Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled Review — Harder, Better, Faster, LOUDER
WOAH! Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is a fun remake that plays well, with weaknesses being unlockables and the Crash property itself.
As a child, I never really aligned myself with a particular console, owning both a PlayStation and a Nintendo 64. Even in my naivete, the difference between Crash Team Racing and Mario Kart 64 was night and day. The latter was more palatable for me and for multiplayer sessions, but something about the former still drew me towards it. This kart racing game looked better, felt weightier, and it was for sure harder. But in the decades to follow, both my CTR disc and my memory of the game would disappear, meaning that I could look at the remake Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled with fresh eyes.
Much of the visual elements were familiar, but it was nice to have the opportunity to treat what I consider to be a classic as something brand-new. What I got in return was a modern-looking and feeling game, which I view as a positive for the presentation but a negative for progression, and even then, some bits of the game felt archaic and oh-so 1990s. When I finally managed to get over any direct comparisons to Mario Kart, I was able to love the gameplay—all the same, I slowly began to hate Crash Bandicoot, both the character and the property.
You don’t even need to have played the original CTR to get the gist here—it’s another one of those kart racers. Eight racers on the track, three laps, cups with four tracks each, time trials, so and so. In its defense though, it’s a damn good kart racer, and playing through all of the tracks in Nitro-Fueled helped jog my memory on why. It has three things that I think set it apart in its original 1999 release: supercharged items, a unique drifting/mini boost system, and “hang time” boosts. None are exactly game-changing two decades later, but to me, they give CTR a leg up of other kart racers for making the player a bit more active.
Dumb child me never quite understood how drifting and boosts worked in the original CTR, or the Vicarious Visions-developed sequel Crash Nitro Kart. A helpful hint menu in Nitro-Fueled taught me what the Turbo Boost Meter on the HUD really signifies, but the key visual cue is your kart’s exhaust. While drifting with one shoulder button, your exhaust will eventually turn black, which indicates you to press the opposite shoulder button to get a quick boost. You can do this three times in a row, and messing up will result in you spinning out.
Unlike modern Mario Kart, where mini-boosting is a fairly automatic process (since a major anti-snaking change in Mario Kart Wii), CTR makes me feel like I’m actually doing work, which I appreciate more in a video game. Adding to that is hang time, where players can hop while driving over a ramp or gap for a speed boost upon landing, a mechanic that predates “Tricks” from Mario Kart. And while CTR has the usual homing, straight-forward, and dropped item weapons that kart racers have, picking up ten Wumpa fruit will actually give these weapons a new and more dangerous property (i.e. TNT boxes that explode in time turn into Nitro boxes, which explode instantly on impact). The gameplay of Crash Team Racing has more layers to it—whether it makes the game more “fun” is up to someone’s playstyle, but I’ll always appreciate manual over automatic (disclaimer: I have no clue how to drive stick in real life, so that metaphor may be faulty).
Unlike others in the kart racing genre, Crash Team Racing and its Nitro-Fueled remake contain an Adventure Mode. It’s a tale as old as time: a nefarious alien named Nitros Oxide comes to Earth, challenging the world’s greatest racers with the threat of turning the planet into a parking lot should he win. For some reason, the world’s best racers are a band of the most inattentive and irritating animals known to mankind.
It was a novel concept at a time, with the player driving around a large hub, essentially a physical world map, and entering portals that take them to trophy races, amongst other challenges. These include Crystal challenges, where the player must collect all crystals in a map within a certain time, Relic Races, where players must finish a time trial before time runs out, with numbered boxes freezing the clock for a number of seconds, and CTR Challenges, where players must finish first in a race while also collecting “C”, “T”, and “R” letters on the track. Truth be told, all of these challenges are freaking hard—but at least finishing them garnered a sense of triumph rather than relief.
Where Nitro-Fueled diverges are the two different ways one can play: a classic mode sticks players with one character and kart the entire time, like in the original game, while the new “Nitro-Fueled” mode allows them to switch characters and customize their karts at any time. The latter is probably the preferred way to play, but it also served to me as a huge reminder about how progression, cosmetics, and unlockables work in this game. As I said, modernizing old classics is usually a plus for me, if it means improving graphics, audio, and presentation, but I found the game’s new Grand Prix method, which is quite close to other modern progression models in games, to be fairly annoying.
Remember limited-time challenges from games like Fortnite and practically every shooter currently on the market? Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled has a similar model. A couple of talkative sports announcers explain the Grand Prix mode in an opening cutscene, with (allegedly) every player action adding Nitro to their meter, unlocking them new kart cosmetics, character skins, and playable racers. Players will also earn coins, which they can spend at the Pit Stop to purchase the aforementioned characters and cosmetics.
It isn’t a model that I feel fits this type of game at all, and even so, its implementation feels half-cooked—it feels like a crappy battle pass. After doing some daily challenges, really nothing you do in regular races earns you enough Nitro to do anything with it. It is certainly a model meant to encourage players to explore every nook and cranny of the game, and it could work in cases where say, Nitro-Fueled releases a new track and challenges are based around doing different things in it. But after a certain point in time upon owning the game, people will probably just want to stick to standard versus races rather than pull their hair out over Relic Races just to chalk off some challenges. Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled does throw character skins and kart decals after most Adventure Mode races, but I miss the days of old Call of Duty, or even Mario Kart starting with 7 where games would constantly reward players just for the time they put into it.
It also doesn’t help that I simply don’t want any of the unlockables that the game has to offer. Quality of the cosmetics and characters aside, will anyone want to break their back for the chance of giving their damn polar bear character a slightly different color of fur? I understand that we live in a nightmare world where children gauge social status from what their Fortnite character is wearing, but is that going to apply to a Crash kart racing game, of all things? Gimme a kart, put me on a track, let me race, and shower me with new karts and characters in a way that fits my playstyle. Yeah, I get that I was all for more active work in gameplay rather than autonomy, but this model of progression is one of my biggest pet peeves in modern gaming.
And since I’m already going on a “Who cares?” diatribe when it comes to cosmetics in a Crash game, maybe it’s time to talk about Crash himself. Crash and his crappy pals are annoying as hell. This game seems to be so afraid of being devoid of personality that it feels like it overcompensated. Full voice acting from characters like Nitros Oxide and the bosses (despite some silly, eye-rolling 1990s-era stereotypes) is delightfully over-the-top, but everything else from the other characters makes me question why this property is apparently so beloved. Really, the only thing that Crash Bandicoot has over Bubsy is at least Crash doesn’t speak in full sentences.
For real, who the hell are these characters? Once we get past the base characters from the original CTR, there is nothing but confusion from the roster. While people complained about the Koopalings filling out the roster in Mario Kart 8, at least those characters had some history within that series. On the CTR end, uh, does anyone remember those four trophy girls from the original CTR? Does anyone really want to play as the godforsaken buck-toothed Fake Crash? While this game brought fond gaming memories, they also indicated to me why I think Crash faltered as a franchise in between CTR and the N. Sane Trilogy, with derivative character designs and a lack of memorable personalities. Tonally, the game comes across as a bad Ratchet and Clank title.
I realize that I complained more than I expected to in this review (mainly about silly stuff), but believe it or not, I still really enjoy Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled. It’s probably because I don’t have that much to add on to the already-existing gameplay, which I think holds up well to this day. CTR got a fantastic facelift; it runs at just 30 frames-per-second, but the textures and colors really bring the weird world of Crash to life. The animation work is great, even though I don’t particularly care about the actions that are being animated. Probably my only gripes in the presentation are frequent loading screens (imagine finishing a race, then a long loading screen, then a short bit of Crash being a dumb-dumb in the winner’s circle, then another long loading screen), and some dull, annoying, looping soundtrack music.
Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is a solid package that modernizes the original game in both good (gameplay) and bad (progression) ways. I’m happy that this game can live, but I want Crash Bandicoot to die.