Crash Team Racing Review

For PlayStation

Rating: Awesome
   I get a lot of letters from readers saying that I'm jaded.  I admit that 
over the years I have slowly become sick and tired of several game genres 
like fighting games, action/platform games, and racing games, and as a 
result, it really takes something special for these kinds of games to 
impress me. As you can probably imagine, I was more than a little surprised 
to find that Crash Team Racing is a remarkable game that I wholeheartedly 
recommend to all PlayStation owners, even those who don't usually enjoy 
racing games.
   My first impression of Crash Team Racing was probably a common one: I 
thought it was Mario Kart 64 without the annoying voice-overs.  I entered 
the Arcade Mode and found that there are four different "Cups" to go 
through, with each one of them containing four tracks (sounds familiar).  
Even the system of awarding points after each race is identical to the way 
it is in Mario Kart, from first place to last place.  But the more I played 
CTR, the more I realized that as much as it was inspired by Mario Kart, 
it's also much better than Mario Kart in nearly every possible way.
   Crash Team Racing's biggest gameplay innovation is the unique way that 
it gives you turbos.  The turbos are one of the biggest things that make 
CTR much more intense, fast, and just plain fun than Mario Kart ever was.  
While there are still turbo power-ups that you will pick up from time to 
time, you'll spend most of the game creating your own turbos by getting 
huge air from jumps.  Every big jump that you make rewards you with a turbo 
when you land.  The bigger the jump, the bigger the turbo.  The bigger the 
turbo, the faster you'll be going when you approach the next jump.  The 
whole thing snowballs from there, with thrilling streaks of speed that will 
help you stay competitive with the other racers.
   And believe me, it will take a lot of skill and effort to stay 
competitive with the other racers.  Like all games from Naughty Dog, Crash 
Team Racing has a learning curve which eases you into the game at first, 
but will have you throwing controllers around your house before all is said 
and done.  As I type this, my hands are sore from playing the Arcade Mode's 
aptly-named Hard difficulty level.  CTR's Medium difficulty level is much 
tougher than Mario Kart's hardest level.  Don't get me wrong, this is not a 
bad thing by any means.  A real challenge that's always there no matter how 
good you are is something that is noticeably missing from Mario Kart's 
single-player mode.
   Thankfully, Crash Team Racing is challenging in a good way, not in an 
unbalanced way like all too many racing games these days.  Using the many 
power-ups and weapons requires a lot more skill than using the power-ups in 
Mario Kart.  The tracks are crazier and more creative than Mario Kart's, 
but at the same time they're more balanced (and unlike Mario Kart, CTR has 
no "stinker courses" that clearly don't belong in the game).  CTR is also 
much more balanced than Mario Kart in terms of comebacks.  In Mario Kart, 
it's often easier to come back from last place than it is to hold a lead in 
the final lap.  In CTR, it's very possible to come back from mistakes made 
early in a race, but it's much more realistic than it is in Mario Kart.  In 
addition, CTR's computer-controlled drivers aren't the perfect specimens 
found in Gran Turismo and lots of other racing games.  They attack each 
other and make mistakes just like you do.  As a result, the game feels much 
less unfair when you lose than it does in other racing games, and it's also 
much more satisfying when you win.
   The only thing holding back Crash Team Racing's single-player mode from 
being a must-have game on its own is the flawed Adventure Mode, which seems 
to have been inspired by Rare's craptacular Diddy Kong Racing.  Rather than 
focusing on the actual racing, the Adventure Mode doesn't let you advance 
to newer tracks until you go back to the tracks you've already beaten and 
collect "CTR" tokens (while still coming in first place).  It can be hard 
enough sometimes just to win races, but to go out of your way to collect a 
bunch of stupid items and still win is a frustrating pain in the butt that 
isn't worth the time or effort.  CTR's Adventure Mode also forces you to 
participate in "Relic Races," in which you go back to previously-beaten 
tracks and have to beat a certain time to advance.  The only problem is 
that sometimes you'll beat the required time, but the game will force you 
to re-play the track as if you didn't beat the time.  
   Fortunately, once you lose interest in the pointless tasks assigned to 
you in the Adventure Mode, there is still plenty of great fun to be had in 
the Arcade Mode, Time Trials, and multi-player modes (which have four-
player capabilities for those of you with Multi-Taps).  Just about every 
one of CTR's flaws that you can think of can easily be overlooked because 
the game is just so damn fun.
   It would be an under-statement to say that Naughty Dog stole a lot of 
things from Mario Kart when they made CTR.  It could be one of the least 
original games I've played all year, but it's also one of the most well-
designed.  Once I got into it, I was pleasantly surprised to find that 
Crash Team Racing is the most entertaining racing game I've ever played.

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