Kart racers are such wonderfully simple games that so many developers still seem to struggle to get just right. Mario Kart is often viewed as the grandfather of the genre, with the pretenders to its throne including the likes of Diddy Kong Racing, Crash Team Racing, and roughly nine million licensed tie-ins that couldn’t get out of 8th place. If you’re familiar with Hello Kitty Kruisers on Switch, you’ll know that there’s a significant gulf between the best and the rest.
The aforementioned Crash Team Racing is the typical pick of those who grew up on Team PlayStation over N64, it more than slightly inspired by its closest competition. Taking the majority of the Mario Kart formula and giving it a decidedly more orange and wackier sheen, Crash Team Racing was the next obvious trip down memory lane for Activision after the success of N. Sane Trilogy. Does this remake let you keep your rose-tinted spectacles firmly on, or do the wheels come off the Crash revolution? My very fuzzy and possibly misleading childhood memories are happy to report that Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled stacks up very well indeed.
The most obvious improvement between this full-fat remake and the PlayStation classic is on the visual front. The sharp edges have been buffed out, the tracks feel more vivid and vibrant, and it feels every inch the overhaul that N. Sane Trilogy did in 2017. Similarly, Nitro-Fueled will also make you question whether you’ve become worse at games as you’ve aged — it’s tough, significantly more so than my previously mentioned muddy memories care to admit. It had me exclaiming words and phrases my grandparents would be ashamed of me for, but this steep learning curve just meant that my success felt even more momentous.
You will spend the majority of your time in Nitro-Fueled ensconced in its Adventure mode, which is one of the most robust single player experiences you will find in any racer. When Nitros Oxide threatens the planet with destruction unless he is beaten in a race, Crash and the gang have to race each other to decide who the invader’s most suitable rival is, which just takes the form of winning trophies and beating (cheap ass) bosses. You earn four trophies for each “environment” you conquer in for the mode’s alive hub-world with there being four bosses in total to take on before you can challenge the zeppelin head himself, so there’s plenty to work through.
Getting there is easier said than done, however. Compared to the original game (and basically all of its karting peers), the AI in Nitro-Fueled is relentless and unforgiving, even when playing on medium difficulty. Cornering needs to be mastered, tracks ought to be memorised, and power-ups need to somewhat be on the lucky side sometimes for you to even hope of crossing the finishing line first. While it was still technically possible to get back into pole position, falling off the track or getting hit by consecutive power-ups was enough cause for me to just restart the race all over again almost every time. There’s a harsh learning curve (or should that be “corner”?) that may be too frustrating for those who are just looking for an absent-minded kart racer to play with friends. If you can commit to learning the near science of perfect cornering and boosting, however, you’ll be utterly enthralled in the mayhem before long.
Said mayhem comes about from the game’s varied power-ups, which vary from a simple beaker to a an electric ball of death. Nitro-Fueled has a Mario Kart equivalent in almost every regard, though it must be said that they aren’t quite as memorable. The same could be said of the roster: Beyond the main characters (Crash, Cortex, Coco, etc), there are a lot of names who won’t be familiar to those who didn’t follow the franchise from its PS1 to PS2 leap. This is more of a comment on the Crash IP as a whole — Activision can’t readily call on the likes of Link and Donkey Kong, after all.
There’s not a huge difference between the racers in Nitro-Fueled; I’d seriously struggle to suggest one is outright better than the other. Statistically speaking, racers like Crash are better all-rounders, whereas the chunky boys like Tiny struggle with acceleration but compensate with a higher top speed. While I seldom switched from Crash himself, experimenting with Nitro-Fueled’s roster didn’t make me feel like there was an undoubtedly distinct gulf between them, more that it’s down to player preference. That being said, whenever the AI controls either Polar or Pura, they seem to suddenly become a part of the Schumacher family.
Once you’ve beaten Nitros Oxide, Adventure mode still has a remarkable amount to offer — there’s possibly twice the amount of content waiting for you after the credits roll the first time. Players can take part in challenges involving collecting all crystals in an area within a time limit, beating track records, and even finding hidden CTR letters scattered around tracks. With each track having up to three challenges on top of the regular race and there being sixteen tracks in total, you are certainly getting your money’s worth with Nitro-Fueled from a single player perspective.
Away from Adventure mode, Nitro-Fueled offers a glut of other modes to take part in, which includes Time Trials, Crystal Challenges, and Battle mode to name just a few. The latter is uproarious fun, it asking you to sap away the three lives of your opponents with power-ups in a contained area. Nitro-Fueled is also not stingy when it comes to its playgrounds of destruction, either, it paying reverence to the very first CTR game as well as its lesser-appreciated sequels, Nitro Kart and Tag Team Racing. The option to switch to the old “legacy” music is also a nice touch, and one that just adds to the heap of evidence that suggests Beenox loved the source material as much as everyone else. There’s such an overwhelming amount of content here that’s sadly beginning to feel like too rare an occurrence for this generation of gaming, which goes doubly for Activision. With Sekiro releasing as a complete experience and Modern Warfare promising no Season Pass, perhaps they’re starting to turn over a new, more generally agreeable leaf.
Unfortunately, where Nitro-Fueled falls down most is in its inclusion of modern mechanics, namely its progression/customisation system. You earn Wumpa Coins for every race you take part in, win or lose, which can then be taken to the Pit Shop to be spent on cosmetic items. However, with most worthwhile items (new racers, skins) costing upwards of thousands of coins to unlock and you earning between 30-50 coins per race on average, there’s a lot of work involved. Having bested Adventure mode and a lot of its post-content as well as diving into online for a couple of hours, I don’t really feel like I’ve unlocked much at all.
To be clear, the depth of content and added incentivisation is highly appreciated, but the distribution could be much improved, as well as the Pit Stop being easier to get to than having to go all the way back to the main menu. On top of that, I’m not sure of the need to have timed, rotational items in a game with no microtransactions where the brunt of the fun is offline. Fortnite employs something similar and there’s a huge culture around new items dropping in the daily Item Shop, but here it just feels a little awkward and pointless. If anything it turns me away from the grind even more.
Speaking of online, Nitro-Fueled really seems to struggle to fill out its lobbies, which is odd as Nitro-Fueled is one of the year’s biggest games. It seems to create a lobby that any available players who started searching at the same time all join at once, and then kind of lies a little about searching for new players — not a single other player joined my lobbies after I did. I had one race with a full lobby from about twenty, which was just odd. Those other races were still fun, but the AI’s moral compass made the bedlam not quite as pulse-pounding when they padded races out.
Though it’s not the same game that you could play with friends while three sheets to the wind, Nitro-Fueled pays loving homage to its roots with an update that should now be seen as the definitive Crash Team Racing experience. The crazy amount of content will keep players busy for a long time, and with post-launch updates promising even more to come, Mario may just have to beware an inbound blue shell.
While its initially harsh difficulty may ruin your happy memories of the original in a hurry, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is kart racing nirvana with an abundance of content to dive into that makes it more than just an exercise in nostalgia.