When it came to kart racers of the 90s, I never ventured too far outside the exploits of Nintendo’s headlining mascot – with perhaps the exception of the fantastic Diddy Kong Racing. As I found myself losing far too many hours hurling red shells and drifting around corners of roads made from rainbows my PlayStation-owning friends meanwhile were singing the praises of a different kart racer, Crash Team Racing.
Of all Crash and Spyro’s previous outings, this was the one game I most hoped would get the remaster treatment. With so many positive things said about the way the game handled and its Adventure mode I felt like I was perhaps missing out. How do the marsupial’s efforts stack up against Mario though after a fresh update?
On paper Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled delivers on all the expected kart-racing qualities. You have a cast of goofy characters, a line-up of wild and quite frankly dangerous racetracks and an assortment of silly weapons. What helps the game stand out on its own though is in its drifting system.
While the likes of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Team Sonic Racing are all about holding a drift for as long as possible, Crash Team Racing instead focuses on timing. Once you initiate a drift holding one of the shoulder buttons, you’ll then start to fill your boost meter. Before it fills completely – causing your engine to stutter – you’ll need to tap the opposite shoulder button. Time correctly and you’ll receive a boost. Do this three times in the same drift and you’ll earn a bigger and longer boost. It’s a far more involved process and one that does take some getting used to. In fact, most of my early races were a struggle, as I tried to juggle pressing both shoulder buttons whilst also keeping my eyes on the road.
The fact of the matter is Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is not an easy game to tame. Its difficulty can even be a little off-putting at times, no thanks to the rubber-banding of your AI-controlled opponents. Still, once I got the hang of the unique drifting mechanic I found myself really moving around the track and the feeling is quite exhilarating.
I absolutely love it when a kart racer includes an Adventure mode since it offers the single player something a little more substantial to sink their teeth into than just a simple series of cup-based events (although these are very much here too). An alien named Nitros Oxide challenges Earth’s inhabitants to see who is the fastest racer of all time. Should our heroes lose then the entire world will be turned into a giant car park (because of course, you would). It’s a silly narrative sure but it’s not the main reason you’ll find yourself drawn to this mode.
You’ll have the chance to coast around several hub areas, each of which house a handful of the game’s numerous racetracks. These start out simply tasking you with coming first in a standard race. Complete every track and you’ll then go head to head with that area’s boss. These events are perhaps the most frustrating of the Adventure mode largely thanks to each boss’ constant overreliance on rubber-banding. Too many times I found myself losing out in the final lap despite nailing my opponent with an arsenal of weapons. It would feel cheap.
Still, once you’ve managed to overcome one of these bosses, you’ll then unlock two more variations for every track and these prove to be a real highlight. Relic races act similarly to a time trial only here you’ll find crates scattered about the track that stop the clock for one to three seconds. It’s a great spin on what would normally be a fairly standard mode. CTR races meanwhile task you with finding the three letters – often hidden in difficult to reach places – whilst also coming in first place. Again it adds a little more variety to the mix whilst upping the challenge.
Arcade mode also offers a good mix of options that include single races, four-track tournaments and a battle mode all playable with up to four players. These proved great fun in a group but it definitely felt a little less accessible than a game like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or Team Sonic Racing. This is likely down to the more demanding drifting mechanics that left newcomers struggling, especially those who weren’t as practiced with racing games.
For the single player meanwhile you’ll find a standard Time Trial mode as well as the Relic Race, CTR and Crystal Challenges from the Adventure too. Those looking to test their skills against the rest of the world are able to do so via the online mode. There appears to be a healthy base of players at the moment and in my playtime, I didn’t run into too many issues (outside the odd race where racers would jitter and teleport about the track).
As far as remasters go, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled goes above and beyond by not only including everything from the original game but also injecting a healthy dose of tracks, characters, and skins from its sequels Nitro Kart and Tag Team Racing. It’s a generous package overall and the promise of even more content down the road via Grand Prix events only serves to sweeten things further.
It has to be said that the game looks fantastic – from the racers and their karts to the worlds you’ll be speeding through everything is vibrant, colorful and detailed. Every character is beaming personality – perfectly highlighted during their podium animations after a race. Variation I find is key in a racing game and thankfully Crash Team Racing isn’t short of environments, taking you through jungles, temples, volcanoes and mechanical bases to name a few.
The action remains smooth whether it’s in playing in single or multiplayer with very few instances of slowdown even as the action heats up. Unfortunately, the game also suffers from some hideous load times, especially when starting a race. In fact, you’ll face two of these load screens when completing a race – one that takes you to the results podium and the next back to the menu or hub. These oftentimes thirty-second waits can really hurt the momentum of the game.
The game isn’t short on unlockables, everything from new characters to skins and car parts available by either meeting certain racing milestones (such as winning ten races with a character) or buying them in the Pit Stop. While I’m all for having to earn extras via playing the game, the rate at which you earn Wumpa Coins (Crash Team Racing’s form of currency) feels too slow, especially when not in an online mode. The store also has a worrying microtransaction-vibe (despite the game currently having no microtransactions) complete with items on rotation. It just feels out of place, especially for a kart racer.
Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is a fast, frantic and rewarding kart racer that’s generously packed with a wealth of content. Its long load times and difficulty spikes may prove frustrating but it’s never enough to detract from what is otherwise a brilliant remaster and another strong addition to the Switch’s slowly growing lineup of racers.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Activision