The operative word here is cute, on the order of Fraggles, M&M spokescandies, and the language of R2D2. This conversion (from the Sony PlayStation) of a 32-bit Mario 64 clone stars Croc, a big-eyed, anthropomorphic, backpack-wearing crocodile who has been raised by a race of ultra-cuddly Fry Guys called Gobbos - a race now enslaved by the giant "King of all Villains," Baron Dante. Croc must traverse the game's dozens of levels, liberating the entire race of Gobbos one at a time.
At your disposal is a handful of standard 3D platform adventure gaming tricks. You've got Mario's jump to squash your enemies. You've also got a more original 360-degree spin where you lash at the bad guys with your tail. You've got Sonic the Hedgehog's rings - only this time they're crystals - that give you a second chance when attacked (get hit and you drop your crystals, get hit empty-handed and you die). You've also got lots and lots of platforms to jump on.
What we have here is a generic 3D platform game - but it's very, very cute. The supporting cast reads like the list of extras from the Muppet Show. Big-nosed loping birdmen, strangely elfin animals of an indeterminate species who attack by cartwheeling, and some of the most diminutive bosses in the history of the genre. The rocket-assisted frog whose jetpack keeps failing lends the thankless job of video game boss a new air of pathos. Unfortunately, the animation of each of these cuddly characters is only nominally smooth, as they're all lacking in graphical detail what they more than accomplish in the Puffnstuff department. And look behind the little guys themselves, at the backgrounds beyond, and you'll not be surprised that this is a conversion from a 32-bit console game, with flat, dull textures.
The linchpin of any successful 3D platform-style game is the camera angles. In order to make all those difficult jumps with all the pitfalls that come with the third dimension, either the camera must move automatically and miraculously line up countless good shots for you, or the game had better have generous and versatile camera control options to be tweaked on the fly while the action occurs. Croc has neither. Its over-the-shoulder perspective varies wildly during play, but always seems to be lined up wrong. Sure, sometimes the camera is directly behind you, but more often you're stuck looking at Croc's profile, or worse yet, the shot is skewed by five or ten degrees, making accurate jumping all but impossible. Camera control is limited to a selection of one of two nearly identical heights. Neither selection alters radial camera placement, which is subject only to CPU whim. If you want to rotate the camera at all, you'll have to run in circles to trick it into place.
Camera problems are especially annoying when dealing with the game's bosses, most of whom can be defeated with the same easy strategy. Yep, it's Boss Design 101: Run circles around each one until a temporary weakness reveals itself, attack, and repeat until the boss is dead. As cute as they are, it is a shame that the game's designers made these guys so easy to beat. The only challenge in taking out 90 percent of them isn't a legitimate challenge at all, it's a design flaw: The camera angles get so out of whack with all that circular motion, that you invariably end up with your perspective 180 degrees out of phase, running toward the camera, looking Croc in the face as you run into the unknown, with no way to see where the next deadly precipice or invisible wall lies.
As though camera rotation problems weren't enough, Croc also suffers from painfully loose control. It takes long enough to be sure of the safety and efficacy of a basic jump without rotation being such an issue. When your perspective is perpetually skewed 10 degrees in a random direction, every jump is a leap of faith. Croc's response is sluggish and imprecise when he's on the ground, and overresponsive when he's in the air. Put this all together and it must look pretty silly: a bipedal crocodile nervously rotating in place for several seconds before jumping off a cliff over a floating platform, only to make a sudden midair jag to the left and hurtle to its death.
At least Croc is long, or so it seems on the surface. With five islands to explore, for a total of more than 40 levels, it seems ample enough. However, the levels are small, and the scenes usually take just a couple of tries to complete. The level design isn't particularly inspired, either. Croc's levels all seem dull and without any cogent sense of theme or mood. Some levels are grassy (read: ground is green), some are deserts (read: ground is beige), and some are icy (read: ground is white and slippery). Regardless of color palette, type of animal opponent, or special effects, each level is ultimately only an uninteresting and simple set of floating platforms and boxes to jump on. Maybe there's a waterfall or something to spruce things up, but for all its cuteness, Croc offers nowhere near the richness and thematic diversity of Mario 64 - which is both the parent it plagiarizes and the standard it can't live up to.