CTR: Crash Team Racing - Overview

Naughty Dog's final chapter in the Crash Bandicoot series is an unexpected shift from the usual platforming to kart racing, but there are many reasons why this game is no less special as those that came before it.

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.

Right off the bat, 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 previous games. The visuals retain the art style that became so synonymous with the franchise, and Josh Mancell's soundtrack is similarly in line with what we'd heard before (though it is suitably more upbeat this time). You can expect stuff like carnivorous plants along the road, giant boulders, and much more in the same kind of unusual locations you've come to expect, such as an oversized sewer or a space station.

Since this is an old PlayStation game, some measures had to be taken to make the game look good while still allowing for a lot of action on the screen. The characters look a lot simpler than usual, but this allows the environments to be grandious and pretty, with a smooth and largely consistent framerate (even during multiplayer sessions). You really get the feeling the developers made all the right visual choices and came up with the best possible compromise for the hardware, squeezing every bit of juice they could get out of it. You can view more of the environment by using an optional camera that is pulled back, but this always resets to the default camera between races, annoyingly.

There are 18 tracks total, and each layout offers something unique that makes it stand out from the rest, ranging across obstacles, terrain, and of course, difficulty. One track has mud pools, one has half pipes, one has low-gravity segments, and the list goes on. As a result, things never get stale as you go from one track to another. Not only that, but there are a lot of hidden shortcuts to find, and finding them all is a challenge in its own right.

Coco drifts her kart in a park with plenty of trees and flowers.Power-sliding is the game's most important mechanic.

The gameplay is what makes this game stand the test of time. The basics are easy to learn, but the more you get into it, the more you realize just how deep and complex CTR's mechanics are, making it feel all the more rewarding to master. It all starts with the game's signature move: power-sliding (which is a fancy name for drifting). This is done by hopping with L1 or R1, then holding down the button as you turn, enabling you to cut sharp corners with ease. While power-sliding, the smoke from your exaust pipes will turn black, and if you press the alternate shoulder button, you'll get a small speed boost (you can also check the power-slide gauge at the corner of the screen for higher accuracy, since waiting until the last moment to trigger the boost makes it last longer). You can chain up to 3 boosts every time you power-slide, and by mastering this technique, it's very possible to boost around an entire track. There are other ways to go faster, too: hopping off ledges gives you a speed boost when you hit the ground, and the higher the fall, the longer your boost will be. There are also turbo pads placed around every track, and touching them makes you go even faster than if you were simply power-sliding.

All characters have their own perks and disadvantages. For example, Crash is a jack of all trades but a master of none, while Coco has great acceleration. Characters like Pura can turn like it's no one's business at the cost of being slow, and on the opposite side of the coin, you've got others like Dingodile who have poor turning but can outrun anyone in a straight line. This provides a nice variety to choose from, but unfortunately, you can't tell which characters have which stats unless you're starting Adventure mode. This is even worse for unlockable characters, since you can't pick them in Adventure mode to begin with.

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.

As fun as maneuvering your kart may be, things become more interesting with Crash's usual wackiness. Besides going fast, you're encouraged to use a variety of cartoonish weapons and items to blow up your opponents and leave them in the dust. Some of these include TNT crates you can drop behind, homing missiles, bowling bombs, a clock that slows everyone else down, and invincibility masks. All power-ups become even more effective once you've picked up 10 Wumpa fruits in a race (for example, TNTs stick to a player and can be shaken off by hopping madly, but the juiced-up version is a Nitro crate that explodes on contact).

You can get these power-ups by driving through crates, and you always get something at random, the best power-ups are reserved for human players who are ranking low in the race, giving them a chance to still make it to first place with enough effort. There is no limit to how many hits you can take or how many times you can fall off the track, but it will obviously cost you some time (as well as Wumpa fruits), so do your best to be careful. There is almost always a way to avoid being hit by someone else's power-up, but every race has 8 participants, so there's a lot of room for mayhem.

Once you're familiar with the mechanics the game tells you about, you may find yourself engaging in other ways to get fast, and that's where you'll stumble upon the more advanced techniques. For example, you'll notice that boosts are cumulative, so you can build up reserves to keep going fast for longer periods of time. Combine the power-slide's boost reserves and you can keep the speed gained from turbo pads for as long as you keep boosting (or until you touch a wall). It's worth noting that some tracks have super turbo pads that'll make you go even faster, despite looking the same as all the others. Keeping the turbo speed going is a fairly difficult technique, since all that speed goes away if you so much as rub against a wall. Fortunately, there are even more techniques to avoid that outcome (such as air-braking), but suffice to say that there's a lot more to CTR than the things it teaches you. Learning the ins and outs makes you realize there's always room for improvement, and that's part of why the game is as addictive today as it was upon release.

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 several modes to choose from. Adventure mode, for instance, lets you play through the game's story, giving you open, interconnected hub areas from where to choose challenges. More challenges get unlocked as you beat them, and some specific ones reward you with new characters to use in other modes (though the game neglects to tell you when this happens). Besides basic races, you have CTR Challenges where you must collect the letters C, T and R hidden around the track, while still coming in first place. These don't differ much from regular races, so the need to unlock them feels like needless padding (the ideal thing would be to always have the letters around the track in case you want to go for that challenge from the get-go). Relic Races are similar to Warped's Time Trials try to finish 3 laps as fast as you can while breaking special crates to freeze the timer (break all of them and a bonus of 10 seconds is subtracted from your total). 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 someone who will use insane amounts of power-ups against you. Beating a boss gives you a key that opens up a new area with more challenges to overcome.

Time Trial is separate from Adventure Mode, and it's a simple race against the clock. There are no power-ups or adversaries, making it the purest way to experience the tracks with no distractions. A neat thing about Time Trials is that you can check how to improve one of your times by racing against your ghost (which is 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 can beat him, you can test every ounce of your skills and shortcut knowledge against Nitros Oxide's ghost. This is another instance of needless padding, since the victory only counts if you're racing against a specific ghost. If you finish a track faster than the ghost it unlocks, you'll still have to beat him anyway. It's worth noting that beating all of N. Tropy's ghosts unlocks that character, but Oxide's ghosts are only there for bragging rights.

Arcade mode lets you and a friend participate in single races or cups of 4, with the remainder of the 8 racers being AI characters. You can choose from 3 difficulty levels, though you need to unlock the latter 2 by beating all the cups in the previous difficulty (padding strikes again). When racing in a cup, the higher your position at the end of a race, the more points you win, and the racer with the most points takes it all.

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 playing with company. Up to 4 people can play simultaneously via split-screen (if you're playing on an original PlayStation console, this means you'll need a Multitap peripheral). Invite up to 3 friends and the already enjoyable CTR becomes a royal blast for countless afternoons. Even to this day, CTR is still an amazingly fun multiplayer game, and the only thing it's truly missing compared to modern alternatives is an online mode (thankfully, that's where its remake, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled comes in). And speaking of multiplayer...

VS mode lets you race against friends in single races and cups. It's identical to Arcade mode, except there are no AI racers at all, and up to 4 players can participate. 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. Anything goes in order to get the upper hand, from simply launching missiles to hiding traps inside crates, or even turning invisible. It's not at all uncommon to spend most of your time in Battle mode if you play with friends frequently.

What else is there to say about CTR? It's a very faithful adaptation of the franchise to a new genre, and besides a decent selection of content to enjoy, there are some surprisingly deep mechanics that will keep you coming back for more. If you're not a fan of racing games, this might just be an exception you'll want to try.

The good

  • Easy to learn, difficult to master
  • It retains the same style and feel of previous Crash Bandicoot games
  • The multiplayer modes are very enjoyable
  • It contains a very decent amount of tracks and arenas, especially for its time

The bad

  • Character stats are only shown when starting Adventure mode
  • Every single-player mode is riddled with padding
  • If you prefer the pulled-back camera, you need to manually switch to it in every race

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