For my last birthday my sister surprised me with an unexpected and thoughtful present, a boxed copy of Crash Team Racing for the Playstation 1. CTR was one of my most played and beloved games during childhood, I’ve always remembered it fondly as a personal favourite. In fact my sister’s gift is the third copy I’ve owned, the other two long lost growing up. This summer I dove back into the cult classic.
It’s easy to see why CTR so enthralled a childhood me. The variety of scenery of the racing tracks, the chaotic fun of karting games and the iconic involvement of Crash himself. Even the story mode’s track selection menu was substituted for a drivable hub world that caught hold of my burning desire for exploration. I don’t claim to be an expert in kart racers, but out of a list including some real heavy hitters of the genre, CTR has always stuck with me as standing out against all others when I do peek through my nostalgia goggles.
“Out of a list including some real heavy hitters of the genre, CTR has always stuck with me”
I loaded the game to a buggy start and a great sense of trepidation. If the game didn’t hold up, I just couldn’t see myself enjoying all those old memories in the same way as I had before. To my great relief however, one disk and console clean later CTR was fun from the off. I started in exact parallel to the first time I played: identical kart, camera view and track further fuelling my nostalgia high. But by my second race, I was so into the game I’d forgotten to reminisce.
Despite the 1999 release date, CTR very much still feels like what I’d look for in a karting game today. Not only did I have no trouble enjoying myself, I was surprised in the ways I managed to compare it to the most recent kart racers I’ve played. CTR has a roster of franchise characters with different stat strengths, the expected variety of racetracks (ice, mineshaft…), modes such as battle and time trial and a collection of intuitive but exciting items. More surprising were the similarities in gameplay mechanics: timing button presses correctly for a faster start, power slides and associated speed boosts and a hop mechanic where greater airtime after a jump will also cause a thrilling turbo boost. Many of the above are tropes to practically all karting games, but each is excellently implemented and the age of CTR is worth considering. For example, it wasn’t until Mario Kart Wii (2008) that performing an action near or during a jump off a ramp would result in a boost of speed on landing.
“Despite the 1999 release date, I had no trouble enjoying myself”
Considering CTR only in terms of the Mario Kart games that came before and after it is a mistake, it does plenty to stand on its own. Firstly, it’s a kart racer with a genuine story mode, arguably redundant for the genre but interesting and a definite bonus addition. This main mode is flush with Crash Bandicoot spirit: a single objective plot, boss races, and the standard Crash collectibles of gems (cups) and relics (time trials). CTR also has a race mode I don’t remember seeing anywhere else, the ‘CTR’ race. In this challenge, you have to collect three tokens (C, T and R) from the most absurd corners of the track mid-race and still come first at the end of three laps.
Also CTR included an exciting mechanic, the ‘juiced’ system. During the race it’s possible to collect Wumpa Fruit (to Crash as coins are to Mario in the core series) or lose them as you are hurt by hazards or items. Collecting 10 Wumpa Fruit transforms any item you have to a supercharged ‘Juiced Up’ version. Imagine the ability in Mario Kart to upgrade your blue shell so that it hits every racer along its way, or adding just that little bit more pep to your mushroom power-up. The ‘Juiced’ system grants you secondary goals even as you race and makes the item system more dynamic.
“It’s a kart racer with a genuine story mode, a definite bonus addition”
The game was everything a younger me thought games should be. A content packed single player story mode, great multiplayer modes for 2 players and for up to 4 players, unlockable characters, collectibles, exploration, hidden shortcuts and multiple save files. Playing it again reminded me of a time when gaming seemed so different to how I often feel the pastime is now. Characters were discovered not bought; local multiplayer was something I valued and often expected, not something now falling by the wayside. Games have progressed and improved incredibly between each rite of passage in our lives, but looking backwards can be just as valuable and enjoyable. Next time you grow weary of AAA homogeneity, dig out a childhood favourite and visit a time when games (and probably life) were much simpler.
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