Crash Team Racing Retrospective

Back in 1996 Naughtydog debuted their first game for Sony Computer Entertainment, Crash Bandicoot. A series seemingly specifically designed to take on competing console manufacturers Sega and Nintendo, and their rival platform gaming franchises. Crash received high praise from critics and quickly became one of the bestselling titles available on the Playstation, with journalists often drawing positive comparisons to Sonic and Mario titles.

Crash quickly and successfully became to the Playstation brand and console, what Super Mario is to Nintendo’s systems. With that in mind it was in 1999 that Sony and Naughtydog decided Crash and Mario would battle for supremacy in another genre: kart racing.

At the time Nintendo already had their own successfully established racing franchise, Mario Kart. Mario Kart featured on the Super Nintendo, and Nintendo 64 entertainment systems, and had garnered both critical acclaim and commercial success. Around the same time Sega were trying to tap into the racing genre with Sonic R – although that was a venture with a slightly less favourable outcome, it was clear the market for a family friendly arcade racing game was pretty heated back in the 90s. Nintendo even had a second kart racing franchise with Diddy Kong Racing, which launched in 1997, just one year after Mario Kart 64.

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Hopefully your childhood was filled with all of these… except perhaps Sonic R…


All in all it was a tough market for Naughtydog to step into, but they’d already proved themselves with Crash’s core series and the original Playstation. And so they launched Crash Team Racing. A kart racing game in a very similar vein to Mario Kart and Diddy Kong Racing, CTR saw players darting around 16 courses using all manner of powerups and shortcuts to gain the upper hand.

It’s easy to reflect back on Crash Team Racing and despite its quality simply consider it a clone of Nintendo’s game. Whilst it’s fair to say that Crash Team Racing took a lot of inspiration from Nintendo’s own racing titles; the hub world from Diddy Kong Racing, Powerups and basic mechanics from Mario Kart, it’s also only fair to note that it executed itself in a manner which was both fresh, and vastly beyond the quality of its current competitors.

For its time Crash Team Racing featured relatively high-end graphics, unlike its competitors its tracks were laced with high resolution texture and generally immense amount of detail. Visuals aside the game featured significant innovations to the kart racing formula too introducing the first competent drift-boost system which effectively lead to the technique now known as snaking. To some extent this already featured in Mario Kart 64 however it was very unrefined.

In Crash Team Racing you enter a powerslide with L1 or R1, then in order to yield boost from this mauveur, you must press the opposing poweslide button, right when your engines fumes turn black for a small boost, chain this three times for a large one! This might not sound like a big deal as a feature, but the mechanic was revolutionary; it added a real skill-based influence the preceding’s and more depth to its raw gameplay than its competitors.

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Back in the day, CTR was quite a visually appealing game.

The game took the power-up system typical of kart racing games one step further too. Introducing alternative variations or powered up versions of each pickup. Depending on how many wumpa fruit you’ve collected on the track, your pickup is either powered up, or regular. These powered up versions vary significantly from their regular counterparts. For instance the regular TNT sticks on your head for 3 seconds, then explodes if you don’t jump enough times to get it off, powered up this turns into an instantly explosive nitro crate. Again this is another example of how Naughtydog injected a little more depth to the cart racing formula presented in prior Nintendo titles.

Each of the games powerups had depth and unique quirks. For instance bowling bombs could be thrown out, forward or backwards, similar to green shells on Mario Kart really, but they can also be remotely detonated by pressing circle allowing for some really tricky skill-shots to occur. It’s definitely a more than kart racing games offer today, take Sonic & Sega All Stars Racing for instance where traffic cones crudely mimic banana skins from the Mario Kart series. Even if Crash Team Racing took inspiration from its predecessors, it had its own, very unique flavour, and that made it and absolute blast to play.

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The game featured 15 characters, 17 tracks and numerous battle modes and maps, playable with up to 4 friends locally. Track design was generally superb, offering a range of easy to challenging circuits all very well designed featuring intricate shortcuts and diverging pathways.

Additionally it’s one of few racing oriented games I’ve found which implemented a ‘proper’ singleplayer mode. By that I mean, it wasn’t wasn’t simply a fancy set of menus with events for you to compete in, Crash Team Racing features a fully-fledged adventure mode with its own story.

It’s a pretty memorable story too, for what it is. Essentially N.Oxide wants to turn Crash’s planet into a giant parking lot, and offers Crash and other inhabitants of his world one chance to save it; they have to beat him in a race. In order to do this you must progress through various hub worlds collecting relics and gems, to unlock boss areas, new characters to play as and new hub worlds. The narrative is extremely brief but amusing and fitting for Crash Bandicoot series.

On top of that there are rewards for completing the arcade modes on various difficulties, and some especially challenging developer set time-trials which enable you to face off against N.Trophy and even N.Oxide himself. Adventure mode was relatively easy, but if you’re a more player looking for a greater challenge, Crash Team Racing didn’t shy away from providing that.

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Ultimately thanks to its method of borrowing and improving upon what Nintendo had already established, Crash Team Racing managed to become so successful that it actually trumped the critical acclaim of the series it was based on, and frankly this was well deserved. Heck, with a 91% aggregate score on gamerankings, Crash Team Racing is one of the most critically acclaimed kart racing of all time, second only to Super Mario Kart on the SNES, which was effectively the founder of the kart racing subgenre.
If you haven’t played Crash Team Racing before I urge you to do so. Available on the Playstation Network for Vita, PSP and PS3 as well as of course, the original Playstation if you still have one available; Crash Team Racing is a superb kart racing game, and in my opinion the very best the genre has to offer, even today.

 

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Categories: Opinion

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