For nearly three decades, the kart racing scene has been dominated by Mario Kart, but of the few games to have come close to taking that crown from Nintendo’s iconic plumber, Crash Team Racing is definitely one of them. In fact, many would even argue that for a good few years, Naughty Dog’s off-kilter 1998 PS1 classic sat on top of the perch. But while Nintendo continued to foster and cultivate Mario Kart, Crash’s kart racing exploits slowly faded into memory.
"From the way the karts handle, to the way the tracks demand skill and precision from the player, to the excellent Power Sliding mechanic, the systemic core of Crash Team Racing has been kept intact."
More than twenty years later, the bandicoot’s first outing behind a wheel is being revitalized, much like the original Crash trilogy was a couple years ago with Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy. Under the guidance of Activision, developers Beenox have taken what is one of the most beloved – yet aged – kart racing games of all time, and they’ve attempted to modernize it for current hardware, while also being tasked making sure that the quality and integrity of the original isn’t tarnished. It’s a difficult balancing act, but Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled achieves it nonetheless.
Nitro-Fueled feels like a victory lap for Crash’s kart racing games, taking content not only from the PS1 title, but also from PS2’s Crash Nitro Kart. Make no mistake, this is still very much a remake of the first game, and the first game alone- but a lot of contents – such as a significant number of tracks – is pulled in from its PS2 follow up.
What really sells it is the love and dedication with which all this content has been recreated. For those who’ve clocked in dozens, if not hundreds, of hours into Crash Team Racing, Nitro-Fueled will feel like slipping into a pair of old and comfortable boots. From the way the karts handle, to the way the tracks demand skill and precision from the player, to the excellent Power Sliding mechanic, the systemic core of Crash Team Racing has been kept intact.
"Every track in Nitro-Fueled looks amazing, and it’s clear that Beenox have put in an incredible amount of effort to make sure that courses’ looks are good enough to do justice to their great design."
When you’re in the flow and Power Sliding around corners with perfection, using “Juiced Up” items with the maximum amount of Wumpa Fruit you can hold, and making use of items strategically based on your offensive and defensive needs, Nitro-Fueled provides some truly excellent kart racing thrills. Coupled with the excellent track design that we all remember, which has clearly aged very well, and a sense of speed that’s hard to find in any other kart racer, Nitro-Fueled feels entirely on par with its contemporary competition.
What Beenox have done, however, is take that core and polish it till it shines. There’s the little things, like how infamous glitches and exploits have been removed to make sure that races and tracks actually function the way it was always intended, or how the UI has been glossed up and made slicker and more informative, or how the game now also has a bunch of cosmetic upgrades and unlocks to dive into- if you’re into that sort of stuff.
Then there’s the more noticeable improvements, the most drastic of which becomes immediately apparent the second you lay eyes on any one of the classic tracks, remade, touched up, and absolutely crammed with detail. Tracks in Nitro-Fueled look absolutely amazing- from a macro perspective, the art design on display here is something to behold, and the way Beenox have filled in the blanks that Naughty Dog couldn’t on the PS1 due to technical constraints really livens up the surroundings like never before. On a more zoomed in level, there’s an immense level of detail here, lending each track even greater personality and charm than they had two decades ago. Every track in Nitro-Fueled looks amazing, and it’s clear that Beenox have put in an incredible amount of effort to make sure that courses’ looks are good enough to do justice to their great design.
"As compared to, say, Mario Kart, which is pretty much designed to be a party game that anyone can pick up and get the hang of almost immediately, regardless of how much experience they’ve had with the series before, CTR is a game that focuses more on skill. "
Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled also has a great deal of content on offer. There’s over thirty tracks to race on and memorize till you’re Power Sliding around every corner with satisfying skill, there’s an Adventure Mode that fans of the original game will be glad to see returning, there’s online play to dive into, there’s multiple Battle and Challenge modes to take on, while there are also the aforementioned cosmetic upgrades to invest in, many of which actually look really good, from charmingly adorable to hilariously goofy. Kart racers often tend to be games that you pick up and play for a handful of minutes rather than something you constantly invest time in over a prolonged period of time, but if you do want to take the latter approach with Nitro-Fueled, it’s already got enough content to let you do that.
For the uninitiated, it’s worth mentioning that Crash Team Racing wasn’t – and isn’t – your typical kart racer in terms of accessibility and difficulty. That’s not to say that it isn’t accessible, of course- but as compared to, say, Mario Kart, which is pretty much designed to be a party game that anyone can pick up and get the hang of almost immediately, regardless of how much experience they’ve had with the series before, CTR is a game that focuses more on skill.
Don’t get me wrong- this isn’t a hardcore racing simulator that’ll have you sticking to the line and slowing down before tight corners. But Crash Team Racing is still a game that relies much less on techniques such as rubber-banding and items that can quickly turn the tide in a race than kart racers usually do. Track design pretty much demands proper use of Power Sliding, and while in Mario Kart you can easily win a race even if you start the final lap in last place, in Crash Team Racing, one mistake can cost you everything.
"While the moment-to-moment racing feels solid and mechanically tight, Nitro-Fueled’s Adventure Mode suffers greatly from uneven difficulty."
It’s not unbelievably punishing though – you won’t be pulling your hair out and anything – and once you get the Power Sliding mechanic down you’ll find yourself constantly getting better (even though there are instances in races where environmental hazards feel a bit too harsh with their penalties).
While the moment-to-moment racing feels solid and mechanically tight, Nitro-Fueled’s Adventure Mode suffers greatly from uneven difficulty. For starters, progression is usually gated behind getting first place in all races and/or challenges, and achieving that can occasionally be a bit grindy. More annoying, though, are the boss fights (or boss races)- boss characters have serious rubber-banding issues, and they also have the unfair advantage of being able to use items infinitely, which makes races against them an absolute pain, more often than not. Adventure Mode is good for unlocking content and collecting Wumpa Fruit, but beyond that, there’s a lot more fun to be had outside of it.
It’s also disappointing that Adventure Mode never really makes use of the tracks that Nitro-Fueled pulls in from Crash Nitro Kart. It just feels like a missed opportunity. Adventure Mode does introduce some important improvements though, such as the ability to change characters (and hence, change your stats) between races, which does make the entire experience a bit less frustrating. For those who want a more classic, hardcore experience though, Nitro-Fueled does give you the option to play the Adventure Mode with the classic title’s rulesets.
"Nitro-Fueled is a great comeback for Crash and his kart racing antics."
Annoyances with the Adventure Mode aside, Nitro-Fueled is a great comeback for Crash and his kart racing antics. It’s a reminder of just how great Crash Team Racing was when it first launched on the PS1 all those years ago, but it’s also a commendable modernization of a classic that definitely could have aged better. For returning fans, it’s a nostalgic victory lap, and for newcomers, it’s a memorable initiation. Here’s hoping Activision sees the value in Crash kart racing games, and greenlights Beenox to work on more of them very soon.
This game was reviewed on Xbox One.
CTR's solid racing mechanics are still as fun as ever; Great track design; Beautiful visuals, propped up by vibrant art design and an incredible level of detail; Tons of content.
Adventure Mode suffers from uneven difficulty; Boss races are frustrating; No Nitro Kart tracks in Adventure Mode.
It's been a while since Crash and his friends got behind a wheel, but Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled proves that they clearly haven't lost their touch.