The years since Crash Bandicoot first appeared way back in the early days of the original Playstation have seen a massive amount of sequels and spin-offs. Some of them sucked. This one doesn't. As a sort of spiritual successor to Crash Team Racing for the PSone, Crash Tag Team Racing manages to expand the scope of the combat kart racing genre. Unfortunately, it doesn't expand the depth of any of its game modes, just the variety. Think of CTTR as a gigantic mall that only has one floor of shops, and most of the shops are shoe stores.
If that mall simile didn't make any sense, then you're probably smarter than I am. Regardless, CTTR gives players access to eight controllable characters like Neo Cortex, Von Clutch, Coco, Pasadena, and N-Gin, and of course, Crash. Across the game's five worlds are a wide variety of game modes, mini games, missions, unlockable content, and collectibles. On each track players are able to select a from five game modes including Race, Crashinator, Rolling Thunder, Fast Lap, and Run and Gun. In addition, there are special tracks where players can participate in battle royal arena combat and a strange stunt mode. Though the breadth of options available is impressive, especially the expansive platforming elements, the game winds up feeling limited. If you're between the ages of eight to 12, however, you'll most likely love this title.
Rotating Gun Turrets Should Be in Every Game.
CTTR's big feature is called clashing. Any time during a race you can hit a button to enter a special mode where your car crackles with blue electricity. When you come close to an opponent, both of your karts, or actually cars in this game, merge together in a slow motion sequence to become one gigantic super car. With the super car you'll have access to cannons that can fire in any direction around you, including behind. Each character has specific turret weapons like shotguns and rocket launchers which can be switched between at will, and players can choose whether or not they want to control the turret or drive the car. While this is initially a cool feature, it soon becomes apparent that it dramatically affects the challenge of the single player mode.
On easier difficulty levels there's absolutely no reason to leave clash mode. All you'll need to do is clash at the very beginning of the race and then blow up everyone else. There's also no reason to ever drive a clashed car since the A.I. does a decent job of avoiding course pitfalls and keeping a good line though the tracks. It's way more effective to blow your opponents up than try to steer around them. On top of that, the clashed forms have can take more damage, it seems, than the regular cars, though they don't move as fast.
Another advantage of the clashed forms is that you'll get boost much more quickly than in regular form. Boost is gained from blowing opponents up, blowing environmental obstacles up, and slide turning. When you have a giant chaingun blasting away at five opponents crowded behind you, it becomes clear that the fastest way to boost is to control the clash turret. When your boost meter is full you'll get a temporary speed burst, and the frequency with which this happens takes away most of the speed disadvantage of the clashed form.
That's not to say it negates the entire speed disadvantage. On the hard difficulty level, which is where anyone looking for a challenge should be playing, you'll have to combine clash and regular forms to win a race. This is mainly because when you disengage a clash, which can be done at any time, you'll get a temporary speed boost. Essentially you'll be looking for the best way to balance clashing, blasting nearby foes, then unclashing and leapfrogging to the next opponent's car, where you'll clash again.
Race physics and proper racing line really take a backseat to all this destruction. You'll be able to slide turn in CTTR, but that's hardly the focus of the gameplay. Clashing decidedly overshadows everything else, essentially making the racing element a secondary feature. The game becomes more about how many cars you can blow up than how effectively you can slide around turns. The importance of attentive racing is even further diminished by some of the course obstacles, which can include things squishing you or blowing you up into the air and are at times unavoidable. In clash form, you're often able to blow these up with your turret for a boost bonus, so there's yet another reason to stay clashed for as long as possible.
One further advantage in the clash mode is the weapon pickups. If you're driving around by yourself you'll pick up explosive chickens and dynamite clutching monkeys, but in clash mode you'll get grand pianos, submarines, and cows, as well as homing dolphins. The pianos and submarines are even capable of taking out several enemies at once since their explosions persist for several seconds, forming a temporary barrier where the item is dropped.
The dependence on clashing to win races takes away from the depth that could have been present in the race mode. There are plenty of other modes for you indulge in if you get bored of racing, but none of them prove to be more than a cursory diversion. They'll have objectives like blowing up as many opponents as possible, nailing targets with turret shots, and getting fast times which can be fun for about five minutes, but wind up being just another way to get more power gems and coins than an entertaining game mode. For anyone interested, the Rings of Uranus course in Astro Land is a huge money maker since it's so short.
Plenty of Fluff.
While it's true many of the race modes prove to be shallow, the game offers plenty of diversions for curious players. There's an extensive platforming element in the game. Though each of the game's stages you'll be able to talk with NPCs, get side quests for extra cars and items, find power gems hidden in levels, activate secret switches, and battle ninja penguins. The game even goes so far as to include secret sequences where from the platforming area you'll be able to drop new shortcuts in to the level's courses.
Exploring the levels and searching for the wide variety of collectibles can be an entertaining diversion from the races, though it suffers from a camera that's too quick to react. You'll often find that viewing your precise position is a challenge and you'll be forced to take several leaps of faith, despite a decent layout for camera control. There are also a range of mini games you can play, such as an outlandish bowling game, a few target shooting games, and two games that resemble missile command. These are fun for a while, but you'll wind up using them as a money maker much like the extra racing modes.
The real appeal of this game is in its multiplayer, especially considering how short the single player campaign is (assuming you're not going for all the collectibles and quests). Unfortunately, you can't take your game online on any system. Instead, you'll be relegated to split screen play or over a system link or LAN. In the PS2 version, you'll even be able to hook up with a PSP. If you know you're going to be the only one around while playing this game, it might be worth passing on even though there's some entertaining gameplay simply because it's kind of a pain to get a bunch of people together to keep it interesting. If you are able to regularly assemble a group of people, there's plenty to do in the multiplayer, including going into the battle or stunt arenas, or checking out the grand prix mode. In the process you'll be able to unlock more tracks to play on.
While the game's graphics are vibrant and colorful, they don't really pass into the realm of impressive. You'll find a high degree of detail in some of the level designs, like figures frozen in the ice of the Tyrannosaurus Wrecks level and plenty of extra moving parts in many of the tracks' layouts. Occasionally you'll find the game slows down during particularly combat heavy sequences, but generally the framerate remains stable. The character designs are appropriately cartoonish and well animated. It's all very good, just not great. The cut scenes where you'll be performing various actions like killing yourself or killing others are questionable, since they are much lower quality than the regular game graphics.
Sound in CTTR is much more forgettable than anything else. Some of the character voices are annoying, especially Pasadena. Many of the songs and sound effects are entirely forgettable, though occasionally you'll hear funny chirps from NPCs who you spin into and cause them to flip their ice cream cones onto their heads.
What keep CTTR from getting boring is the sense of humor that's squeezed into almost every aspect of the game. Most representative of this is the fact one of the collectables involves finding different ways to kill yourself. There are also completely pointless sequences you can initiate that kill NPCs. None of these get very violent. They're limited mostly to Crash getting squashed by pianos and pop machines or eaten by yetis. On top of that, players will find an entertaining sense of humor infused into character animations, level design, and story sequences.
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