Is Crash Team Racing the Best Kart Racer?

Is Crash Team Racing the Best Kart Racer?

Overview


STRENGTHS

Tremendously designed courses and balanced power-ups

A progression mode that opens up new tracks/characters

WEAKNESSES

No true progression system or any sort of customization

- Unoriginal, taking queues from the best kart racers of the time

Crash Team Racing INFORMATION

Release Date: October 19th, 1999

Developer/Publisher: Naughty Dog/Sony Computer Entertainment


The last Naughty Dog developed Crash Bandicoot game, Crash Team Racing might be the best kart racer of its era. While it borrows heavily from its inspiration, the Mario Kart series, Crash Team Racing exceeds Mario Kart in several areas which helped to further the kart racer genre.

Story - Crash Team Racing Review

Story isn't the first thing that comes to mind when discussing a kart racer, because traditionally, they didn't have them. To be fair, calling the single player mode a 'story' is a bit of a stretch (here it is called Adventure mode). It does however provide an excellent motivation and "progression" system, which goes beyond just racing on a full track. There are antagonists that must be defeated to progress, usually in a one-on-one race, a much different dynamic than the grand prix.

The progression system involves no attribute increases but is rather purely advancement to the next set of courses. There is an end goal of defeating Nitrous Oxide, to save the planet, a typical Crash Bandicoot plot, but it's something and there are accolades and unlockables for doing so. That's perhaps the biggest motivation of all, unlocking new characters, tracks and modes of which can only be done so by completing Adventure mode.

Roo's Tubes Track - Crash Team Racing Review

Roo's Tubes Track - Crash Team Racing Review

Technical - Crash Team Racing Review

In a time where many games on the PlayStation were drab, Crash Team Racing boasts a colorful, friendly pallette that accents the game's whimsical aesthetic. Character models are polygonal yes, but clear and concise in their design. 

Environments are fully 3d and are filled with detail. Even with the action and fully 3d models, slowdown is never an issue. Considering the mostly enclosed environments of the Crash Bandicoot series, the expanse of Crash Team Racing's track are an impressive feat. There is no pop-up, an essential component to racing games that doesn't always seem to be present among others. Most impressive is the smooth display. Anti-aliasing it is not, but somehow Crash Team Racing elminates many of the "jaggies" that plagued other games of the time. 

Music - Crash Team Racing Review

Cheerful, charming and melodic is about the best way to describe Crash Team Racing's music. Kart racers are hardly known for their soundtracks and CTR is no different. Playing off of and including musical themes from the previous Crash Bandicoot series entries, the music is all very familiar. Closer to a ring tone than a film score, this soundtrack is not one you'd be listening to of its own merits. Then again, who would expect to. It serves its purpose, is non-offensive and you'll probably catch yourself humming it here and there (but be annoyed by it).

Sewer Speedway Track - Crash Team Racing Review

Sewer Speedway Track - Crash Team Racing Review

Gameplay - Crash Team Racing Review

Gameplay is where Crash Team Racing makes its mark. Most kart racers control well at the very least and Crash Team Racing is no different. But what sets it, and Mario Kart, apart is simply everything else.

Track design is the most important, and Crash Team Racing's tracks each offer unique experiences. The theme of the track not only influences the aesthetics but the function of the track as well. For example, a race in the sewers has you racing in a half pipe that have booster pads or power ups in any place but the middle of the track creating a risk versus reward strategy; go for the power up or turbo boost and get it, you'll gain an advantage, miss it and your off trajectory and losing time. On another occasion the track splits with each path providing different advantages or disadvantages dependent upon your racing style and the racer you've chosen. There are examples of this through the track list and only one or two of the tracks standout in their simplicity (essentially beginner tracks). The track design is what lends credit to the "best kart racer of its generation" argument.

Crash Team Racing has terrifically balanced power ups. It's not just the power ups themselves it's how and when they are acquired. There is the normal staple of heat-seekers, limited invulnerability, a shield amongst others but several of the super-charged power ups such as slowing down time for competitors or an orb that seeks out the first place racer are only attained in dire straights. While there is a randomized model to receiving power ups, chances are definitely increased when you're tailing the field. This helps to make you never feel like you're out of a race. Another factor in power ups, and even increasing your racer's speed are the fruit crates littered throughout the track. When 10 pieces of Wumpa fruit are acquired power ups has slightly increased abilities, like a longer lasting shield or the ability to turn your shield into a projectile. The fruit is truly an original mechanic, that while subtle, differentiates CTR from other Kart racers.

There is an arena battle-mode, and it's extremely play worthy, but compared to the actual racing it's more of an exercise learning basic controls or just messing around and is no way the focus of the game.

Lastly, each racer has different attributes; better steering versus faster speed versus quicker acceleration. Each has their trade-offs, and certain racers work on better tracks but it does seem that speed is the way to go. Because there is a jumping ability, it negates the use for better handling at the expense of speed. Furthermore, the jumping feature when used on turns creates a drifting mechanic that when completed because a speed boost. These all add up to give Crash Team Racing a deep and strategic racing experience.

N. Gin Labs - CTR Review

N. Gin Labs - CTR Review

Crash Team Racing Review Roundup

Borrowing heavily from the best kart racer at the time, Mario Kart 64, there aren't many original concepts in Crash Team Racing. What it does do well is perfect nearly every aspect that makes kart racers great while adding several subtle features to differentiate it from the field. The controls are nearly perfect, highlighting strategy and technique over fighting to keep your racer on the track, perfectly balanced power ups keep racing fair without sacrificing rewarding first place  drivers and the Adventure mode is a great way to unlock other aspects of the game while being great itself.

The Best Kart Racer of its Generation

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