Developers: Naughty Dog
Publishers: Sony Computer Entertainment
Plot: When an egotistical alien ruler, Nitros Oxide, threatens to destroy the Earth, Crash must team up with both his allies and his enemies to stop him.
As a devout follower of the early Crash Bandicoot series, I remember being disheartened when I heard that, rather than make a fourth platformer game, Naughty Dog were planning on bringing out a racing spin-off. It was a common problem with platformers back then. No one seemed capable of making any more than three games without drastically altering the gameplay. However, to my surprise, Crash Team Racing is one of the better entries to the Bandicoot franchise.
Maybe the best thing about Crash Team Racing is the fact that, deep down, it still feels like the other games. You are dropped into a map and are tasked with completing a set of races. Once you have finished each level, you are put against a boss. Defeating the boss puts you into the next map and you repeat until the game is done. It is essentially like Crash 2 and 3 with the simple difference that you are always sitting down in your car. The same experience carries through as well. By the time, you are halfway through Crash Team Racing, it is possible to not even see it as a racing game. You are simply given a few levels to beat and you work your hardest to accomplish them. The racetracks are colourful and adventurous, so fresh that your first attempt is usually wasted, as you look at the scenery, rather than the car in front of you. It is also far more addictive than the other games. As any racing fan will tell you, there is something about driving games that draws you in. There is a need to perfect each course, nail every turn. You will leave this game with one track that you can do better than anyone else and that is an almighty feeling.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that for the first time, we get to play the bad guys. Warped broke new ground by having the player take on some missions playing as Coco, a well-earned break from continuously taking on levels as Crash. However, the moment the opportunity to play Tiny or Dingodile crops up, you are transfixed, knowing which character you will be having your first spin as. Yet even playing as the good guys has its merits. It is particularly amusing to get involved in a race, realise the character coming up behind you was a boss that gave you hell a few games ago, and to your surprise, you find yourself focusing every weapon picked up on that one character. Crash Team Racing grows from a risky change of pace into a well-calculated dose of entertainment. Everything about the game is a novelty and it becomes a fresh take on the Bandicoot universe, coupled with a loving sense of nostalgia. While they aren’t playable in the main segment of the story, there are also some old faces you probably weren’t expecting to see again: Papu Papu, Komodo Joe and Pinstripe. Crash Bandicoot finds itself at a position in time, where it has the fame to reference older games to instantly earn praise from its players. Cheap and easy, but it works, so you cannot fault the tactic.
It also means that the series has multiplayer to bring to the table. Of course, when we talk about multiplayer, it becomes impossible not to reference the giants in the genre: Mariokart. Crash Team Racing could be argued to be the only platformer turned racing game to stand up to the giants at Nintendo and win some points for Team Playstation. At the end of the day, the only difference between the two has nothing to do with quality, merely which characters you are more familiar with. Endless fun can be had by inviting a few friends around to fire up some split screen action and see who can dominate a track. There is also battle rounds, where you drop the racing side of things and take part in Demolition Derby but Crash Bandicoot style. Cue Aku Aku masks spinning around players, deflecting penguins thrown into their general direction. While there will always be a part of me that misses your ‘by-the-numbers’ platformer, I must admit that CTR won me over more than I thought it would.
Final Verdict: A true classic, standing up to the other Bandicoot titles before it and holding its own.