Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled
In late 1999, Crash Team Racing (CTR) hit the original PlayStation at an interesting point in history. The Dreamcast had just come out in North America and shifted the minds of players into what the future would hold for the industry. The Crash Bandicoot franchise was at a crossroads, as the original creators in Naughty Dog would be done after CTR, and the game itself was a huge change from the norm. Instead of a third-person platformer, you had a kart racer and one that came out at a transitional time for that genre. Mario Kart was only two games into its existence, but Diddy Kong Racing changed up the genre in a major way by adding in an open world to explore alongside different vehicle types. It took a good decade or so for multiple vehicle types to become the norm, but no game really used an open hub world except for CTR – and it gave PlayStation owners the best kart racer outside of a Nintendo console to date.
In that time, Crash as a series has been hurt, while kart racing remains dominated by Mario, with Sonic up near the top of the heap for a decade and nothing from Crash in over a decade. The last Crash racing game was good, but none have toppled the original. Now, after stellar reviews for the Crash N-Sane Trilogy that brought Crash back into the mainstream spotlight a couple of years ago, CTR is back and benefits from coming after N-Sane, which did such a great job that all of the prior sins with the franchise have been largely either forgotten or forgiven. Like that remake, this is a complete rebuild of the game with some newer tweaks to modernize things – but those tweaks may not be for everyone due to their execution.
While it isn’t a flawless experience, CTR Nitro-Fueled is the definitive way to enjoy one of the best kart racers ever made. Even 20 years after its release, the game’s core design is near-perfect with small bits of change thrown into things to help add some longevity to the experience. The usual cup, single race, and adventure modes are back. The former two are exactly as they were before, while the adventure mode can either be played with a classic setup that is exactly like it was before or with some changes that add a lot more flexibility to what was a fun, but formulaic setup.
The adventure mode was a very early attempt in kart racing to add some story to provide some context, and it’s easily the best attempt at something like that with this release also showing off 20 years of hindsight. In an era of Sonic Team Racing using dialogue balloons and static screens to tell a story, it’s great to see Nitro-Fueled use fully-animated CG mini-movies to tell a story of the world being invaded by Nitros Oxide and in order to prevent planetary destruction, you have to beat him in a race and so natural enemies are uniting to save the planet for the greater good. It’s not the most in-depth story in the world, but for what it is, it does the job and it’s told in an entertaining way.
In the original game, you picked a character and that was it – you had no customization options and couldn’t even change up the difficulty. This made it a bit like an expert mode because you had to learn the game first and then go into this mode to excel. Now, you can keep it like that or opt to have the option to change out your character when you want, change up your kart choice, or even customize the kart visually with icons, skins, and the like. Seeing a classic game like this add a few modern flourishes is wonderful and helps make it more appealing to newcomers or even veterans who just want to see the game in its best possible light. The only major downside to the revamped adventure mode is design options being locked behind a ton of in-game currency – resulting in a lot of grinding. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but when combined with 60 pages of terms that pop-up when you start the game, it’s a sign that some of the worst parts of modern gaming have permeated this game for no good reason.
CTR was a tough game before, and it’s tough now – but still fair. Rushing right into cups isn’t a wise move as you can’t just go into this and play it like a Mario Kart game. There’s a boost off of a great powerslide, but the timing requires far more precision to nail. Beyond just a boost off of a powerslide, you can also get one off a well-timed jump. CTR’s track design isn’t as memorable as pretty much any Mario Kart game, which is a series-wide flaw, but the design is more robust when it comes to shortcuts. Exploring a track in a time trial is something you’ll probably never do in a Mario Kart game, but here, doing so allows you to find all kinds of shortcuts and that can help shave several seconds off a lap and may mean the difference between a win and a loss. The game controls as smoothly as any kart racer on the market, too, and you’ll always go where you want to without being able to blame control problems for a loss or falling behind. You may be able to blame rubber-band AI a bit on the latter, but not controls.
Visually, Nitro-Fueled is a stunning game and fits right in line with what was done to revamp the N-Sane Trilogy. Character models are fully modernized with lush fur and a massive increase in detail for the worlds. The environments had a great level of world-building before as you could see a lot of things in them – they just didn’t look as good as players imagined. Now, you can see each part of a ship as you race atop it and see multiple shades of blue in the sky above. Fire-filled stages in particular look stunning, as flames billow around you and add a sense of terror. Stage hazards are also a bit easier to spot in advance now thanks to the increase in visual effects offering some cues to help players a bit.
CTR’s audio has always been good overall, but not spectacular. While the Sonic and Mario franchises are known for classic tunes, that hasn’t been the case for Crash and that doesn’t change with Nitro-Fueled. The fidelity of the music is much higher now than it was before, and the voice work in the story is far better than even the new Team Sonic Racing, but the game isn’t as memorable to listen to as other kart racers out there. Weapon blasts are pretty rewarding here though, and definitely have more impact than they did in the original release – making it a more enjoyable playthrough with a good set of headphones since you’ll also hear where enemies are coming from better than with mere speakers.
Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled is just about perfect at what it’s trying to do. The redone adventure mode is a blast minus the grind required to get coins to unlock stuff, and the core gameplay has been refined. This results in the best-playing Crash racing game ever and yet another top-shelf kart racer. Right now, the genre is as big as it’s been in 20 years, with Sonic, Mario, and Crash all competing at stores and the best thing for players is that you can’t go wrong with any of them. Crash offers up a tremendous game overall and it’s definitely an experience I would put above Team Sonic Racing, but ever so slightly behind Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
This review is based on a digital copy of Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled for the PlayStation 4 provided by Activision.