Crash Team Racing
(Naughty Dog, 1999). To say CTR capitalised on the kart racing trend set by Super Mario Kart and its sequel, Mario Kart 64, it far surpassed its rivals up until about 2014 where it's neck and neck with Mario Kart 8. It still remains one of gaming's best kart racers, along with Diddy Kong Racing.
For starters, it had a story, introducing a new character that would only halt Uka-Uka's course of becoming the leading antagonist, with Nitrous Oxide. Oxide is an alien that challenges all of Earth's best racers (or at least those of the Wumpa Archipelago, East of Australia) to contend in a series of tournaments to determine who among them can beat him, and if they do, he won't turn the planet into "a concrete parking lot." Despite living on the same planet with no means to escape, Ripper Roo, Papu-Papu, Komodo Joe and Pinstripe Potoroo will impede the player's progress. And even if Oxide is beaten, he won't accept true defeat until you've unlocked everything in the game and race him again, in true spiteful Crash fashion.
The next thing it did well was make stats easy to understand, with tangible (visible and physical) differences. A driver's performance was determined by Speed, Acceleration, and Turn. Beginner characters such as Polar the Bear and Pura the Tiger had the most Turn but the least speed. Intermediate characters such as Crash, Coco, Dr. Neo Cortex and N. Gin had more acceleration for the smoothest driving experience. And finally Advanced characters such as Tiny Tiger and Dingodile had the greatest amount of speed. This is hugely important for the balance of the game because there's no bloat, and everyone has easily seen strengths and weaknesses that are made up for by items and shortcuts. When you go any further with stats like Mario Kart and CTR: Nitro-Fuelled did, you create confusion and often times incorrect information
Its cast of unlockable characters, through boss fights, relics, gems and cheat codes, fell into those three categories in some way, all recognisable and beloved characters of the franchise, from Penta Penguin to Fake Crash.
Into the gameplay itself, its map selection screen was a hub like any Crash game before it. You got to drive around the maps (an idea Bears Can't Drift!? borrowed) to practice your skills, get a feel for your character, and choose a variety of challenges. Much like in Banjo-Kazooie whenever you transitioned from one zone to another, a medley would play; the music remained the same but the instruments changed slightly enough to fit the scenery.
The content is very much similar to Diddy Kong Racing, requiring you to beat bosses and do all manner of side content before you can defeat the final boss proper. It doesn't feel tacked on and it provides a very difficult, but still genuine, challenge. Time challenges for relics, CTR token runs, tournaments for gems add loads of extra play time.
Things begin to go downhill from here. Some of the items are familiar to Crash players; the iconic TNT and Nitro crates and the Aku-Aku/Uka-Uka invincibility masks were dependent on your character's alignment. And obtaining and keeping 10 Wumpa fruit would allow you to power up your, err, power ups, increasing their magnitude and duration. However, some of the items were uninspiring to say the least. Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped's 'warp orb' was the blue shell that damaged all opponents in front of you, and the bombs from Coco's jetski levels made an appearance. N. Brio's flasks from the first game were a stretch for stationary experimental hazards. Beyond that, the devs were clearly lacking in the ideas department.
That also goes for the maps. The vast majority of them you wouldn't recognise without a character's face painted on them? What does Roo's Tubes have to do with Ripper Roo? What does Dragon Mine have to do with Komodo Joe? Why does Cortex Castle - an obvious knockoff of Bowser Castle - look nothing like the spires we'd ascended to defeat its namesake?
Look to the party game Crash Bash, one of the worst Crash games, made by Eurocom. The music and aesthetics of that game are far more suitable and recognisable than Crash Team Racing. Music goes a very long way to creating a sense of familiarity, and while CTR's music is good, damned good, it's not Crash.
That essentially concludes why Crash Team Racing is my favourite racing game, Diddy Kong Racing a close second. I would link video reviews to the two (as kart racers were what my channel later came to focus on) but the vulgarity makes them unsuitable for posting, and I don't want to be seen as using this forum to advertise.
I hope that helps. Good luck with the game!