Never before have I played a game that could rival my coveted Super Mario Kart in terms of gameplay, balance, and addictive nature. Diddy Kong Racing was close, but Crash Team Racing takes the cake. A top notch graphics engine, an innovative gameplay scheme, fun and interesting tracks, all coupled with the 'out there' style that Crash and Co. maintain makes CTR the best cart game - no, the best racing game to come out in a long time.
Story-wise, the game has a simple premise that makes sense (um, sort of). N. Oxide, an alien and galactic racing kingpin, has stumbled upon Earth and its citizens. He offers up a challenge; for the best racer to go against him in an end-all-be-all of races. If Oxide wins, he turns Earth into a giant concrete parking lot; he loses, and he leaves the planet alone. So, the Naughty Dog characters take up the task and to determine who will race Oxide, they run races to see who is the cream of the crop. Crash, his sister Coco, Dr. N. Gin, Cortex, Tiny, and Dingodile are just a few of the combatants you can choose from the start. Each has their own specialty; Crash being the well-rounded guy, Tiny having speed but poor acceleration, and Coco with her excellent acceleration, but lacking the top speed. All of the characters have their weaknesses/strengths, with no one motorist being better than the rest. This makes character selection a matter of preference; something that until now, mascot racers haven't been able to do right since SMK.
CTR has it's share of options: Adventure, Arcade, Time Trials, Versus, Battle...with so much to choose from, it will be awhile before anyone will get tired of the game. Pick a mode, choose a racer, then you're off!! Adventure mode is just that; the main story takes place here as players collect trophies, relics and CTR tokens in the effort to be No. 1 and face off against N.Oxide. This mode is set up much like Diddy Kong Racing; start off in a level, race, get trophies, and each new track has an amount of trophies needed to open up. Beat all the tracks off a course, race a boss, get a key, move on to the next area. DKR's bosses aren't as enjoyable as these guys; Ripper Roo is looney-tooney, Papu Papu jiggles, Komodo Joe has a lisp, and Pinstripe's Brooklyn-esque accent all add to the character and overall feel of the game. Anyway, after trophies are won in a race, the same track will have two new selections: CTR challenge and Relic race. The first requires you to pick up the letters C, T, and R throughout the track and place first. This nabs a CTR token, which is used to get into cup races that show up later on. Relic races pit driver vs. track exclusively; finish all 3 laps under a certain time, get a relic. Time boxes help along the way, stopping the clock momentarily. Relics are vital in Adventure mode, since the real ending can't be seen unless all them are obtained. Arcade mode is a basic tournament style romp; run 4 tracks, points are given according to your finishing place, and the highest score wins. Time Trial is self explanatory, and I couldn't get to try out the multiplayer modes, since my brother wouldn't let me use his controller. The Versus/Battle modes are just as entertaining and captivating as the single player jaunts, not to mention the four-player madness is included and made possible with multi-tap peripheral.
Even with it's vast degree of features, it would have little significance provided the gameplay was lacking . Thankfully, CTR executes in a solid fashion offering precise, simple controls and a racing scheme that requires keen hand coordination skills. Whether you're using a control pad or analog, the controls are intuitive; as are the standard elements of kart racing titles (i.e. gas, brake, shoot, jump and powerslide). There's a great deal of emphasis applied to powersliding; executing such actions causes a gauge to fill up on the screen, and when it hits red, pressing the L1 button triggers a turbo boost, warping your vehicle down the track. Three boosts can be executed in a single turn, and once you get a hang of it, is when the true fun begins. Not only can turbos be executed in powerslides - when going off ramps, hills, or bumps - a jump at any peak will give your cart more airtime, and a more powerful boost. This makes for interesting combos; pull 3 turbos on a turn, go straight for a ramp, get air, speed up even more for the next turn, repeat. This single gameplay element makes CTR a challenging venture, since players will have to continuously work the controller and time their moves - all the while keeping an eye on the track and fighting off the opposition.
The tracks are fun to race around too. Each is creatively laid out and has a flavor of it's own, though some tend to borrow elements from SMK and Mario Kart 64. Twisting turns, courageous jumps, weapon boxes, and zip pads are littered about courses which range from medieval castles, futuristic labs, ancient temples, to confining canyons. On an offensive front, there are bombs, missiles, TNT crates, potion bombs, invisibility masks (either Uka Uka or Aku Aku), nitro tanks, and an offensive shield that will fry anyone who dares to get too close. 16 tracks, 4 bonus courses, and 2 extra special races will test all of your ninja skills, and of course not only are later tracks trickier, but the computer gets ruthless. Bosses don't have their own courses I'm afraid, but instead will take you through old territory and do everything in their power to make CTR a very rough excursion. Over all, Crash Team Racing is a tough game, but never unfair; the type of thing that I wholeheartedly enjoy.
Graphics aren't everything, but Naughty Dog decided not only to bring out a top notch cart game, but an appealing visual treat as well. The PlayStation is showing it's age but Naughty Dog was able to pull some nifty tricks with the system. Vibrant colors, diverse textures, neat-o fire and lighting effects, as well as seamlessly constructed tracks and characters. All of this moves along at a brisk framerate; never faltering unless the screen is littered with a lot of polygons at once. I can only think of one time this happened: I was racing and there were about 5 other racers on screen, weapons being fired, and I was in one of the poly-intensive structures on the track. Then and only then did the framerate break up... for about a second. I'm very impressed how much the 32-bit console has been pushed, although not everything was perfect. Sometimes the game would have redraw problems, and the textures have a grainy look, something which most PS games share in common. Those are trivial matters though; as far as games for Sony's console go, this is one of the best looking efforts I've seen. Imagine that; a developer that emphasized graphics AND gameplay. Musically, the game shines, with upbeat tunes throughout. Future themes, surfer-esque melodies, and tribal drumming play along to the tracks and give the ears something to enjoy while the mind enjoys gameplay and the eyes enjoy the visuals. The whole Crash crew have voice samples too - some funny, and the others hilarious. Each boss has a spoken part before their challenge, and in my opinion, I'd have to say that Ripper Roo sounds absolutely nuts!
At first, I dismissed this game as a rip off from the aforementioned titles discussed throughout this review. While it does borrow heavily from Mario Kart/Diddy Kong Racing, CTR has enough originality in all aspects to be something different. Overall, there's little reason why anyone shouldn't invest in this game. Crash Team Racing delivers an abundance of charm, challenge, aesthetic appeal, and can be enjoyed by casual players new to the genre or seasoned racing fans alike.
· · · Hero