Before I owned my PSOne, I always went to my cousin's place for my videogame fix. He had an SNES, and with it, he had Mario Kart
. Suffice to say, a lot of rainy weekends passed while red shells flew. It was wicked fun when there are a lot of people. It got real intense in "Change the Loser" scenarios which brought out the competitive maniac in everyone. Luckily, Naughty Dog took this solid foundation, threw in Sony's mascot and his friends, and added a ton of stuff to make it a game all its own.
Crash Team Racing combined Bandicoots and go-karts, with the end result being a fantastic take on the overcrowded mascot racer genre. This all started with Mario Kart, and after it, a lot of immitators popped up like mushrooms, trying their best to capture what made Mario Kart so magical. Most of them failed. While not totally unplayable, some elements are suspect enough that you'll have the nagging "Mario Kart did all this before and much better" thought at the back of your head. Playing CTR, that thought never once crossed my mind.
The game featured all your standard go-kart game modes. A single player mode, various multiplayer race types and a Battle Mode. The single player mode is a story mode of sorts, which has you selecting a character at the beginning and going through a series of races and challenges, in a bid to get to 100% completion. It's a bit on the bland side, but overall, it's a great mode that teaches you the game mechanics at a good pace while letting you polish your skills in the most devious of challenges.
The powerslide is the biggest skill one should master. When powersliding, the exhaust of your kart will start to smoke. When it turns black, that's your cue to press the trigger and do a slide boost. You can do this three consecutive times. This is the skill you'll be using early and often, since it allows you to retain speed while turning without relying on items.
Speaking of characters, there are a lot on offer here. If it appeared on any previous Crash game, chances are, they'll be here. Heck, even the animals that Crash and CoCo rode (polar bear in Crash 2 and Tiger in Crash 3, respectively) are accounted for. They also possess different stats (Acceleration, Top Speed and Cornering) that don't matter much, because it's all skill-based in the end.
Like any good party game, the single player mode readies you to eviscerate people in the meat and potatoes of the game: the multiplayer.
The multiplayer racing is a frantic battle for first place. It's you against one (or three) other people, racing around ingeniously designed tracks while firing homing missiles and flattening each other senseless. The power ups take their cue from Mario Kart, but the gameplay is fun enough that it won't matter. By the end of the day your group would be exhausted from all those missiles fired, fiendishly placed nitro boxes (Protip: drop them in the power-up crates and surprise a hapless victim). As I played this with my friends, much trash was talked, then more trash was talked when it came time for vindication.
Battle mode is another multiplayer mode, but I didn't play that all too much. In it, you and your enemies are placed inside an enclosed arena. You are given three balloons, which explodes if you get hit. You lose if you have no more balloons remaining. It's a great distraction, but when the racing is so damn fun, there's a big chance this mode will be neglected.
The comparisons between CTR and Mario Kart are unavoidable. However, CTR stands out in a sea of me-too immitators through sheer charm and solid gameplay mechanics. Also, this was the last Crash game Naughty Dog developed (the franchise was bought by Universal after this, which was responsible for the subpar Mario Party knockoff, Crash Bash). If you can track it, play it with friends. It's a good time, guaranteed.