A bandicoot weeps.
Last generation, there were more than a few Mario Kart imitators. It seemed as if every time a platformer’s star was falling from the sky, its developer would throw it into a kart-racing game. Most of the time, it resulted in a sloppy experience, but there was one exception that really stands out in my mind: Crash Team Racing on the PlayStation. As the last iteration of the franchise created by the original developer, Naughty Dog, it was a fitting farewell and a cool kart-racer to boot. Obviously, I was excited when Vivendi Universal announced a sequel, but I was also worried that it wouldn’t live up to its predecessor. Tragically, Crash Tag Team Racing is mostly forgettable and almost totally inferior to the original game thanks to lazy level design and an ill-conceived premise of incorporating platforming via an overworld..
The story puts you back into the role of Crash Bandicoot, a happy-go-lucky creature who craves action and adventure. This time he’ll have to win the Grand Prix Race at a dilapidated theme park; you see, its owner no longer has the will to run it with his five Power Gems stolen from his possession. And so, whoever wins the tournament gets control over the park. And so, for no real reason at all, Crash decides that he wants the theme park (although he never really says it – he can’t talk).
The big draw of the original game was taking advantage of the dozens of items and attacks available throughout the track. Unfortunately, this has been all but axed in the sequel, since there are only three weapons to be found (and they’re pretty lame – why would I throw a chicken at someone?). In place of this sorely-missed mechanic, races center on fusing your kart with a competing racer. When this happens, you’re given a turret while the other driver goes on with the race, tugging you along so you can obliterate the surrounding vehicles. It’s kind of like Double Dash!!, but without the fun. Races are mostly bland (whose decision was it to get rid of the bunny hop?!), and the karts aren’t varied enough to waste time on collection.
Now, if the game ended there, I would probably still find something to like about it. After all, with battle modes and even a cool stunt mode (the object of the game is to perform jumps and spins and manage to land it in a pre-set time period), I wasn’t totally bored to death. But for some reason it wasn’t enough to take out everything that made the first game great – they had to inject in some cross-genre gameplay! So instead of just going from race to race, you have to earn your races by exploring the various theme park locales. This wouldn’t be so bad if these places weren’t totally devoid of any hints on where to go or if you weren’t required to win a number of Power Crystals to move on (keep in mind that, although the number of crystals increases each time, the number of races you’re given does not, so you’ll have to perform odd-jobs for the supporting cast and simply buy crystals from the disgruntled employees of the park). It’s not quite platforming, though – it’s some strange overworld, only you’re forced to spend most of your time looking for crystals. Fetch-quests? In a racing game? What kind of world are we living in?!
Fortunately, the multiplayer is still adequate – you’re able to re-visit all of the races you’ve unlocked and go head to head with your friends. And as far as control, the kart is pretty responsive, as is Crash during exploration segments. Even if the level design is shady at best, kart-racing is pretty tough to hate. Unfortunately, Crash Tag Team Racing’s gameplay is mediocre at best and criminal at worst.
As far as presentation goes, there’s nothing particularly wrong, but there isn’t anything noteworthy either. The frame-rate is a tad buggy at times, but never during races, so it isn’t much of a bother. The character models fit the cast well enough, but it still doesn’t look that much better than the 32-bit version of the last game. The same can be said of the environments. Aurally, I am impressed by the voice work. Clever writing and dynamite delivery will definitely make you laugh out loud a couple times. Music tracks are mostly forgettable, though.
All in all, Crash Tag Team Racing is unworthy of its namesake, and I really wish the developer had taken its time to study what was great about the original game before starting work on the sequel – the lack of finesse present in CTR really shows. With Double Dash!! being so superior, I can’t recommend this game to casual kart-racing fans, but since it’s such a travesty compared to the PlayStation title, I’d rather that series fans didn’t play it either – it physically hurts. I suppose this one is destined to remain on the shelf.