At first glance, Crash Tag Team Racing looks like little more than a Mario Kart rip off. Mario Kart went the two-driver route in the last game, Double Dash, and now Crash is doing the same with Tag Team. In fact, the similarities are all on the surface. Crash Tag Team Racing is actually something very different.
The first thing that strikes me about Crash Tag Team Racing is just how funny it is. For all the games out there that try to be funny, very few ever are. Luckily, Crash escapes that epidemic. In the single-player mode you can roam around a twisted amusement park (many rides bear a resemblance to the rides at a place that's name rhymes with Risneyland). There are so many little jokes going on all the time it is daunting. Most of the characters have little one liners; however, unlike most games, these lines aren't annoying. I was constantly being caught off guard by one of these comments, having to stop and laugh each time. Like the best comedy movies, long after the big jokes cease to be funny the little things in the background continue to deliver the biggest chuckles. As I am writing this I can hear my fiancÚ cracking up all the way in the other room as she continues to play.
I am not sure how many races it was before I noticed the things that Crash was doing as I was racing. While the racing itself plays out a lot like a poor man's Mario Kart, all the little touches take it to a level that at least is on par with reigning king of kart racing. Watch as you initiate a power slide: In the car, Crash gets up, puts his feet on the door and uses his arms and legs to pull the steering wheel as hard as he can. The level of detail is amazing.
Tag Team Racing has power-ups, much the same as Mario Kart, and, similarly, some of these power-ups you throw in front of you, some you toss behind, and some do both. When you throw an object behind you that you'd typically throw in front of you, instead of turning around to throw it, Crash plants an arm and hops up and throws it beneath him. Each racer has his own personality and there are lots of these neat little moments to experience.
So, as you can tell by this point I found myself won over by Crash's charms. Most of this happened during the single player mode. The two-player mode is similar to the single player except that it is purely racing. It is so hectic that when you get two people on the screen it is almost too much. Maybe on bigger TVs this wouldn't be a problem but on the old 27 inch, it was. There is an alternative: The game has a LAN feature, so that you can hook up more than one PS2 and play on separate TVs. This would solve the problem and make for some hot multiplayer action.
There are plenty of things to do in multiplayer mode. You start off only being able to race with Crash and his enemy Dr. Neo Cortex. There are three tracks to race on, a single car for each racer, and four kinds of races. The four modes are Race, Battle Arena, Grand Prix, and Stunt Arena. There is also a gift shop where you can purchase new stuff. Here you can unlock new tracks, characters, vehicles, Grand Prix, and race modifiers (like space gravity and super speed). Of course, you earn money by winning races in this mode. There is plenty to do in multiplayer mode and if you're like me, you'll want to unlock it all. I just wish they had made the display during multiplayer less cluttered; sometimes I'm not even completely sure what is going on.
However, forget all that because the single player mode is where it is at. The game begins very differently than I had expected: With a story. How many racing games have a real story? But here's the secret: Crash Tag Team Racing is much more than just a racing game. It is a full on Crash Bandicoot adventure with strong racing elements. The opening Cinematic introduces you to the story in grand style. It's seems one of Crash's rogues has opened his own theme park and Crash and his cast of supporting characters are all invited to join in the fun.
So, that's when the racing begins right? Nope. The game starts with classic Crash Bandicoot gaming. This made me happy. Crash is one of the best platformers in recent history in my opinion. In fact, Tag Team Racing is a little like Mario 64. While Mario had the free roaming stuff around the castle, Crash has an enormous amusement park. Instead of actual levels, like Mario, Crash has the races. You have to explore the amusement park in order to find each race. It sounds a little disjointed and I feared it would be, but it all plays out really well.
Like the multiplayer mode, single player boosts an exceptional amount of unlockables. The only problem is they are all the same ones. Exactly the same. Yet, for some strange reason, I still find myself driven to unlocking them all. Also, there are mini-games and special objectives for the free-roaming portion. Many of these special objectives are hilarious. Some of the best objectives are the Die-O-Ramas: You can find them throughout the park. As the name indicates, each one is a different death for the character. For instance, when Crash decides to lean onto the shark warning sign, the shark promptly devours him. Sure, it's all Looney Toons humor but if you can't enjoy that than you are dead to me anyway.
But if you don't like having fun you can skip the park and go directly to the races. You'd be missing out on most of what this game has to offer though. All I should have to say is, you'll miss the ninja penguins. I mean, c'mon, ninja penguins!
There are a number of different race types. Each one offers coin rewards and gems for getting first place. Gems allow you access to new races and areas. Types include Race, Run and Gun, Fast Lap, Crashinator, and Rolling Thunder. Race is obvious and Fast Lap is just a time trial. Crashinator is the opposite of sanity; instead of missing obstacles you aim for them. Rolling Thunder uses the tag team element, putting you in the gunner seat. You have to destroy a certain number of racers before the finish line. Run and Gun is similar except you have a fully automatic gun (later a shotgun type) and you have to blast planes from the sky. Each mode is fun and challenging, without being too difficult. I enjoyed them enough to gold medal in each before moving on.
The tag team element is OK. It doesn't hinder the game in any way but it isn't a gaming revolution. Basically, as you race you can merge with other racers. It puts one of you in the driver seat and the other in the gunner seat. You can swap positions at any time and dismount at anytime. It is a good way to advance to the beginning of the pack because you can easily take out your opponents. The first one to break it off gets a little speed boost as well. The only problem is that it simplifies the game a little too much. Not that it makes it too easy but that the gameplay becomes too simplistic. If you are driving you no longer have any of the Mario Kart-esque power ups, so you are just driving. Crash is a lot of fun, but it needs the extras. The Gunner portion is also not good enough on it's own. Most of the weapons are kind of lame if that is all you have to concentrate on. It certainly doesn't compare to being the gunner on one of Halo's Warthogs. Although it's mentioned in the title, the tag team aspect really is a small part of the game. Good or bad, it has little effect on the over-all likability of Crash Tag Team Racing.
My only big complaint with the racing is the ease with which the opponents can catch up to you when you are in the lead. This is something that most games have in common but it seems especially absurd in Tag Team Racing. Even after destroying most opponents and boosting a good part of the time, they usually catch right up to me when I am in first place. The ease of catching up does seem to cut both ways so I guess it works out. Regardless, a few times of being overtaken just as I was about to cross the finish line, after holding the lead for most of the race, was enough to get me pretty heated.
Tag Team Racing is also the first game I have come across that offers connectivity between the PS2 and the PSP. Using the USB hookup, you can download special content like tracks and vehicles. You'll have to have a PSP and it's version of Crash Tag Team Racing though. It's a cool feature for those people who do.
Crash Tag Team Racing is a fun game that is pushed even further with clever jokes and a wonderful world abundant with interesting characters. The voice over work is some of the very best, made better with well-written dialogue. The music is perfect in a zany but never annoying way. An a cappella group performs much of the music. It is more like orchestral music than anything, reminiscent of the music on the old Carmen San Diego television show on PBS. Tag Team is loaded with things to do and places to explore, and all at a $39.99 price point. This is a game that is worth picking up. I know I am going to want to spend quite a few days with Crash and his pals. I gotta go now. I can hear Crash in the other room and I know I am missing good stuff. "I do believe in Stinking Beauty, I do!"