Crash Team Racing: An underrated rival to Mario Kart
by Darran Walter
The race is won. You lean back in your chair to relax having overtaken the entire field in a single lap, leaving a trail of carnage in your wake. You’ve dropped TNT, set off homing missiles and knocked the guy in second place off the edge of Dingo Canyon with a bowling bomb. Victory seems assured but, from nowhere, a blue shield ball smacks you in the rear and sends you into an unrecoverable spin. Your cackling, sadistic friend zooms past, dropping a green crate of nitro in your path and suddenly the race is over. You’re left wondering what the hell happened and whether strangling your friend with the multi-tap would be too extreme. Simply put, few games made you despise your mates more than Crash Team Racing (CTR).
It may be an unpopular opinion with Mario Kart lovers but I still believe that CTR is one of the best multiplayer games ever created. That a PS1 game can remain so playable, enjoyable and memorable nearly 20 years after its release should tell you how good it was. I’ve played CTR so much over the years that the circuits became second nature. I memorised every nook and cranny of each circuit, including the shortcuts (including the infuriating hidden passage on Tiger Temple that scythed a huge chunk of the lap if you could blast the door open), and the most useful weapons. You’d think that mastering each track would make the game stale but with CTR it made it even better. Every time you raced was like a new experience.
“You’d think that mastering each track would make the game stale but with CTR it made it even better”
My brother and I played CTR the moment we got home from school on a Friday night and it usually ran through Saturday into Sunday. Sometimes we would take turns on single player mode and when friends came over we would compete on the various multiplayer modes. It was always a hilarious experience, made even more so by the audio. The cartoonish nature of the soundtrack coupled with the brilliant character voiceovers wonderfully complimented the wacky gameplay. I found few things as amusing as dropping a TNT crate and hearing Dingodile’s evil laugh as my brother was blown sky high by the explosive repercussions.
Like all karting games, CTR’s beauty lay in it not taking itself too seriously. If you found yourself lagging behind, it would level the playing field by handing you unfairly generous weapons, such as missiles, Aku Aku masks, turbo charges and those blasted N. Tropy clocks. I had a friend at the time, ‘Babs’ who took delight from the use of those clocks by watching his opponent’s screen (a pet hate of mine) and then setting them off at the exact moment you were approaching a jump or a sharp turn which inevitably saw you fly off a cliff face or smack into the wall. Races against him became increasingly tactical as I tried keep him as close as I could to prevent him falling back and picking up these weapons.
There is an element of veracity to the notion that CTR was a simple game but, in my experience, games that nail the simple things are worth ten of those that try to needlessly overcomplicate matters. It still required you to perfect each nuance of the game if you wanted to avoid humiliation by your peers, such as mastering the art of drifting and power sliding; if you hit the L1 button as soon as black exhaust fumes appeared you would give yourself a boost around the corner. Combining this skill with a mastery of the tracks was the blue belt level examination but to become CTR black belt, you had to be weapons proficient. If you were anything like me, you would ditch the TNT/Nitro and the irritating potion bottles at the first opportunity. The real money lay in the bowling bombs, missiles, shields and masks. Weapons could be used in direct conflict, strategically held to open up passages or tactically released on long straights, causing mayhem among those chumps in your wake.
“Games that nail the simple things are worth ten of those that try to needlessly overcomplicate matters”
I remember the jumps being difficult Polar Pass, Cortex Castle and Papu’s Pyramid were tracks that possessed some devilish jumps which could cut half the course if you made them or totally wipe you out if you missed, leaving you praying for good karma with the weapon boxes so stand any chance of getting back into the race. I once got so annoyed once with my inability to time a jump that I punched my little brother to put him off, allowing me back into the race. I’m not proud of it but, at the time, CTR had me enveloped in its vortex of competitiveness.
You’ll notice that so far, I’ve only really touched on the multiplayer but it truly was that good. So good, in fact, that it was even brought out on my recent stag do. We played it for hours whilst drinking heavily! The single player mode, however, was an OCD-suffering teenager’s dream. It was broken into sections of increasing difficulty and you had a lovely tally chart of relics, time crystals and CTR tokens to collect that moved you closer to the 100% goal. Each section was a joy to complete and it was eminently satisfying see the numbers start to move your completion percentage creeping up.
Each boss presented a new challenge and a steep difficulty curve that required you to adapt to the situation. It culminated is the final boos, Nitrous Oxide, who was a real challenge but gave a phenomenal sense of accomplishment upon defeating him. I still remember the sweaty palms and nerves when racing him but actually defeated him on the second attempt! I remember taking the lead on the third lap whilst holding three missiles which I used every time he got past me, protecting my lead like Lewis Hamilton and driving as aggressively as Michael Schumacher on steroids. It was glorious.
“Driving as aggressively as Michael Schumacher on steroids. It was glorious.”
The Battle mode wasn’t great. In fact, it’s probably the only part of the game I can pick holes due to the lack of variety in the arenas and weaponry available. However, I still enjoyed watching my friends duke it out and delighting in their reactions and anger or joy depending on who won. On one memorable occasion, my brother hurled his controller at the floor when my friend recovered from 13-5 down to beat him 15-14 with a last minute missile on Nitro Court which I took great delight from.
CTR was simply a brilliant game and has stood the test of time in a way that very few others can. It had a great variety of gameplay modes, was intuitive, had superb sound, provided great characters and created some of the most hilarious and frustrating scenes of violence and disbelief amongst a group of friends that I’ve ever experienced. It won’t go down as a legendary game but was truly memorable.