Gets Stale Fast
2010’s Doritos Crash Course was a rather unusual experience. It’s traditional for “advergames” to feature their respective licensed product pretty prominently throughout, but Crash Course featured almost no Doritos iconography, and was instead a platformer almost entirely influenced by the TV gameshow Wipeout. Three years later Doritos Crash Course 2 is here, aiming to flesh out the original concept, and once again deliver the heady excitement of tortilla chip marketing campaigns to your living room. Best of all, just like its predecessor, it’s completely free for anyone with an Xbox Live Gold subscription.
Off the bat the game doesn’t do a great job of explaining its controls or gameplay, but the basics are simple. Crash Course 2 has all the standard jumping, sliding, and wall-kicking through levels you’d expect, but unlike in the original game, three computer-controlled characters now race alongside you. Considering it’s a free game, its fundamentals are fairly well-designed and implemented. It’s no Super Meat Boy, but the controls are at least serviceable, and most levels are varied and flow well. In addition, competing against the game’s AI players gives you a greater sense of progress and helps add more goals to strive for. The presentation isn’t bad either; the soundtrack seems a little over-the-top, but the levels are surprisingly polished, and this time round there are multiple worlds, each with their own theme. The graphics largely owe their ability to please to the full 3D backgrounds which are littered with dancing animals, mythological creatures playing electric guitars, and similar light-hearted scenery.
Crash Course 2’s best asset is that it makes a pretty good first impression, but the more you play, the more cracks you start to see shining through. While not as bad as its predecessor in terms of annoying obstacles, it still seems to carry the same delusion that it’s fun to be the poor schmuck running through a Wipeout course, having swinging hammers temporarily stop you from moving or having trampolines annoyingly bounce you away from your goal. It’s sadistically satisfying to see other players bear the brunt of these obstacles in multiplayer games, but in single player these things just feel needlessly frustrating, especially as the AI seems to rarely, if ever, get caught by them. Occasionally you’ll also encounter problems like the camera keeping you from seeing platforms below, or being able to hit walls but not kick off of them, which can be irksome.
Things aren’t helped by the fact that the AI can feel a little artificial. Most of the time they seem to make their way relatively effortlessly through the levels, but they’ll sometimes stop and stand in place, run back and forth, or generally just not try to complete the level to help you catch up. It’s unfortunately noticeable and sometimes stops it feeling like you’re competing in an actual race. Beat them to the finish line though and you’re awarded with a handful of stars which you can use to purchase new levels, or occasionally other items in the game, but herein lies the problem with Doritos Crash Course 2.
Some way in, it becomes obvious that you’re not just being given a semi-free game in exchange for being advertised at, but that Crash Course 2 is aiming to ape the style of those Facebook games that make the gameplay an awful repetitive grind unless you give them real-world money. All levels must be unlocked with stars before you can play them, but simply completing the races won’t give you nearly enough stars, meaning that you must replay through previous levels trying to complete the bonus objectives and collect the extra stars scattered around the levels, or pay Microsoft Points for special coins that can also be used to unlock levels and items.
At first this isn’t too bad, the levels do hold up to some degree of replaying, and seeking out those extra stars can be fun, but the game openly admits that finding the stars in each level and winning the race is impossible to do at the same time. You have to go against what seems to be the core goal of each level to nab the stars, then when you’re finally finished with the level it gives you the general impression that you failed. It just makes the whole process of going out of your way to collect the stars feel a bit wrong. Many of the bonus objectives are less than fun to carry out as well. You might have to slide jump 10 times in the same level, in which case the encouraged strategy is to stop on a slope and spam the slide jump a few times to ensure you’ve got it. Or you might be asked to keep a certain opponent on screen for the whole game, which is a fiddly job where you may have to intentionally fall behind in the race to complete your objective.
The further you get, the more stars you need to unlock new levels, and the more you have to grind for them, until the game feels like one big struggle to try and desperately scrape together the tiniest handfuls of in-game currency from wherever you can. I also encountered a few instances where my newly collected stars weren’t saved due to the game just dropping a “Crash Course 2 service was not available” message and chucking me out to the menus at the end of the level, even when using a completely functional internet connection.
The multiplayer aspects are occasionally better than the single player, with Crash Course 2’s leaderboards and online matchmaking offering some competitive fun, but the multiplayer is dragged down a bit by players not being able to pick which levels are played, and through matches being preceded by an excessively long 25 second countdown that resets every time a player enters or leaves the lobby. All in all, if you’ve got an Xbox Live Gold account and are looking for some free platforming fun, you could do worse than Doritos Crash Course 2, but be warned that if you want to play this game for any significant length and don't want to pay for in-game items, you’re in for a frustratingly tedious ride.