Genre: Racing/3D Platformer
Publisher: Vivendi Universal
Developer: Radical Entertainment
Release Date: October 18, 2005
Every so often a kart racing game comes along and raises the bar of the genre. The legendary Super Mario Kart for Super Nintendo was incredibly fun and unique, funny, and full of fanciful levels and weapons and characters. It was made fully 3D in Mario Kart 64. Rare's Diddy Kong Racing took this new 3D kart racing formula and expanded upon it three-fold by adding plane and hovercraft racing, as well as a clever overworld map with unlockable doors that linked all the tracks together. Over the years Nintendo's kart franchise has grown, Sega experimented with Sonic R, and Sony assigned their then-mascot to compete as well.
Crash Tag Team Racing does not raise the bar of the genre as one might hope, but it does at least introduce a number of interesting elements that make the game feel fresh and fairly new. In somewhat similar fashion to Diddy Kong Racing, the races are accessed by actually going up to the entrance of a track area and unlocking it in a sort of 3D overworld. But instead of being in some vehicle 100% of the time, this segment of the game is controlled with Crash on foot.
You will actually be on foot so much you'll begin to wonder if this isn't primarily a Crash platformer and secondarily a racing game. You're easily walking around just as much as you are driving. That's not to say this is such a horrible thing, though. The platforming controls are moderately tight and intuitive, and you might have a bit of fun collecting coins, defeating enemies, and navigating some treacherous areas. Still, it feels a little shallow. There are really no major "levels" to complete, just small segments between race tracks that are mostly unchallenging.
In fact, the developers apparently thought it was funny to include a ridiculous number of "sudden death" moments in which Crash is suddenly killed from something like a falling anvil. It might have been amusing if there was actually a reason for it, but the only thing I can figure is that the game's "life" is slightly extended since you lose coins every time you die. Frankly, I found it quite annoying.
The racing half of the game is merely decent. The control doesn't feel anywhere near as tight as Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, nor is it as innovative as Diddy Kong Racing's planes and hovercrafts were. Everything is firmly grounded with tires (aside from jumps, naturally) and in fact the handling feels a little on the stiff side. It's also terribly easy: on anything but the very hardest difficulty level, getting below 2nd or 3rd place regularly is a joke.
The most interesting aspect of the racing is what the game calls "clashing." By pressing a button your kart will begin to turn a ghostly, transparent blue, and colliding with the nearest kart will cause both of you to transform into one gnarly beast of a kart, with one person controlling the steering and the other manning a giant turret on the back of the kart.
The two of you can switch jobs at your command. Driving is straightforward enough that the AI can usually do a good enough job, even if it looks a bit more robotic than your usual driving. Taking charge of the firepower can be a nice change, but it too wears thin fairly quickly; since the turret is so powerful, you pretty much simply look ahead at racers before you and hold the fire button or look behind you at enemies trying to assault you from the rear. There really isn't much to it, despite a cool assortment of weapons.
The unification often means you'll easily take the lead over the other racers. The only real remaining challenge is to actually separate and beat what was just your companion. If you trigger the separation, you recieve a slight speed boost - if the other does, then he recieves the boost. Knowing just when to split is usually the strategic key to winning first place across the board.
There is no online multiplayer in the game, so you're either stuck with split-screen play or LAN play. The game doesn't really hold up as well as one might hope in multiplayer, though. Perhaps its because after a few races the clashing, while intriguing initially, leads to very predictable outcomes. Perhaps it's because the platforming segments are of course missing - admittedly, though, they're a meaty portion of the single player game.
Crash Tag Team Racing actually tries a bit too hard at delivering something of a storyline to advance a plot that really may as well not have even bothered to exist. Kids might appreciate the cartoony cutscenes, but its a far cry from the intelligent and absurd humor of Tim Schafer's hilarious platformer Psychonauts. In fact, it's almost ridiculous that such a game that almost begs to focus only on an interesting gameplay combination wants to fall back on something entirely unnecessary.
The graphics in the game look a little tired - this being a multiplatform title on the six year old Playstation 2 - but hold up reasonably well, considering. The characters are colorful and cutesy, and Crash's vibrant orange still makes him catch your eye just as the developers intended with the original Crash Bandicoot on the Playstation. The character models are fairly detailed, as are the levels. It's nothing on the level of Shadow of the Colossus or Devil May Cry 3 or God of War, but it looks good enough and runs at a playable framerate (that admittedly, immediately makes the game feel a bit groggier than Mario Kart: Double Dash!!).
The sound in the game is fairly well done. The cheesey voice acting is here in fine form, with actors delivering all their mildly funny lines with as much gusto as possible. Sound effects are your average 3D platformer/kart racer fare; you've got your everday running and jumping and collecting noises, and your standard engine and explosion and voice clip sounds accompanying the other half of the game. The music is enjoyable enough, too. While it's far from being truly catchy, it could be a lot worse.
Crash Tag Team Racing is by no means a masterpiece of a game. It will probably be forgotten quickly by most, even those who spend some time with it. While it is honorable that it at least attempts to make an interesting piece of a game, with platforming and racing mixed together and a nifty clashing element thrown in, the core gameplay just isn't strong enough to really make this terribly memorable. It could be great for kids, though: with characters straight out of a cartoon, fairly easy gameplay, and simpler platforming segments, it's definitely worth looking into for a younger one in the family. The rest of us may as well skip it and continue waiting for another great kart racer.
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