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I played Crash Team Racing a lot as a kid. I think I played it more than the main series titles. It’s a kart racer similar to the Mario Kart games set in the Crash Bandicoot universe. Crash Team Racing is special to me because it’s the first game I found cheats for on the internet. Before this game, I assumed I could only find cheats in those cheat books or whatever they were called. But I didn’t own any. It was either that, or get the cheats from someone who had them. I didn’t spend much time on the internet when I was really young so it didn’t occur to me that I could just look them up. One day in middle school, I forget what class it was, we were “working” on the computers and I came to the realization that I could look up cheats. It was like a revelation. I immediately started looking them up and quickly wrote down all the cheats I could. I was hellbent on unlocking Komodo Joe because my friend and I thought he was the coolest thing because he’s a dragon and that makes him badass. And I don’t think we knew how to unlock him normally. Now that I’m older and have replayed this, I think I like Ripper Roo the best. Developed by Naughty Dog and published by Sony Computer Entertainment, Crash Team Racing was released for the PlayStation in September, 1999. It’s often considered one of the better Mario Kart clones from that era.
The story goes that an alien named Nitros Oxide, who claims to be the fastest racer in the galaxy, will turn Earth into a concrete parking lot unless the fastest racer on the planet can beat him. You can select one of multiple characters from the Crash Bandicoot universe to race as and must prove your worth to challenge Oxide and save the planet.
There are multiple game modes to choose from including Adventure, Time Trial, Arcade, Vs, and Battle, and the game does support up to four players. The Adventure mode is like the story mode. Each character has different stats in speed, acceleration, and turn. I chose Crash because he’s an all around balanced character. You can’t change characters in the Adventure mode so you’re stuck with whoever you select. You can accelerate, brake, hop, power slide, and drive in reverse. While power sliding, your turbo or boost meter fills up and when it changes from green to red, and your exhaust smoke turns black, you can activate a boost. You can do this three times in a row and boosting is the key to winning races and setting record times in time trials. Speed boosts can also be obtained from hang time and jumping or hopping off ramps and inclines will result in more hang time. Scattered along the tracks are crates and Wumpa Fruits. Certain crates contain items and others contain Wumpa Fruits. Collecting ten Wumpa Fruits increases your speed and “juices up” your items or weapons, basically making them more powerful.
You can only store one item for use at any time and many of them can be launched forwards and backwards. Beakers can be placed on the track and will explode if a racer crashes into them, causing them to spin out. The standard beaker is green but when juiced up it turns red, resulting in a black storm cloud that appears over the racer that crashes into it, slowing them down for a brief time. You can lay down explosive crates; TNT being the standard and Nitro Crates being the juiced up variants. If a racer drives into a TNT crate, it appears on their head and begins to count down. However, if you hop enough times, you can get it to fall off before it explodes. A Nitro Crate will explode instantly when a racer crashes into it. You can launch bowling bombs and fire tracking missiles, the invincibility mask protects you from attacks and gives you a speed boost for a limited time, and the power shield protects you from attacks but can also be fired as a projectile. The turbo item gives you a boost of speed, the N. Tropy Clock will cause other racers to spin out and slow their speed for a brief time, and the Warp Orb is a projectile that targets the racer in first place. I didn’t get a chance to try the Battle mode but there are exclusive items for it like the Super Engine and Invisibility. Items can be used offensively and defensively. Despite the Power Shield and Invincibility Mask being obvious protective items, there are other ways to defend yourself and/or avoid attacks. For example, you can avoid incoming missiles by hugging corners. You can also lay down items behind you like explosive crates to block incoming missiles and bombs.
The Adventure mode is single player only and it’s also where you can unlock a good chunk of content like additional characters and tracks. You drive around a hub world with multiple areas containing Warp Pads to tracks and there’s save/load screens where you can save your progress. You’ll race for trophies, relics, CTR Tokens, and Gems which unlock new characters. There are bosses which must be beaten to acquire keys to unlock the doors to new areas. Each Warp Pad takes you to a new track and you must first win the trophies for each race and beat the boss in an area before you’re able to race for the other items. Relics are obtained by scoring low times and to aid you are time crates scattered around the tracks which freeze time when broken. CTR Tokens are acquired by collecting the letters C.T.R. on the tracks which are sometimes placed in hard-to-reach or out-of-the-way areas. Then there’s the Bonus Round tracks or arenas where you have to collect all the crystals in an arena before time runs out and completing these rewards you with Purple Tokens. When you acquire enough Tokens of a certain color, you unlock that Token color’s Gem cup. Gem Cups consists of four races and your finishing position in each race determines how many points you earn. The racer with the most points at the end of a Cup wins the cup.
It’s been at least seventeen or more years since I played this last and that’s when I played it religiously. I remember getting frustrating every so often but after playing it for this review, I can’t say the game is that difficult, even in the Arcade mode which includes multiple difficulty levels. I got to Nitros Oxide’s first race in the Adventure mode in a single sitting. There’s no difficulty levels for the Adventure mode and I rarely had trouble finishing in first. Once you master the power slide boosting, winning races is not that difficult. I remember the Relic and Token races being more challenging but I quickly realized that breaking as many time crates as possible makes the relic races a piece of cake and most of the C.T.R. letters aren’t that hard to acquire. The AI isn’t relentlessly difficult, either, and that goes for the bosses, too. Bosses will constantly launch items behind them which is what makes them challenging and Nitros Oxide is a cheater but I can’t say I had too much trouble beating any of them. I found that bosses would suddenly struggle to catch up with me on the third lap unless I made a mistake. I’m quite certain there is rubber banding going on but I never felt like a target for the AI racers. In fact, during the Adventure, I was never once attacked with a Warp Orb nor did any of the AI opponents activate the N. Tropy Clock as if they don’t acquire those items which seems to be the case. When AI opponents did pass me, even if it was because I screwed up, I found it easy to take the lead again partly due to the game providing me items that make it easier to catch up. And I’m not talking about ending up in last place or close to last place, sometimes I would end up in second, third, or fourth and then get an Invincibility Mask or Warp Orb. I would say the most challenging part of the Adventure for me are the Crystal Bonus Rounds.
I didn’t get a chance to try Vs and Battle which are multiplayer modes but I did play through the Arcade and Time Trial modes. The Arcade mode allows you to set up solo or two player races, the amount of laps, and you can select one of three difficulty levels; easy, medium, and hard. Even on Hard, the races aren’t that difficult. You can race on a single track or in a Cup where you race on multiple tracks for points and the Medium and Hard difficulties need to be unlocked. You have to beat each Cup on Easy before you unlock the Medium difficulty and you have to beat them on Medium to unlock Hard. Completing each Cup on each difficulty will unlock additional arenas for the Battle mode. Time Trial is a single player mode where the objective is to race against the clock. If you get a fast enough time, you can challenge N. Tropy’s ghost. If you manage to beat all his ghosts, you’ll unlock him as a character. After beating his ghost, you can then challenge Nitros Oxide’s ghost and beating all his ghosts unlocks the Scrapbook. It’s a collection of behind-the-scenes artwork for the various Crash games that were out at the time and it also includes photos of the developers. Beating the ghosts in the Time Trials is probably the most challenging thing in the game.
There’s over sixteen tracks in Crash Team Racing, some of which need to be unlocked. The tracks all vary in theme and layout and you can take advantage of shortcuts, utilize boost pads for extra speed, and ramps and inclines for hang time. The tracks do get more complex and dangerous as you progress but I can’t say any of them are difficult to race on. You can fall off ledges but for the most part, it’s not hard to stay on the tracks. Most of the roads or paths are wide and many of the environmental hazards are easy to avoid. You’ll have to avoid fire, creatures, and giant rolling objects among some other things. You’ll slow down when driving through mud and slide on ice. Some of the hard-to-reach areas and shortcuts will require the appropriate amount of speed and/or a properly timed jump to get to and the Relic and Token races are a great way to see all parts of the tracks since the Time Crates and letters may lead you down different paths.
Crash Team Racing is a good looking PlayStation game. It’s filled with plenty of color and details, some tracks include different weather effects, and it’s easy to make things out. I can’t say the presentation ever affected the racing in any negative way. The varied track themes keep the visual presentation interesting and the game includes a fantastic whimsical and catchy soundtrack that matches the game’s cartoon-y aesthetic. Many of the songs were stuck in my head long after I stopped playing. Karts will roar as they speed along the tracks and the characters will shout, groan, and spout lines during races. Explosions sound pretty good, you’ll know when a racer hits a TNT Crate since you can hear the timer counting down, and hearing the glass break or an explosion from an opponent driving into one of your beakers or explosive crates is always satisfying. The entire audiovisual presentation is fantastic and gives the game a unique charm. On the technical side, the frame rate would noticeably dip when there was a lot of action on-screen but for the most part, it was a smooth experience.
Crash Team Racing is one of my favorite Mario Kart clones to date, assuming that term is still relevant. It’s one of my favorite kart racing games. I can’t say nostalgia has nothing to do with it but I think if this was my first time playing it, I would have still enjoyed it immensely. It’s pretty easy to pick up and play, it controls well, there’s plenty of things to unlock, and there’s a good variety of characters and tracks. Winning is all about power slide boosting which isn’t that hard to master. I do think the single player experience leans towards the easy side but it’s still fun. I’ve played a lot of kart racing games over the years and while some have aged better than others, Crash Team Racing is one that holds up really well.
I would absolutely recommend Crash Team Racing to anyone. You don’t even need to have knowledge on the Crash universe to enjoy this. It’s simply a fun racing game with a colorful visual presentation, catchy music, and plenty of gameplay modes. The game was remastered or remade with extra content and released as Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Switch and I am looking forward to playing it. In my opinion, Crash Team Racing is still one of the best kart racing games and one of the best PlayStation games out there. If you’ve never played it before or are looking for an alternative to the other popular kart racing games from the fifth generation era like Mario Kart 64 and Diddy Kong Racing, you should definitely check out Crash Team Racing.