Twenty years after its original release, Crash Bandicoot is back in the driver’s seat with the release of Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled on June 21. It’s a complete remastering of the 1999 kart racer that also adds in tracks from its 2003 sequel Crash Nitro Kart.
More than a remaster, it also includes the complete character roster from the two aforementioned games and a level of customization to karts that wasn’t present at the time.
The game has been widely hailed as the greatest kart racer of all time, with many claiming it eclipses even Mario Kart, the reliable standard of the genre.
It’s been a long time since I’ve played the original game, but I remember having a blast with it and the controls, characters and tracks standing out.
Like the Reignited Trilogy and the N-Sane Trilogy before it, will Nitro-Fueled stand on its own merits and be seen as a force dominant enough to go toe to toe with Mario Kart? Is there anything of substance located behind the hood other than a fresh coat of paint? Let’s find out.
An N-Sane Facelift
I think this is pretty obvious to say, but Nitro-Fueled is absolutely gorgeous. That’s high praise, because the original Crash Team Racing was a beautiful game for its time, pushing the limits of the PlayStation 1’s hardware.
Yet each track feels like the fully realized vision of Naughty Dog, with courses having new detailed things going on in the background and artistic vision that fleshes out the purpose of each track.
One example of the latter is Hot Air Speedway. In the original game, it is the home track for Pinstripe and is where you race the boss character. Unlike Roo’s Tubes, Dragon Mines or Papu’s Pyramid, Hot Air Speedway didn’t have Pinstripe’s name or character traits attached to it, making it kind of a random track.
Compare this to Nitro-Fueled, which now includes slot machines, cards with character faces on them, Pinstripe’s face plastered on blimps and his gangster henchmen scattered about the course. It’s a lot to take in, but lets the player know whose track it is.
Another personal favorite is Cortex Castle. The course is more fleshed out with tiny details, like stained glass windows depicting Crash failing at beating the eponymous doctor. It also includes banners honoring the Cortex and his niece Nina, a character that wasn’t introduced until 2004. The game isn’t afraid to acknowledge the lore of the games that came after the Naughty Dog years.
The design of the tracks also makes some of the weaker levels from Nitro Kart stand out more.
This is the case for Inferno island, the introductory track of Nitro Kart, which was just a knockoff of the first track from Crash Team Racing. Yet the change in aesthetics and tweaks to the layout make it stand out on its own.
Beenox also saw Naughty Dog’s vision through by making each of the starting lines unique. While the original game only had a generic flag being held up by nothing, each starting line has a big CTR logo themed after the track.
For example, N. Gin’s Laboratory has a series of computer screens show the starting line and the CTR is etched into the architecture of Papu’s Pyramid.
I could go on for way too long about the neat details hidden in every nook and cranny of courses.
The music in the game is great as well, staying true to the lively and exciting original compositions by Josh Mancell, who worked on this game as well. Every piece of music fits the tracks they are assigned to, with the main title theme being a lot of fun.
The overall presentation of the game is wonderful and truly feels like a celebration of all things Crash Bandicoot.
Sliding All the Way to the Bank
However, what really makes this game stand out in the loaded field of mascot kart racers is the outstanding gameplay. The main mechanic is the drifting and boost system, which you will need to be quite proficient at if you want to stand a chance in medium difficulty or any online races.
Like most kart racers, you have a button that accelerates, one to brake and one to fire power-ups.
The drifting is handled by the shoulder buttons (for PS4 users that would be the L and R buttons). Those same buttons also allow you to hop.
To drift and get a boost out of it, you have to hold one of the shoulder buttons for roughly a second, and at the height of the boost, hit the opposite shoulder button. You can do this three times in a row to get the maximum boost and speed past the competition.
Yet, it is tougher than it sounds. There’s a huge risk to drifting, as pressing the button too early or too late will give you no speed boost. Certain characters have better steering control than others, and if you don’t control your boosts enough, you can run off of the map or into walls, significantly slowing your progress down.
In addition, there are turbo pads located in tracks that give the player a boost, and jumping from a high altitude and landing will give them a surge of boost.
The other important component is the reserve system. As you gain more boost in a short period of time, a meter fills up, giving each subsequent boost more power. Add the aforementioned slide boosts with the turbo pads, speed power-ups and huge jumps, and you can reach incredible speeds.
It’s all easier said than done, however. In addition to trying to get the timing right on drift boosts, you have to contend with stage hazards, enemies power-ups and the litany of things to watch on screen.
The drifting and boost mechanics are the textbook definition of “easy to learn, difficult to master,” and you will have a trying time at first.
All Juiced Up
The games’ power-ups are pretty standard fare for anyone who’s played Mario Kart, but they all are items from the Crash series and work very well.
The most useful power-up is the missile which is a tracking projectile comparable to the red shell. The game’s famous Nitro and TNT crates are fun additions that force the player to repeatedly jump to get the TNT crate off, while the Nitro crate results in instant destruction if hit.
Other power-ups include rolling bombs, chemical beakers, Aku-Aku masks that protect the player and clocks that slow other players down.
It’s all pretty elementary but it works well. A nice bit of strategy that can be used is blocking incoming missiles and bombs with TNT crates and beakers. This is important because being hit by power-ups have a massive effect on your place in the race. A well-placed missile will throw you from second to seventh place.
Another mechanic is the wumpa fruit collected loosely on the track or in special boxes. Collecting 10 of them gives the player a speed boost, similar to coins in Mario Kart.
Unlike the coins, however, collecting 10 wumpa fruit will “juice up” your power-ups, making them more deadly and effective. It’s a nice incentive to collect the fruit and adds a level of depth to races.
Gotta Go Fast
Unlike most kart racers, Crash Team Racing has an actual story mode. Due to a racing tournament going on, all of Crash’s friends and enemies are prepping for a worldwide competition.
Unbeknownst to them, Nitros Oxide, an alien from a faraway planet, wants to race as well. He confidently throws a challenge to the Earth, claiming that he’s the fastest lifeform in the galaxy.
He then lays down the gauntlet; he’ll face the fastest person on Earth, and if he loses he’ll leave the planet alone. However, if he wins, he’ll turn the planet into a concrete parking lot.
It’s a nice story with big stakes and fits in with the zaniness of the other Crash games. It allows reasoning for the beloved characters to fight against each other to save their world.
The player travels through four hub worlds, each with four tracks and a boss to fight. Beating every track and getting all four boss keys allows the player to have a final showdown with Oxide.
If you are good enough, you can beat the base story mode in a few hours. It’s pretty short, and it went pretty smoothly after I got used to the mechanics again.
However, you don’t get the real ending until you beat all the challenges in the game. These come in the form of CTR tokens and Relic Races.
CTR races are simple enough; race through the whole level and collect hidden C, T and R tokens while getting first place. It’s a nice mode that allows you to explore the levels thoroughly, and it shows how meticulously crafted these levels are, and may unveil shortcuts to you that you may have missed before.
Relic Races are time trials similar to the ones in Crash Bandicoot: Warped. You just have to finish the race in a quick enough time to get the relic, either sapphire, gold or platinum. You’re also able to break time-crates to freeze time for a few seconds.
Getting all of the CTR tokens and the sapphire relic for the 12 tracks and beating Oxide in a rematch will give you the true ending. It’s a nice reward and gives you a reason to collect all the extra stuff scattered around.
In addition, each area has its own challenge map where you have to collect crystals within a time limit, a series of cup races that unlock new items and characters, and two bonus tracks that test your skills. While the amount of content looks bare on the surface level, adventure mode offers quite a few hours of gameplay and is a nice experience for players who want some offline fun.
Spinning Out of Control
There is one glaring annoyance with adventure mode though. The boss races are either incredibly difficult or super easy with no in-between. This is because each boss has one trick: throwing hazards (like bombs, potions and TNT crates) behind them if they’re in the lead.
However, all you have to do is get ahead of them, and as long as your driving’s spot on, they can’t beat you, as they don’t throw power-ups ahead, only behind. It feels unfair if you’re caught behind too many projectiles, but is embarrassingly easy if you get ahead of the boss in the first lap.
One thing the game doesn’t skimp out on is the difficulty. This game is not easy at first, and you really need to ace the drifting technique if you want to do well in races.
In adventure mode, I played on medium difficulty, and races either went one of two ways for me.
Either I had the race well in hand, and had a steady lead in first place for most of it, or it was head-smashingly hard, with me hovering in second or third place, struggling to reach the person ahead of me who had a ridiculous lead.
There wasn’t a lot of in-between, and while I put my difficulties in the earlier tracks down to relearning the controls and just getting used to the game, this continued all the way to the end.
Ultimately I enjoyed it, as it made my playthrough longer and each victory truly felt earned, but it might not be for the faint of heart or newer players. Thankfully there is an easy mode, and I would always win the race handily.
Head to Head
However, there is one mode that doesn’t have a difficulty meter and can be ruthless to newbies: online multiplayer.
This is something I was really excited about. Playing against other people around the world would give the game some long legs in terms of replayability. Every track is available in multiplayer, as are the battle arenas and modes like crystal collecting, capture the flag and limit battles.
After spending a long time playing against my fellow humans, I don’t know if I’m just really subpar at it, or if those people are inhumanly good. I would be lucky to end a race in fourth place, as everyone in the online mode raced super well.
There were many times I would start the last lap and the person in first place would complete the course. For some reason they would get ahead of the herd of racers at the start, and no one could catch up or hit them with a power-up and they would easily take home the trophy.
Yet every time I got anywhere near first place I would be bombarded with missiles, wormhole portals (the game’s blue shell) or bombs.
I’ve won an online race once in a blue moon, and it is an awesome feeling. I enjoy playing the races even if I’m not winning, but I can see how it might get old for some people.
Some kind of ranking system that would place players with similar skill levels against each other (like Call of Duty) would be nice and would make races winnable for everyone.
But there are other components of the online experience that don’t work as well as they should.
The game is glitchy when played online. You and other karts will clip out of existence, bombs will never turn at the proper angle you fired it at to hit someone and a fellow racer will disappear from the screen and randomly pop up 10 meters ahead of you for no discernable reason.
The time between races is abysmal as well. Loading screens take a long time and happen before and after every race, with the longest ones lasting nearly 30 seconds.
Then, players are forced to wait a minute before the next race can begin, even if everyone votes for the next track with 45 minutes to go.
I also get kicked out of my lobby often, and it can take a long time to get put in another game, though that could just be my internet connection giving up.
Regardless, while multiplayer can be a really good time, there can still be some tweaks to make the whole experience more seamless and fun.
A Cavalcade of Customization
By itself Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled would be one of the best remasterings of a game by just keeping the same tough but rewarding gameplay and giving the robust adventure mode the upscaling it deserved.
But Beenox outdid themselves by offering up a bunch of extra content that makes this game necessary and par with other kart racers of the current day.
First off, all 18 tracks, racers and arenas from the 2003 Crash Nitro Kart are here. While they aren’t incorporated into adventure mode and are just thrown in the package with no fanfare (you don’t have to do anything to unlock them) they add some much-needed depth and variety to the game.
Then there are the karts. Every kart from Crash Team Racing, Nitro Kart and the 2005 game Crash Tag Team Racing is included as well, and they all look pretty cool.
The karts can also be decked out with different paint jobs and patterns, stickers and wheels. This allows you to make your favorite kart your own and makes it a lot easier to differentiate from other players on the road.
There are also 25 available characters to play (31 if you count the five DLC characters and Penta Penguin, who you can only unlock via cheat code). It’s a very steep roster that includes fan favorites and lesser-known boss characters from Nitro Kart. Nitros Oxide himself is playable in this game, a nice touch since he wasn’t unlockable in the original game.
Each character looks great and has some cool additional costumes to unlock either by beating races or spending wumpa coins in the pit stop.
The pit stop is basically the online store of the game, though while it looks like Fortnite’s shop, you can only pay with in-game currency, and no microtransactions are present at the time of this writing.
It’s kinda weird, as the items available change every 24 hours and you can only buy what is there that day. So if you wanted that cool new character and it’s not up, too bad!
The wumpa coins themselves can be a grind to earn, as you only get about 50 per race in adventure mode or classic arcade.
That’s where online races come in. You can earn a lot more coins by completing online races, with my record being around 580 for a single race. The strange thing is that the game gives you no indication of why you got the amount of coins you got, so I don’t know what to strive for to get the maximum amount of coins.
Overall it’s a strange way to unlock content, and since there are no microtransactions I don’t understand the reasoning behind it. It makes unlocking a new skin, character, kart or paint job tedious and random.
All of the options available are really nice, and I just wish there was a more convenient way to get them.
Is it Road Ready?
This game as a whole is awesome. The graphics, track design and sound are faithful to the original game while taking some liberties and making each course pop and fit in with contemporary kart racers.
Adventure mode is still as fun and re-playable as ever, and the bevy of tracks from Nitro Kart are a great added touch.
The driving mechanics are very refined and weighty, and help you feel like you’re in control of where you go, while the risk-reward drift system adds depth to the gameplay.
The game can straddle the line between fun and challenging and frustratingly brutal, but is a great time if you have the patience to get good.
Online multiplayer needs some refining, but at its core, these tracks are a blast to race on against other skilled players.
The huge amount of customizable content and selection of characters is a great celebration of every Crash game that came before it, but the wumpa coin collection and pit stop layout are grindy and confusing for seemingly no reason.
So while it’s not without its flaws, Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled is a worthy recreation of the one kart racer that I think can go toe to toe with video gaming’s favorite plumber.
If you enjoy Crash or racing games in general, give this game a try.