Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled Review
One Crashtastic kart racer
You'd be hard-pressed to find someone whose favorite kart racer doesn't have "Mario" in the title, but that's not necessarily because the Mario Kart franchise has the best games in the genre. With eight games released across every console generation since the Super Nintendo, Mario Kart has saturated the market and - in doing so - stolen most of the oxygen from any other kart racers that sought their own time in the spotlight. Despite that fact, there's still a select group of people that swear by the original Crash Team Racing even though the two PS2-era sequels Crash Nitro Kart and Crash Tag Team Racing did little to engender a larger fan base. This remaster is CTR's next big chance to break through, but if it doesn't succeed, it won't be for a lack of trying. Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled gives the original game a fantastic facelift that allows the accessible yet nuanced kart racing to still shine today, without treading on the delicate nostalgia of those seeking to fondly reminisce.
Everything from the original Crash Team Racing is here including all characters, tracks, and the single player adventure mode. While that isn't a whole lot of content - especially when compared to the Crash and Spyro remakes that retail at the same price - Nitro-Fueled also contains every track from Crash Nitro Kart, brand new unlockable cosmetics, and online multiplayer functionality to further sweeten the deal. All said and done, that's 31 tracks that can be raced through by 26 playable characters at launch. Those are some respectable numbers that make this most recent remastered excursion stand out as a great value proposition - especially when compared to its other kart racing competitors.
Talk of track numbers is meaningless without sufficiently satisfying race mechanics. As luck would have it, Crash Team Racing's mechanics are superb, and Nitro-Fueled keeps it that way. It doesn't take long to figure out how to hold down the gas, use an offensive item, or turn around a course's winding bends; but the system used to boost during powerslides can take a while to get a good grasp on. It's an admittedly nebulous system that's hard to put into words, but it boils down to boosting while drifting. There are two powerslide buttons - one initiates the powerslide while the other gives you a boost mid-slide. Mastering the art of the powerslide is incredibly difficult as not only does properly timing these boosts increase their effectiveness, but powersliding is also incredibly difficult to control. If done correctly, these can be chained indefinitely across a track as you zig-zag back and forth to keep a boost chain going. A perfect powerslide run through a track is hard to pull off as any minor slip-up can send you careening back toward the end of the eight-racer pack, but it feels so satisfying (and looks just as slick) to zip ahead of the opposition courtesy of a few impeccably-timed drift boosts.
What helps make CTR stay so satisfying for both veterans and newcomers are the terrifically tight controls. Karts respond immediately to your turn inputs regardless of whether they're on the analogue stick or directional pad, and the simple button layout doesn't take much longer than a race or two to understand. There's even an alternate control scheme that lets you put accelerate on the more modern standard of R2 instead of X which is a very nice option to have - especially for newcomers. The only head-scratcher is the fact that reversing can only be done by holding down on the stick or d-pad. It isn't a huge deal as you won't have to reverse if things are going well, but it's still a bit odd.
What makes Nitro-Fueled stand out from the pack are its aesthetics. The music and visuals are both excellent, and they feel unabashedly true to the orange marsupial's platforming paradises. The tracks have gotten a huge visual overhaul, with more densely populated backgrounds in addition to higher-quality assets. The tracks give you much more to look at when compared to the PlayStation original, and classic Crash enemies can frequently be found prancing through the background. The music is also excellent, and it gives the whole package a unique charm and identity. This isn't the wholesome happy-go-lucky fun that Mario Kart is, but CTR is proud of that. Levels feel dirty and dingy, and the blaring horns that feature prominently throughout the soundtrack fit perfectly into the overall aesthetic. While all the on-screen eye candy keeps performance stuck at 30 frames per second, it holds that target regardless of how hectic the action gets, and per-object motion blur gives the visuals a filmic CGI look that's surprisingly attractive in motion.
While the completely overhauled visuals can't be changed and run the risk of alienating those who are particularly fond of the more polygonal PSX palette, Nitro-Fueled provides a plethora of options in other areas to sate those that prefer the 1999 original. There's an entirely new boost meter on the race UI that more clearly illustrates when you should be timing your boost presses during powerslides, but there's still the option to switch back to the original's color-coded boost bar. The same goes for the adventure mode which has seen a few quality-of-life improvements like the ability to switch characters at any time in the hub area, but they kept in a classic adventure mode that keeps things as they were. Even the game's soundtrack can be toggled between the crispier remastered music and the more grumbly-sounding source. All these options may go largely unnoticed by many, but they show a reverence and respect for the source material that fans will greatly appreciate.
When you start hopping from race to race - particularly in the adventure mode - the longer-than-normal load times hamper the pace of play, especially in such a high-speed kart racer. The visuals are great and the game runs well, but that seems to have come at the cost of time as it'll usually take around 30 seconds before finally hitting the starting line. The long loads are even worse in the adventure mode where you have to load into a race that usually lasts a mere few minutes and wait again while the hub world loads in right afterwards. Long loads also plagued the N-Sane Trilogy until a patch fixed the problem. We dearly hope the same happens to Nitro-Fueled, but we're stuck waiting a while in the meantime.
The adventure mode is painfully short - it won't take more than a handful of hours to hit 100% completion - but online play and the brand new cosmetics help add some longevity. The online multiplayer is barebones, but it does its job by quickly matching you into a race or battle per your choice, and you can easily party up with a friend or two in the process. Online races are the best way to accumulate the in-game currency which can net you new characters, different karts, fancy skins, and more. There's an in-game store that resets its inventory every day to keep serving you something new, and the good stuff is suitably expensive which keeps you racing in an effort to buy something that'll stand out. The cosmetics are surprisingly creative which makes them enticing, and there's a ton of them to keep you coming back. It's nice to see a system without any loot boxes whatsoever - especially considering they'd fit right into Crash's crate-obsessed universe.
It's fair to say that Activision has done it again. Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is another excellent way to introduce newcomers to a fan-favorite PlayStation classic that doesn't tread on the toes of the usual nostalgic naysayers. With these remasters being of such consistent quality, it's hard to not be excited for the future of Activion's partnered development studios. We hope they keep it coming.