The past few years have been a comeback tour for two PlayStation-era mascots many thought were since passed their prime: Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon. Both the Crash Bandicoot: N.Sane Trilogy and Spyro Reignited Trilogy have been big business for mega publisher Activision, proving that there is indeed still a place for these beloved characters that the video game industry seemingly passed by. Now the latest, and seemingly final PlayStation reimagining is upon us: Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled, a game whose foundation is built upon the last Crash Bandicoot game that was touched by series creator Naughty Dog.
Despite being essentially a resurrected 20-year-old game, Crash Team Racing is still able to compete alongside Nintendo’s Mario Kart franchise, though unless you’re nostalgic for the original or are truly dedicated, you’ll probably find more frustration than fun.Once upon a time, the term “Mario Kart clone” was probably thrown around when discussing Crash Team Racing, but it owes more to Rare’s classic Diddy Kong Racing than Nintendo’s long-running series.
This is largely because like Rare’s take on the kart racing genre, Crash Team Racing attempts an adventure mode, though it’s nowhere near as successful. The story set-up involves an alien named Nitros Oxide who wishes to prove himself the greatest racer in the galaxy, declaring the destruction of the Earth if he’s not able to be beaten.
To save the Earth, Crash, his friends, and even his enemies, seek to determine who should be the one to challenge Oxide. The framing of Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled’s story is flimsy, but what do you expect really from a kart racing game, as even Diddy Kong Racing more or less had the same premise.
In the adventure mode you’re placed in a hub world with a series of races you have to place first in. Once that’s done, you then face a boss character from the Crash series in one of the previous tracks you’ve completed. Once a boss race is won, you then get a key to move on to another hub where you repeat the same thing over again, or you can replay tracks with new challenges that provide new rewards.
Similar to the silver coin races in Diddy Kong Racing, in one mode you have to collect the letters C, T, and R within a level and place first. Another is a time trial mode where you have to beat a track in a certain amount of time while hitting crates that stop the countdown timer for a few seconds. A third, which actually brings a new map, also opens where you have to collect twenty crystals before time runs out.
There’s very few racing games that attempt to do an adventure mode, and while it helps CTR standout against the competition, it’s easily the worst way to spend your time in the game. That’s due in large part to Crash Team Racing’s mechanics and feel, and needless to say if you’re coming into this expecting a light, pick-up-and-play racing game, think again.
Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled has all the trappings of the genre, from a colorful cast, power-slides, and weapons you pick up that all have Mario Kart analogues, but it also demands near-perfection from the player if you intend to get the most out of it.
On anything other than easy, prepare to repeat courses over and over as you have to know how to hit every corner precisely. The aggressive AI who rarely fail to take every turn perfectly will overtake you, and even if you manage to take first, chances are you won’t hold it for long. On normal, the game is tough, and on easy, it’s a breeze to take first and stay there so there isn’t a happy medium between being annoyed or bored.
Nowhere is this more obnoxious than in the boss races. Your opponent will always hover directly behind you, take the first position, and then pepper you with an unlimited supply of items. Your best strategy is normally to stay close to a boss and try to get around them at the last possible second, making encounters feel more like luck than skill.
What’s great about Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled though is that if you want to ignore adventure mode, you can, as all the tracks from the game, and others remastered from Crash Nitro Kart are all unlocked. You can play single races, traditional cup brackets where you compete in four consecutive races, time trials and CTR emblem hunts. What you miss out on though by skipping the adventure is a lot of customization options for the racers and karts.
In the original Crash Team Racing, you could only play as Crash in the adventure mode, which is not the case here and it’s one of the many improvements made by Canadian developer Beenox. Players can select any character and gain access to new ones as you progress deeper into adventure mode. Cosmetic options become available for both your character and kart, allowing a level of personalization that the PlayStation original simply couldn’t have. This even makes its way into some of the game’s mechanics too.
Boosting is one of most important skills you have to master in CTR where you have to lean into a power-slide and then hit a button to chain speed bursts together. In the original you had to watch for a visual cue of black smoke appearing behind your kart to know when to hit the secondary button, and Nitro-Fueled adds a color to your wheels to further inform the player.
There’s a meter on the right side of the screen that also tells you the optimal time to boost, but the additions Beenox made keeps your eyes focus on your driver where they need to be. For purists, you can turn this off entirely if you want to.
Speaking of visuals, like the last two remasters from Activision, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is a gorgeous looking game. Courses are bright, colorful, and full of life thanks to “blink and you’ll miss it” background details that will make you want to slam on the brakes just to take it all in.
The tracks you race on have a lot of variety which helps, and all feel very much like they fit in Crash’s world from temples, to sewers and beaches. Some standouts are a track high in the clouds, and another in space where when you hit a ramp, the sound will briefly drop as you enter vacuum.
Tracks are used for both racing and battling in multiplayer for up to four players locally and eight online. While it did take us a while to get into a match, the connection was stable throughout, so races never felt unfair.
Load times are frequent in Nitro-Fueled, and it sometimes can take long for something like the victory dance at the end of a race to load. Thankfully when restarting a race, something you’re going to be doing a lot unless you play on the easy difficulty, it’s only seconds before you’re back at the starting line.
For those who have become disenfranchised with kart racing games due to how random winning feels sometimes, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled might be worth a look. That also goes for anyone who’s nostalgic for the original game also as Beenox took a lot of care in recreating it. Anyone that likes the casual, easy to learn controls of something like Mario Kart should think twice about diving into this one, especially if they’re picking it up for someone younger.
Nitro-Fueled is a beautiful game with a lot of content to keep you occupied, but this feels far more like an aged title than Activision’s previous efforts over the last couple of years.
Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled
- Faithful recreation of the original game with bonus tracks
- Lots of customization options
- More technical than other kart racers
- Far too difficult on the normal difficulty
- Frustrating adventure mode
- Some mildly long load times