but it's perhaps a sign of the occasional disparity between what a creator sees in their product compared to a consumer.

Argonaut saw a game that was old-hat mere moments after hitting the shelves; if it was to impress, it needed a serious overhaul.

Consumers saw a game that was a talking point because of those qualities, for good or for ill, and a sequel that seemingly abandoned everything that defined it. Seeing the principles behind those decisions does explain it somewhat, but it all hinges on the execution -- if it works, all is forgiven.

If it doesn't, you've got a lot of explaining to do.


a little croc
in a big ol' world

The biggest change is, well, the entire gameplay formula. Croc 2 isn't interested in playing by its old rules -- the compact levels, the map screen, simple and linear progression... no, it's got a whiff of what the competition are up to, and it wants in on that action. Big worlds! Big levels! Big setpieces! Big!

We already had a glimpse of that with Super Mario 64's release 15 months before the first game, but in the two years between instalments, the market had become saturated with competition. Banjo-Kazooie set the bar on Nintendo 64, taking on Mario's open-ended landscapes and bevy of objectives before going ham with the concept, introducing unlockable abilities, oodles of collectibles, multiple characters (via means of transformation), and all manner of gubbins to make it as rich and expansive as possible.

Spyro the Dragon on PlayStation covered a similar niche; sprawling worlds inhabited with colourful sights and objectives, masking its loading screens through seamless transition between levels and hub worlds, making for an almost totally unbroken experience. The message was clear; while platforming was still a facet of 3D platformers, natch, exploring and engaging with the environment (the vast, vast environment) through goals and missions was the new trend.

This much is clear in Croc 2 right out the gate: after being dropped into the sprawling Sailor Village and left to your own devices, every area you enter is much grander in scale than any level from the last game. Levels dynamically load geometry, allowing for large, seamless environments without the need for arbitrary doorways and loading screens, resulting in stages that are very big indeed.
This was something the developers took pride in[2], with Nic Cusworth boasting, "the first thing you're going to notice is that the levels are a lot bigger. We're talking five or six minutes of gameplay with no load times"... something that in hindsight feels like a threat.

These levels drag. They are large, and they are long, but rarely does it feel like they justify their size. They don't use their scale to create impressive landmasses or inhabited biomes... they're just long. Nowhere is this more evident in the first level, where a good chunk of your time is spent simply running forward. There's next to no detours for collectibles, there's little to see or do. You just... run... forward.

Now, arguably this is because of the greater emphasis on different objectives, but it does mean Croc is robbed of his central goal: rescue the Gobbos and get to the exit. Levels aren't just getting from A to B any more...! At least, not consistently! Sometimes it's a linear route with a start and an end, while others are more free reign, expecting you to leave when the job is done.

... but what is it you're doing? With all the baby talk dialogue it's very easy to tune out...! Sometimes the HUD will clue you in, keeping track of how many Gobbos need rescuing or the like, but you can't pause the game for a refresher or anything (this is as much minor quibble as it is a dunk on inattentive players like myself). The game lacks the same clear-cut indicators even Mario had; the pause menu doesn't tell you the level's name, and there's no convenient checklist of what levels are even completed.

That, and the scope of levels means there's not the same compartmentalising as the last game, nor the same ease of landmarks. Based on personal experience and watching streams of the game, even the first level throws some players for a loop; you circle back to the start with your newly collected key to free the Gobbo from its cage. Level complete, right?
... why aren't I being whisked out?
Even though the Gobbo outright tells you to exit via the door you entered, it's hard to tell you're back at the entrance because of the samey environments, and there's no end of level tally or formality to denote when a stage is done; you're just expected to exit in your own time. The door back to the hub looks no different than any other, so you really have to keep it fresh in your memory.

Wishing and hoping for an exit becomes a common thought as the game goes on. The sheer length of each stage is dire enough when it's simply setting the scene, but once the difficulty starts to rise, it feels like an assault on the player. More meaningless legwork, more repeats of the same jumping challenges, more risk of accidentally falling and having to resume from the last checkpoint... however long ago that may have been. Every level begins to feel like a marathon, even when it has no thematic intention of being one -- they just last so long! What was wrong with bite-sized gameplay?!

There are moments where the size pays off in striking environments or setpieces. The caverns in the second world are beautiful, their icy spires and walkways evoke a much grander scope than could be depicted in the original game. The jungles, while not as iconic as the classic grasslands and limited by the draw distance, do feature some lovely little environs, from rope bridges to waterfalls to just pleasant little nooks.
And although the least populated of the hub worlds, the Inca Village is easily the most striking, its high temple sitting before the standing stones and looking out towards the sunset. Don't let it be said the increased scale isn't used for good -- just not where it counts.


vehicle stages

A bit like the swimming stages in the last game, these are kind of easy to forget about in the grand scheme of things. Look, I've got an argument to make about how Croc 2 stacks up to its platforming competition; what have I got to say about dodgy old mini-games? I can't critically study this!!

The worst of them is easily the snowball stage. Rolling atop a slippery snowball, this level is an unexpected roadblock where Croc is now a large target, with controls more squirrelly than ever before, and a camera that refuses to show you his surroundings... all set on narrow, precarious paths above a massive gaping pit.
It goes on for a long, long time, and the slightest misstep will dunk you into the abyss, undoing a good chunk of your progress. It's pretty miserable. If there is a reason to loathe these stages, it's this one.

Mine carts are a recurring feature in many of the cave levels, first used simply as a visual showpiece to get you from chamber to chamber, but come world 3 they prove themselves to be a surprising source of aggravation. They move blindingly fast and require twitch reactions to tilt or jump accordingly, otherwise you'll fly right off the track and die.
Between the ludicrous speed, short draw distance and unhelpful camera, you're lucky to even see the hazards coming, turning them into gruelling trial and error. When hearts are hard to replace, cheap shots like this aren't much appreciated. Here's a low blow of my own: the mine carts are ugly. They're planks with wheels! What's fun about that?!

advertisement from Nickelodeon Magazine issue 52

The other vehicles are pretty inoffensive by comparison -- boring at worst, and a change of pace at best. They control fine, there's an adequate challenge in figuring out the tricks to how they work, or the best route to win, or even just offering a diversion from the usual running and jumping.

I get it, though: if you're spending two years designing a platform game, you want to do other things to spice things up once in a while. Come the PS2, developers were eager to tackle the "kitchen sink" genre, mixing platforming and shooting and driving and whatever else into one massive package.

Though rarely remembered now, one of the early notable instances of this was in Traveller's Tales' ambitious Haven: Call of the King. As a technical accomplishment, that game is to be lauded for its incredible scope, heralded after the fact by its own lead designer Jon Barton as the No Man's Sky of the PS2.

Cinematic presentation, rich, sprawling landscapes... a totally unbroken sequence of flying into space, dogfighting through the atmosphere, and back again on a different planet. It's a credit to the shocking leap in hardware capabilities, and the studio's technical prowess!

As a game, though? Wee bit wanting. There's never as much to do in these off-shoot modes as there is in the main game, nor are they as rich or fully-featured -- something that became a bugbear in Traveller's Tales' own iteration of Crash Bandicoot, which valued novelty over core gameplay.

It's just one of those things; it's tempting for publishers to have an extra bullet-point to sell the game on, however much it may cut into essential dev time elsewhere. And it's petty for consumers to expect a 3D platformer to have kart racing comparable to genuine releases; it's just one of several side-meals, not the main course.

The armchair analyst can speculate the time they could've saved by putting those resources into more central features, but honestly, sometimes you just gotta entertain yourself. It might not be core gameplay, but making a hot air balloon fight where you drop ice cubes on a giant fish is as good a distraction as any. Treat yourself, babe.

Croc 2 understands that large worlds are a draw, but it fails to understand what made the worlds in other games appealing. They were rich, evocative spaces with lots to see and do, with the leisure of playing them at your own speed -- either clearing everything in one fell swoop, or coming back later to pick up the pieces.
Croc's worlds are just big for the sake of being big.

Not just that, but it was fun to explore in those games. The worlds of Mario, Banjo and Spyro still hold up as entertaining playgrounds for their respective abilities. Using ledges and staircases to learn how Mario reacts to certain impetus was a great way to get acquainted with his moves and idiosyncrasies in a death-free environment.
Simple as their movesets may be, there's enough variety that you can keep things fresh by horsing around in dumb creative ways. With their satisfying mix of speed and heft, the simple act of running around is a pleasure with these guys!

He tries, but Croc's moveset just doesn't square up.

this croc's got moves

(or not)

With "scope" as number one on Croc 2's agenda, it's only natural for its star's range of abilities to expand to accommodate it... though not by much, surprisingly. As aforementioned, the only real additions to Croc's range of abilities are his two new jumps -- the extra-high triple jump, and the extra-long (allegedly) tumbling jump, which is so pivotal that it's never addressed in-game, its existence relegated solely to the manual.

The triple jump is absolutely essential, however. It's vital to reaching many platforms, or just giving yourself greater confidence on precarious leaps, no thanks to the frightening pits and verticality in most stages.
The tumbling jump really is useless, though, with extremely limited application and no control once you set it in motion; combined with its long wind-up, you're prone to rolling off ledges before the jump can actually take effect.

Croc's controls and physics have seen changes as well, eschewing the old-fashioned rotational controls for something more conventional, more chic -- directional movement. He arguably moves a lot smoother than before, no longer beholden to turning on the spot, but there's still a lot to relearn about his movements. There's now three distinct control schemes for Croc's movement between the two ports, all with their own barriers to entry...!

The first game had its foibles, but there was an appropriate sense of weight and momentum to Croc's movements, where his acceleration and jumping speeds... just felt right? Whether it's the controls or the physics, something about how he handles now feels off, and it took a long time to get acclimatised to it. It wasn't something I liked -- I just had to live with it. Or not, given the number of times I fell into lava because of it.



I try to be charitable in the main text, but all bets are off in these asides! I'm really not a fan of Croc's controls in this game, as it feels like it's tailor-made to mess with every bit of familiarity I had!
Like tail whipping. Croc's attack is now so fast its window of attack is halved, requiring some precise timing; it's not the reliable moving hitbox it was in the last game. Common enemies now dwarf Croc in size, seemingly an attempt to make them bigger targets, but more often than not you still end up trading blows while trying to swipe them.

Jumps are unpleasantly fast, rocketing into the air before plummeting down again, his hang-time now a brief, unnatural lull. It makes even the most simple of jumps far scarier than they have any right to be, and a shocking amount of the game was spent with my butt clenched because of it.

This is not aided by the camera, which is positioned so low as to hamper your depth perception. How much ground does Croc jump in a triple-jump, and is it enough to cross this gap? Only one way to find out, the camera sure won't help you!

Argonaut Software only got access to the DualShock analogue controller two weeks before they wrapped production on the first game[2][5], hence its somewhat slipshod execution. To offer true, improved analogue control was in their agenda for Croc 2, and... well, it works. It's not without its quirks, but it's a darn sight easier than trying to finagle the sticks in the last game!

Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of D-Pad controls, which are left to make some bizarre compromise between rotational and directional controls. When moving, Croc will run in the direction you press, but will turn to get there; if you're running forward and hit left, he'll steer left as if he were a car.
If Croc is stationary, he'll turn on the spot until he's facing the direction you're pressing, and then begin moving.

It's... adequate. A midway point between his old tank controls and something more immediate; he does turn a lot faster, mitigating the need for the 180 degree flip (... mostly), but it's still a somewhat fussy control scheme.

Between the camera's penchant for drifting and levels' love of curved platforms, it can be surprisingly difficult to cross such simple terrain, Croc's controls or the camera working together to throw him off somehow.

It also makes quickly repositioning yourself a pain, especially on floating platforms; you need to come to an absolute stop before you can change direction on the spot, otherwise he'll keep veering forward and miss what you were trying to aim for. It's hard to describe, but after the nuances of the last game's control scheme, throwing it all out for something that's not much better isn't great.

The PC version seems to refine the controls overall, and is actually surprisingly pleasant to play on an Xbox 360 gamepad. Adjusting to Croc's new weight and speed is still a problem, but something you can live with when the controls are that bit more responsive. I wasn't constantly aware of his quirks like I was on PlayStation, which is a plus.

It also has the unique feature to restore the old rotational controls, billed under "Control Method Type 2". The game was seemingly still using these during development, if footage from E3 1998 is any indicator, so it's nice to see its inclusion. And you know what? It's not that bad!

Croc's speed is a little uncanny after the weightiness of the last game, but they're still very responsive, offering a tighter turning radius than before and responding decently enough to tight platforming challenges. And it restores the 180-degree turn! Sadly without Croc's adorable hop, though, in which case why even bother.

I was worried that intense stages like Roger Red Ant would ask too much of it, and the answer is... perhaps. When Croc now flies around at a far faster clip, and levels are far bigger and more spread out, it makes a lot less sense to control like this.
Still, it's a viable alternative if the default method grinds your gears too much. You can only play using the keyboard's arrow keys, of course, and using an analogue stick with Control Type 2 enabled will completely muck it up. If you gotta use a gamepad, use Xpadder or Joy2Key to map the arrow keys accordingly.
Although context sensitive, the biggest addition to Croc's moveset is the ability to pick up and throw things; something established as a possibility in the first game's concept art, but only came to fruition for the sequel. It allows for new types of challenges, where Croc must carry objects from point A to point B, usually to destroy a wall, activate a switch, or bludgeon an enemy, often with hazards that'll make him drop his cargo.

Unfortunately, throwing is by no means precise; you just get into position and pray. When Croc's own physics leave something to be desired, throwing things isn't going to be satisfying either!

Nearly half of the bosses are fought exclusively by throwing things at them; an appreciated attempt to improve the lacklustre fights of the last game...

... but it feels extremely hands-off, forcing you to contend with iffy collision detection, belaboured wind-up times, or even what you're meant to be doing.

There simply aren't enough good uses of it to make the feature worth its while, which stinks when it's the game's biggest attempt at increasing the player's interactivity.

Croc's moveset simply doesn't befit the new gameplay he's found himself in. Some of it's new, some of it is changed, but I'm not inclined to treat any of them as actual improvements. The triple jump is neat, but does the game need it? What meaningful challenge do we gain from requiring a stronger jump?
Likewise, while the game tries to make picking up and throwing things have meaning, the execution makes it more hassle than it's worth. At this point it might as well be a fire sale; what value do the vehicle stages have? Or the entire shop system? What fun is there in grinding for health extensions and gatekeeping 100% completion?

Croc 1 was every bit a platformer. Its modus operandi, if not raison d'être, was platforming. Croc's controls, his momentum, his interactions with objects, were built expressly around jumping on platforms. The game's compact level design is optimised for that, where he's always in close proximity to a pit, or an elevation -- something that requires jumping. Jumping is the language it speaks!

But you look at the new standard that was emerging -- jumping isn't as big a deal as it used to be? It's essential, sure, but it's not your primary means of interaction; you engage with other facets instead, exploring the plains in search of them, and that entails an entirely different philosophy for it to actually be compelling.

Mario and Spyro are standouts in making the simple act of moving around a pure delight; they have such lovely momentum, as well as dives, long jumps, the tactile impact of clobbering an enemy, and other abilities to make faffing about with them a boon. Simply charging head-first into everything as Spyro is a pleasure that has yet to be topped.
Croc has nothing.
Maybe he'll do that stupid tumbling jump if you remember the sidestep buttons had a secondary purpose. But why would you think that? It's the only toy you've got, and there's only so much fun you can mine out of trying to find application for it.



One of the more curious additions to the game is the OmniPlay option. Although exclusively a single-player game, this allows you to allocate certain commands to a second controller, with toggles for movement, jumping, attacking, and even camera control or inventory management. The manual suggests it can be used to help someone learn the ropes, letting them learn the timing of jumping or attacking while the other steers Croc.

It's an unorthodox feature, one that admittedly has limited use when it's so hard to get people in the same room to play games nowadays... but darn it if it's not a cute idea. Given the uptick in responsibilities after the last game, to share the burden between two players is a charming way of making it more accessible; you worry about the jumping, I'll splat those baddies and point you in the right direction!

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Indeed, that's pretty much how it came about: Fox Interactive producer Dave stalkers regales[4] that it began simply as him amusing his daughters while showing off a preview build. He would hand them unused controllers and tell them they were playing, then jump whenever they pressed a button.

From there the idea struck, Argonaut were quick to implement it, and he discovered new uses for it -- beyond simply allowing his young children to take part, parents could teach their children to play (or more often than not, the kid schooling their elders) without the embarrassment of taking the controller from them.

Even intentionally tripping each other up with impromptu actions was an option, making it a hoot at parties, and Dave was pretty hyped about its inclusion in other games. Fox filed a trademark for it before the game's release, but it seems Croc 2 was the only place it was employed.

A couple of games have used similar control-sharing techniques to fun effect. CodeMasters' Micro Machines V3 was notable for allowing two players to share one controller, the D-Pad and face buttons steering each player's car and their respective shoulder buttons used to employ weapons.
A decidedly cramped way of playing the game, but a delightful concession to make up for how few people owned a PlayStation Multi-Tap (and what a temperamental piece of shit that thing was).

Although not an advertised feature, the GameCube's Game Boy Player add-on would map the same controls to all controllers, allowing for creative sharing of responsibilities. Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga found a new calling as a quasi co-op game, with each of the plumbers' commands mapped to the A or B Button -- so long as you remember who's who, you can play like you're working together and not just sharing controls!

I have not had the privilege to try OmniPlay, sadly, but my heart warms at the mere thought of its inclusion. Quirky and unhelpful as it may have been, having that play style as a option at all must have entertained some kids out there, and perhaps a sign that Croc 2 is an experience meant to be shared, either with backseat drivers or hands-on participants.

Super Mario Galaxy would kickstart a short-lived fad of "helper" co-op, where one player sacrificed autonomy for simpler commands, allowing them to assist without the need to learn the game's finer points.

Perhaps a more sensible route given the common dichotomy of children wanting to play with parents or older siblings (or the other way around) but lacking the skill to take it all onboard... but I love the bonkers notion of just spreading inputs across multiple controllers. Let me play a first-person shooter like a bull in a china shop and have the second player frantically shoot my way to safety.

Having been taken out of his comfort zone (of small, compact areas where platforms are constantly being interacted with), it shows that Croc's moveset simply isn't accustomed to engaging with wide open spaces like this. At least, not in a manner that's particularly fun or invigorating. Platforming is less the focus and more a formality; something true of many 3D platformers of the era, where platforming came second to collecting, but they had the added luxury of still playing good.

The game's identity has changed through its new style of level design, and the new add-ons are all a bit iffy, but surely we can find merit in something about Croc's new world? He must have a shining personality, surely.

but i didn't ask for a
shining personality!!

One of the unexpected troubles in playing Croc 2 for the first time is... everything's different! We've talked the levels and controls already, but the art direction is different, the Gobbos look different, and even all the familiar iconography is repurposed for completely different uses!

Crystals remain a common sight, but no longer serve as a shield ala Sonic's rings -- they're now currency, and are completely useless at protecting you from damage.

You can survive multiple hits before dying, as now Croc's health is measured in hearts... repurposing what were extra lives in the previous game.

So what represents lives then? Nothing! They're gone entirely! Once your health is emptied, you're kicked back to the hub and have to do it all again. Instant death traps will simply take away one of Croc's hearts and dump him back at the last checkpoint... which are represented by gongs, the same ones you'd hit to exit a stage in the last game! Which sometimes they do here as well! The whole thing's topsy turvy!


KaBooom! It's
Roger Red Ant

If ever there's a level that brings out the worst in the game, look no further. One of the longest and most challenging stages in the game, one that expects quick reflexes and snap decisions when everything so far had been comparatively placid... and it's given zero warning or fanfare, it's just another ordinary level found in the second world.

Roger Red Ant, an arrogant, nasally little twerp on a floating platform, has kidnapped a bunch of Gobbos and strapped them to explosives, and it's Croc's job to rescue them. This manifests as three chambers containing two passages each, where Croc must first race to the exit -- either to carry a bomb to destroy a door, stomping switches to delay a detonator, or outrunning a lit fuse and rescue a Gobbo before it and everyone else get blown to kingdom come.

Each section begins with a timed challenge, with an ominous ticking clock at the bottom of the screen -- if Croc doesn't make it to the end in time, kaboom. Back to the start!
Getting past this isn't the end of it, there's still a challenge room after the fact, where there's a Gobbo in need of saving. Clearing that returns you to the central chamber, and finishing both passages opens the next chamber. Only four more passages to go...!

This isn't just a long haul, it compiles all the game's faults into one surprisingly torturous experience. Every little element that seemed a little skew-whiff suddenly becomes a glaring issue, one that seemingly fights to make your life a misery.

Hearts are a precious resource, and it's forever in short supply. So much of the game is played on edge because you know you're never sure what's coming next.

Since the game has no lives, your health has to cover the gamut; allowing you to survive enemy attacks, and to resume from a checkpoint. Getting shot by a Dantini from off-screen means one less chance to retry a chamber, and in a stage like this, you need all the attempts you can get!

Because Croc 1 had a shield system, taking damage was an acknowledged inevitability; Crystals were plentiful in the first two worlds, but soon became rarer and rarer. Holding onto them was a valuable skill, leading to clutch moments of clinging to dear life by collecting the ones you scattered.
There's none of that here; when you're hit, you're hit, and there's no rolling it back. You can't stockpile lives because they don't exist, and your health has a hard cap. If you want more tries, you'll need to save up Crystals and buy Heart Pots, but nine hits is all you can possibly have. It's the law!

Did I mention the camera stinks? Even the simplest jumps are enough to make my whole body flinch because of how unfriendly it is. It has a mind of its own, often hanging low and uncomfortably zoomed in, or sometimes drifting around to show a cinematic angle.
Unlike Legend of the Gobbos where you could pan the view up and down to assess the distance, snapping the camera behind Croc is all you get this time around!

It makes parsing 3D space very haphazard; measuring distances on simple jumps feels incredibly treacherous...! And in the cramped tunnels at the start of each passage, jumping over those small lava pools feels scarier than ever -- and because you're carrying a bomb, you can't triple-jump to make it easier on yourself.

When the camera works you tend not to notice it, but in a game where every risk is heightened to the extreme, you're begging for a whiff of cooperation from it.

By making pits and lava only consume a hit instead of an entire life, they probably thought this made them less threatening... but without lives or shields it's still a harsh blow, especially with how Croc 2 handles checkpoints. Where every room was its own checkpoint in the last game, you're lucky to find two checkpoint gongs in any one level this time around.

Falling down a pit will respawn you at the entrance of the level of the last checkpoint gong you struck... but technically your progress is maintained? Any objectives you've accomplished remain that way, all crystals or keys you've collected will remain that way, and any Jelly Jumps you've used will still be there when you return.

This means you can die in lava before you exit Roger's challenge passage, but so long as you rescue all the Gobbos, it'll count as being cleared. In that circumstance it spares you the frustration of having to replay that area... but if you die before then, you gotta do the entire thing over again.

Because you don't respawn in the immediate area, it's very easy to get turned around -- where am I now, and how do I get back to where I was? And if you don't know where you are, you're liable to taking the nearest door... which might be the entrance and will make you leave the level entirely. Say goodbye to all that progress!

It doesn't help that continuing from a game over doesn't even put you back in the stage -- you have to sit through two loading screens (one to load the hub, the other to reload the stage), and it doesn't even top off your hearts, restarting you with only 3!

Collecting all 100 Crystals in a stage will refill your health to maximum (quickest done by beating a boss stage like Flavio's), as will buying another Health Pot, which are in short supply. Better just reloading from a save file if it's too much bother...!

And these are just common tribulations you face throughout the entire game; Roger Red Ant's stage simply brings out the worst in them. After all the trouble of bashing your head against this stage for who knows how long, you're even denied the privilege of kicking Roger's ass -- he gets blown to pieces by his own captive for alleged comic effect.

These changes are all possible attempts at streamlining the design, but it only complicates matters because it completely changes how you approach the game.

By repurposing Crystals, health is now in extremely limited supply, forcing you to play with far more caution than you might expect. Without lives, every hit is precious, and you're denied the opportunity to stockpile them before entering a tough stage.

And by introducing tangible checkpoints, every whiffed jump is now punished severely; you're no longer just retrying the room you were in, you have to make it back to where you were, possibly minutes worth of progress...! This is taxing enough in ordinary stages, but in a marathon level like this, what should be fun and engaging is now stressful beyond belief.

It's almost a pity, because it's the first true platforming gauntlet the game really throws at you. It's a keen challenge, one that pushes your skills to the limit... but there's been zero lead-up to it at this point, barely enough to ease you in to what it expects from you.

If it were broken up into multiple stages, I could almost see it as a fun recurring feature throughout the worlds; a couple of short but intense challenges against a recurring villain... but instead you're forced to gulp it down in one marathon session, where the smallest screw-up can potentially force you to redo the entire thing.

A cautious attempt with no deaths can take ten minutes, still twice as long as most other stages, yet I've seen streamers spend over an hour on this one... and then dive right back in because they missed one of the Colour Crystals. Argh!

Of all the levels in Cossack Village, it's easily the toughest and perhaps one of the most gruelling in the entire game -- and it's not even a boss stage! It's far more demanding than either of the real bosses! Flavio and Lava Lamp Larry are basic puzzle fights, and are both relative pushovers once you work out the gimmickry involved.

It's possible that Roger was intended for later in the game...? There's nothing in his stage that's necessarily tied to the ice world, and could have been squeezed in anywhere; the cave tileset is pretty universal.

It would almost make sense for the Inca Village, its extreme reliance on triple-jumps to cross most gaps seems appropriate... but that would perhaps front-load that world with challenges, going straight from this to the entire castle gauntlet.

What's worst is when replaying the game, I thought beating this stage would be the worst of it; it'd be plain sailing from here on out. While nothing else is as viciously, egregiously bad as Roger Red Ant, the game is still no stranger to obtuse design and obnoxious roadblocks. At least by this point you can decide whether you've the patience for that, or to just bow out entirely.
With its revamps across the board, Croc 2 is clearly trying to make a bold new impression, one that sheds the shackles of its predecessor. It doesn't want you thinking of those old quirks, the floating landmasses and whatnot -- these places are tangible worlds now! The Gobbos aren't just macguffins, they're people, your friends! And everybody talks now!

Every level is prefaced with a Gobbo in crisis, with occasional mid-stage interactions or animated cutscenes before boss battles; the dialogue is presented through text, although it's all verbalised in incomprehensible gurgles and babblings. The end-of-world boss is now prefaced with a cutscene, typically focusing on Baron Dante and the behind-the-scenes of his evil schemes -- calling in favours from old buddies, observing his scientist Dantinis' handiwork, or the Gobbos reacting to his off-screen villainy.

It's easy to see why they thought dialogue was worth adding: Croc was mute, and thus an outlier among his fellow mascots. He himself made exclamations during gameplay, but there was no meaningful dialogue in any form.
Every other 3D platformer prior had expressed itself either in text or spoken dialogue, with PlayStation games in particular leaning on their CD-ROM capacity to allow for cinematic presentation. If done right, it can make a heck of an impression!



I had to skim the cutscenes again to refresh myself on what the game's story even was, because it's kind of low stakes, innit? Croc's just kind of aimlessly farting about, doing odd jobs for people to get leads on where his parents might be (leads which are invariably "thank you croc, but your parents are on another island, probably"), while Baron Dante is just... lounging around.
He really has no actual scheme, has he? He calls a few friends to terrorise Croc once in a while, maybe showing up to do it himself, but it's not until the end that he starts asserting himself by kidnapping people, for no greater objective than "hate me, I'm evil!"

The first game's intro establishes a bad deed has been done, and more are occurring on the journey there -- Dante turning innocent creatures into monsters -- so you want to right those wrongs before any more are committed.
By virtue of its hub and open-ended choice of levels, Croc 2 comes across as a lot breezier by comparison, on top of having no actual threat established out of the gate.

It's interesting that the player is shown Dante's revival, and even occasional cutaways to him calling favours from his villainous friends, but Croc himself is oblivious to this until near the end of the game.

The inventor Gobbo is the only one to bear witness to Dante's return, but it doesn't really amount to a hill of beans, nor does Croc seemingly give a toss -- the baron's just a distraction from his quest for family, an obstacle to be disposed of for the safety of his Gobbo neighbours.

I can't help but wonder if the game could have played with this angle some more. To have no established threat at the beginning, but show a rash of attacks against the villages Croc visits, all out to get him -- who could be behind it all? It'd give time for the other villains to shine, making early bosses appear the big threat, before they're usurped by the next guy in the villainy food chain.

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By making these bosses established characters and not magical monsters that cease to exist once they're defeated, it almost establishes a more defined world for the characters to inhabit.
Dante isn't alone in his villainy lark if he and Cannon Boat Keith are peers, and the Sailor Village have had prior encounters with Soveena the octopus thanks to her affinity for ginger soda -- or according to Argonaut's website, her affections for Croc?! Is the soda fixation a ruse and she's really cruising for studs???

It's silly to expect a story with depth to begin with, but it's one of those things where just at the faintest whiff of plot and dialogue, we're instantly given fodder to read into and tear apart at our leisure. When a game tells its story through nothing but pantomime, we just accept it, but if you're stopping the action to put text on screen, it better be flippin' worth it!
There's something there that could work, but how the dialogue manifests and story is presented just renders it inert, more clunky than compelling. I'm not sure if I even care that much; these games don't need deep stories...!
After all, what made Banjo-Kazooie stand out, besides its striking quality, was its quirky British charm. Through its fully-animated introductory cutscene and frequent dialogue (presented in text but accompanied with vocalised gibberish, something one could argue Star Fox popularised), this game put personality front and centre.
Although cute and cuddly, its offbeat sense of humour enamoured even cynical magazine reviewers, forced to confront the knowledge of what life must be like for a living, sentient toilet. It would perhaps take a while for other games to reach this level of sass, but even Rare would amp it up, each instalment getting more and more snarky until all warmth was evicted to make room for more snark. But I digress.

Spyro, too, made dialogue a big part of its appeal. Later instalments would up the amount of interaction that'd take place, but freeing imprisoned dragons results in a short animated exchange with the rescuee sharing their knowledge with Spyro. Some offer gameplay tips, others simply a bit of fun, expressing as much personality as ten seconds of voiced dialogue will allow.
Even its introductory cutscene is delightfully irreverent, the game's entire events brought about because of Gnasty Gnorc getting roasted on live television. Although grounded in chill vibes, the frequent engagement with other lifeforms and spoken dialogue ensures it doesn't become a dissociative experience disconnected from reality, like the first Croc was so prone to.

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Hell, I can even talk about tail-whippin', channel-surfin', casual homophobe Gex, who finished his trilogy in the time between Crocs. Not unlike Bubsy, his games leaned heavily on its attitude and pop culture references above all.

Gex's infrequent chatter is now upgraded (your mileage may vary) to fully-voiced commentary, celebrity impressions, or non sequitur one-liners to fill dead air. Oh, and cutscenes inexplicably starring a Playboy centerfold might be a draw too. Rated T for Teen, everybody.

This resulted in it being one of the rare games given a new localisation for British markets, swapping out comedy writer Dana Gould and his American witticisms for someone closer to home:

Comic actor Leslie Phillips playing it smooth and suave in Enter The Gecko, and Red Dwarf star Danny John-Jules flexing his impressions in Deep Cover Gecko. I know of one person in my life who had very strong opinions about these disparate takes on Gex's characterisation, and I am blessed to have heard them.

Personality means a lot, is what I'm getting at, and my beef with Croc 2's handling of it is... it adds nothing. It offers context for the missions, sure, but there's no great story to be told, nor sterling characters to interact with. It's just fluff.
The sequel's dialogue seems to exist solely to bludgeon you with its childish presentation, yet even as a young'un when I rented the game, I found it insulting. The dialogue is just so vapid and kiddy that it's surprising it expects its target audience can even read.

It's just the barebones of children's writing, with no imagination to make it shine, nor snarky tone to give it an edge. Jokes about burping and bizarre foodstuffs are the best it can offer. There's fleeting moments of warmth and charm, but it's an instance where having no writing would be instantly preferable to having bad writing.
To be fair, I might just be salty about running into the trampoline Gobbo multiple times in Sailor Village, whose dialogue takes twelve seconds to play out and cannot be fast-forwarded. I've talked about bad first impressions, right?



Argonaut designed the Gobbos to avoid the traditional "rescue the princess" scenario, but still have something that resonates with the hero[5]. They're a weird, very indistinct design, very much a shapeless furry mass with only their giant glassy eyeballs to lend them distinction, but darn it if they aren't strangely cute; a fun use of billboard sprites to make a 3D character on the cheap.

Although literal collectibles for the entire game, the glimpses we see of them during peacetime in the intro and ending cutscenes sell them as a charming bunch. It'd be fun to see more of them this time!
... unfortunately, Croc 2 makes them look like ass. They're... polygonal now! The promotional renders aren't that different from before, refining their shape to define their arms and torsos better, but their in-game models are another story.

They try to represent their inherent fuzziness with sharp angles and polys, a look that's unflattering at best and downright sacrilege at worst. Where's the charm?!

Part of this change is likely down to their new thematic designs -- no longer walking around buck naked, each tribe wears garb representative of their gimmick, be they sailor suits, furry loincloths, or Russian gorlatnaya.

It'd be difficult to present such designs through billboard sprites without bits clashing and overlapping... but it also feels like a short-sighted design choice in the first place.

They're the mascots, sure, but was anyone really asking to see more Gobbos? The story is about Croc's search for his parents, our first proof that he's not the only one of his kind, and evidence there's a great big world out there.
Baron Dante's castle was home to a wide variety of colourful critters, never mind all the helpless animals that were transformed into bosses. Would it not be more fun to explore that diversity instead?

Croc 2, for introducing eye-catching bosses like Soveena and Cannon Boat Keith, feels strangely homogenised in some way. You're always interacting with Gobbos. The Dantinis have been changed from small, bratty little imps into larger, more imposing creatures, without nearly the same range of colourations and attack types as before. As much as the world seems bigger, it also feels a lot smaller. Is this all that's out there?

To its credit, the world does feel more tangible this time -- no longer just little dioramas floating in space, there's enough world-building through dialogue or visual cues to at least suggest what each tribe gets up to.
The conveyor belts and mine cart systems imply they have half-decent mining operations set up, while the primitive tribe just do things the old fashioned way. The game does a good job of presenting cohesive worlds, sometimes with an overarching crisis to resolve across multiple levels, like in the Inca and Caveman Villages.

But it loses the sense of wonder and magic of the last game. Legend of the Gobbos played out like a fairy tale, where all that was shown was what's relevant to the story, such as it is.
The Gobbos lived in peace; who were the Gobbos and what did they do? That's not the point, the point is they were kidnapped. Croc travelled many lands to save them; what kind of lands? It doesn't matter, all we need to know is he travelled far and they served as video game levels!
As stupid as that game's subtitle may be, this is perhaps the one context where the "legend" part is almost applicable, telling the tale of an unlikely hero, and not just a symptom of gaming's love of dumbass suffixes.

By showing us Gobbos with personal race tracks, or Dantinis with bio-organic tyrannosaurs, suddenly a lot of that mystique fades away.

While it is charming that Croc's reputation precedes him and he meets friends wherever he goes (despite some initial frosty receptions), it also feels kind of... charmless, as well. What's the point?

We could be meeting entirely different races of people, embracing all new dynamics with them, and instead all we learn is Gobbos from the Gobbo Islands are the only ones who don't wear clothes. I was happier when I didn't have to think about that, thanks.

On one hand, fair play to them for escaping the damsel ghetto so quickly. They're no longer just furry little damsels in distress, they're your peers now; for every instance of needing to rescue them, there's another where they help Croc in pivotal ways.
This might entail fetching an item or providing vital information, or even being the ones to deliver the finishing blow to a boss, usually with high calibre explosives. Princess Peach wishes she could contribute as thoroughly and consistently as that. On the other hand, god they're ugly.
In trying to reinvent itself to match up with its peers, not only does it still feel like a baby's game, but it ends up squandering what made the first game so distinctive. Croc 1's silent pantomime presentation was endearing, and every cutscene felt optimised to hammer home a point: Dante's an arse, the bosses are but victims of circumstance, and Croc is never a malevolent hero. He's an innocent soul, curious about the world around him, and bears no ill will to his enemies, even if said creature was a towering monster just five seconds ago.

The dialogue is perhaps a necessity to convey its objectives and mechanics; there's a lot more that needs explaining this time around, and expecting the player to have the manual at all hands is asking a lot. Have pity on people who rented the game, who may not have even gotten the manual! (and also pity them for renting croc 2. i rented croc 2 so it's okay for me to say that)

Although it means you're engaging with fellow lifeforms a lot more often (mitigating Croc 1's whole dissociative situation), it means there's a lot less cutscenes this time around. One takes for granted not just what flavour those short vignettes added to the first game, but also how many there were -- nearly twenty of them! The prologue, an intro and outro for each boss, and two endings. Croc 2 only has seven, and that's if we count the two intro scenes separately!

They are far longer and arguably more ambitious than last time, with more sets, props and characters involved than the just Croc or Dante interacting with a boss... but it also means you go long portions of the game without them.

For such a little world, the pantomime cutscenes did a terrific job of fleshing them out, not just making these one-and-done bosses so memorable, but conveying the attitudes of Baron Dante and Croc so well.

By contrast, while adding text dialogue conveys more complex ideas more coherently (and saves them the trouble of needing to animate so much, probably), it means they don't make nearly the same splash.

Despite very visual scenes like Dante's science lab or Croc taking to the skies in a miniature biplane, none of them feel as immersive or relevant as the old stuff. Having dialogue means you're interacting with characters more regularly... and probably getting tired of them all a lot quicker. Is the trade-off worth it?


an ode to
Beany the Bird

Although an understated staple of the original game, it might take a moment to realise an important character is missing from the sequel, going completely unmentioned: Beany! The little Bird was Croc's guardian angel through his first adventure; the one who saved him from Dante's wrath, the one who carries him between islands and levels, and the only one who's with him on every leg of the journey.
She's barely a character, mind you, given no time to express a personality or truly interact with anyone; her wearing a pair of goggles in Neptuna's lair is as memorable as she gets. But still! She's cute, and the gongs that summon her are a memorable part of the game's iconography; to keep the gongs and not her just feels rude. Did they think there was too much resemblance to Kazooie?

It never explains her ties to the gongs, or why she's able to carry Croc away; the sparkles and sound effects sure suggest she's magical. You could argue Croc 2 leans towards a "magic versus technology" angle, as only Dante and his minions are expressly magical, using their powers to transform others or just fire big nasty fireballs.
Compare that with the Gobbos; primitive as they may seem, they still boast go-karts, motorboats, and steam trains as part of their everyday activities, with the unnamed inventor creating hang-gliders and biplanes on a whim. Even Croc's tribe, simple as they may be, catapult him across the ocean with nothing but a boulder and a plank. They may be humble, but they're inventive little critters.

It's idle spitballing, but if the magical creatures are presented as villains, then it does suggest Beany simply didn't fit the series' new worldview. That's understandable; many franchises take a little while to figure out who's worth keeping, and who's surplus to requirements. It's just a pity her loss only makes the cast that more homogenous. The two throwaway birds in this game aren't exactly great avian representation.
I could go on. The game strives to push itself forward, but flounders at meeting their potential every time. The number of advancements it makes is impressive, but for every step forward, it take two steps back. Its desire to push a personality makes me wish it was mute. Its attempts to expand the gameplay have me less enthused to play any further.

It's shocking how every effort the game makes to improve itself is something I disagree with, either in design or execution. It struggles as a sequel and it struggles as a contender. But is it fair to basing my argument on that?

in which croc 2 is
a victim of circumstance


(or a good chunk of them, at least)
1997/09 Croc: Legend of the Gobbos
1997/10 Ninja Jajamaru-kun: Onigiri Ninpouchou Gold
1997/10 Tomb Raider 2
1997/10 Crash Bandicoot 2
1997/11 Chameleon Twist
1997/12 Jersey Devil
1997/12 Mega Man Legends
1998/01 Gex: Enter the Gecko
1998/02 Pitfall 3D: Beyond the Jungle
1998/03 Rascal
1998/03 Blasto
1998/09 ReBoot
1998/04 Bomberman Hero
1998/06 Banjo-Kazooie
1998/06 Akuji the Heartless
1998/09 Spyro the Dragon
1998/09 The Fifth Element
1998/10 Space Station Silicon Valley
1998/10 A Bug's Life
1998/11 Glover
1998/11 Crash Bandicoot 3
1998/11 Tomb Raider 3
1998/11 Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon
1998/12 Chameleon Twist 2
1999/01 Castlevania 64
1999/03 Gex 3: Deep Cover Gecko
1999/04 Ape Escape
1999/06 Bugs Bunny: Lost in Time
1999/08 Croc 2

It can't be overstated how much changed in the gap between Croc 1 and 2. In just two years there had been a sudden boom of 3D platformers, and what was once a clumsy and experimental field had mutated seemingly overnight into a force to be reckoned with.

Multiple branches of well-formed products, all bringing their own flavour to the format; the more cooks in the kitchen, the quicker they'll figure out how to make a pie! And in that time, not only had the competition already been making sequels, some of them had become trilogies!

I already mentioned Gex, but heavy hitters Crash Bandicoot and Tomb Raider saw second and third instalments within a year of each other!

Although not as dramatic a reinvention as Croc 2 was to its original, their formulas had been tweaked and perfected to an artform, bringing new challenge, new technology, new gameplay to the table, while still iterating upon what made them so dang good.

If Croc 2 were still competing with their their hoaky, croaky, original incarnations, it might have stood up to them, but this was both series' third time round the block. What's three years of refined craft compared to restarting from scratch?


Croc 1 concept art

Both Croc games are notable for the features that appeared in previews but not the final release. The first Croc was to include snowboard sequences, occasionally pictured in early magazine coverage, but had to be cut at the last second[1]. Jez San had high hopes of including them in the sequel, along with all the other stuff that couldn't make it in on the first attempt.

On August 2014 artist and level designer Simon Keating shared a good chunk of his concept art for Legend of the Gobbos on Facebook, under his new employment at Rule Of Fun. It's an amazing glimpse into the game's ambitious designs, bursting with flavour and character, and demonstrating the sheer excitement in developing for 3D at the time.

The world is our oyster! Why don't we have massive bosses ten times bigger than our hero? Or entire levels where you're dogged by aerial adversaries?

The art is dated 1996, putting it around the time of the leaked PlayStation tech demo. While the scope and technical limitations of the game were still in flux (and likely hampered by the three skews they were developing for), to see this unbridled creativity is a lot of fun.

It's also a rare insight into what Croc looked like before he got polygons... and he's a lumpy fellow, isn't he? His mushy snout and penchant for his mouth forming at the front of his nose is a trifle unpleasant, and I'm grateful his promotional renders gave him a more traditional jaw.

Levels are designed as large, self-contained puzzle rooms, often with an ornate sequence of events -- having to push a heavy battery onto moving platforms or beneath magnets to carry it towards a charging station, or even finding a "strength potion" to allow Croc to throw a block onto a catapult, launching an elephant(!?) into the air to knock down foes who are dogging him the entire stage.
It's incredibly ambitious, often entailing abilities Croc would not have until the sequel, but with the large but lush, self-contained areas seen in the doodles, you can see the kinds of setpieces they wanted to build.

It is great to see the enemies and scenarios through Keating's colourful touch though. The British cartoon energy is strong with this one, from its bubble font to its multitude of funny-faced goons. The slapstick cartoon qualities shine through here brightest of all, something that had to be downplayed on account of polygonal limitations, sadly.
I'd argue what the finished product settled on made for a more unique and longer-lasting impression, but it does explain the emphasis on comic mischief in the sequel; it wasn't a bizarre new addition, it was there from the very start...!

Of the concepts shown, only a couple made their way into the sequel: the minecarts (complete with tilting, though just to collect crystals, not to toggle switches), and the setting for Dante's final battle, apparently. Once again we missed out on the possibility for snowboarding -- it wouldn't be until Croc hit Game Boy the following year that we'd get a piece of that action!

Croc 2 was entering an extremely competitive market, however, and it can't be helped that its value was measured against others. I'm confident the team at Argonaut were doing their best to push a solid product -- why wouldn't they be? They still had their hand in the game, somewhat, having developed Buck Bumble for Nintendo 64 the previous year.

It's more an exploration of the capabilities of 3D, if not an expansion of their preliminary free-reign concepts for Star Fox (if you squint a bit), than it is a 3D platformer, though. A fascinating game in its own right, but a retrospection for another time -- it's irrelevant to our discussion by sidestepping the 3D platformer quarry entirely.

... perhaps it was right to do so? Everywhere you look, you see another 3D platformer fighting to assert itself. For every vintage franchise making the leap to 3D, like Castlevania, Ganbare Goemon or Bomberman, there was an up and coming classic making its debut, like short-lived Sony darling Ape Escape.

It's difficult to view Croc 2 on its own terms, because it almost actively encourages comparison. Wherever you look, you see a little bit of the pie it wants for itself. The free-flowing levels of Crash Bandicoot. The explorative hubs of Spyro. The dialogue of Banjo-Kazooie. The vehicular challenges of Diddy Kong Racing[5] -- yes, a real cited source of inspiration by Nic Cusworth!
The rest I'm just theorising, but it feels like its influences are far more apparent than the inspirations from the last game -- this isn't converting old ideas into new mediums, but just poaching what it wants for itself. Game design via buffet table.

And to be fair, that is ambitious. The game is a hard swerve from pure platforming into something more varied, with a lot of new facets to juggle. Looking at concept art from the original Croc, it's clear they had a lot of ideas they wanted in -- puzzles, mine carts, hot air balloons, carrying objects -- some of which was finally found a home in the sequel. Pair that with seeing what the competition was up to, the development was taking on more than one might expect from a sequel in this era!

... and I wonder if they were simply biting off more than they could chew. Trying to cram all that into the initial Christmas 1998 release date was a big ask, and the delay either gave them time to further refine things, or temper their expectations. That or make last-minute cuts, if early footage is anything to go on.
The promises made for the Dreamcast release suggest Argonaut were eager to make the best product they possibly could, but I imagine for Fox Interactive, the game was becoming a sunk cost. Croc's name value was waning, and by then it would be competing with fare like Spider-Man, Rayman 2, Sonic Adventure... it was only getting more and more out of its depth!

Every creation is a product of its time, but Croc 2 feels so marred by circumstance that it's tethered to its foibles. To me, Legend of the Gobbos is very much shaped by its era, but still stands up to this day -- there's nothing else quite like it. I can play most old games and either contextualise them or divorce them from their setting, whatever is best for them... yet I can only describe this sequel as untimely in every regard.

It stinks, because if you try to look at it on its own terms, Croc 2 isn't that bad... right?

see you later alligator

Croc 2 makes an extremely brusque first impression, between its strange new format, its marathon level lengths and its shocking difficulty... and it only doubles down on those elements. I was under the impression that the game might settle down at some point; its challenge might finally find a happy medium, or its design suddenly make sense to me. It happened before!

Whether it was the game finally warming up to me, or me just giving in to its bullshit, who can say. It's still a rocky road to the finish line, but something changed, either in me or the game, that made it come into its own a little more from that point onward.
It became adequate.
Low to middling at best.

Franchises and sequels have expectations, which can often be stifling. Croc 2 surpasses expectations -- in the sense that, wow, this isn't nearly as fun or charming as the last game.

The ambitions are earnest, a natural desire to expand and try new things. Of course you wanna see Croc on a bigger scale! The 3D boom was a thrilling time where it felt like there were no limits; seeing ideas new and old was exciting.

But it's not until you actually get hands-on with these ideas that you might realise what you're losing because of it. Croc competing with the big boys sounds cool... but there's nothing else quite like Croc, and what is there to gain when there's already dozens of platformers like what it's trying to be?

Well, money, duh. Gotta chase the trends! Nobody's gonna appreciate this tank control malarkey until decades past its viable sales period. Belated appreciation is not what you pitch to executives when they ask about profit prospects.


more like Croc

One of the pratfalls of being a fussy shithead is when I like something, I just want more of it. In the extremely literal sense that I look for something new, that's also exactly like what I already enjoy... to the point that one may ask why I don't just rewatch those things instead. Look, some people are obnoxiously obtuse, and nobody knows that better than me, an obnoxiously obtuse person.

Video games are funny in that sometimes you'll get entire genres that owe their design to one very specific game, be it rogue-likes, 2D fighters or oldschool space shooters... and then sometimes one game does its own thing, no one else bothers replicating it, and I get very uppity about it.
There's no shortage of 3D platformers, but how many of them hit the same beats as Croc...? Having tank controls, my first assumption was to explore Tomb Raider and Bubsy 3D...

... but honestly? The closest game I can think of to Croc's design ethos is Chameleon Twist. It's functionally a very different game with very different goals. More daring jumps and a faster pace of action, especially with its tongue-based antics -- scooping up enemies in your mouth and spitting them out like machine gun fire, or vaulting yourself over gaps and swinging around poles.

Where it feels like Croc is in its room-based design. Although the introductory level is relatively open-air, other stages are predominantly built out of small cubic chambers, populating them with enemies and hazards, and often requiring creative usage of said obstacles to proceed.
Bomb Land and Kids Land are perhaps the epitome of this, requiring tricky application of explosive enemies or vaulting poles to not just make it to the exit, but also acquire all the optional Crowns in each stage -- the true heart of its challenge.

They're both different beasts, but through both visual design and game design, the two do feel like kindred spirits in a way, even if their respective consoles and countries separate them. Even in its larger stages, the quaint scope and charming environments sell a similar vibe.
Heck, you could even make a contrived Yoshi's Island analogy with its licking-and-spitting mechanic. What Croc left on the table, Chameleon Twist asks "are you gonna eat that?"

And of course, just like Croc, the sequel to Chameleon Twist also messes up a good thing. Did you like the adorable bobble-headed mascots of the first game? Too bad, they actually look like chameleons now, and they're horrifying.
Rather than the comparatively bite-sized challenges of before, levels are now sprawling and meandering, constantly making you wait for moving platforms with nothing to make the commute worth its while. It demands patience that it does not reward you for.

While not without some merit -- its penchant for daring leaps over bottomless pits does give the game an exhilarating sense of verticality -- it's simply too different, too disparate to make it feel a satisfying follow-up to the previous game. Where have we seen that before...?

That's right: Taz in Escape from Mars. What happened with that game, am I right? Taz-Mania was no prize chicken, but of all the ways to make a follow-up, an oppressively claustrophobic maze game was not what I anticipated. You can expect an article on that when I give half a shit.
Now, to be fair, I have stacks of nostalgia for the first Croc. Even with fare like Banjo-Kazooie or Crash Bandicoot, there was an allure to its worlds and atmosphere that had me returning for more, to explore its worlds, however little progress I made. I don't think I ever beat it back then, yet I would frequently come back to it if just to soak in the ambiance.

I rented Croc 2 exactly once. I can't recall if I made it to the second world before it was due to be returned, but I do remember looking at screenshots of the later worlds on the back of the box and thinking, boy, I wonder if the game picks up by then. My points above were what I thought back then, just with the vocabulary of someone who'd yet to learn media studies or bad language. It otherwise made no meaningful splash on me.

It made little splash on anyone, it seemed; the Hero of the Gobbos fansite and its forums almost exclusively consisted of folks who were drawn in by the first game, with the sequel given a cursory acknowledgment at best. I've been wanting to find someone who favoured the sequel and can eloquently explain why.

That's perhaps asking a lot for a children's game from over two decades ago, but folks have nostalgia for all manner of unorthodox things, where elements that have become more distinctive with age find new appreciation. Maybe having nostalgia of my own for it would have made a difference, but all I've found is Croc 2 is liked but never loved.

While it doesn't receive the same attention or retrospection as its predecessor, lead designer Nic Cusworth backs its corner in his interview with TheGamer. "In terms of its ambition, I remember Croc 2 much more fondly than the first one. It's a flawed favourite. I just wish we could go back and fix the camera."[6]
It's why I wish there was more insight into the game, as being on the ground floor during this massive upheaval must have been tense, but tinged with excitement and passion, I'd like to think. This is a big step-up in scope from the last game, and certainly no small undertaking.

Cusworth acknowledges "some stuff probably [wasn't] as polished as it probably should have been,", and that's the rub. Where Legend of the Gobbos was in his words "an exercise in minimalism," the sequel goes above and beyond, arguably stretching itself thin in the process.
The checklist of features and changes is impressive, but the highs of chasing new pursuits and accomplishing programming feats don't translate to players who aren't privy to that -- they're just wondering why the moment-to-moment gameplay has so many hiccups.



While I'm getting extremely petty about children's video games, let's get upset about cartoon violence. Right from the get-go Croc 2 paints itself in a more comedic light, without quite the same levels of whimsy as the last game. This is perhaps most apparent in the introductory cutscene, when Croc travels to the next island by being launched from a catapult, but the game itself has elements of wacky humour.
Enemies will disappear into blinking eyes when defeated, not unlike the ghost monsters from Pac-Man, and the missions often border on absurd. Chase the Choo Choo Train is a race against time before the Gobbo passengers crash into a tunnel, with honky tonk music reminiscent of silent movie scores to give it a light-hearted, irreverent edge. Think of Snidely Whiplash, not of grisly train wrecks.

It stands in contrast to the original, which played its humour a lot gentler and twee, and any violence abstracted into mere transformations or disappearing in a shower of sparkles. It's either cute or toothless, take your pick!

But it's distinctive -- the plot and gameplay might entail Croc clobbering his way through armies of Dantinis, but the visuals present all such violence as, well, whimsical. Abstracted. Video gamey. Whatever you want to call it.

The only things truly harmed by Croc are imps that were out to get him, and the presentation makes sure to make any payback they get is relatively non-violent. They all reform after a few seconds anyway, so what's the harm?

So it's a bit strange when Croc 2 immediately leans into cartoon antics, where violence is treated as such and rewarded with silly reactions or treated as necessary to advance the plot.
One mission entails you travelling a long, dangerous path all to retrieve a Gobbo's pickled onion jelly sandwich, which was stolen by a crow. You then obliterate this crow just to get the sandwich back. Although touching it will damage you, it otherwise shows no malicious intent (beyond the masochistic desire to eat such vile cuisine), but you're forced to whack it anyway. What happened to Croc being an understanding soul?

The other most egregious instance is in Roger Red Ant's stage, where after six long, gruelling challenges, you finally face him mano-el-mano... and he winds up blowing himself to smithereens, because his captive Gobbo rewired his explosives.
On one hand, it's an amusing anticlimax, a fitting end to a stage that wears out its welcome within seconds. On the other hand, it robs you of the satisfaction of clobbering him yourself... though knowing this game's boss fights, even that wouldn't have been satisfying.

But thirdly (pretend we have three hands for a second), it's jarring to see a villain so inarguably get blown up. There's no silly "charred to a crisp" state to make it comedic; that motherfucker's toast. Dante we know will come back -- he's the series villain! -- but it's hard to imagine anyone eager to assert that Roger Red Ant did not get reduced to meaty chunks after that incident. I mean, who likes him?

Paired with the occasional bouts of silly dialogue, the game strives for a more comedic tone than last time, but it just never quite takes off -- partly because the execution leaves a lot to be desired, but also because it stands in sharp contrast to its sweet and sensitive origins. We've since learnt from its concept art this silliness was always to be part of Croc's identity, but what we got in place of it ended up being far more memorable.
It's ambitious by its own standards, but it struggles to stack up its peers. It lacks a certain sizzle, y'know? It ditches it prior niche for something arguably more contemporary, and yet still feels like it's lagging behind. It's mechanically sound and technically robust, yet it's hard to say there's any element it feels particularly competent in. It's adequate, but never outstanding. It has its moments, but everything it strives for is something done better in other games, or its own predecessor.

Again, as outsiders, we don't see what goes into the making of a game. It's easy to be catty and critical, but I always respect the effort and craft that goes into any creation, and getting a glimpse behind the veil is especially illuminating.
For instance, I have yet to be convinced Traveller's Tales' Mickey Mania is a game I would enjoy, but Jon Barton's videos on its development and programming trickery do let me appreciate it as a technical and visual marvel. More than just fancy effects, his GameHut videos show the crafty coding and problem solving required to pull off what we often take for granted on old hardware.
I'm sure if I was aware of the ins and outs of Croc 2's development, its toolset and its coding advancements, I'd find a lot more to appreciate about it! But I can judge only with what I know... and what I know is my preference for the original.

The last game was ambitious itself, but kept its focus small-scale. By focusing on compact chambers, it allows for intricate areas filled with eye-catching landmarks and obstacles to engage with. It all feels designed to accommodate this micro-focused scope, and perhaps because every element is rubbing shoulders this way, everything almost naturally falls in line with one another.
Croc 2, meanwhile, is always thinking about size: big areas, long levels, variety of gimmicks, oodles of collectibles... that it ends up losing sight of the big picture. How well does any of this gel? What fun is it when every level is padded beyond belief? Was coding all these vehicles worth it when their levels feel like filler?


can it be fixed?

I'd been dreading this sum-up, because it's just a dreary slog of acknowledging you can spend a chunk of your life on a project, and despite the best laid plans of mice and men, sometimes there's just no salvaging it, at least to the vision you had in mind. A bit like this article, actually.
So I thought, surely I can put a positive spin on it and ask: what could be done to make Croc 2 better? The game tries! By golly does it try, and I honestly hate to see that effort go to waste. I didn't go into this game wanting to hate it, for pete's sake! I want to have a good time, and what would I change to make that happen?

Well, the size is killer. Massive levels were the in-thing among 3D platformers at this time, Donkey Kong 64 the most cited offender, and they almost ubiquitously offer nothing but more leg work.

If you're not going to use the space meaningfully, then nothing's lost if we just scale the level geometry down by 30%, right? Likewise, you could probably chop the levels in half, if not more; split them into multiple levels if there's enough merit in doing so.

Simplifying mechanics would make a big difference. I've grumbled plenty about the health system, but even little things like collectibles are a hassle. The Crystal Doors in the last game immediately convey their purpose -- collecting the five Colour Crystals opens them and grants access to the final challenge.

Because the 'end' of a level is so variable this time around, instead a Golden Gobbo is spawned somewhere -- often not where you might expect. Some of them you pick up and that's that, while some teleport you to a sub-stage where you really collect it. It's fussy and inconsistent and somewhat distracting. Why not just automatically warp me there once I get all the crystals? Or why have the Golden Gobbos at all? Why the hullabaloo?

After that, though... all my thoughts basically translate to "don't try." Keep the old health and lives system, because it's easier to understand. If you gotta keep the Jelly Jumps, make them tools you collect in the levels and drop the entire shop system, it's nothing but padding. Keep the tank controls, while you're at it. And the 180-degree turn. Why would you drop that but keep the sidestep?!

And it goes on like that: me just disagreeing with many of the game's design choices on a fundamental level, eager to drag it kicking and screaming back into the shadow of its predecessor.

Which, I mean, I hope is understandable. I've argued my case for why I like that game so much, but my bias is also shitting all over this game and its attempts to evolve. How dare you try something new! Go back in your hole! I don't care if you don't fit any more!

So we'll knock that aside on the head then. Look, you're gonna have to put up with me gurning about this for a dozen more paragraphs. I know, I'm sorry too. I talk about the Game Boy games after that, though, that's a lark. Stick around!
Croc 2 freakin' tries, man. Legend of the Gobbos had been in development since 1995, and by the time it came out, everyone else had already cleared the hurdles it had so carefully been designing step ladders for. The genre had taken care of the platforming part, and was now finding new means of using that framework. How hard can it be to course-correct and steer Croc towards missions and hub worlds like his peers?
... well, pretty hard, I guess.

Where the first game's otherness gave it a certain je ne sais quoi, Croc 2 somehow feels lacking because of its own. It's caught between identities, neither being itself nor reaching what it aspires to be. Had it continued along its initial path it might have found its own niche, rather than become the wishy-washy everyman that failed to impress or repulse in any notable measure.

It wounds me to be so alternately vindictive and apathetic towards Croc 2. By no means do I intend to insult the skill and effort put into the game, its design and programming and everything else. As a fan of the first game, it just hurts to see what that game did so well get thrown to the side in favour of trend chasing. And as a fan of 3D platformers, it's frustrating to play a game that struggles to bring anything fresh to the table.

The competitors covered in the last article all had some unique merit, an individuality that made them stand apart from the crowd and hold worth in their own right... but by this point everyone's zeroing in on the same endpoint. You gotta bring your A-game, and through design or circumstance, Croc 2 struggles to rise above the crowd.
You can still glean entertainment out of it, sure. It's fine. It's adequate.
It just fails to make an impression, which is an outcome nobody wished for.

Argonaut went to working almost exclusively on licensed platformers for the PlayStation after this, and I'd dare say it was a better move. Just as franchises and sequels have expectations and baggage to contend with, licensed games have automatically low standards built in, as cynical as it is to say -- anything functionally solid is a pleasant surprise!

While I can't vouch for Aladdin: Nasira's Revenge, their Harry Potter game had a very sensible idea of what it was and the breadth of its scope, enough to make it a perfectly satisfactory experience given the expectations.

Licensed franchises hold different priorities than game franchises; innovation is good, but we buy in because we know the thing, and all we ask is something familiar and halfway competent. Sometimes that's the best a product can be.

Their adaptation of The Emperor's New Groove is particularly solid; straightforward and linear, as is expected from a children's game, but a very smooth and fluid experience.

It streamlines its mechanics in a way that's more ergonomic than anything in Croc 2... and honestly, it almost feels like a fusion of the two instalments.

It boasts the tech of the second game, allowing for large, uninterrupted environments, but does a far better job compartmentalising them.

The first world is set on floating landmasses above gaping pits, a vibe that feels at home with the film's mountainous landscape, but also evokes the ethereal qualities of Croc 1.

Its directional controls play well even on D-Pad, and small quality of life fixes make carrying objects and solving puzzles surprisingly painless. It's by no means a replacement for a new Croc game, but if you want a reminder that Argonaut were still a very capable studio, this is a pleasant refresher.

I wish I had a succinct way to sum up Croc 2, because gosh darn if this conclusion ain't rambling and drawn-out! Its pursuit of advancements above all else sacrifices what good it had before, but the tech Argonaut learnt was put to profitable use in other games.

The ambition they approached this project with is respectable, but I feel it needed more focus to truly tie that vision together.

Whenever I think I'm being too soft on the game, a short play session is enough to remind me of faults I'd forgotten... and when I think I'm being too harsh, the same treatment applies.

Yet I hate to rag on the game, because I can see what good it was aiming for, with little nuggets of merit and promise in there, however abstracted.

I think what it boils down to is simply... for anyone who loved the first game, Croc 2 is not the sequel they expected or wished for. And that's what hurts the most.


In early 2000, THQ announced a deal with Fox Interactive to publish games of their properties on the Game Boy Color, ranging from their selection of movie and TV franchises, as well as our familiar freshwater friend.
This was something certain Nintendo magazines had to politely grin and bear, having used Croc as a punching bag in its letters page for the past four years, along with fellow multi-platform ship-jumpers like Lara Croft and Sonic the Hedgehog.

While 2D franchises making the leap to 3D was still an exciting trend at this time, you rarely saw the reverse (a distinction Croc and Lara Croft have in common, apparently!), especially one that outright adapts a game. On the surface, Croc (no subtitle!) fits quite nicely on the Game Boy Color. The colourful environments and cutesy characters make the transition well, as does Croc's basic moveset of stomping and tail-whipping, the latter now doubling as a run button.

Levels are far bigger and far more open, with Smash Boxes now repurposed as floating platforms one can stomp or use as stepping stones. Between those and the multitude of slopes, there's a lot more verticality going on. Each level is usually composed of multiple rooms, allowing for transitions between outdoor areas and caves, something that seems to only be an excuse to use different music and enemies. Can't argue with variety!

Unfortunately, it all falls apart when you try to... actually play the game. Croc's movements are very bizarre; his jump is this close to a linear motion, with no discernable arc or hang-time, and has a juttery split-second stall when he begins falling and after he lands.

In a total inversion of his physics on PlayStation, Croc has no acceleration and moves remarkably fast -- even before you hold the run button! -- meaning you're forever fighting to keep this guy under control. Button inputs are twitchy, often stomping when you don't intend to, or refusing to tail-whip when you absolutely need to. Bouncing off of foes is the more reliable option, but only just; you'll still take damage arbitrarily.

Collision detection is a constant bugbear; Croc's tail-whip is seemingly his primary attack, but has little priority over enemies, meaning you're likely to get hurt before you hurt them. You also lose all control of Croc if he's tail-whipping on the ground; he will continue to move forward until the animation ends, quite possibly carrying him off a ledge.
Stomping is more reliable by comparison, but also has little to no indication of when you're stomping or just falling normally. There's no trademark mid-air stall to denote it's happening, and the difference in animation is hard to discern given how fast he plummets.

Perhaps to counter this, your cache of crystals are no longer dropped en masse when hit -- instead only a small amount are subtracted, with different enemies dealing anywhere from 1 to 5 crystals worth of damage. This allows you to tank multiple hits without being fazed; Croc doesn't recoil when hit, so you can rush straight through enemies so long as you have enough to protect you! Collecting 100 will award an extra life, but also reset the crystal counter to 5, which can be an unexpected surprise if you relied on that safety net...!

The formula remains largely the same; each stage has four Gobbos, three found out in the open, and the last one locked behind the Bonus door, opened by collecting the five letters to spell BONUS.
This leads to a final mini-game before you can earn it, borrowing many from the original game -- pushing buttons to explode sheep, collecting items in a moving jar, the shell game, and so on. For every one that bears similarity to the original, there's something entirely new (but a familiar video game staple), like the dreaded sliding tile puzzle.

While one could argue presenting a totally new challenge is a welcome change, it's also extremely jarring to throw something unprecedented at you like this, especially if you're seeking 100% completion.

Rescuing all the Gobbos in a world opens up an additional "jigsaw level", which one might think would unlock a final world full of extra-tough levels once you clear them all... but no, instead it allows you to replay any of these mini-games from the map screen. Great. Just what I always wanted.

Clearing the five levels in a world grants access to the boss stage, which are brainless pap. From there you can continue to the next world and see what guff it throws at you.

The second world comes to a screeching halt with long, drawn-out rides on ski-lifts, robbing you of all autonomy as you whack enemies in your path and wait for this interminable ride to end... before repeating three more times before the level ends.

The game's only moments of excitement are when it mixes up the formula without warning. The first world features a double whammy of being chased by an underground mining machine, followed by a fast-paced minecart sequence. World 2 recreates that with more functional control on a pair of skis, and the desert world gives you total freedom of movement in a short magic carpet sequence. They're by no means showstoppers, but they're a welcome change from the stodgy platforming.

It's impressive how much it retains from the console version, though; Croc can still swim underwater and climb walls and monkey bars, and half of the original's bosses return, adapting their patterns to a 2D plane. Hearing chiptune renditions of the familiar themes is particularly sweet, retaining its unique brand of whimsy and melancholy even on the Game Boy's sound channels; enough to spark melancholy-tinged nostalgia in some fans, judging by a few YouTube comments.

What's interesting is how fresh it feels as well. Not just the gimmicks and vehicular stages, but something as simple as seeing Croc's worlds built out of actual tilesets, fleshing them out into cohesive 2D landscapes, not just floating landmasses connected by doorways.
While it perhaps loses some of its lustre that way, it's fascinating to see the depth these worlds gain just by having trees, or hills, or a greater selection of texture tiles to play with. That's not even getting into the brand new enemies, including bats, snakes, polar bears, and strange yellow things that blow projectiles out of their pipe-shaped heads. You're seeing more than just Dantinis in every stage!

While it's cute seeing the greater diversity of enemies, it also feels like the whole world is out to get Croc. With no cutscenes, there's no chance to see his tender side as bosses are returned to normal, or even the knowledge that they are transformed; instead we're left to wonder why cute birds and cuddly beavers all have it out for him.

You could at least extrapolate based on their behaviour in the original game; the snake-worms are opportunistic gobblers, the dogs are just crazy things, and sharks... the sharks were pretty placid, but are you gotta let a shark and a croc share the same waters? Come on now. The new wildlife is appreciated, but I'd sooner see Croc make new friends...!

The presentation is absolutely boffo, though. As a Game Boy Color exclusive, it makes the most of that feature and is drenched in gorgeous palettes and hues. Croc and the bosses use multiple sprite layers to circumvent the hardware's 3-colour limit, and are all graced with characterful animation.
Even the backdrops are oozing in detail, some of the boss arenas in particular bursting to life with terrific backdrops. I can't vouch how well this translates to the Game Boy's famously muddy screen, mind you, but it's a very pretty game is what I'm getting at.

Where it suffers is in clarity. The action simply moves too fast to keep up with what's coming on screen, especially when enemies cover a lot of ground in their patrol perimeters.
The use of colour on level terrain is also wildly inconsistent; objects coloured with the same brightness as Croc himself often tend to be background details that cannot be interacted with. The trees in world 1 tripped me up constantly, as their branches look the perfect size to be platforms, but they're totally decorative!

Meanwhile, essential slopes and platforms in later stages just blend right into the background, their colours simply don't stand out. Some monochrome games did have particularly garish conversions to Game Boy Color (look at Pocket Bomberman!), but I can't even cite that as the issue -- the game doesn't even support the black-and-white Game Boy!

It clearly has heart put into it, especially its visual design, with lots of original enemies and tilesets that stir the imagination in similar ways to the original game; the forest's giant climbable spider webs, the ice world's ski-lifts and lodges, the pyramids in the desert... it's all lovely to look at. It's just a pity the game itself is a bit of a dog to play.

While Argonaut fill the bulk of the credits for art, sound, level layouts and even creating development tools, the task of programming fell to Virtucraft, a small studio based in Bolton... and it's hard not to levy the game's shortcomings on their handiwork, sadly.

I don't think the studio had any hits in their repertoire, consisting almost exclusively of licensed titles and dodgy ports, among them the infamously iffy Game Boy Advance versions of Mortal Kombat and Comix Zone. When something as simple as walking and jumping feel uncomfortable in your 2D platformer, no amount of good graphics can atone for that sin.

If there's anything to take away from it, it's how much the 3D formula is a part of Croc. It's taking the trappings of 2D platformers and presenting them in a whole new dimension! To return to whence they came, without a solid engine or comfortable controls to back it up, kind of undermines the whole thing.

It's a curious attempt at truly franchising our boy, putting him in new genres and skews. It's pleasantly immediate and fast-paced; it's just a pity the game itself weren't any sharper, with tighter controls and more compelling design. But I can't hold too much sorrow over it; the Game Boy was a graveyard for developers hoping to strike it big but left to wallow in joyless licensed gigs. If I were to mourn them all I'd be here all week.

Croc Two Too

Croc was still hanging in there by June 2001, with a handheld adaptation of Croc 2 hitting the Game Boy Color... developed by Japanese studio Natsume, of all people? The creator of SNES classics Harvest Moon, Wild Guns and Pocky & Rocky -- not that those games shared development staff with this one.
It's perhaps an odd sight seeing the staunchly British property handled by them, but Natsume were no stranger to licensed games. They seemed a favourite go-to for publisher THQ, who entrusted them with handheld versions of Wrestlemania 2000, Bass Masters, Power Rangers, and even Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. They sadly weren't responsible for the Buffy The Vampire Slayer game, which could have been a great venue for a Ninja Warriors clone, honestly.

This adaptation of Croc 2 rightfully eschews the 2D platforming of the previous game in favour of top-down exploration. Croc now has eight-directional movement on top of his familiar running, jumping, stomping and tail-whipping, and it instantly makes for more engaging navigation across these room-based worlds.

Just like the last game, it adheres pretty closely to its console counterpart. Croc finds a message in a bottle from his mother, who is out searching for her long-lost son, and he sets out on his own journey to find her himself. This entails visiting the other Gobbo tribes for leads and resolving their various crises, invariably a rash of robberies and kidnappings by ne'er-do-well Dantinis, accessed by a central hub and solving puzzles through relatively open-ended levels.

Its top-down perspective shines a new light on how Croc plays out, as he navigates stages in search of his objective, made slightly labyrinthine by their tile-based layout with pits, fences, and elevations used to carve out their pathways.

Croc must scale high cliffs by working his way up from lower tiers, and it's quite entertaining seeing the large worlds the game creates through such old-fashioned methods. It's a little like The Legend of Zelda, the way its areas are built around cliffs, bridges and lakes.

Speaking of, the game has a strong puzzle-solving element to it, building upon what the console version lightly dabbled with. While the first stage just lifts the key hunt directly, the second introduces a variety of challenges: a series of block-pushing puzzles, rushing to press buttons to connect pipes for water to flow, and even basic reading comprehension, using clues to figure out what switches to press in the right order.

Later stages feature more elaborate puzzles, be it lowering gates with keys and switches, or even mazes that must be followed the correct way otherwise it loops around on itself.

It's a far cry from the physical activity the franchise is normally associated with, but it's an entertaining change of pace, one more suited to the humble handheld. After the last game's somewhat brainless platforming, it's nice to have to pay attention for once!

The Dantinis remain a threat, however, and get in the way as you navigate and platform through levels. The game utilises separate lives and health, starting you with three hit points and the option to purchase five extra. Dying will respawn you at the entrance to the room, while a game over will dump you back to the hub. Falling down a pit eats an entire life, undoing one of the few charitable things the console version had, but it's much easier to wrap your head around than the main game's somewhat obtuse system.

Attacking enemies can be awkward, though. The range on Croc's tailwhip is miniscule, and he's locked in place while he uses it, depriving us of its "moving hitbox" properties that made it so dependable throughout the series.
He has a new attack performed by running (double-tap a direction on the D-Pad) and jumping, launching him forward in a somersault that travels twice as far as an ordinary jump, and also ploughs straight through enemies! You can't change trajectory mid-somersault, mind you, and running comes with its own wrinkles, especially in the slippery ice world, but it's an satisfying move that makes defeating enemies that bit more engaging.

Enemies will drop crystals or life-refilling hearts upon defeat (though it never seems to be hearts when you most need them...!). The HUD keeps a tally of enemies defeated (marked by a star), and thwacking 20 of them awards you an extra life. It's the first and only game to ever reward you for defeating enemies; something I could argue stands in contrast to the franchise's relatively sweet nature, but I'll take any charity I can get.
This is the only way to earn extra lives, however, and it's the one time I'd advocate for the shop to be more useful -- you can buy health extensions, and a "Tail of the Phoenix" to replenish your hearts once they reach zero, but not extra lives. When later stages really play up the limited visibility, you can burn through your lives falling down pits just working out where you're meant to jump...!

Of all the things to carry over, unfortunately, it still has Swap Meet Pete and his shop. Limited-use Jelly Jumps and their respective pads are still a necessity if you wish to find all the Colour Crystals, as well as Clockwork Gobbos, which aren't even available for purchase until partway through the Caveman Village. You can only carry one of these items at a time, making it even more of a memorisation game if you want 100% completion. You won't get the true ending until you put the effort in!

The bosses are arguably the most overt challenges, but begin with the hardest and get easier and easier as you go, strangely enough. Soveena's fight is an obstacle course as you have to carry explosive barrels between narrow paths of spikes, all the while avoiding her projectiles. Getting hit once destroys the barrel and forces you to redo it, and the optimal position to strike puts you right in harm's way.

Lava Lamp Larry (referred to as "the lava monster") is relentless with his fireballs, but entails little more than doing a circuit and whacking each of the pillars, while the third boss is easier yet, allowing you to land multiple hits when its weak point is exposed.


lava lamp larry

This is gonna be an extremely pedantic one, but I gotta get it off my chest: who is Lava Lamp Larry?

The Cossack Village has a building that's inaccessible until all the levels are completed, said to be Lava Lamp Larry's shop and closed for renovations. The cutscene before the boss fight is the one time Baron Dante is seen in a Gobbo village, clutching a Gobbo and an orange beast in his hands.
The Gobbo gets trapped in a watery tube (a lava lamp?), while the latter is thrown into a lava pool, where it grows large and serves as the boss. You're then tasked with trapping it under ice -- except in this version, where you just bash it to death with debris.

Now, for some reason, I assumed Lava Lamp Larry was a good monster turned evil -- the sole instance of a non-Gobbo (and non-Pete) denizen of a Gobbo village, and the sole instance of Baron Dante transforming someone to be large and malicious. That's admittedly a bit of a stretch, but I think I was just desperate for any kind of diversity.
All boss stages are simply named after who you're fighting, and the Prima Strategy Guide and Japanese version agree with that logic, the latter naming the stage "Honō no otoko Larry" (ほのお の おとこ ラリー), roughly "Larry the fire guy". The Game Boy version is the only outlier in separating the boss from the shop owner.

I think what throws me is: if Larry is the shop owner, then it'd be the only instance of a Gobbo having a name. King Rufus got a name in the last game, but all the tribes' kings are just called... the king. Are you only eligible for a name if you hold rank or status over other Gobbos? Who cares, man. I just want weird monsters running the shop. Get this guy instead of Pete.
Like the original, the Inca village is when things get different, with missions that must be played in order that paint a better picture of Dante's villainy: kidnapping a Gobbo's grandfather and even holding Croc's mother hostage! His fight is the toughest of all, playing out like Soveena's obstacle course but with even more hazards to worry about.

Unfortunately, if you hadn't gotten 100% by collecting all the Golden Gobbos (earned by finding the five Colour Crystals in each stage), then you get a cop-out ending where Dante can't be defeated without their energies or whatever.

You don't even see Croc's mother unless you get the true ending, where they get to share all of two lines of dialogue. She's also a pink recolour of her son, for some reason?

It's compelling to see Dante's meddling more directly involved in Croc's life this time, but I'm not sure what to make of mom. The pink and eyelashes are a better look than the gormless onesie she wore last time, but not by much...!


found family

One of the unique things about Croc is that although the player character is, indeed, a croc (and a good one, a hashtag goodcroc), it's hard to qualify the series as being about animal characters. What is everyone? They're... uh... things. The gobbos are little furry things. The Dantinis are little goblin things. Everything's a thing, or a loose approximation of something.

As such, Croc the character remains unique. He's not sharing the screen with other crocs -- he's the one and only crocodile in the franchise. And as such, it makes the Gobbos' status as his adopted family that more endearing. The first game has him orphaned once, with the unexplained absence of his parents, and again when his adoptive family are taken captive.

The game doesn't exactly do much with it, but it's a sweet image, to know that these harmless little fuzzballs not only raised him from a baby, but are the closest thing he has to family.

They're not the most compelling critters in the world, and the sequel's writing does them no favours, but I appreciate that it never undermines their status as a loving foster family.

So to have Croc's real family be the goal does add some closure to that part of Croc's life... but also feels a bit dull, y'know?

He's lived his whole life without these people. It is sweet to see them hug and embrace after so long apart, and there's so much catching up to do, but it almost feels like Croc is leaving his Gobbo friends behind; they've served their purpose.

There'll hardly be rest if Baron Dante's still around; there'll still be adventures, but with all his loose ends tied up, what impetus has Croc got for future adventures?

Not that it really matters since this was his last console game, but still, it's perhaps too big a conclusion to feel compelled by what future it may have had.

On that tangent, I do like how the dialogue often depicts the Gobbos and Dantinis in competition with one another. It seems to be simple mischief, stealing racecar wheels or abducting pets, but it's the closest it comes to depicting the two as, like, neighbours or something. The Dantinis are cute and it'd be nice to know them as more than just Dante's minions.

That said, the dialogue also makes the Gobbos seems slightly callous at times. They're forever sending Croc to investigate strange phenomena, and they send him into the inventor's lab expecting him to be eaten, based on the weird noises from inside. It's a small gag, but I couldn't help but think, boy, these Gobbos are little shits, aren't they.
Although not as varied and colourful as the last game, the presentation remains pretty solid. Aside from the title theme, the music appears to be all-original this time, borrowing none of the motifs we've grown familiar with, but it does the job.
The sprites are huge and full of character; Dantinis will laugh at Croc when he gets hurt, and our boy has a variety of charming animations for attacking, taking damage, or saving the day. The perspective means you spend a lot of time staring at samey floor tiles, without the variety of colourful backgrounds to liven it up, but the robust scale of everything is a delight.

As is to be expected, however, large sprites on this tiny screen come at the cost of visibility. You have very little time to see enemies coming your way from off-screen, and some are expressly designed to charge at you once you cross their path.

With the verticality some levels boast, it can be difficult to get a read on where paths lead; when pushable crates look like towering blocks, you need to remember the lay of the land to know where you're taking them without getting stuck.

Often the only way to find what's down that ledge is to throw yourself off it, which may or may not require tedious backtracking to make up for your blunder...!

The caveman world is especially bad with putting essential platforms totally off-screen, and you simply have to trust which way to jump to proceed. It never gets too egregious, but it's frustrating for progress to suddenly become this close to trial and error.

Though somewhat stodgy and tricky to wrap one's head around (not unlike its console counterpart), there's something strangely endearing about this take on Croc. To make him star in a 2D platformer is so rote -- there's nothing to be gained by taking him back to his roots, so to speak. But to maintain a semblance of three dimensions in its top-down perspective, while also playing up his interactive qualities with puzzles and the environment, it's in that curious void between isometric platformer and top-down adventure.

Suddenly the Gobbo villages appear that more interesting when they're presented as more cohesive 2D environments, shrunk to just the bare essentials. Accepting silly little missions and fetch quests felt kind of insulting in the console version (i saved an entire kingdom and this is my next gig?!)...
... but in the context of a humble handheld game, it feels right for some reason. The comparative lack of insipid baby talk and babbling voice clips probably helps. It's like if Zelda took a lesson in chill; if there's any world-threatening machinations going on, I don't wanna know. I'm just here to jump and push boxes, man.

Croc 2 on Game Boy Color is a surprising change of pace, and an invigorating insight into how the series could feasibly take on a different life outside of 3D.

Where its console counterpart fought in vain to assert its position on the mascot platformer food chain, this showed promise as a formula it could have iterated upon on handhelds, had that been a profitable venture.

It's not a perfect game, and the lack of worthwhile platforming or sense of immediacy are admittedly strikes against it, but its design is a lot more compelling than what the last attempt showed us. The series could have found its new niche!

But, alas, this was the last we'd ever see of Croc on gaming handhelds.

Croc 3

Although a small series that fizzled out in short order, there were evidently enough Croc diehards to be clamouring for another adventure with the little guy -- enough that even a fake rumour began floating around in 2012 of a cancelled sequel, subtitled "Stone of the Gobbos."

fools don't know the stone is me
Artist's conception of Stone of the Gobbos

For a rumour presumably made up by some attention-seeking fan, it's shockingly light on gameplay or development details, instead going on about tangents like Argonaut's difficulty in finding a publisher, needing to find a voice actor for Croc (why?!), and the ridiculous notion that it would be developed for both the PlayStation and PlayStation 2, as well as all other sixth generation skews, including the Dreamcast.

Who writes this shit? These sorts of banal details might make it feel more 'real', but give us something to stir our imaginations, why doncha. Give us meaningless lists and story synopses worthy of Fantendo. Why even make up a subtitle if you're not going to give us a story for it?! If the best you've got is "Croc has a girlfriend now" then don't even bother, mate.

The internet being the unruly beast that it is, it's far easier to come across this made-up rubbish than information on the real plans for such a sequel, which have been drip-fed across interviews with Nic Cusworth and Jez San in the years since Argonaut's closure, Nic's with TheGamer[6] the most illuminating.

In reality, Argonaut turned to Microsoft with plans for Croc 3 as... an Xbox-exclusive multi-player co-op game about his protégés?! Strange but true, apparently...! Reunited with his people, Croc would have taught his peers the art of adventure, teamwork-based puzzles being a major factor as it was seemingly designed to accommodate for single-player or multi-player play styles.
Argonaut struggled to find the manpower required to develop for next-gen consoles, though, and the project never picked up steam before the movers and shakers behind it left.

It would have been interesting; the Xbox's powerful architecture made for platform games with very unique gimmickry or staggeringly large scopes, unexpected titles like Shrek or Mad Dash Racing showing surprising usage of it. I'm not sure I trust them with scale that big after how Croc 2 handled it, but I'm allowed to be wistful, aren't I?

Croc gets a top-up

Come 2004, Argonaut had dissolved and its staff scattered to the winds, landing themselves gigs everywhere from LucasArts to Ninja Theory, Sumo Digital to any number of short-lived independent studios.
By all accounts, it didn't seem likely for the stars to align and a new Croc entry to emerge, especially with Fox Interactive bought up by Vivendi Universal -- who knew where the rights to Croc lay? So weren't fans surprised to see Croc appear again, this time on mobile phones!

Morpheme Wireless, a London-based studio that focused on mobile phone and Flash games, had developed an isometric platforming game for phone but were looking for an identifiable character to really make it turn heads -- and as luck would have it, ex-Argonaut CEO Jez San had held onto the rights to Croc, and was willing to license him out![7] And thus, our mono-toothed mate has a new lease of life in the palm of your hand, courtesy of cutting edge(?) J2ME technology.

Croc: Jungle Rumble is an isometric adventure that takes big cues from Croc 2 -- given a central hub to explore, Croc takes on missions from his Gobbo friends before entering levels, usually entailing the rescue of a caged Gobbo. This involves fetching the key, but getting there usually requires some button-pressing, a bit of platforming, and clobbering enemies with your tail whip if needs must.

It's a little jarring to be navigating simulated 3D worlds on a phone screen, especially with a cramped phone numpad, but it is a head turner! Its levels are a pleasing size, cramming a lot of detail and features into their confines, and the graphics are suitably large; you're not straining to identify who's who.
Croc's abilities are limited to jumping and tail-whipping, and in the isometric grid-based of the world, it takes some getting used to. This is not a free-flowing platformer game, but entirely tile-based, meaning every movement is in lump increments. It's a little clunky at first, but seeing the verticality it employs with its boxes, towers and floating platforms, it's doing its best on the humble little hardware.

While J2ME is sluggish by nature, the game does play at a decent speed and sports some pleasing bits of quality. Collecting keys and pressing switches will pan the camera to whatever they effect, showing you the path to the Gobbo or terrain reacting to the button's effect.

Croc and the Gobbos will chatter when they meet (in-person or otherwise -- everyone's on mobile now!), running through the usual spiel of "please rescue my friend", but with a charming bit of character to it.

All of the Gobbos are named, and some of them express more concern for their missing friends than others. "Hi Cathy, I'll go and save Jonny." "If you like, I'm not bothered. I like the peace and quiet."

It's punchier than any of the other games, but with presentation this basic, it needs every bit of entertainment value it can get. It only has so many graphic assets, but it makes good on building a variety of levels out of them. The game works well within its humble limitations, offering a hearty few levels and even a final showdown with Baron Dante.
Every stage boasts several crystals to find (dubbed Gems by the in-game dialogue), giving you an incentive to strive for 100% completion; King Rufus gets passive aggressive if you beat the game without collecting them all.

Of course, mobile games are a beast of their own, and the isometric viewpoint and controls are a bit of a pickle to adapt to, especially on those tiny buttons. The fact it can accomplish platforming at all is impressive, though measuring height can be tricky when there's no depth perception; is this thing in front of me or high above me?

Its ambitions can only go so high, of course, but it's a solid little package for however little it cost. It's unknown how well it sold, but given it saw a sequel in 2007, Volcano Panic, it must have been profitable enough -- that or Morpheme was milking that license for every drop (as should be evident by the slightly inexplicable Croc Pinball being first use of the license). The sequel offers more of the same, only in a different biome, naturally, and also redresses the Dantinis from their pirate garb to... matronly schoolmarms? It's very strange.

While it got Croc fans waving their flags in celebration, it can't be said how much buzz it generated for the franchise. To its credit, mission accomplished. How many people would be talking about this game years later were it not for the license attached? Morpheme themselves were bought out shortly thereafter, and Croc returned to the shadows. As of this writing, that's the last we've seen of the little guy.

what to make of Croc?

The original Croc feels very much like something that, for it to make an impression, you had to be in the right time at the right place. A smidge too young to appreciate Tomb Raider, but wanted something more explorative than Crash Bandicoot. Enamoured with cartoons, but accepting of something more low-key than the zany, in-your-face fare that was hip at the time.
You could say the same of its development; only with those specific gaming inspirations and at that point in time could it have turned out the way it did.

It's hard to be a kids' franchise. One is inclined to think it's easy money -- kids will buy anything! -- but to make an impression is such a tough job, and often a total crapshoot.

For every Ben 10, a franchise that's still running for years and years after its launch with new iterations and new fans, there's.... I don't know, Spider Riders, or any number of fare which live on only in pound shop overstock and obscure channel filler.

To be a kids' property is to acknowledge that there's a limited window wherein kids actually accept and embrace being kids. How long until cutesy mascot guff is too baby-ish, and they'd sooner be seen playing Medal of Honor? (humour me and pretend it's still the year 2000)

PlayStation franchises tended to fight against this by leaning into their edge. Spyro would evolve to have greater dialogue and world-building as it went on, practically evolving into its own fantasy RPG in later instalments... for better or for worse.
Crash Bandicoot was always irreverent, but marketing made a big push for him as the anti-Mario, the Tazmanian Devil to Nintendo's Mickey Mouse. Attitude and immersion makes a difference, hence why even through their ups and downs and long, long lulls, those two franchises have retained firm fanbases throughout the years to celebrate their returns.

Croc is adorable, but beyond formative memories of 3D gaming, I'd be hard-pressed to say it's a franchise that really casts an impression. Imagery that could only be achieved via a dearth of polygons and technical resources, paired with the whimsical music can evoke their own whimsical expression -- but that's more of a personal connection of mood and emotions, distinct from being earnestly invested in the characters and story of a fictional world.

There's been occasional demand for a new Croc, overeager fan petitions and the like, but with the fate of Argonaut and its staff, it's not optimistic. Croc executive producer Jez San does hold the rights and once expressed interest in getting the band back together if there were enough demand to justify it... but given the choice of risky business ventures, he went all in on cryptocurrency, so I can't imagine game development is high on his list of priorities.

I then have to ask... what can Croc bring to modern platforms? As much as I've pontificated on its whimsical and memorable imagery, Croc was not a powerhouse of personality, and in this day and age making an impression is what sets a game apart from the competition... or sinks it prematurely. The dearth of Crash Bandicoot felt like an tangible void, where gaming was suddenly bereft of dumb cartoon slapstick nonsense for close to a decade, and pick-up-and-play platforming fun.

After being a staple genre for two console generations, fans of 3D platformers are left scrounging for whatever they can get. The announcement of Super Lucky's Tale for Xbox One rocked the socks of such folks, who'd been craving something bouncy and colourful since Banjo jumped genres to vehicular malarkey instead.

But once it came out... blip. I barely heard a thing about it, glowing, damning or otherwise. It might've briefly scratched an itch, but not enough to make an impression.

I heard one remark that it felt like a game designed for fans of 3D platformers who had since grown up, and now wanted to share that experience with their young children.
Its cutesy storybook leanings and simplistic controls make it clear it's very much a kids game, which in itself feels rare. So many all-ages franchises have been co-opted by extremely hardcore fanbases, and Nintendo have slowly learnt to juggle making their Marios and Zeldas accessible for all ages and skill levels, while still hiding away content that'll do your nut in. For super players, if you will.

To bring back Croc would essentially hinge on people still harbouring nostalgia for the little guy... but once that rush of memories passes by, what is there to stick around for?

The first game was a delicate balance of features that's hard to trifle with, as we saw from its sequel. How would it handle its archaic gameplay? Would it try to push for more attitude?

Croc was unique among his peers for being so much gentler by comparison; a game that played at a seemingly more leisurely pace, only as fast as you were willing to go.

One could argue Croc was devoid of personality, but its atmosphere of curiosity and innocence cast such a pleasant image, a welcome contrast to the casual destruction wrought in even fare like Crash or Spyro, with cartoon pratfalls and singed sheep galore.

Maybe Croc was lightning in a bottle. Just a bizarre fusion of circumstances that came together, perhaps makings something unlike what its creators truly intended, but all the more unique because of it. I'd be intrigued if it were to make a comeback, but the series' constant enemy has been its market competition. A new 3D platformer would be more than welcome in this current gaming climate, but with game development more costly than ever before, maybe it's not worth the heartache.
I'm glad we got to experience what we did of Croc, however briefly it shone.

let's get wanky

How would I design a new Croc? I'm glad you didn't ask! LET ME TELL YOU ANYWAY

Hew closer to the first game. In an age when games are getting bigger and bigger on every front, sometimes to the point of unfathomable excess (sorry 'bout the dunk, Yooka-Laylee), its style of room-based 'screens' that made up one level felt very distinct, and helped ground the action in small, easily-readable chambers.

It plays into the small, quaint scope of peak Croc, and even the original game wasn't afraid to grow bigger and bigger as it went on, with Dante's castle and the desert before it boasting some truly massive rooms.
But the room-based design, to me, is key. Give it a theme! Make each room have an explicit challenge, be it as simple as crossing a log or solving a puzzle. Something to give it purpose, which is more than you can say for Croc 2's abundance of lengthy, featureless tunnels.

The concept art for the original game is well worth revisiting. The 25 year old illustrations still look invigorating with their presentation of self-contained, puzzle-centric landmasses; in this age of massive sprawling environments, to have something with clear-cut boundaries is almost a breath of fresh air.
How much you want to lean into its somewhat convoluted puzzle formula is up for debate. There's merit in the finish game's extremely low-key design, simple key hunts and button pressing, but some of the setpieces drafted up are compelling, and it would be appealing to see them brought to life.

That said, keep Croc's moveset simple. The concept art was the origin of features like vehicles and his ability to carry things, something that Croc 2 struggled to utilise satisfactorily, never mind implement well. I'm sure modern advances in design and coding could easily rectify some of the flaws in their design; I'm the sort of dope who argues to focus on the core design above all else, but I can understand a game of nothing but 3D platforming can get a bit long in the tooth.

Something to break up the pace is appreciated, so long as something is made of it; whether that manifests as bonus stages or short vehicular distractions is up to you. The concept art's minecart and hot air balloon are charming, as they're merely objects within the levels, ones that let you engage with it in fresh new ways. If you gotta have vehicles, do that!

I'd personally argue to keep the tank controls... but it's the sense of weight, momentum and pacing that's most important. Croc 2's analogue controls on PC are actually surprisingly smooth and pleasant to use -- it's just the cranked-up speed and oversized environments that undo what good it is.
Croc 1 is dense and compact, and its slow but steady movements work perfectly in that regard. Croc 2 is overgrown, with wide open spaces that give way to unexpected precision platforming. Keep it small, keep it humble! Or at least figure out the scope, then match the controls accordingly!

The first Croc is built to be taken slowly and thoroughly; collecting all the gems and Gobbos is the 'real' way to play. To simply rush to the goal reveals that it's not until three worlds in that the game starts throwing some proper challenges at you. I wouldn't know how to address this, to make simple A-to-B speedruns that more compelling without making the enemies that more obnoxious...
... unless you want to add an ability that intentionally makes Croc faster but harder to manage, like the sequel's iffy long jump. It's likely you'd just have to bite the bullet and accept there's a right and wrong way to play, and to gun it for the exit is to miss embracing these worlds and all they contain.

You'll be surprised to hear I think the first game got the aesthetic just right. Lean on its simple characters built out of primitive shapes. Very Muppet-like, big The Trap Door energy. A storybook aesthetic could probably sell the tone of these rooms floating in space, like the brushes of a watercolour fading out onto white page space, but that's probably getting a bit arty-farty.

It's clear the developers wanted the series to look like cartoony, and the comical charm oozes out of Simon Keating's concept art... but it feels like it just never made the leap to the game screen very successfully. His drawings are a delight, creating some extremely entertaining lugs that are prime villain fodder, but the lo-fi polygonal presentation has an essence of its own, a far cry from the slapstick buffoonery, and instead more gentle and sweet-natured.
Folks have grown acclimatised to more sensitive cartoons that aren't afraid to be mushy or vulnerable; there's no reason to go overboard on sentimentality, but we're hopefully past the age of people slamming their peers for playing "baby games". Don't give Croc his bite.

At the end of it all... it'd be cute to see Croc get a new lease on life, even just one last glimpse at the sun before it sets for good. Croc was but a building block on the foundations of early 3D, one of many experiments to grapple with this yet unexplored format.

It made an impression at a time when gaming as a whole was evolving and experimenting, and maybe that unified sense of adventure is what's necessary to truly mould it into its best self.

But sometimes it's good for things to come and go. I'm happy having my memories with Croc, but I welcome other creations learning from its lessons and picking up where it left off.

If I'm gonna make requests, though: more crocodile mascots, gosh darn it. I need my fix of #goodcrocs.


Pulse Commander: For lending an ear and their own observations on Croc.

herrDoktorat: For putting up with my guff and helping bash this essay into shape.

The Retro Pals: Whose delightful Mascot Friday streams gave me this notion to begin with. Again, for making magazine research a cinch. Google Books deserves props too, I guess.


[1] Official SEGA Saturn Magazine #24: Published October 1997. Interview with Jez San.

[2] Official US PlayStation Magazine Volume 2 Issue 7: Published April 1999. Words from Nic Cusworth.

[3] Official SEGA Dreamcast Magazine: Published November 1999. Words from Dave Stalker.

[4] Croc 2 Prima Official Strategy Guide: OmniPlay origins from Dave Stalker.

[5] Retro Gamer #154: Published April 2016. Interviews conducted by Mitch Wallace.

[6] Remembering Croc: An Interview With Lead Designer Nic Cusworth: Conducted by Eric Switzer.

[7] Croc: Hero of the Gobbos: News article dated January 2005.

further reading

Some games I played in 2020: Where most of these opinions first formed.