The passing of time tends to erode a game. A lot of the time an old game we have fond memories of doesn’t feel so good when we dust it off and play it in 2019, which is understandable because of the technical limitations of the time. But there are some games whose gameplay mechanics are so damn refined, so bloody good that even today they feel amazing. As this remake proves Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is one such game, a kart racing series that sadly fizzled out while Mario Kart carried on. But now its back with a fresh lick of paint and ready to take top spot on the podium.
Firstly developer Beenox have done a fantastic restoration job on Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled. The graphics have been rebuilt so that now the game looks like how I picture it in my memories. The colors are strong and vibrant, the tracks are now packing so much more detail than they ever did before. Little animations on the characters show that Beenox cared about the small details too, like how they’ll pull funny faces at the camera when you look backwards. There’s a lot of heart and charm in the graphics that show Beenox had a genuine love for the original game.
But Beenox didn’t just stop with the original 1999 Crash Team Racing, also grabbing 2003’s Crash Nitro Kart and jamming it into the package. The result is 31 tracks, 12 battle arenas, loads of game modes and a pile of characters. On top of that there’s now multiplayer, kart customization and free tracks and characters coming down the line in the form of Grand Prix events. Holy shitballs, that’s a lot of stuff.
This remastered, rebuilt and re-awesomed package does have a few technical things that irked me, though. Regardless of whether you play on the PS4 Pro or the Xbox One X Crash Team Racing Nitro Fueled only runs at 30FPS. This baffles me, especially when you have the more much technically impressive F1 2019 running smoothly at 60FPS. And still despite the 30FPS lock there are a couple of tracks that have stutters.
Adventure mode is the primary single player content on offer here and is largely identical to the original Crash Team Racing, which is a shame because it would have been great if Beenox could have worked in the Crash Nitro Cart tracks into it as well. By completing races you’ll unlock more events and so on with the occasional boss battle race appearing. It’s a solid offering, though finding the right difficulty settings can be tough. Easy is too easy, medium can be a little challenge and hard will often leave you cursing.
The on-track action is familiar kart-racing stuff, featuring power slides and power-ups. When you hit the button to powersslide first there’s a small hop which takes some getting used to. Then you also have to learn the angles which feel more aggressive than the likes of Team Sonic Racing. During a drift you get three opportunities to unleash a turbo boost by tapping the second drift button. Timing is everything, and the longer you wait the better the boost. Wait too long and you’ll fail, and any other boosts you could have got vanish. Oh, and if you hold the drift too long you’ll spin out.
The other way to nab some extra speed outside of the speed pads dotted around the tracks is to hop at the top of bumps and ramps. The more air you get the more boost you’ll recieve. Simple as that.
It sounds so damn simple, and yet Crash Team Racing is a massively more challenging and involved game than the likes of Mario Kart 8 or the recent Sonic Racing All Stars. The simple act of powersliding is much trickier and can’t be used all the time, while linking together boosts takes practice to get right. In short, being fast in Crash Team Racing Nitro- Fueled takes skill and that skill is always rewarded. There’s no notable rubber banding that lets the A.I. catch up, so if you’re good then you can build up a substantial lead.
But does this layer of complexity make this a better game than Mario Kart 8, the kart racer that is typically held up as the best of the genre? Ultimately no, as they aim to do different things. Mario Kart 8 is a friendlier game that anyone can pick up, play, have fun with probably do well in. Judicious use of rubber banding and a simple set of mechanics make it the perfect family game.
For me personally, though, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is undoubtedly the superior game, taking the top step of the podium as the king of kart racers. The added layers of complexity and skill make for tense, frantic races.
The quality of the track designs can’t be ignored, either. While there are a few duds in the mix the vast majority of the tracks are visually interesting and have great layouts that can’t always be powerslided around. Sometimes you’ll need to hit the brake. Learning exactly how to blast round them at max speed takes time, and some of the shortcuts are hard to hit, bringing with them a healthy dose of risk.
Yet for all the brilliance of Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled it does contain the one element that has often annoyed people: power ups. Scattered around the fantastic tracks are crates that offer up missiles, shields, boosts and a few other choice items. There’s even some light tactical consideration when it comes to choosing when to use something. But where the problem lies is that there’s no invincibility granted to someone who just go hit, which means it’s possible to get absolutely hammered by multiple items one after the other. I’ve been in online races where on the final lap I’ve been hit by a missile which spun me into a Nitro Box before I got hit by a final missile which also sent me falling off the edge of the track. This kind of thing is quite common and might just be the most rage-inducing thing to happen outside of encountering morons who insist on bringing small children into the cinema to watch Deadpool.
Head online and you’ll be introduced to a world of people who have been training for this exact moment since they were children. Multiplayer is dominated by terrifyingly skilled racers which can wind up being a tad problematic because Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled has a matchmaking system that gladly throws in total noobs against seasons veterans. To say that online races tend to be uneven in terms of skill is like saying that people who like pineapple on pizza are acceptable. Sure, you could say that, but you’d be wrong.
So, yeah, heading online can be a frustrating experience at times, and there are other problems with the whole thing, too. The time between races is way too long, for example, even when all players have finished voting on the next track. There’s usually 30-seconds of people just waiting around, followed by another 10-30 seconds of loading while sitting on the track’s starting line. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that races only last a few minutes. That’s an unacceptable racing to menu waiting ratio.
But when you get a good race it’s re
Outside of straight races there’s a variety of modes like capture the flag, Last Kart Driving, time trials and a whole bunch more. Online these seem to be struggling to keep a solid player count versus the normal races, but they’re still a whole lot of fun. They’re also perfect for the 4-player local multiplayer action. Getting round some friends, food and drink is like stepping back in time.
All your hard racing work goes toward earning shiny, shiny coins that can then be spent in the store to get new customization options. There are a bunch of different karts to drive, new characters to unlock, stickers, wheels and some other random stuff. Plus there’s stuff you get for just playing anyway.
Thankfully there’s not a sodding microtransaction in sight, either, despite the coin system being perfectly positioned for it. A little doubt is raised by the fact that there’s going to be some free content coming along and “free” stuff has to be funded somehow, but for the moment there’s no way to buy coins using real cash.
There is a problem with the coin system, though, which is that if you’re unwilling to head online getting coins can be a pain in the arse. For the first 30 minutes of online gameplay all earnings are x5, and at weekends you earn double which stacks with the x5 bonus, meaning for the first 30 minutes you can earn x10 the normal coins. So, while online players are up to a whopping 800 coins a poorly offline player will be getting a measly 80 coins. Of course, even online players have to suffer from the grindy economy once they get past those initial 30 minutes. Again, there’s some concern here that microtransactions could be introduced that let players buy coins directly or boost how quickly they are earned, but so far there’s no news of them coming.
On top of the oodles of tracks, characters and modes there are also the special Grand Prix events. There’s one running currently with another two planned, each bringing a new track and characters into the mix. In the current event you earn Nitro points by completing bunches of different challenges and those points fill a bar which then unlocks special rewards. There are also items available in the shop that are exclusive to the Grand Prix, with some of them even boosting the amount of Nitro points you earn.
Hopefully these Grand Prix will help give the community good reasons to keep firing Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled up. I’ve definitely found myself checking in to do some of the daily challenges and make some progress toward completing a few of the bigger ones. Plus, the promise of the third Grand Prix being Spyro related definitely has me excited.
Without a doubt Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled does have some problems. The multiplayer needs some reworking and the rate that coins are earned certainly needs tweaking. These issues are relatively small, though, and some updates could fix them quite quickly. They don’t take away from the fact that Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is outstanding kart-racing action that, in my opinion, outstrips Mario Kart 8. The wonderful powersliding mechanics and great tracks might be not as forgiving as Mario Kart 8, but the trade-off is a racing game with a much higher skill ceiling.
But does that make Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled the better game? No. It makes them different, both arguably at the very top of the kart-racing leaderboards. Mario Kart 8 is the game you load up if you want to just kick back and have fun. Crash Team Racing is the game you fire up if you want to be sitting on the edge of your seat. Both are amazing in their own ways.
Except that Crash Team Racing Nitro Fueled is obviously better. Fight me.
4.5 out of 5