CTR: Crash Team Racing - Overview

Crash's final chapter with Naughty Dog is an unexpected shift from the usual platforming to kart racing. Did the developers prove they could tackle a totally different genre with the same success they had before?

Crash Bandicoot and Neo Cortex drive small karts on top of a wooden bridge in a sunny cove. Crash Team Racing provides familiar environments to race through.

CTR feels like a Crash Bandicoot game. You can play as many of the series's staple characters and the race tracks are inspired by famous locations from the previous games, so you get a familiar sense right off the bat from the visuals and the music (now more suitably upbeat). You can expect stuff like carnivorous plants along the road, giant boulders, courses set in unusual locations like an oversized sewer or outer space, and a lot more. Since this is an old PlayStation game, which in itself presents a lot of graphical limitations, some measures had to be taken to make the game look good the characters look a lot simpler than usual, but this allows the environments to be grandious and pretty with a smooth framerate, even during multiplayer modes. With all the attention to detail, you really get the feeling the developers made all the right visual choices and came up with the best possible compromise for the hardware.

There are 18 tracks total, and each layout offers something unique that makes it stand out from the rest, either in the form of obstacles, terrain, or difficulty. One track has mud pools, another one has half pipes, then there's one with low-gravity segments in outer space, and a whole lot more. As a result, things never get stale as you go from one track to another. Not only that, but there's a lot of hidden shortcuts to find, and even though you'd think they were in plain sight, it's actually pretty challenging to discover them all.

Neo Cortex fires a rolling bomb from his kart at other racers in a Mayan-esque track.There are many slapstick power-ups to help you win a race, such as bowling bombs.

The core gameplay is easy to learn, but the more you get into it, the more you realize there is a deep, hidden complexity to it that feels very rewarding to master. For instance, you can use L1 or R1 to hop and drift (or, as the game calls it, powerslide). Hopping off ledges gives you a turbo boost when you hit the ground, and the higher the fall, the longer your boost will be. Powersliding is something you'll gradually become used to, and it becomes essential to becoming the fastest racer on the block, enabling you not only to cut corners and do sharp turns, but also get some additional turbo boosts. Every time you powerslide, the smoke from your exaust pipes will turn black (also indicated in your speedometer). Press either L1 or R1 when this happens and you get a turbo boost. You can chain up to 3 boosts for every powerslide, and you'll soon find yourself doing this process around the track like crazy as it becomes second nature.

Each character has his/her own perks and disadvantages. Some of them are better at accelerating, others are have a higher top speed, and others are best at turning, but none of them is great at more than one thing (except for a character in the PAL version unlocked via cheat code). This provides a good balance between characters and a nice variety to choose from, so each player will likely have some favorites. The only problem in this department is that, for some reason, you can't tell which characters have which stats unless you're starting Adventure mode, which is even worse for characters that can't be chosen there.

As fun as maneuvering your kart may be, you can't help but expect some classic Crash wackiness to make things more interesting, so there is a wide variety of ridiculous weapons and items to blow up your opponents with and leave them in the dust. Among others, some of these include TNT crates you can drop behind, homing missiles, bowling bombs, clocks that slow everyone else down, and Aku Aku/Uka Uka masks, which make your kart invulnerable and faster for a short time. All power-ups have improved "juiced up" versions that you can get by picking up 10 Wumpa fruits from around the track (for example, TNTs stick to a player and can be shaken off by hopping madly, but with 10 fruits, they become Nitro crates that explode on contact).

You can get power-ups by ramming crates scattered around the tracks, and while they're chosen at random, the best power-ups are reserved for human players who are doing poorly and ranking low during a race, giving them a good chance to rise up to the top with enough effort and taking frustration out of things. There is no limit to how much punishment you can take or how many times you can fall off the track, but this evidently results in being unable to move for a bit, as well as losing some fruit. There is almost always a way to avoid being hit by an enemy power-up, so try to be the hunter and avoid as many hazards as you can.

Dr. Nefarious Tropy slides with his kart around a race track set around a space station. His actions from a previous race are represented through a ghostly image of his former self.Time Trials are some of the many diversions the title has to offer.

There's a lot of meat to CTR besides the basic racing package, and there are many modes to choose from. Adventure mode, for instance, lets you play through the game's story, giving you interconnected, open hub areas from where to choose missions. Beating these missions unlocks some others, as well as new tracks and characters for use in other modes. Not all missions are about coming in first place, though. For instance, CTR Challenges also require you to collect the letters C, T and R hidden around the track. Relic Races are similar to Crash 3's Time Trials try to finish 3 laps as fast as you can while breaking time crates to freeze the timer (break all of them and a bonus of 10 seconds is subtracted from your final time). There are also a few arenas where you have to collect 20 crystals in a set amount of time, and last, but not least, boss races pit you mano-a-mano against a character who will use insane amounts of power-ups against you.

Time Trial is a standalone mode where you try to race against the clock. There are no power-ups and no adversaries, making it the purest way to experience the tracks, so to speak. One neat feature about this mode is that you can see where you can improve by racing against your ghost (basically a semi-transparent recording of all your actions). Unfortunately, the PlayStation's lack of a hard drive means that each ghost takes up 2 blocks on a Memory Card, and we're talking about a peripheral that has a maximum of 15. This has been somewhat mitigated by the PSone Classics release, since you can now create as many virtual Memory Cards as you need. Finishing a time trial fast enough lets you race against N. Tropy's ghost, and if you beat him, you can test every ounce of your skills and shortcut knowledge against Nitros Oxide's ghost.

Arcade mode lets you and a friend participate in single races or cups of 4, with the remainder of the racers being controlled by the CPU (there is always a total of 8 in every race). You can choose from 3 difficulty levels, though you need to unlock the latter 2 by beating all the cups in the previous difficulty, which is dumb and unnecessary. Beating a cup involves accumulating more points than everyone else by ranking high in races, so you can technically win without ever coming in first, even if it does help a lot.

Crash Bandicoot slides with his kart around a temple arena while trying to pick up the purple crystals lying around. One of the TNT crates in the track has stuck to Crash's head.Arenas provide pick-up challenges and intense multiplayer battles.

Of course the best way to enjoy a game like CTR is by playing with company. The game can be played by up to 4 people simultaneously via split-screen (making use of the Multitap peripheral when being run on original PlayStation hardware). Invite a friend or 3 and the already enjoyable CTR becomes a royal blast for countless afternoons. Even with today's modern choices for local multiplayer gaming (including several alternatives in the same genre), CTR is still amazingly fun, and the only thing it's really missing by today's gameplay standards is an online mode. And speaking of multiplayer...

VS mode will let you and up to 3 friends race for supremacy. It features single races and cups, and it behaves exactly like Arcade mode except there are no CPU racers at all. Battle mode is another multiplayer-only activity that pits you and your friends against each other in closed arenas, with various power-ups to be collected and deployed. You'll be surprised by just how fun this mode can be and how creative your competition might make you. Everything goes to get the upper hand, from simply launching missiles to hiding traps inside crates or even turning invisible. Battle mode is so good that you could practically make an entire game around it, so it don't be surprised if you and your friends spend more time here than everywhere else.

What else is there to say about CTR? It's great fun for anyone of any age, and even moreso when played with company. It's a very faithful adaptation of the franchise to a new genre, and there are some surprisingly deep mechanics and a lot of content to enjoy. If you're not a big fan of racing games, this might just be an exception you'll want to try...

The good

  • Easy to learn, challenging to master
  • Tremendously fun, especially with friends
  • Lots of content to unlock and experience

The bad

  • Character stats are only shown when starting Adventure mode
  • Having to unlocking Arcade difficulties beyond "Easy" feels unnecessary

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