When a game warrants a sequel, there seems to be a strange notion that producing a game that's "more of the same" is a bad thing. This is a concept that has befuddled me, as it often feels as though sequels attempt to detach themselves from what made their predecessor successful. Obviously, this is a generalization, and a frequent debate amongst critics, but I typically take the position that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The original Gex is a sidescrolling platformer that I thoroughly enjoyed, and offered a solid experience regardless minor issues. After completing it, I was craving for more levels to explore, more puzzles to solve, and more secrets to discover; therefore, I was quite excited to play it's sequel, Gex: Enter the Gecko (also known as Gex 64: Enter the Gecko on Nintendo 64). My hope was that it would offer an experience that fixed the minor flaws, and replicated the core experience of the original, but my hopes were not fulfilled. Rather, Enter the Gecko took a rather dramatic departure from the quirky 2D experience of Gex, and to its disadvantage, dissociated itself from what made the original game so enjoyable.
The most prominent thing a Gex fan will notice upon starting to play Enter the Gecko is how the game is no longer a sidescroller, but rather, is a fully 3D platformer. Having been released in 1998, EtG was produced during the period when developers began realizing the potential of the generation's upgraded hardware, and 3D platformers were becoming the latest fad in gaming. Having jumped on the bandwagon, this was the first attempt at a 3D platformer by Crystal Dynamics, who had built up a reputation for creating sidescrollers such as the original Gex, as well as the Pandemonium series. In the game, the primary goal of levels is to complete specific tasks in order to acquire red remotes, which unlock new levels once you've accumulated enough. Each level also has two silver remotes (one hidden in the level, and another requiring you to obtain collectibles throughout the level) which unlock Bonus Bonanzas, which reward you with gold remotes that unlock Secret Stations (extra levels). Each level, including bonus levels and boss fights, carry themes relating to commonly recurring television/movie genres, and feature witty names like Frankensteinfeld, www.dotcom.com, and Fine Tooning (though some of these themes are genres are rehashed in multiple levels). Although this all sounds fine and dandy in writing, the lack of experience from the Crystal Dynamics shows in the full product, making it difficult to credit them for taking Gex in a new direction due to the multitudes of faults that detract from the entire experience, and suck the fun out of the game.
It should be noted that the game does have some strong attributes that shouldn't be ignored, and it's evident that this was not a mere attempt to cash in on an established license. The levels in the game are quite large, and there is plenty to be obtained in every level, making it a good value. It took me a couple dozen hours to beat the game in its entirety, completing fifteen basic levels with 1-3 red remotes to acquire in each, and ten unique bonuses, along with a number of bosses and secret levels as well. The game also does a better job at carrying the TV theme of the series than the original did; between the detailing of the environments and the costumes the Gex wears that match the themes of levels, it makes the game quite visually appealing. The graphics feel polished with a steady framerate and lack of pop-up, and it definitely set the bar back in the day in terms of what a 3D platformer should look like. Although the levels are ultimately linear, they have a free-roaming feel with plenty of forks in the road and secret areas to discover, which make them generally well designed. Like the original, the controls are also considerably responsive, and Gex has an expanded moveset to deal with enemies as he navigates through the zany environments of the media dimension.
Toon TV feels like you've been injected into an episode of Loony Toons.
Although the game has a solid core, there is an absurdly large number of hinderances that prevent Enter the Gecko from being an immersive experience. The most obvious thing that kills the game is the inexcusably bad camera, which may be one of the worst I've ever experienced in a 3D platformer. There are three different camera options, being automatic, semi-automatic, and manual, but regardless of which option you choose, the camera will constantly have a mind of its own, and will attempt to adjust itself in finicky pre-programmed ways. This would be less of an issue if the game's levels were linear, but because they are free-roaming, the automatic camera does a poor job predicting where you want to go. It is common for the camera to radically swing in platforming sequences while attempting to adjust you to face the next platform, but can often cause you to jump in a totally wrong direction than you intend, making it more hexing than helpful. Manually manhandling the camera is hardly an option either, because if Gex is remotely close to a wall, it will lock movement of the camera, and will not only be unresponsive, but also make an irritating clown noise signaling you can't control it (I heard this sound a few hundred times in my playthrough). In addition, it also has a tendency of getting glitched behind the environment, or centered too close to Gex such that you can only see a few feet in front of him, and typically can't be resolved unless you enter a new area, or kill yourself.
Another major issue with EtG is that it ditches many of the most memorable gameplay elements that made the original Gex such a successful game. One of the most notable letdowns was the lack of surfaces for Gex to climb on. Only specific surfaces can be climbed, and these surfaces are not only rare (there are entire levels that do not have a single climbable wall), but difficult to distinguish from regular walls due to inconsistent textures. Besides that, many of these climbing sections are simply a linear path, and hold no element of exploration like in the original. This is a major contrast to its sidescrolling counterpart, which allowed you to climb essentially any surface. In addition, the original featured edible fly power-ups that gave you special abilities like elemental attacks, speed boosts, invincibility, etc.. These still exist in EtG, now in the form of small TVs that release a fly when attacked. However, there are only four of these types of TVs; green and purple ones serve as your compulsory hit point and free-life suppliers, while red and blue ones give Gex fire and ice powers (though there is hardly any notable difference between the two powers). The thing is, these powers are underwelming, doing little more than give Gex a minor speed boost and limited invincibility, and are often not even worth going out of your way to acquire.
It's often hard to distinguish which walls can, and cannot be climbed on.
Considering how EtG's gameplay is such a divergence of its predecessor's, one of the few aspects that warrant the game holding the Gex license is Crystal Dynamics solid effort in maintaining the charming nature of the game's quick-witted mascot. Most notably, the game reinstates the comical one-liners which the series is heavily branded off of, and Dana Gould returns once again as the voice of Gex. Throughout the game you can expect to hear Gex constantly making references towards 80's and 90's popular culture, typically relating to the theme of whatever level you may be playing through. In general, these references are no more or less entertaining than they were in the original, and the value that Gex's banter adds to the experience depends on the players' tastes. However, it is pretty evident that the references are directed towards an older demographic (even older in current day, considering a decade and a half has passed since the game was released), and as someone from Generation Y, I found it difficult to fully appreciate the game's niche wit. As well, I can't help but feel a tad offput by the backstory due to the fact that Gex's motivation to reenter the media dimension, and take his arch-enemy Rez yet again, stems merely from being bribed with money. It feels like a bit of a slap in the face, having saved his life in the original, for him to be so willing to put himself in danger once again.
Aside from Gex being such an opportunely dynamic mascot, there is very little that sets the EtG apart from it's competition in the genre. As a matter of fact, Enter the Gecko feels like it intentionally strives to be a strange hybrid of the popular platformers at the time. For example, the game alludes to Super Mario 64 with pre-level hints towards a remote in the level, and to Banjo-Kazooie with a similar level exiting sequence, to name a couple of examples. The ironic thing is, these inclusions actually feel out of place in Gex, and don't add any depth. Things like forcing you to exit levels after acquiring red remotes feel completely unnecessary, forcing you to start from the beginning of the level multiple times, and resets your count towards the silver remote for acquiring collectibles. Seemingly simple things like supplying an adequate number of checkpoints in the later levels, and ensuring proper hit detection when attacking enemies seemed to have been considered negligible, which makes an already challenging platformer into a frustrating experience. At times it hardly feels like the game was playtested, especially in levels from the Rocket Channel genre, which situates you in space with a limited air supply, requiring you to navigate through speedily while still dealing with the unpredictable camera and indistinguishable climbing sections, yet a single slip-up can easily result in instant death. I appreciate difficult games, but EtG tends to be more cheap than challenging, which will make it hard for even the most patient of gamers to not feel defeated at times.
Can someone please explain why there's gravity in space?
Gex: Enter the Gecko had a solid enough foundation to produce a great 3D platformer. It is technologically sound, features a distinctly memorable character, and had great momentum by being the successor of a well-received title. Regardless, I found it to be a real disappointment, and most critics hold the same view as I do, though the game does hold an surprisingly large number of supporters. Since the game has aged, and I lie outside the targeted demographic, the game's faults are much more prominent to me than they might have been otherwise, so I can appreciate why my view on this game may contrast with others'. I doubt I'll revisit the game, and I would have a difficult time recommending it, but it was definitely a fulfilling accomplishment to fully complete the game. Sadly, I can't help but wonder what could have been, had the second (and third) entry in the series stuck to its 2D roots. It felt like Enter the Gecko was destined to fail as a result of Crystal Dynamic's approach towards reinventing Gex, taking an innovative 2D sidescroller, and attempting to replicate the success of other 3D platformers while forgetting what had made Gex such a nifty game.