Crash Bandicoot has certainly thrown himself around. As one of the few videogame characters that has survived the jump from the PlayStation to PlayStation 2 era, he's been in more than his fair share of titles, appearing in platformers, racing titles and even party games. Crash Tag Team racing is, as you might have guessed, another attempt at kart racing, but this time the genre boundary is a little blurred. It's somewhat of a mess (albeit a rather entertaining mess), mixing traditional 3D platforming with kart racing. The result is a game that doesn't really know what it is.
As anyone who's familiar with the Crash series will expect, the focus of Tag Team Racing is crystal collecting. This time the game takes place in a huge amusement park run by Von Clutch, an evil cyborg. Unfortunately for Von Hutch, his power crystals are stolen, so he decides to hold a number of races set in the park in order to get them back. The premise is a little flimsy, but at least there's a reason to the racing and crystal collecting.
So, Crash and a number of other characters race in order to win crystals to give to Von Hutch. The racing itself is no Mario Kart, but it's entertaining enough. It's heavily weapon focussed, with pick-ups scattered around the tracks at regular intervals. You can even join up with other racers (called clashing), combining your vehicles to give you better control over each aspect of racing; one character controls the shooting, while the other drives. You can choose which of these to do, but it's best to opt for shooting. While this gives the racing an on-rails feeling, the AI is far better at racing than shooting.
Because you are so much better at aiming than the AI, races become very easy. You do have to un-clash at various points, but even this gives you an advantage, with the character who initiates the split receiving a nice speed boost. Even set on the highest difficulty it's never really a struggle, but somehow it's still fun. This is no doubt due to the colourful and wacky course designs, but also to the inventive weapons that you have at your disposal. I should point out that the Crash series is aimed squarely at the younger market, making its low difficulty quite acceptable.
Racing isn't just about finishing first, either. You can enter a number of different race types, including the standard time-trial, plus battle modes, a rather dull crash mode and few others. You'll have to take part in a number of these throughout the game, but none are really as enjoyable as the standard racing. The amusement park is open to be explored on foot, allowing you to move from race to race, and to collect coins in order to buy crystals. This gives the game a whole other side and is akin to its platforming roots, last seen in Crash Twinsanity. Despite the obvious assumption that you'll mainly be racing, you'll spend equal time exploring the park, collecting coins, buying crystals and taking out pesky enemies.
While there's nothing wrong with either component of the game, you do wonder which part you're meant to be playing. You can happily explore the 3D world for quite some time, but then you remember you're actually playing a Kart racer, so you head off to a race. It's like the developers (Radical Entertainment) weren't really sure if the kart racing alone could stand on its own two feet. In truth, it probably couldn't, and the platforming sections certainly make the game better overall. It's just that they don't fit together all that well - you might as well be playing two different games.
Multiplayer modes are limited to offline, but you can link up systems for some LAN action or simply play split-screen. Multiplayer really isn't all that fun, with the actual racing not really living up to the heights of the Mario Kart series. There was a reason to race in the single-player game, but when playing with friends, you're better off sticking to true kart racers. Of course, Xbox and PlayStation 2 owners don't have the luxury of Mario Kart, but there are still better racing alternatives on those systems. Mini-games also provide something a little different, but none are great enough to keep coming back to.
Despite not being a stunning game, Crash Tag Team Racing has a rather charming appeal. It has a rough appearance, but the game world is large and colourful, and race tracks are diverse and wacky in design. There's definitely a slightly crazy, mad edge to it all, with plenty of sharp lines and angular objects. The frame rate holds up well too, with only the GameCube version bogging down enough to be noticeable. Voice work is up to the usual high standard, but unfortunately many of the characters aren't really designed to appeal to the older gamer. The music is also suitably chaotic and fits the style of the game very well.
Crash Tag Team racing is an enjoyable, although rather confused videogame. If you're looking for a really good kart racer, this might not meet your needs, but as a combined racer/platformer, it does a good job. It's pretty easy, but never dull, and the cast of crazy characters and variety in gameplay should appeal to the younger market that the game was so obviously designed for.