Thursday, July 31, 2014

Crash Team Racing (PS1, PSN) Retro Review

We're speeding to August in style, and to do so we're doing one more retro review to round out July! It's Crash Team Racing time! Is it not one of the best kart racers of all time? What a loaded question! How dare you! Here's SuperPhillip Central's review anyway!

Naughty Dog gives a crash course in kart racing.

Remember back in the day when mascot platformers were in high demand? How about mascot kart racers? Yep, those were popular back in the day, too. ...I miss those days. Thus, I decided to time travel, so to speak, back to 1999 and bust out my copy of Crash Team Racing. Giving Mario and his pals a run (or is it ride?) for their money, Crash Bandicoot and friends have a kart racer that's solid and most importantly, a blast, whether solo or with friends.

Crash Team Racing is in no short supply of modes, making games like Mario Kart 8 jealous, even when that title has online play! The main single player mode is Adventure, which was obviously inspired by Diddy Kong Racing, a game that had just released the previous year. Players control one of eight characters as they progress through overworlds, collecting trophies, CTR tokens, relics, and gems in their bid to take down the evil Nitrous Oxide who wishes to turn planet Earth into one gigantic parking lot. Good for karts, bad for everything and everyone else.

A pithy selection of races are available at the beginning of the adventure mode, but as races and trophies are won, new locations open up. Once all of the racing trophies have been earned in an area through getting first place, the boss garage opens. After a boss has been defeated, CTR challenges and relic races open up, as does a new area to explore and compete in races in. CTR challenges pit you in a race against seven other opponents. However, you must not only win, but you have to collect the letters C, T, and R too. Relic races are essentially time trials where running into differently numbered boxes stops the timer for a limited amount of time.

You can't get second on the track
named after you, Crash!
While it's a nice twist on the adventure mode formula Diddy Kong Racing invented, Crash Team Racing's offering isn't as enjoyable a kart-filled quest. The relic races do encourage exploring every inch of each track, the CTR challenges less so, but I found them a bit tedious towards the end of the game. The boss races aren't nearly as entertaining as going up against a giant octopus, a trampling triceratops, or a flying dragon. Instead, you race against a fellow racer in a kart who throws one type of item behind him and creates a challenge through severe rubber band AI.

My favorite part of Crash Team Racing isn't the wacky characters, that to be fair, I didn't grow up playing the Crash Bandicoot games so I really have no emotional attachment or interest in them. No, it's the track design, specifically the shortcuts available. Some offer some insane sections to slice off seconds from your overall time or create more distance between you and your competitors. A lot have a risk vs. reward dilemma to them (such as hopping off a ramp or hill at the exactly right time to make it over a wall), while others are just hidden well and require great skill to access them.

Careful. We've spotted a mad dingo
riding around these parts, pardner!
The tracks themselves take place on a wide range of terrain and environments, and they are a perfect length overall. Most do not outlive their welcome, and that's terrific for time trials where messing up on the final lap doesn't mean you have to redo five minutes of "work."

To assist in getting the best possible times in races, you're going to need some skill and some finesse. An incredibly crucial kart racing maneuver in any kart racer that has any worth to it is the power slide. It works a bit differently in CTR than say, Mario Kart, but I don't say that like it's a bad thing. A power slide begins with a hop and a slide around a corner or turn. As the slide continues, exhaust builds from the back of the kart. When the exhaust turns black, that's your signal to hit the left shoulder button to create a makeshift boost. This can be done three times, taking into consideration when the exhaust turns black for each boost attempt, of course. The final of the three possible boosts lasts the longest.

For our Spanish-speaking friends,
a screenshot to make you feel more at home!
It's really challenging at first to steer your kart as you slide around a turn while simultaneously watching the exhaust for when to boost. However, once this has been learned (which doesn't take too terribly long), it becomes second nature. I even found myself trying this in Mario Kart 8 because my mind must have subconsciously forgot what game I was playing!

While power slides are an essential to liven up a kart racer, so are items. Crash Team Racing has enough of those in both offensive and defensive forms to keep races interesting. Thankfully, CTR uses a Mario Kart 64-like position on items. What I mean by this is that you will never see the AI using a CTR equivalent of the blue shell. Instead, they tend to stick to boosts, bombs, missiles, and flasks, which in Mario Kart lingo become mushrooms, green shells, red shells, and banana peels respectively.

This mask serves as Crash Team Racing's
answer to Mario Kart's Super Star.
Where items come out of boxes with a question mark on them, boxes with no symbol on them produce Wumpa Fruits. Continuing to compare this game with Mario Kart item-wise, Wumpa Fruit are the coins of that series. Collecting more increases your maximum speed. However, having ten in your possession makes the strength and power of your items stronger. A normal TNT box that would give a player caught in it time to escape will turn into a NITRO box, immediately blowing up player who runs into it in a glorious explosion.

Crash Team Racing delivers multiplayer thrills for when just competing against computer racers gets a bit dull after a little while. The game supports up to four players, though for three and four player action you'll need the Multitap peripheral for the original PlayStation version. Even with just two players, going against the AI and competing in four race cups is a wildly exciting and thrilling time.

Use some of that polar bear power
to get into first place!
I was amazed by how well Crash Team Racing holds up in some graphical regards. As many know, a lot of the PS1 era titles don't look too great, particularly the 3D ones. Crash Team Racing does have its ugly moments, but overall it isn't that bad of a looker. There is some chugging in the frame-rate here and there, which is unfortunate to see-- that is important to note. On the sound side, the music has high notes and low notes. There just seems to be more low notes (i.e. highly forgettable tracks like everything other than a handful of pieces) than high notes (i.e. the main theme of the game, the results screen, the lobby themes).

Crash Team Racing was indeed the PlayStation's answer to not only Mario Kart but then-popular Diddy Kong Racing. With a capable adventure mode, lots of multiplayer options, plenty of unlockables, tight controls, and solidly designed tracks, Crash Bandicoot's racing debut delivers a rewarding kart racing experience that is unmatched on the PlayStation platform and wouldn't be matched until the PS3's Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing in the kart racing arena, almost a decade later. This is probably preaching to the choir, but Crash Team Racing is a well done kart racer that's still worth a spin today.

[SPC Says: 9.25/10]

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