It’s been a whole year and a half since my very first guest article here at Toy-TMA, and I realized that I have some serious unfinished business to attend to. I debuted on this site with a Retrospective on the classic Crash Bandicoot Trilogy, which still stands as my all time favorite video game trilogy to date. That alone would be enough to make its creator, Naughtydog, one of my favorite game developers ever, but their fourth (and final) installment to the franchise would cement Naughtydog as my own personal Valve: i.e. a developer that can do no wrong as they consistently provide a high standard of quality in everything they produce with yet a single flop to their resume. The game in question would not be another platforming adventure, but a kart racer. Crash Team Racing released on the original PlayStation in 1999, and to this day it has no equal.
For those who wish to read my Retrospectives on the first three Crash Games before proceeding to this one, follow the links below.
Yep, I said it. Crash Team Racing (CTR), I repeat, is the greatest Arcade Style Racing Game ever made. As I speak, I already know that hundreds of you out there are calling blasphemy on me, refusing to believe that anything can possibly be superior to any product that features Nintendo’s supreme mascot on wheels. Well all you blindly loyal sheep, I’m gonna tell it to you straight. Yes, CTR came out two years after Mario Kart 64. Yes, it is a by-the-numbers copycat of everything Mario Kart 64 did [with a big scoop of Diddy Kong Racing mixed in], only with the characters, environments, weapons, and tunes of the Crash universe. Yes, it’s a PS1 exclusive that was an obvious cash-in because Sony needed their own version of what Nintendo had on the N64. That much is true.
But you know what else is true? For someone who has played both extensively throughout his childhood (AKA, Me) it became quickly obvious which one was the more superior game. CTR had more characters, more tracks, more battle maps and play settings, better controls, better visuals, better music, better voice acting (by which I mean it HAS voice acting) and an entire single player adventure to top it all off.
Case closed. Hook line and Sinker. Check and Mate. Done and Done. [Pranger’s Note: And that’s why Crash Team Racing is still so popular toda- oh wait…]
[Yes, because Popularity has always been synomymous with Quality. I’m sure the box-office sales of Scott Pilgrim vs. The Expendables are a perfect example of that.]
Now that I’ve got that little rant out of the way, let’s talk about the game’s story. So Crash and Co. are all riving up for the big Grand Prix when they get a very unexpected guest. Yup, after beating all the mutated animals, mad scientists, and machine enemies to a pulp, Crash gets his very first extra terrestrial encounter, and his name is Nitros Oxide.
Now, is it just me, or does he remind anyone of Sebulba, the pod-racing champion from Star Wars Episode 1, The Phantom Menace? Which is especially odd, given this game predates The Phantom Menace. Anyway, Oxide here claims to be the fastest racer in the galaxy, and he comes to Earth with a proposition.
“It’s a little game I like to call ‘Survival of the Fastest.’ Here’s how we play. I challenge the fastest driver on your planet to a race. If your driver wins, I’ll leave your miserable little rock alone. But if I win, I’ll turn your entire globe into a concrete parking lot, and you’ll all have to be my slaves. Get ready to race for the fate of your planet.”
As silly as that may sound for a plot device, it is a perfectly plausible way to establish conflict in a universe such as this one. Especially given that in a bit of deleted dialogue, it is explained that the planet Mars has no life on it, because Oxide passed by it on his way toward Earth and left it a desolate wasteland. It also is a perfect explanation why Crash, Coco, and all their friends would be out go-karting with Cortex, N.Gin, and their other former adversaries. If Crash and friends want to save the world, and Cortex and minions want Oxide gone so they can conquer the world themselves, it makes perfect sense why they would all be duking it out to see which of them is best fit to race for the planet. [Pranger’s Note: I’d just like to point out some odd histories here. Crash Team Racing came out in 1999 with a space alien demanding a racing challenge. 1997’s Diddy Kong Racing had a…space alien…challenge people to kart racing…hmm.]
[Okay fair enough, but with Wiz Pig, it was never really explicit where his motive came from in all this, or why racing him was entirely necessary. The excuse we were given for his actions was “He’s bored.” Oxide, on the other hand, was a derainged, cranky, senile old coot whom even the people on his own planet (given a name, Gasmoxia) thought he was freaking nuts, thus why he left in the first place. Plus, it’s also unexplained why in a universe where powerfull forces like Donkey Kong, King K. Rool, Gruntilda, and the Panther King all exist, that the resistance that is able to take Wiz Pig down is comprised of Elementary aged kids, 75% of which we never see in another game.]
Anyway…In the end it is up to the player to choose who he will play as, and ultimately make the Earth’s champion. And of course, given my fondness to a certain “Most Epic Evil Minion in all Video Games,” you can probably guess whom I went with.
For a company’s very first attempt at a racing game, Naughtydog managed to create a point perfect engine for CTR. They didn’t try to add gimmicks like poorly handling hovercrafts and airplanes as a shallow attempt at trying to look innovative. [Pranger’s Note: Nope, they just took the concept of one popular kart racer and the framing narrative of another.] [Which I already confessed to above.] They just made their core driving physics as sharp and fluid as possible. There was a great sense of speed in the way the karts moved, especially thanks to the bountiful amount of ramps and turbo pads scattered evenly across each track. Not to mention this game has just about the easiest and best handling power slide system I’ve ever seen. Sure, all kart racers have power sliding now, but this game still does it better and more visceral than anyone. And never once was there a lag in the animation. It just felt right.
Each character has varying traits that make them play unique to one anther. Polar and Pura have the best agility and handling, which makes them good for beginners. Coco and N. Gin have the best Acceleration for a slightly higher challenge. Tiny and Dingodile have the highest top speed but are difficult to handle, making them fit for most experience players. Then you had Crash and Cortex, who were good well-rounded racers for the intermediate crowd. Each of the following seven unlockable characters fall somewhere in one of these four brackets, though you’ll have to test-drive them out for yourself before you can analyze their strengths.
There are 18 racetracks in total with seven battle maps. Every character, including the unlockable ones, get their own themed map, which are all richly detailed with obstacles straight from the first three Crash games. One fan favorite in particular is Hot Air Skyway, which is basically our own personal version of Rainbow Road, as it is up in the sky and there are very few railings to prevent you from falling off. The only difference is that Hot Air Skyway isn’t a mess of neon colors splashed onto the screen. It’s an actual track that allows you to SEE where you are going. So that means if you fall off, 90% of the time, it will be your own fault.
Of course in classic arcade racing style, there are item boxes scattered throughout the tracks. They will provide a huge variety of weapons for offense (heat seekers, rolling bombs, electric orbs), defense (TNT crates, Potions, Force fields), speed (turbo boosts) and the Aku Aku mask (Uka Uka if you’re a bad guy) which is the CTR equivalent of Starman, thus making you a temporarily invincible speed demon that takes out anyone you hit. Adding to the item system is Wampa Crates. By hitting these crates and collecting enough wampa fruit, you become “Juiced Up” and any items you collect become stronger and more accurate (TNT become Nitro crates, Bombs have a bigger blast radius, Aku Aku mask lasts longer).
Each of the characters also have their own unique set of sound bites and catchphrases. The audio is a little dated, so it’s occasionally difficult to pick up what they are saying, but not too often. There was this one time during the final boss fight (or race as it were) with Oxide where he calls out one of his sound bites to me, “Say goodbye!” immediately followed by me, playing as Dingodile, firing my triple heat seeker item at him, making direct hit, and Dingodile saying one of his own sound bites, “Goodbye!” As I pass Oxide and take the lead.
True bliss right there. Timing on that one couldn’t have been more perfect.
If there was one small complaint I would make about CTR, it is about the four-player vs. mode. It works excellently, but in order to play it you needed to buy a multi-tap adapter because the PS1 (and PS2) only had two controller outlets. It wasn’t too pricy, but because that peripheral was needed in order for the game to read more than two controllers, it is impossible to start up four-player on the downloadable PSN version on the PS3. That is a bit unfortunate, though it’s hard to knock the whole game down for it, because there is so much content with battle modes, time trials, CTR Challenges (collecting the letters C,T, and R hidden in a track and still getting first place [Pranger’s Note: Similar to collecting 10 silver coins and still getting first place perhaps…?] [Yeah, but much more clean and not as unecessarily complicated]) here is a racing game that is just as much fun and challenging to play in single player as it is with friends.
As what many cult followers hail as being the last definitively awesome Crash Bandicoot game ever made before Naughtydog would ultimately sever all bonds with Universal Studios, leaving their high spinning superstar behind, I cannot recommend this title enough. Crash Team Racing is currently available for download for $5.99 on the Play Station Network and for Free for those with Plus Memberships. You want speed? They don’t come much faster. You want tracks? They don’t come much sharper. You want an all-star gathering of the entire cast of the Crash Bandicoot Trilogy (save for two or three omissions) celebrating an critical breakthrough in Gaming Icons made right here in the states? CTR brings the goods. You’re welcome.
And on reflection, perhaps the supposedly hypothesized Uncharted Fortune Racer game might not be such a bad idea after all.
[Pranger’s Note: I realize I came down hard here but understand that I have nothing against Crash Team Racing. I do, however, have something against calling out fans of other series for no reason, hence why I felt compelled to put a bit of perspective into place. Please though, go enjoy your game for the fun experience it is, not for the experience it is when compared to anything else.]
[And I appologize for seeming so forward in my defence. I have nothing against Mario Kart or Diddy Kong racing. They have influence a lot of games, like this one and I appreciate them greatly for it. What I am against is having one of my favorite games in the entire world constantly mocked for 12 whole years of being a ripoff of a game that only existed for only two years prior. There are miles of shallow, bland, half-baked uninspired knock-offs in video games. Crash Team Racing isn’t one of them.)