With Retro Racing Rush! right around the corner, I have been reflecting on my time with many of the games that the lovely public nominated. Those that know me already are well-aware of my affinity for CTR: Crash Team Racing , as I make little (no) effort to hide it. My entire history of playing CTR is a lil' large for a single forum thread, as is an explanation of everything I love about the game itself. That being said, I deduce much of both topics can be summed up with a single track, N. Gin Labs. I remember it so vividly, 15 year-old True_Kuu sitting in a dark dining room. It was illuminated by the calm, blue glow of a small CRT on a Wednesday night. As expected, he was playing Crash Team Racing! W o w ! W h a t a g r e a t s t o r y ! However, there's more. I had been intensely grinding at N. Gin Labs all night, I thought I had something truly special on my hands. I had been familiarizing myself with the track's Super Turbo Pad , and working overtime to avoid crashes with this new sense of speed. It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it! After many, many hours the effect of my Mountain Dews (I am a gamer, after all) had long worn off, and the sun would be rising soon. Through the grogginess, repeated heartbreaks from barely nudging a wall once again, and the feeling of my calloused thumbs returning after years, I marched on. At that moment, nothing was going to stop me from finishing this race, and it was going to be PERFECT! Finally, the screen flashes white as I cross the finish line! My efforts, oh my countless efforts , had finally paid off... I sat in awe for several minutes, just admiring the screen with my scores, a flashing new ornament atop them. This had to be a pretty high ranking time, dude. Quickly, I roll my chair over to the home desktop and start searching up ctr4.ever, the premiere website for CTR Time Trial records. It took a bit, and then a bit longer, we were still on dial-up! (You're allowed to laugh) I rubbed my hands together, Mr. Burns-style, in anticipation. Oh baby, I'll be the cock of the walk! Okay, so maybe my expectations were a bit lofty. (sorry the screenshot isn't 2013-accurate) I wasn't expecting a World Record, mind you. I had already come to terms that a Crash player would not take the top seat from a Penta or Tiny Tiger , but I'd at least have the highest ranking Well-Rounded time. Right? No, I was beat in that regard too by DPPLay in 2009. The thing about it though, was that I wasn't upset. Actually, I was still quite proud of what I achieved, and was filled with excitement at the idea of there being yet another level I could pursue. Most of my track PB's lower gradually whenever I decide to focus on them, but N. Gin Labs crumbling down was always going to be a significant event in my eyes. This time stood there, menacingly, for 2 years on my memory cards. Till one day... I had unmistakably improved as a player, tech-wise and general driving ability. I was in a new chapter of my life. I mean, we had "High-Speed" internet believe it or not! My CTR-Mojo® had been risin' from the prior year of bringing my setup to school. It was quite a hoot, and approximately 2/3rds of a holler, when we dodged those pesky pep-rallies to play CTR's 4-Player! Still, N. Gin Labs was demanding more of me than any other track I had improved thus far. Turd Baby , his cousin and myself had been having a legendary 2-Week gaming session, finally one night we'd all gathered in the living room. My hands were sweating, this was crazy. I had finally improved enough to stare down N. Gin Labs, the track had demanded I grow to accomplish this... 2:16:82, 2:16:78, 2:16:66, 2:16:61! I remember telling my Cuzzos that personal record had stood for years proceeding its defeat, and I like to imagine I at least got some golf claps. Inevitably my strength played out, but TruKuu was becoming a man! CTR Esports tries to become a thing ( My quote about video games as an art-form is incorrectly credited to someone else :) ) Sidenote: When I made the times in the prior paragraph, I was playing on another memory card that had a copy of my save, but not enough room to record a new ghost. I switched back to the card with the ghost for the videos' time, thus explaining the time discrepancy in the high-scores. I had been doing well for myself in the game lately, and Ole Miss Esports had taken quite well to CTR! Ah, Poverty Gaming at its finest! Player 4, Turd Baby, is taking the photo! Unfortunately, as of this time of writing, I only have one video of me playing N. Gin Labs in Time Trial mode. This era is when it happened. I mainly cleaned up my Froggy to accomplish this time, but watching back on it I can see the lack of mid-airs, some sloppy slide-resumes, me being unaware that froggying didn't help maintain active USF, and so much more holding me back. Obviously, N. Gin Labs wasn't pleased, but it was the best I could do at the time... As always, it was a multi-hour affair. To break the 2:16:xx barrier was special for me, even more than when I recorded the (now former) top times for well-rounded characters in Papu's Pyramid , and Mystery Caves ! Regrettably, my Papu time was beaten before I could upload it. I never got that glistening gold. "Man! I can't believe how terrible my (driving) lines are!" - TruKuu (2021) I play a ton of different games, honest! In fact, I often feel it's detrimental to my skill in the games I want to hone, but as a TO and general retro-enthusiast there's always something old to play. I realized when I started to play CTR with the mighty G-Zone one day, years after CTR's U of M tenure, that I was bad outta shape! I mean in the way that actually matters, too! The unthinkable had happened, my Bandicoot driving skills were on the fritz! I wasn't making the right arches for my turns. I was jumpin' like a scared grasshopper at all the wrong times... No, no, this simply wouldn't do. That very moment, Crash took top-priority . I stayed up that whole night, long after my buddy had bolted to rest up. I practiced all the tracks, just working on fundamental techniques. Familiarizing myself with my previous skills, while daring to venture into the scary unknown. It was for science! Slowly I started chiseling my new Team Racing Bod (TRB) and would regain my confidence as a driver. Man card: redeemed!?!? There was a test that I still had to pass, and you should know what I mean if you've been paying attention. A few weeks later... I found myself at G-Zone's crib, and he'd decided to catch some Z's as it was starting to get late. I felt a beckoning, an opportunity to go back again... Geez, there I was, in a dark room illuminated by a CRT's warm glow on a weeknight, grinding out N. Gin Labs. My training had paid off it seemed. Heck, the track was practically giving PB's away! I kept losing reserves at obvious, suboptimal points though, and that was driving me a little coocoo... After grinding down the time little by little, I was painfully aware that the track wouldn't let me go until I remedied this mistake. It couldn't be so treacherous as it had been historically. I had made these PB's in roughly 2 hours, and still had buckos of energy left. It'll be just fine! N. Gin Labs proceeded to punish me. I should've known better. I wanted to break the 2:13:xx personal barrier, and I just knew if I could fix these mistakes I was seeing I'd be there. Minutes turned into hours, about 6 of them to elaborate. What was this feeling? Wow... my calloused thumb, it feels again, but N. Gin Labs demands I continue. I play through the pain, the reminder of my mortality. Finally, as the sun is rising, this is it. I can feel it in my thumb, this is gonna be the run, baby! My best efforts go into maintaining calm as I am wrapping the final corners of the last lap at breakneck pace... a flash of white... the track is finished! I had done it!!! I... I only knocked off 8 milliseconds. "Does anyone remember laughter?" - Robert Plant The only reaction I could find was laughter. What a splendid, crushing time I had that night. My power was exerted, and the gloomy laboratory had defeated me yet again... The cathode-ray-tube exhibiting the fruits of my labor, and my epic failure. Never change, Mr. Labs. What IS N. Gin Labs? N. Gin Labs, I believe, in many ways embodies CTR. The Super Turbo Pad may be the talk of the town, but what of the road trip there? There's an excellent balance between the optimal line of travel, and maintaining your momentum (boost reserves). This, to some extent, is true for every track, but it's the elements in harmony making N. Gin Labs special. To create a truly excellent result, you have to utilize mid-air turbos, up-hill froggies, the STP and the kitchen sink while still keeping the tightest, cleanest driving lines you can. CTR has always been noteworthy for its sense of speed. The blistering pace players take as they perform their finger-gymnastics is not commonly matched within the games' genre, and the theme of building oneself parallels Crash Team Racings' mechanics. Constantly building your reserves, your sense of speed, for a chance to thread that needle. The Super Turbo Pad is what defines this track, but everything else makes it so . If you dream to harness the STP's power, you must be willing to satisfy the track's strict demands. Are you ready to get the strongest, latest boost from each powerslide? Are you trained to uphill froggy into a mid-air powerslide at the perfect angle? Are you prepared to hop the pitted turns of elevation leading to that sweet, sweet pad of power? You better be, because N. Gin Labs expects, no, it DEMANDS it! So... you get the Super-Duper ™ boost finally, and you've done everything correct up to this point. Congratulations, the hard part begins. Be sure to drift those corners, pixel tight at light speed! If you froggy your jump incorrectly on the turbo pads you've blown it, pause and restart. N. Gin Labs laughs at you! This track never stops being about fine-driving, buddy. The reward you reap increases your likelihood of failure. If you are the chosen one, however, N. Gin Labs will bless your sick skill with the experience that is chaining the STP into itself! Amazing, you are amazing. Now do it again to finish the course. Various tracks in CTR have massive shortcuts, such as Papu's Pyramid , Oxide Station , Hot Air Skyway etc. These routes ultimately define those tracks, and regardless of driving ability, require their mastery to achieve the greatest times. Players have developed N. Gin Labs strictly through superior driving, and only when I developed my own core-driving abilities would my times improve. The spectacle of the track draws attention, but CTR's greatness resides in its balance of power with technique. Breaking my time in N. Gin Labs is a sign of personal and skillful transformation, not a "secret recipe" route or RNG manipulation. The track beckons me; it demands all of my skills, my dedication, my heart. I always lose, but I smile because I have grown.