The original Crash Team Racing (PSX) was a "Mario Kart rip-off" in the positive sense. It featured some great track designs and its four-player mode was somehow both balanced and exciting. More importantly, because it ran on the PlayStation, the owners of Sony's grey console could finally enjoy the genre that up to that point was Nintendo's domain. Future installments of the Crash Bandicoot-inspired racing series came along for the PlayStation 2 and portables, but none were able to muster the same level of quality. The same is also true of Vivendi's latest attempt, Crash Tag Team Racing. Although it successfully manages to copy and expand on the "tag team" concept spawned by Nintendo's Mario Kart: Double Dash, that one victory is mostly abolished by the game's weak course designs and the developer's decision to integrate platforming gameplay into the mix.
For the most part, this is a kart racer like any other. Players can pick one of 8 Crash-inspired characters and put them into any of about a dozen different rides. The goal, obviously, is to take first place in as many races and events as possible. There are dozens of standard racing circuits, demolition courses, and enclosed battle arenas to compete in, and, since this is a "kart" style game, players can pick up and fire off weapons and power-ups.
Vivendi copied Nintendo's "tag team" concept, but the implementation here is actually more enjoyable because it doesn't just involve swapping drivers or snatching power-up items. In Crash Tag Team Racing, each player drives their own ride. When you're near another car out on the track, however, you can combine the two cars together into a single speedy tank by performing what's called a "clash move." Once clashed, one player steers the vehicle while the other aims and shoots the cannon on the back. You can really tear into opponents this way. It's easy enough to swap positions and to undo the clash. The best part of the whole process is how A.I.-controlled drivers react. If you're controlling Crash and you join up with one of the good guys, they'll drive wonderfully, but if you initiate a clash with one of Cortex's crew, they'll slam into walls and try to shake your aim.
Unfortunately, the A.I. is more concerned about using weapons than driving competitively, and the track designs are lifeless and unimaginative. As a result, the race modes are exceptionally easy and the combat modes are rather tough, while the game as a whole is just tiresome to work through. There aren't many shortcuts or eye-catching landmarks to add spice to the experience, which is very important for a kart style game's longevity. It's as if they had an automatic track designer spit out courses based on a generic formula. The combat-oriented modes are a little better, if only because they emphasize the game's strength (combat) and not its weakness (racing).
The worst thing about the game is that there are actually platforming levels to go through in the story mode. While they do indeed lead to race locations, they're generally large and overwrought with actual platforming and collect-a-thon aspects. It's nice that Crash can jump and double jump onto platforms, dangle and crawl across ledges, and collect Wumpa coins in order to buy new clothes and rides, but what the heck is all of that stuff doing in an effing racing game?! There's too much platforming and it just gets in the way of collecting the medals and gems necessary to unlock more tracks and see subsequent cutscenes.
Following in the footsteps of its gameplay, the game's presentation isn't very ooh-inspiring either. Kids will enjoy the Crayola color schemes, goofy characters, and absurd explosions, but anyone over 12 is going to find themselves distracted by the jumpy camera, consistent slowdown, and simplistic environments. As bright as the colors are and as huge as the tracks are, there just aren't enough polygons to go around. The soundtrack, audio effects, and voices are much better. Props to the overly dramatic music though, for its Willy Wonka-esque flare-ups, and to the voice-acting, for putting familiar Crash voice actors back into their roles and for giving players a story to digest as a reward for trudging through the game.
Crash Tag Team Racing isn't all bad, but its positives are definitely outweighed by the negatives. Compared to all of the other racers out there–kart, arcade, or simulation–it's definately at the bottom of the list. Young children may enjoy it, since the controls are easy to learn and the style is at that age level, but they'd probably be much happier in the long run playing a game like Jak X: Combat Racing, one of the earlier Crash racing games, or, dare it be said on a PlayStation-focused site , Mario Kart: Double Dash on the Nintendo GameCube.