The platform game boom in the 90s begat an odd brand of artistically driven mascot games. Earthworm Jim, Plok, Zool, Cool Spot, and their ilk owed much of their success to their terrific cartoon stylings, especially if all else turned out poor or frustrating. There’s a lot to analyze about the balance those games struck between their visual accomplishments and their quality otherwise. That conversation deserves a greater breadth of games to scrutinize, and the first new name on the list should be Crazy Drake.
Not much distinguishes Crazy Drake from those other games, and it bears a suspiciously close resemblance to Earthworm Jim in particular. The similarity works in its benefit here. Like the rest of its breed, Crazy Drake is a pretty good action-platformer with the elastic panache of a Saturday morning cartoon. Another game in that vein doesn’t exactly break new ground, but it’s certainly a pleasant surprise.
Crazy Drake‘s plot includes all the prerequisites for a standard heroic yarn. When the nefarious Dr. FowlBrain steals Ducktropolis’s all-powerful Sacred Golden Egg, Prince Drake dons superhero garb and travels the world in a hunt for the mad doctor. This sets the game up for a variety of stock locations, from a haunted house to a Christmas-themed snow land. (And hey, it’s not another damsel-in-distress story.) Each of the game’s six worlds share a similar structure: there’s one platforming level, an auto-scrolling challenge, and one final stage with a miniature showdown with Dr. FowlBrain. A final boss battle awaits after you clear every level. The short world structure ensures that the game moves quickly from setting to setting, even if the individuals levels tend to drag from their length and lack of internal variety.
Games in this vein place a premium on the quality of the platforming and artwork, and in its biggest triumph, Crazy Drake knocks these out of the park. Most of the game involves jumping from platform-to-platform and collecting bonus tokens, and that’s handled with aplomb. Movement is exceptionally fluid, with easy jumps and a forgiving climbing mechanic giving the run-and-jump core the strength to stand apart from similar clones. Visually, the game’s flat coloring, bright colors, and over-the-top animations capture the energy of a comic book, and the scenery hits the right level of abstraction and goofiness.
The teleporting elevators that rescue you from deep pits provide the best example of this style: when you get close enough, a mysterious hand yanks Prince Drake into the elevator and summarily boots him out at this destination. They still have the same functionality as a normal warp.,but the animation adds a little wackiness to a feature that gives the level design some cohesion, cuts down on backtracking, and keeps the pace moving.
That attention to level design marks a spot where Crazy Drake one-ups its contemporaries. Stage layouts in heavily artistic platformers tend to be a little linear or cramped. The directionally sprawling stages in Crazy Drake feel more open and exploratory, closer to something from a classic Sonic game, and the clear visual language helps you navigate that sprawl. The quality here unfortunately trades off with the combat; fighting with enemies tends to be disorienting because of the unclear range and efficacy of Prince Drake’s gunfire. The effect of those changes varies between levels, but on the balance they cancel each other out.
And as holds true for many visually exciting platform games, the soundtrack is really catchy and upbeat. Maybe it doesn’t hit the same auditory level as its cousins Plok or Cool Spot, but very few games do. Here, it adds to the overall ambiance and deserves at least a closer listen.
Thanks to an uncanny and almost litigious closeness to its competing titles, Crazy Drake shares many strengths with the best games from its era. In some places, it improves, especially the kinder and more coherent platforming. Other aspects such as the action and occasional padding fall shorter. Maybe the game lacks inventiveness, but it still works pretty well, both in the context of similar games and on its own merits. One more platformer with an energetic animal hero won’t change the world, but Crazy Drake is a welcome addition to the pantheon.
Two editions of Crazy Drake exist. The original, released by One Reality, takes place in Loonville rather than Ducktropolis. Prince Drake is also missing his signature mask, giving him a much more plain and outwardly silly appearance. This article was based on the second release by eGames; the differences between the two versions are entirely cosmetic.