Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled Review: A Nostalgic Joy Ride Needing Just One Repair
When Crash Bandicoot wasn't jumping on crates of wumpa fruit and spin-attacking turtles and wizards, he was racing aliens around the track in a stylish buggy. Crash Team Racing (CTR) has long been regarded as one of the best kart racers of its time, if not of all-time.
With the world welcoming 90s' mascots back with open arms as of late, it's the perfect time for the racer to reemerge as Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled and try to dazzle audiences just as the N. Sane Trilogy did in recent years.
Just like that collection of Crash's platforming feats, CTR mostly holds up as a great example of its genre, albeit with one nagging issue that comes along for the ride.
Racing Into 4K
If you played the N. Sane Trilogy, it helps to understand that Beenox has used for CTR the same impressive process which Vicarious Visions used for that collection. More than a simple touch-up remaster — the likes of which we're used to hearing about — but not a complete remake either, 2019's CTR was rebuilt on top of the original game and its sequel, Crash Nitro Kart.
Both games are brought into the modern day in this collection with updated colors and textures that look stunning every time you hit a new track for the first time. This process guarantees all the track dimensions, kart hitboxes, and every inch of every level is as you may remember it, only now so much prettier.
Some late-game tracks especially are on par with the masterful work seen from Pixar and it's consistently glorious to see these early-aughts visions brought into the 4K world. Of course, even if your screen isn't 4K-enabled, Nitro-Fueled looks better than perhaps all other kart racers out today. The original music has been restored, too, which functions as an auditory time machine for anyone who played back during the series' original run.
What's a Kart Without Customization?
Beenox also did more than just touch up the visuals. The developer completely overhauled the game's reward system for contemporary players. Though you can still play the game in Classic mode, I imagine you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who wants to. Originally, the game's campaign, called Adventure, demanded you stick with one racer from start to finish and could do nothing but race and complete challenges. That's no longer the case, as players can now change characters whenever they'd like.
On top of that pillar, Beenox has built an entire customization suite that lets you alter your kart's body style and paint job, apply stickers, and even change the cosmetics of your racer. Want Crash to look like a skunk? Want Coco's kart to be an alien hovercraft? These changes and many more are now available and bring a previously missing carrot-and-stick feature that feels at home with today's gaming landscape.
You can unlock many of these by performing the sort of challenges Crash has always been known for, such as time trials or CTR challenges where you need to find letters hidden on each race. This keeps the relatively short campaign worth revisiting for more than just achievement and trophy hunters.
There's a store to spend your in-game coins for more cosmetics, too, sometimes very rare ones, and as of now, these can't be obtained with real money. As Nitro-Fueled is being treated as a live service game, the upcoming Grand Prix online mode will bring many more cosmetics to the game, including even the ability to play as Spyro, but currently, Activision has not revealed if in-game coins will ever be for sale.
A Game Mode for Every Competitor
The best feature of Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is certainly its long list of game modes. The brief Adventure mode is elongated by challenges that feel worthwhile after the final boss is beaten, but it goes far beyond those. Local co-op or competitive play extends to four players in various types of races and arena battle modes, while you can also take the game online and compete against others in any of the same modes.
In my experience, online play was impeccably lag-free, leaving no discernible difference between this mode and local play, which is crucial for any competitive game. Grand Prix mode, while not live yet, promises to give players a reason to come back every week, if not every day, to compete for seasonal rewards.
With over 30 tracks, each of which can be played in mirror mode, thus doubling the number of routes, there are a lot of sights to see and roads on which to prevail. Along with Capture the Flag multi-stage Cup races, and a dozen battle mode maps, there's plenty here to justify a timesink for fans.
Precisely the Kart Racer You'd Want In All Ways But One
Kart racers tend not to reinvent the wheel, and while Beenox added a lot of features to the structure of the game, the actual racing is exactly as you may remember it, and largely indistinguishable from genre counterparts. You pick up crates to earn power-ups and find shortcuts on the map to cut corners and get ahead while drifting around corners to earn speed boosts.
It's nothing you haven't seen before, and really how could it be? It's all just a resurgence of a years-old game. That's all fine — except the controls themselves are unintuitively designed and sadly can't be remapped.
These bad controls give CTR a learning curve steeper than it should have. Other racers such as this have resorted to copying and pasting the Mario Kart button layout, and for good reason. It's the top of its class. With CTR, the controller demands a bit too much for simple actions and it's confusing to see Beenox doesn't offer any alternatives.
Drifting to earn boosts is a more active system, demanding several timed button presses rather than just holding the left shoulder button so many others have used. While an active system sounds like it could be interesting, in turn, it makes the game feel unwieldy whenever you're hitting a corner or trying to turn around after a mistake. Often my kart would not drift when I wanted it to, like only the most pronounced turns were conducive to such drifting, and it always felt like this was due to the controls giving me fits.
On difficulties higher than easy it feels too involved for younger audiences to perform well enough to beat the AI or online players, leaving the game mostly suitable for nostalgia seekers or modern genre fans.
- Tons of tracks, game modes, and new customization options
- Glorious visuals put CTR in pole position among genre counterparts
- Outdated, often unwieldy control scheme with no alternatives available
At the finish line, CTR is mostly the enjoyable game you may remember and love — or maybe even love for the first time. But time has not been kind to the outdated controller layout and Beenox either couldn't or wouldn't include alternatives, leaving the game a bit more annoying than something so much fun should be. It's a bit paradoxical, perhaps, to be both awesomely recreated and frustratingly stuck in 1999 in this one glaring way.
Like the N. Sane Trilogy before it, by building on top of the original games, players can preserve all that was good in the first place, but that approach also means some legacy issues ride shotgun. Still, it only means the game has a steeper learning curve than it should, not that it's irredeemably broken. Crash Team Racing is still well worth the ride for most genre fans.
[Note: A copy of Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled was provided by Beenox for the purpose of this review.]