Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled Review: Fuelled by nostalgia

It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since the Crash Team Racing released on the original PlayStation, a game determined to set itself apart from genre titan Mario Kart. Thankfully, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled recaptures the experience of playing CTR again for the first time, bursting with flavour, variety and fun, and packed with all the nostalgia for a simpler era in gaming.

Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is the latest title in Activision’s eager plumbing of its PS1 era back catalogue. An inevitability after the wildly popular remasters of both the Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon trilogies,  Crash Team Racing embraces that same “core stays the same, but make it pretty” ethos, with all the characters, modes and tracks you know and love, plus a few added bonuses — an updated HUD, unlockable customisation options, and the obvious upgraded graphics.

From the get-go, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled looks fantastic. Be it the vibrant colour palette or varied environments, the art direction is so impressive. It looks the way your mind remembers it looking on PS1, which is the highest compliment you can pay it. This level of polish extends to charter models, karts, and the 31 tracks, all of which feel alive and detailed. Thankfully, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled hasn’t forgotten its roots and retains many of the visual quirks that made it so memorable in the first place. Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled features the classic Adventure mode, five battle modes, three challenge modes and both online and local multiplayer.

But no matter how each mode might try to add a different twist on the standard gameplay, if we’re being honest, we’re all just here to race some damn karts, and that is where Nitro-Fueled truly hits its home run. It’s hard to tell if the controls and gameplay have been tweaked or have always been this good, but the driving in Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is a dream, and the moment-to-moment gameplay feels extremely satisfying. Karts have a sense of weight and speed that combine perfectly, making each character accessible enough to pick up and play, yet hard to master. The overall speed of the karts feels much faster than any other kart racer I’ve ever played, but remains manageable thanks to the tight controls.

Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled puts your driving skills to the test across a library of tracks 31 strong. That’s a lot of tracks, you might say, and you’d be right. In truth, some of these tracks have been pulled in from the 2003 sequel Crash Nitro Kart. They make for a welcome addition in terms of variety, but it’s a shame these tracks weren’t thrown into the Adventure mode, which opts for the original 17 track roster. It’s not like these tracks are hard to access or hidden away, but since the game throws you straight into its Adventure mode, it will take some light digging to experience all 31 tracks. Both the battle and challenge modes add some further fun, variety and desired difficulty spikes, with kart-based combat and specific track-based challenges. I found myself spending the least amount of time in these modes, instead opting for the traditional Adventure mode, or multiplayer fun with friends. They’re not bad by any stretch, they just aren’t where the juice is.

While the gameplay is super fun at a surface level, it have a single, significant flaw, and that is difficulty. It’s not that the game is too easy — quite the opposite. It’s surprisingly cut-throat. While the difficulty setting is adjustable, I spent most of my review playing on normal, and even then it took me a few attempts to finish on top of the podium. I wouldn’t consider myself a perfectionist by any means but since the Adventure mode grants unlimited retries, there wasn’t any reason not to gun for first place. This led to some moments of considerable frustration. Adventure mode bosses seem to be rubber banded, meaning their speed and position in the race is directly influenced by your performance. If you’re miles ahead, it suddenly feels like they’re driving at the speed of light in order to keep up. If you’re behind, they’ll slow down to the point where a few minutes of solid driving could put you back in the lead. It creates the illusion of tense moments and photo finishes. It feels cheap, the computer either lording it over you or giving up entirely depending on your performance. The fun begins to fade as as you realise you’ll never be in front of a boss for long, no matter how well you do.

Through mechanics like these, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled shows its true hand. In a bid to make you “git gud,” it overuses certain kart racer tropes — namely the boost mechanic. Simply put: if you don’t use this mechanic regularly, you’re gonna lose. By tapping one of the shoulder buttons to initiate a power slide, you must then time your pressing of the opposite shoulder button in conjunction with the boost bar in order to repeatedly boost your kart and blaze ahead of the competition. In addition to the boost mechanic, players must also take full advantage of item drops. These are acquired by driving through crates, and the items gained can be used to either further boost your kart or slow others around you. All the original items return, from the classic TNT crates which require you to jump like a madman in order to shake them off, to the Aku-Aku mask the grants you invincibility. Timing is key, but make no mistake — you’ll need to be weaponising every item at your disposal in order to finish on top of the podium.

Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled opens up an admittedly impressive array of customisable options, from character skins, to kart skins, all the way to brand new karts and even customisable wheels. It also helps that in the Adventure mode, customisable options can be applied whenever you like, and unlocking each option feels natural and evenly dispersed. PlayStation users also get access to retro skins which warms the heart, and reminds players that returning 20 years later doesn’t always mean things have to change. While these customisable options are not necessarily game-breaking nor game-changing, it’s a nice addition for the sake of variety. The Crash universe is larger than some might remember, and the inclusion of multiple characters with their own play style add to the experience in ways that relate directly to the kart racing genre.

Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is in many respects one of the most faithful remakes ever created. It brings across everything that made it fun, endearing and memorable in the first place. For those that never experienced the original, this might be a great way to get you invested in the franchise. But for those that do remember or did play the original, this game won’t do much in order to swing you either way. If you have fond memories of the original, as I do, you’ll most likely adore this game. But if you didn’t really latch onto it the first time around, I can’t imagine this completely changing your mind.

Overall, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled remains one of the best kart racing experiences I’ve had to date, and a worthy rival to the Mario Kart franchise. Now that’s a big call, one as big as the nostalgia behind the experience, which is returned in spades. I can admit that it doesn’t really change the genre enough to alter anyone’s original opinions of the franchise, but its clear that that was never its intention. Difficulty spikes and rubber banding can prove frustrating, but mastering the controls and mechanics make striving for each win more satisfying than the last, and customisable options keep things looking fresh and varied. Whether you’ve played Crash Team Racing or any of its sequels, welcome home; Crash is back, and he’s here to stay.

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Highlights: Fantastic visuals and controls; variety of tracks and customisation options; nostalgic vibes
Lowlights: Quite difficult at times; forces you to rely on specific mechanics
Developer: Beenox
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: Out Now
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch

Review conducted on PlayStation 4 with a retail code provided by the publisher.

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