The bandicoot is back on the track in Crash Tag Team Racing from Radical Entertainment and VU Games. This game marks Crash's third racing game, and if you played Crash Team Racing and Crash Nitro Cart then you'll recall that the bandicoot and his buddies have a pretty solid track record when it comes to racing games. We recently got our hands on a preview copy of the PlayStation 2 version of Crash Tag Team Racing, and it looks like the game will introduce some interesting new concepts to the combat racing genre.
The game begins with a rendered cutscene in which we meet a new character, Ebeneezer Von Clutch. The "deranged genius cyborg" runs the Motorworld theme park, which is a collection of amusement attractions built around themed tracks and arenas where drivers compete in the chaotic sport of combat racing. It seems as though Von Clutch has lost all his power crystals, and he needs some skilled racers to help him win the crystals back. The cyborg is willing to put his ownership of the park on the line to get his crystals back, but he won't give up the park without a fight. Conveniently, Crash, Coco, Crunch, Dr. Neo Cortex, N-Gin, and Nina Cortex show up to stake a claim on the theme park. Von Clutch joins them in the races, as does a new character, a sassy Southerner named Pasadena Possum.
After the brief introduction you're set free to roam about Motorworld theme park, which basically acts as a hub that connects the five themed worlds you can race in. You can chat with park guests, partake in minigames, collect coins, and get Crash killed in all sorts of silly ways. When you're ready to race you can make your way to one of the worlds. In the beginning, however, the only world available is Mystery Island, which is a water-themed area with ships, waterfalls, sharks, and the like. Each theme world is like another hub that connects a number of race tracks, stunt tracks, and battle arenas, all of course designed according to the world theme. There's a lot to do in each world when you aren't racing. You can talk to park workers, collect coins, purchase crystals, buy outfits for characters, play minigames, or collect special items that can be used to unlock new cars. Once you've gathered enough crystals, you can spend them to get a special gem. Once you get a gem, you can unlock a different world. In addition to Mystery Island, there's Happily Ever Faster, Tyrannosaurus Wrecks, Tomb Town, and Astro Land. It didn't take us long at all to unlock the first four worlds, since the power crystals are pretty easy to come by early in the game. In case you don't feel like running around a big 3D environment to get to the races, you can spend some coins to activate a ticket machine, which will instantly take you to any race you've unlocked.
After you've explored the park you can make your way to one of the worlds, and then to one of the tracks within that world to participate in a variety of racing events. There are five events available on the regular race tracks: crashinator, race, rolling thunder, fast lap, and run and gun. Crashinator is a single-person event where you simply race a single lap around a track and hit targets. Rolling thunder is a single lap wherein you are the gunner and have to score as many KOs as possible before crossing the finish line. Fast lap is simply a timed lap in one of the regular cars. Run and gun once again puts you in the role of gunner, and you have to shoot down targets as you drive by them. Finally, race is a straight up race, and this is the only type of event where you can use the clash feature at will.
The clash feature is a new concept that lets two race cars combine during a race with the touch of a button. This results in a bigger car with one racer driving and the other manning a turret gun on top of the car. When playing single-player, the artificial intelligence controls whichever part of the vehicle that you aren't manning. If you'd rather drive then you just have to hope the AI has good aim. If you play as the gunner, the game basically turns into a rail shooter, since you don't have any control over where you're going. You can switch between gunner and driver at any time with a quick press of a button. If your partner isn't performing to your standards, you can hit the clash button at any time to separate yourself. Whoever quits the clash ends up in front, where you or your opponent can take the lead and win the race, or get blown to smithereens by the racers that are behind you. You also have to be careful where you choose to separate from your partner. At one point, we tried to separate in the middle of a hard left turn, which sent us flying into the wall and cost us the lead in the race. At this stage in the game it seems like it's quite difficult to do well in a race without clashing, since the regular cars and power-ups are much less powerful than the clash cars. We didn't notice a performance difference when trying to clash with different combinations of cars, so it looks like who you clash with will largely depend on who's nearby. It will also depend on your weapon preference, since each character has a different special weapon.
Clash of the Rodents
In some modes, you are permanently in a clash car, which makes sense because the regular cars don't come with weapons equipped. There are four arenas in the game, two for stunt challenges and two for battles. In the battle events you can once again choose whether you want to be driver or gunner. But either way, you'll be at the mercy of the AI unless you have a friend playing with you. Based on our experience, the AI seems pretty decent. When we were in the gunner position, the driver would steer in the general direction of where we were shooting. The driver even went out of the way to pick up items like weapons and health. The battle races are just free-for-all fights until someone gets 10 KOs, which doesn't usually take more than a few minutes.
The stunt events use the normal cars and don't involve weapons at all. In these events, you have five minutes to score as many points as possible. You score points by hitting jumps and doing flips and spins while in the air. The tricks are pretty easy to pull off since you kind of float in the air, but you have to land squarely on four wheels in order to get points for the trick. As you bust out your tricks you'll earn boost, which you can then use to get more air off jumps and pull off bigger tricks. This mode could be fun, but the arena we played seemed rather small, so we couldn't really do much other than a backflip or the occasional double backflip.
In addition to all of the vehicular events, there are plenty of minigames available in Motorworld as well. You can play a bowling game where you send a ball down all kinds of crazy, warped, and twisted lanes. There are also a few shooting gallery games. The duck shoot has you shooting at ducks and chickens as they fly across the screens. There's also a skeet shoot, where you shoot at cows, sheep, and pigs that fly across the screen. When you hit an animal, it explodes and a bunch of steaks rain down. The last shooting event is a falling target event that plays like a 3D version of Space Invaders. There are eight bases at the bottom of the screen and dynamite monkeys parachuting from above. You have to shoot the monkeys before they get to the bottom of the screen and destroy your bases. But wait, there are even more minigames to be found in Crash Tag Team Racing. Each level has a chicken challenge, where 139 chickens fall from the sky and you have to collect them all before time runs out. All the minigames are not only pretty fun, but they're also a great way to earn extra crystals and coins.
With the themed worlds, minigames, and variety of racing events, Crash Tag Team Racing definitely gives you a feeling that you're in a giant theme park with all kinds of short and simple attractions to try out. The events aren't very deep or complex, but they are short bits of fun that should appeal to the more attention-deficient Crash fans. Visually, this is undeniably a Crash Bandicoot game--the bright colors, odd characters, and cartoony animations are all here. The sounds are wacky as well, with plenty of farts, belches, weird voices, and animal noises to keep your ears busy. The game runs smoothly, and we didn't notice any significant slowdown, even when there were multiple racers onscreen blasting away at the same time.
There are 15 tracks and four arenas in the game. The tracks are really wide in most spots, and there aren't too many sharp turns. There are plenty of big jumps and weird warp areas on the tracks as well. For instance, one of the tracks had us ride into the belly of a whale and then we were shot out of its blowhole. Each track also has a secret path if you're looking for a shortcut. The tracks look colorful and bizarre, and each one sticks fairly close to the theme of the world it's in. There are 24 cars in the game, and when you add that to the eight characters and 16 outfits, you're left with plenty of goodies to unlock.
Crash Tag Team Racing looks like it will have something for just about everybody. It has the oddball humor, outrageous vehicular combat, and plenty of platforming challenges and minigames for good measure. Stay tuned for more details on Crash Tag Team Racing before the game ships this October. Until then, be sure to check out the new screenshots and movies to see the game in action.