Crash Tag Team Racing is a bit of a misnomer, because Radical Entertainment's first entry in the Crash Bandicoot series has just as much platforming as racing, and it even throws in some extra activities. Though the game has a lot of variety and content to offer, how much of it actually works?
There is a lot to do in CrashTTR, and the game's amusement park setting provides an opportunity to mix things up more than usual. The main single player mode is where you can play through the story, explore the park, and unlock everything in the game. This is done by controlling Crash on foot rather than on a vehicle and exploring the depths of MotorWorld. There are 5 areas connected to a main hub, and all of them are wide and full of things to do, collect, and uncover. Crash's move set is slightly different from usual: he can run, spin (this time indefinitely), jump (and double jump), belly flop, and, for the first time in the series, grab onto ledges and climb up or shimmy.
You'll encounter lots of people around MotorWorld, including other playable characters, some of which return from previous games in name and appearance only (and even that last part is debatable for some of them), thanks to their personalities having changed to an extreme for the sake of comedy. Crash can talk (or rather, speak gibberish) to them or, if you're feeling dastardly, hit them. Neither option is particularly useful besides getting a few laughs, as there is a lot of clever dialog in the game.
The main characters and certain park drones (MotorWorld employees wearing weird protective suits) will offer you missions if you talk to them. Missions usually involve getting items from certain places and giving them to specific characters, though sometimes you'll just have to give them some of the money you'll find around the park (for some funny dialog and text hints, try talking to them again several times without the stuff they need). Playable characters, racing cars, and alternate costumes are unlocked this way, as are crystals for you to progress.
Crystals are your means of unlocking new areas and progressing through the story, but there are many ways you can collect them, making this the least linear Crash Bandicoot game to date. There are no obligatory missions or races and you're free to choose what you want to do and when you want to do it. MotorWorld is also brimming with collectible coins (instead of the usual Wumpa fruits), which can be found decorating pathways or contained in the usual breakable crates. Coins can buy you many things and bribe many people, so make sure to collect as many as you can. You can double the amount of coins you get by picking up a Wumpa Whip drink, which also makes everything move faster and gain a funky, yellow glow. Crates are no longer bouncy, but you can stand on them and use them as platforms to climb up otherwise inaccessible spots, so long as you don't break them first. Neither coins nor crates respawn until you find and beat the area's chicken challenge: chickens get placed where coins used to be, and you'll have to collect them all before time runs out.
Your only enemies when exploring are ninja penguins, and the best way to defeat them is by using your belly flop. They can't actually kill Crash, but if they hit him, they will make him lose some coins (easily recoverable if you act fast). This doesn't mean it's impossible for Crash to die, though. In fact, the game encourages you to kill him! Interacting with certain items or characters will activate a Die-O-Rama (a comedic scene of Crash dying in cartoony ways). Because of this, there aren't actually lives in the game, and Crash will just respawn near the place he was killed without consequence. Unfortunately, Die-O-Ramas are very hit and miss, and only a few of them have good comedic timing or aren't predictable. Also available are gags, which are basically the same thing, except they involve Crash making other people's lives miserable and are even less funny.
You can also find some activities around the park to waste some time and earn money. Besides a few unmemorable aiming and shooting games, there's a couple of bowling alleys with some pretty far-out layouts, including ramps, holes, and pins that are sometimes spread out along the way. Since your bowling ball is actually a plastic sphere with a guy inside, you can make it jump out of the gutter if you tap the button repeatedly. Good fun.
If you like exploring, you'll eventually find some... race tracks? Oh yeah, sometimes you almost forget this is supposed to be a racing game with how much there is to do on foot. The game's 5 areas have 3 race tracks each, resulting in a total of 15 to unlock.
Races have very little in common with previous games. The characters drive cars instead of go-karts, and the basic controls lean more towards classic driving, with no hopping, powersliding, or turbo pads in sight. Tapping the brakes while turning will make you drift. The more you drift, the more your boost meter will fill up. When it's full, your car will sprout rockets that can propel you at blinding speed for a short while. Each character has 3 different cars to choose from (4 if you link the PS2 version to the PSP one), each with its own appearance and stats that affect speed, resistance, and handling.
The racing in this game is also far more combat-oriented. Cars have health bars and will explode if they suffer too much damage. They respawn shortly afterwards, but as expected, the delay puts you at a disadvantage. Par for the course in a Crash racing game, power-ups are back, and all of them are new this time. The variety isn't quite as large as in previous games, but the items you can pick up look even wackier than usual. Chickens, explosive monkeys, and sentient fire balls are just some of the things you'll find around the tracks, and each one deals a different amount of damage. If you perform a KO on someone, your boost meter will fill up, so try to hit as many people as you can. This is more easily done with the game's namesake mechanic: tag team racing.
The showcase feature in races is the ability to partner up with someone by clashing. By pressing the clash button, your car will become a ghostly blue and fuse with another car once it's nearby, resulting in a cool transformation of your cars into an armored, four-wheeled beast. Besides having twice as much health and turning power-ups into one-hit KO bombs (such as cows and grand pianos), you and your newfound partner will be working together: while one of you is driving, the other one will man a turret on the back to take out any opponents in sight.
Each character has a unique turret with its own special, upgradeable projectiles. Every time you clash, your turret's ammo will refill, and if you run out, you can switch to your partner's turret and use that too. You can even switch seats and let your partner be the gunner while you drive if you're so inclined, but the AI usually does a great job in either seat. When you run out of ammo on both turrets or get fed up with your partner, you can unclash and separate the vehicles to continue racing normally.
Whoever decides to unclash first will push out ahead, so make sure you're not betrayed near the finish line. You're free to clash and unclash with anyone as many times as you like. Other racers can clash with you too, but you can reject them if you're not up to it (or disable that entirely from the options menu). If you finish a race while teamed up with someone, both of you will finish in the same place, so it's possible, for example, to have 2 people coming in first. Oh, and don't try to be a parasite by clashing with someone close to the finish line... Not only does it not work, but your character will actually berate you for it.
Every track has 4 extra challenges besides the main race event. Fast Lap, for starters, is exactly what it suggests, so try to get the best time on the track and break the record. Crashinator scatters objects all around the track, and you'll have to ram as many of them as you can. Run and Gun has you using your turret to shoot down the suspended targets along the track. Finally, Rolling Thunder requires you to get as many KOs as possible on a single lap with your turret.
Besides race tracks, there are a couple of battle arenas where you'll be permanently clashed with someone and trying to destroy the competition. They're not really all that fun, but it's worth noting you can unlock 2 more battle arenas by linking the PlayStation 2 and PSP versions together. This was an awful trend around the time of this game's release, especially in cases like this, where you need 2 copies of the same game.
A couple of other arenas is dedicated to stunts, and it's much more fun than battles: drive off ramps and flip and rotate your car in mid-air with both controller sticks to win as many points as you can before time runs out. The more stuff you do in mid-air, the more points you'll win, just as long as you land on all four wheels. This also fills up your boost meter, which is necessary to get some decent hang time.
Everything you can play on wheels can be enjoyed with friends, including battle and stunt arenas. That said, if you're looking to play with more than one person, you might want to avoid the PlayStation 2 version. It only supports 2 people via split-screen there (the box claims there is Multitap support, but that's a big, fat lie). This version does, mind-boggingly enough, support LAN play for up to 8 people, but uh... each player will need a console with its own network adapter, a TV set, and a copy of the game. You're better off with the GameCube or Xbox versions for multiplayer, since they support the more traditional 4 player split-screen instead of the cumbersome LAN setup.
As for the visuals, the game does its job decently. Tag Team Racing's scenery is noticeably fake thanks to being set in an amusement park, and you can even go behind certain areas to see the mechanisms that make things move. This can come across as just an excuse to not put more detail into the the environments, further aggravated by how blurry some textures look and how polygonal most structures are. Despite that, all the characters have a ton of unique animations, which is very apparent during races and makes them very lively and fun to look at. It's worth noting that the PlayStation 2 version runs at half the frame rate from the GameCube and Xbox versions, though, and the PSP has further graphical downgrades along with very long loading times. The GameCube version, on the other hand, suffers from frequent dips, and its frame rate will plunge down to PlayStation 2 levels all the time, especially during races.
The music is a mish-mash of A Capella by Twinsanity's Spiralmouth and instrumental layers by Radical's in-house composer, Marc Baril. It does seem like it's a bit too wacky sometimes, so some tracks get grating pretty fast, especially those with sped-up voices or too many instruments playing at the same time.
In the end, Crash Tag Team Racing is a jack of all trades, but a master of none. Neither the platforming nor the racing have as much depth as previous games in the series, but the surprisingly functional mish-mash of elements brings just enough variety to keep you interested until you beat the game. It's a fun romp while it lasts if you can ignore the game's lack of familiarity with the series and its characters.