The year is 1999. I’m seven years old, and I love Crash Bandicoot. I receive a copy of Crash Team Racing for Playstation 1 and it blows my entire mind that this platformer was now a kart racer. I was very, very bad at it, mind you, but I had fun. Not as much fun as my mother though who to this day achieved a feat I was never able to with every PS1 era Crash Bandicoot, and that is, 100% (or, 101% or whatever over 100% the games were) completion. I’d come home from school to find her playing it and have to wait my turn.
Fastforward 20 years and we have Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled from Beenox and Activision, on the back of the hugely successful Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy. Although unlike N. Sane Trilogy, which was a completely faithful remake, Nitro-Fueled takes things that little bit further by including content not just from the original Crash Team Racing, but also Crash Nitro Kart and Crash Tag Team Racing to create the ultimate mix of nostalgia, modern gameplay/graphics and features for a complete experience.
On your bike… Uh… Kart?
I really don’t think I need to talk much about ‘story’ for a kart racer. There’s excuse plots that are a means to the gameplay parts, and then there are kart racer plots which just involve a lot of shrugging and ‘they’re in karts now, deal with it’. The ‘plot’ from the original is kept, in that a nasty alien obsessed with kart racing comes to Earth to race karts with all the Earth people/animals/whatever they are. If Earth wins, they get to keep their planet. If Earth loses, it becomes one big parking lot. Literally. Nitros Oxide, the villain, just has a huge thing for his whole kart racing motif.
What does make the story parts of the game stand out, however, is the love and detail that have gone into the animations and cutscenes. There aren’t many, but the pre-boss race scenes, for example, are amazing at portraying the characters in a vibrant way that made me think of Saturday morning cartoons. You get a good sense of who they are and they’re a joy to watch.
The racers have similar animation and vibrancy, best seen on the podiums at the end of races. The triumphs and losses have beautiful animations, and varied animations too depending on the chosen costume in some cases.
Nitro-fueled for a reason
The original Crash Team Racing was very much a straight party-style kart racing experience, and as the games progressed, so did the options. In this game, all of the extras and then some have been crammed into a beautiful package that allows players to race and play how they want to.
Given that this game also includes tracks from Nitro Kart, the grand total of tracks to race on has been upped to 31, with a total of 26 different characters to choose from separated into 4 different class types. Balanced, speed, handling and acceleration.
Adventure mode is where players are going to want to start, and it offers a couple of ways to tackle it. Classic is, as it says, classic. You’ll go through the story as one character without the ability to change and the difficulty will be similar to what it was in the original game. Or, you can choose nitro-fueled mode which allows for difficulty selection (easy, medium and hard) as well as the option to change racers and customization options throughout the game.
The difficulty options are a little all over the place, however. Medium can be hair-pullingly frustrating with the rubber-band AI at times, and easy is the sort of difficulty that you could tackle blindfolded. The ability to switch difficulties throughout adventure mode is absent, and is a feature that would really help things. Especially seeing as the difficulty choice doesn’t change how things are unlocked, meaning there’s no real punishment or reward for which difficulty is chosen.
The tracks themselves are also true to form, looking absolutely gorgeous and playing amazingly well. It’s similar to Mario Kart, in that as you race you can pick up items to hinder your foes or aid yourself, such as bombs, TNT crates and shields. Though the games unique feature in racing is that to Git Gud, it requires you to master and memorize both the tracks and the turbo feature, which is activated through drifting.
So in saying that, the best way to play the game first time around is on easy mode to blast through Adventure and unlock all your basics, and then tackle the various challenges through the Arcade mode, which also allows you to select your difficulty. Each track has three challenges, in terms of the trophy race, which is your basic race, the relic race, which has the goal of beating a set time, and the CTR coin race, which involved finding the letters ‘CTR’ hidden through the track and then coming first.
It ensures there’s plenty of replay-ability of all the tracks and challenges to be tackled. And, of course, things to unlock. There are heaps of fun skins, paint jobs, kart styles, stickers and more to be unlocked, either through racing or the new ‘pit stop’ feature. Each race rewards ingame currency which can then be used to buy cosmetic items or racers. Though, given the small amount of coins rewarded compared to the high cost of cosmetic items, you might be grinding for a while to get that one kart or one character you really want. Especially given the pit stop rotates its items on a daily basis.
There’s also online racing, naturally, so you can show off your fancy customization and your skills to the world. Whether it’s through a traditional race or the battle mode. Though, playing on Switch I found the matchmaking to be a little lackluster.
Gotta go fast!
Crash Team Racing Nitro Fueled is a game that takes nostalgia to another level and proves that even if it ain’t broke, you can still manage to fix it. More customization, more tracks, difficulty levels and then some. The only real flaw I found was the load times can be almost unbearable in a game based around speed, and there are a lot of loading screens. But perhaps this is just the Switch version.
All in all though, it’s a hard game to fault. It breathes life into something that was already vibrant, making it full of life, full of excitement, and even a few surprises for people who thought they’d played the original games to death.
Crash Team Racing Nitro Fueled is out now for Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and Playstation 4.