A Long Track
Tim Rogers of Kotaku said of his Dragon Quest XI review that he was simultaneously the “best and worst” person to review the game. He was a major fan of the series and had sunk hundreds of hours in the Japanese version of the game long before the English release came out. Being one of the biggest Dragon Quest fans in the world, he had a lot to say about the latest installment.
Likewise, I am perhaps the best and worst person to talk about Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled. As a kid, I sunk hours into not only Crash Team Racing, but the Crash Bandicoot franchise as a whole (from the original trilogy all the way through Crash of the Titans). Yes, I was desperate for another good game starring the bandicoot.
After Crash’s first three games were remade, the next thing I wanted Activision to tackle was Crash Team Racing. The only other Crash game made by Naughty Dog, there was a lot of potential to bring back this kart racer. Now that one of my most anticipated games of 2019 is here, it’s time to see if the remake captures what made the original so great or should be lumped with the other, worse Crash racing games.
Start Your Engines
The problem with remakes of popular games is that, when built on a 1:1 ratio to the original, those remakes don’t prove anything other than people still like those games. Those remakes are often released with an eye on immediate returns rather than what can be done with the franchise in the future. This was both the case with N Sane Trilogy and Reignited Trilogy. However, Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled is looking toward the future.
On top of all the racers and tracks from Crash Team Racing plus Nitros Oxide, all characters and tracks from Crash Nitro Kart have been brought over and adjusted for the mechanics and play style of Nitro Fueled. I was concerned that a 1:1 remake of the original game wouldn’t have enough content to justify a $40 price tag, but by effectively doubling the content from the very start, dare I say the game could’ve been charged at least $10 more and it wouldn’t bother me at all.
It’s not just characters and tracks that are new to Nitro-Fueled, though. The game comes with hundreds of customization options in the form of character skins, kart bodies, wheels, colors, and stickers. With so many options available to unlock, it could keep invested players busy for a while.
By big gripe with the unlock system is that it comes in the form of a currency (Wumpa Coins) that can be spent on certain items. That in and of itself isn’t a problem. The issue I have is that the game doesn’t reward you enough coins from playing offline modes to justify how much it asks for some of its rarer cosmetic items. This was a similar problem with Super Bomberman R at launch that Konami fixed later. I’m inclined to think that perhaps Beenox will adjust the numbers a bit post-launch.
All in all, though, the game does a great job selling itself before you even get into a race. There’s simply a lot to do.
Keep Up Or Get Left Behind
The racing in Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled feels very close to the original. There are adjustments here and there, but it’s all for a better overall experience. The racing feels tighter and more refined than the original (and that’s still saying quite a lot). With the game being so close to the original, it cannot be stressed enough that the game is difficult compared to Mario Kart. The game has always been difficult, even back in the old days. While it might turn away some newcomers, I recall beating the game and the extra modes a few times as a young kid, so there’s no reason to think that newcomers and youngsters today couldn’t do the same with Nitro-Fueled.
The Nitro Boost system is a relatively complex yet fun way of rewarding players who are prepared to learn each track layout. A timed boost that must be manually activated up to three times sequentially is a great mechanic. It’s fun to figure out the layout of each track and see where boosts can be best be utilized (and how many for that matter).
Items are unchanged from the original, with all the same ones appearing. I would’ve liked to see more items, perhaps ones that impact the race a bit more, but the selection is just as fine as it was decades ago. At the end of the day, Nitro-Fueled demands more that players get better at the game to win rather than having them rely on a lucky item drop. Items can help, but it’s skill that’ll get you to finish first.
On top of standard kart racing modes, Nitro-Fueled brings back everything the original had, including battles, time trials, and adventure mode. Adventure mode is where I want to spend a good portion of time. Kart racers don’t have adventure modes like Nitro-Fueled. It was easily the best part of the original game, and it remains fun in the remake. That said, it’s an exact copy of the original. I would’ve liked there to be at least some extra challenges or cups that integrated the tracks and characters from Crash Nitro Kart. As it stands, that half of the game feels disconnected from the Crash Team Racing half. The mode is still fun, but excluding all the newer stuff feels like a big missed opportunity. At the end of the day, though, an adventure mode is something I wish more kart racers would implement, as it gives meaningful single-player content that players can sink their time in. Mario Kart could greatly benefit from single-player content like this.
The game also has an online mode. This mode was patched on launch-day, making it playable now. There were a few times I experienced rubberbanding, but nothing compared to how it was when it first released. I dislike how you don’t get coins in races if you don’t manage to make it to the finish line in 30 seconds. With how good some players are, it can be quite a frustrating time, especially when you get exponentially more coins in this mode.
Zipping By in HD
The first impression of Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled is that the game looks pretty darn good. While most of the character models are ripped straight from the N Sane Trilogy, it’s the tracks that are the stars of the show in this game. Each track faithfully recreates the original while adding so much detail that, in many ways, they feel like that was the original intent for the PS1 release. Each track has minute details that will likely go unnoticed by most players, whether it be audience members in the background, characters trying to swim up a waterfall, or even a dragon taking a nap in its treasure hoard.
Despite how good the game looks, it also never sacrifices in performance. I was a bit bummed out that the game ran at only 30 fps (and still am). I was concerned this meant that it would struggle to keep up the pace when four people were playing the game, but I was surprised to find that the frame rate was strong even then. This makes me think that the game, at least in single-player could run in 60 fps, but the developers wanted to keep the frame rate consistent across the board. In this instance, I wish Beenox would’ve taken a page from Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, but the game still plays and feels great.
Left in the Dust
As with most remakes, there are a few things about Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled that are a bit annoying or disappointing when compared to the original. Load times in the remake are annoying, and this goes beyond loading levels. Customization is great, but when you’re met with a loading symbol for 10 seconds like you’re trying to watch a YouTube video on a 2G network, it gets to be problematic.
For the adventure mode, there is no selection screen like the eclectic pit stop seen in the original game. Loading screens are also much more bland, not having the waving checked flag only for it to wipe away when the tracks loaded. Selecting tracks in multiplayer doesn’t warrant a brief video of the track layout either, just a still image. Lastly, unlocking N. Tropy is an utter nightmare. You have to complete all the time trials to get the chance to challenge his ghost. Then you have to beat it. It’s not just the Crash Team Racing tracks you have to beat, though. No, this is the one time the game uses all the tracks from Nitro Kart as well.
None of these issues ruin the game. They’re just small tally marks against the overall experience.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: A review code for Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled was provided by the publisher.