Crash Team Racing: better than Mario Kart?
Wen a remastered version of the 1999 PlayStation game Crash Team Racing - Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fuelled - was announced six months ago, it was met with an unexpected outpouring of quite terrifyingly volcanic joy.
"I'M SO ECSTATIC I'M SHAKING," said one fan on Reddit. "IM GONNA EXPLODE."
"THIS GAME IS MY FAVORITE OF ALL TIME," said another. "I SQUEALED LIKE A PIG WHEN THEY ANNOUNCED IT." Those capitals are the posters’ own.
The way that pop cultural memory picks out and preserves some artefacts is odd, isn’t it? Now, Mario Kart 64 is the one karting game that lives on.
Released in 1996, it became the second-best-selling game on the N64 with more than 9.6 million units sold and defined who knows how many house parties, post-pub sessions and the hours after school between the end of the kickabout and the beginning of your tea.
Since then it’s turned into its own mini-industry, with sequels spanning every Nintendo platform. It came first and defined a genre that quickly turned into the first choice for sloppy, borderline insulting merchandising tie-in games. Woody Woodpecker, Pacman, the Looney Tunes, Antz and, most bizarrely, M&Ms all had a dip, among others. That in turn has led your average nostalgist to presume Mario Kart 64 was the only one that really mattered.
But no. No. I’m sorry, no. No, no, no. No. No. Nooooo. Crash Team Racing was and remains the greatest racing game ever conceived. Today, though, it feels like it’s been almost completely overshadowed by the one featuring that lovesick moustachioed sadsack and his idiot brother.
Despite great reviews and very tidy sales indeed, CTR never had that kind of era-defining success. But what it did do was perfect the (admittedly quite niche) form of the cartoonish multiplayer racing kart game.
On the face of it, CTR looked like a pretty transparent Mario Kart 64 rip-off. It could probably get away with four-way multiplayer races, a battle mode, unlockable characters from the expanded universe and even the hit-the-gas-just-before-the-lights starting grid boost, but taking literally all of Mario’s weapons and rebadging them was maybe a little bit too Homer-as-Guy-Incognito to ignore.
"Red shells? Surely, sir, you mean my entirely original heatseeking rockets! And those aren’t green shells, mushroom speed boosts and blue shells, oh no. Those are bowling bombs, gas canisters and a flying silver orb which zaps the player in first place with lightning." Hmm.
It’s hard to ignore the similarities, sure. But CTR was no half-arsed kart-by-numbers, no Shrek Smash N Crash Racing. It took the tired idea of bodging pre-existing characters onto a kiddie-friendly racing framework and stuck a rocket under it.
CTR’s goofy, Muppet-ish sense of humour set it apart from Mario, for one thing. Mario is brilliant, obviously, but the only person with a worse gag hit-rate since 1983 than the little fella is Dan Aykroyd. At its best, it’s a nice bit of whimsy. Compared with that, CTR was an anarchic romp, tonally somewhere between a Vic and Bob sketch and The Mask.