Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled shines as one of the strongest entries in the genre, achieving notable positions in the amount of content it sports, in the sheer depth of its demanding mechanics, and in the impressive variety of modes it has
The kart racing genre can have its origins traced back to Super Mario Kart. Released in 1992 for the Super Nintendo, the title boasted a pioneering nature that, especially when paired up with its undeniable high quality, not only allowed it to set in stone staples that would go on to define the niche, but also gave it plenty of room to navigate unpopulated waters for a good while, as it stood, for quite some time, alone in a sea that held no competition in sight. As the next gaming generation burst into the scene, though, worthy adversaries as well as embarrassing imitators started to emerge out of all corners of the industry; and the low rate of success displayed by these productions was proof that, despite being supported by a simple formula that involved placing recognizable characters in go-karts and having them race around thematically suitable circuits, getting all of the genre’s details right and, consequently, producing a title that was worthy of note was harder than the Mushroom Kingdom crew had made it seem to be.
Among the few efforts that fell towards the positive side of that quality spectrum was Crash Team Racing. Developed by Naughty Dog for the PlayStation, the game did not hide its intention to be a response by Sony to Nintendo’s incredibly popular go-karting property, and it toppled expectations not just by excelling where many others had failed, but also by arguably providing a more satisfying experience than that of its generational rival: Mario Kart 64.
To populate its roster and construct its tracks, Crash Team Racing looked in the direction of the Crash Bandicoot series, which – by then – had a pretty remarkable trilogy of adventures under its belt. It can be debated, of course, that the marsupial’s universe does not hold as much of a universally recognizable appeal as the characters and locations of the Super Mario franchise do.
However, with the original Crash Team Racing, Naughty Dog executed such a fantastic job in regards to building a racing game that was, in equal parts, entertaining and charming that the factor of familiarity could be thrown out the window and ignored completely, because while to those that had gone through Crash’s adventures his take on kart-racing would be a wild drive through well-known places against rivals that feel like old friends, to those that had remained completely unaware of the bandicoot’s existence the game could work as a very pleasant introduction to that world. And its remake, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled, published on the Nintendo Switch, serves to reaffirm the original’s status as one of the genre’s finest moments and as a product that can be enjoyed by just about anyone regardless of how close they are to the realm in which it takes place.
There is much to rave about Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled. The tracks, which in the PlayStation game were generally great, have become even better thanks to the massive visual overhaul they have received; they are, naturally, never transformed beyond recognition, but the ridiculous amount of details that they exhibit in scenarios and textures makes it seem like they come from a totally different world, and racing through their various traps, jumps, shortcuts, set pieces, and occasionally insane structures is a gorgeous thrill.
The roster, meanwhile, covers pretty much all of the most notable faces of the franchise, and the characters – whose abilities are measured in speed, acceleration, and turning – are grouped into four classes, one that is balanced and three that favor each one of the skills, giving plenty of choices for players to pick the competitor that best suits their driving style. Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled, however, is not merely a remake of the PlayStation classic, for it also adds the courses and racers that were present in its sequel, Crash Nitro Kart, meaning that besides being an updated version of an acclaimed title, it also features an extra boost in content that makes it hold enviable numbers, as it packs, thirty-one circuits, twenty-five characters, and twelve battle arenas.
Like all games of its kind, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is pretty welcoming to all sorts of players; after all, it is not too hard to get the hang of a title that, essentially, can be played with just the analog stick and two buttons (one to accelerate and another to use items). And the experience becomes even more accessible when one considers that all of its challenges can be tackled in three levels of difficulty, with the easiest of the bunch being quite tame. Nonetheless, following in the footsteps of the best in the genre, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is underlined by a layer of skill-demanding twists that make the learning curve towards the mastering of its gameplay be a lengthy and steep climb, and it is even possible to claim that the game surpasses all of its peers in terms of how much effort it takes to get to the top of that hill.
As the first cause behind that alluring trait, one can cite the devilish design of the title’s toughest tracks, which carry some corners that, especially for characters that do not have a maximized turning ability, cannot be navigated correctly by simply steering or even sliding, hence pushing players into finding a unique combination between those strategies and braking to successfully negotiate the most puzzling turns of the circuits. Many other aspects also play a big role in creating such a large room for the improvement of gamers’ skills, though. For starters, strategically placed around the tracks, players will encounter special crates loaded with Wumpa Fruits; and once ten of them – which are partially lost in case racers fall out of the course, or are hit by weapons or traps – are accumulated, drivers will gain both a slight boost in speed and access to stronger items, benefits that turn the collection of those berries into a must.
Furthermore, it is possible to gain temporary boosts by sliding stylishly around corners and taking advantage of humps on the road to perform jumps, and in the two cases, timing goes a long way towards maximizing the intensity and durability of that earned additional speed. When it comes to the jumps, the math is pretty simple, for the longer one’s airtime is the mightier the boost will be, a fact that forces gamers to hop, which is done with one of the shoulder buttons, as close as possible to the edge of the ramps.
On the other hand, in relation to power sliding, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is more intricate. The maneuver is triggered by jumping, holding down the button, and steering; at that point, a trio of visual cues tell gamers when the time is right to activate the boost: a meter on the screen slowly fills up and turns red; the smoke coming out of the exhaust pipes of the kart becomes black; and the tires gain a unique glow. Independently of the indication they choose to follow, the procedure is the same: by pressing the opposite shoulder button, the kart will gain additional speed, and not only can the trick be performed three times during the same power slide, therefore guaranteeing a stronger exit boost, but the closer the shoulder button is pressed to the very maximum height of the cues the more powerful the boost will be, creating a tense situation of risk and reward as well as a skill that is tough to master completely.
With these great mechanics in place, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled offers an excellent variety of modes to gamers. As tradition dictates, they can – alone or alongside up to three other friends – engage in standalone races, take a shot at seven cups with four distinct rounds each, and tackle battles that are particularly noteworthy thanks to how they can be set up to a whopping five distinct kinds of competitions: a skirmish that is won by whoever accumulates the biggest quantity of points within a time limit; a struggle to see who will be the last driver standing; a competition in which a limited number of crystals is scattered around the arena and the winner is whoever has amassed the largest loot by the time the clock runs out; and two capture-the-flag style matches, with one boasting two teams that each have their own flags to protect and another where only one flag is disputed by all the drivers in the field. Likewise, but in single-player-only fashion, the game has a time trial mode that, for each track, includes two very challenging ghosts that will push gamers towards honing their skills on the courses to utterly extreme levels; and an online component that supports a maximum of eight players.
At the same time, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled also knows how to think outside of the traditional kart-racing box by bringing in a trio of generally unique gameplay options. In CTR Challenge, the task is to collect the three titular letters and still find a way to finish in first place; and since, in some of the circuits, the tokens are either hard to find or located in positions that can make one lose quite a bit of time, the mode can pack a massive punch in the medium and hard levels of difficulty.
In Crystal Challenge, meanwhile, gems are spread around the battle arenas and the goal is to grab all of them before the timer runs out, and due to how it joins occasionally tough crystal placements with a whole lot of boxes of TNT and Nitro, the mode comes off as a massive test to players’ nerves and driving skills. Finally, in Relic Race, the objective is to complete three laps around the track before a certain time limit, with the quality of the relic that is earned (Sapphire, Gold, and Platinum) depending on the timing threshold that is reached; the twist, however, is that the circuits will be populated with crates which, when broken, will stop the clock for a few seconds, meaning that destroying a large percentage of them whilst racing madly is absolutely mandatory if the timer is to be beaten.
The highlight of the package, however, is the game’s Adventure Mode. Borrowing a page from Diddy Kong Racing, which came out a couple of years before it, Crash Team Racing uses the story of an alien, called Oxide, who suddenly decides to threaten to destroy the planet unless he is bested on the race track to send the bandicoot and his crew out on a quest. The setup is pretty straightforward, as it features an overworld divided into four thematic areas containing, each, the entrance to four tracks, one battlefield where a Crystal Challenge takes place, and a duel against the local bad guy.
In order to reach the most basic ending, all players have to do is win the races and beat the bosses until they get to the first encounter against the villain; those looking for full completion, though, will also have to clear all Crystal Challenges, complete the CTR Challenges and Relic Races of all circuits, and beat five cups to then gain access to a tougher rematch with Oxide. The mode is, for the most part, greatly entertaining, but it is important to highlight a couple of slip-ups. Its boss battles can be the source of some frustration, because other than being pretty uninspired when compared to those of Diddy Kong Racing, as they are merely races in normal tracks against a driver that throws the same item every five seconds, they also suffer from an AI implementation that goes heavy on rubber-banding, which turns building gaps into an impossibility and makes all duels be resolved by hitting one’s rival with a weapon shortly before the finish line. And in what may come off as absurd nitpicking, it is a bit of a shame that the game puts no effort towards finding a way to integrate its additional content – that is, the Nitro Kart tracks – into the mode, as it is content with merely visually updating the adventure of Crash Team Racing.
In addition to those shortcomings, there are other points in which Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled falters. Although the title carries a good degree of customization in relation to its racers, for it is possible to pick different karts, change the machines’ paint job and tires, apply stickers to the vehicle’s body, and even unlock alternative skins for the characters, none of those configurations ever affect their stats, which is slightly disappointing.
Moreover, many of those assets and even nearly half of the roster only become available after they are purchased from the in-game shop, and to do so, players will have to earn a whole lot of coins, which are handed out after every competition according to one’s performance. Having to grind for gold is not problematic itself, but two issues emerge from that approach. Firstly, it is sort of annoying how it is only possible to get coins if the system is connected to the internet, a move that makes no sense whatsoever and even acts against the Nintendo Switch’s nature as a device that can be played anywhere; secondly, the unlocking of these goods and characters could have been tied to achievements that are more full-fledged than simply having enough cash, as – in such a way – they would have worked as motivation for players to tackle the full extent of the game’s enormous pile of content.
As a final microscopic complaint, it is frustrating how Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled simply does not keep track of the cups and individual races that gamers have won in its Arcade Mode, a minor oversight that shows a notable lack of care.
The biggest of the title’s issues, however, is found in its difficulty. The three degrees of challenge available do work towards welcoming newcomers and pleasing the utmost hardcore crowd, for the easiest configuration is a breeze and the hardest one asks for utter perfection. Such a large difference, sadly, means that the skill gaps between the levels are enormous; as a consequence, many will be the players who will feel like they are stuck in a torturing limbo where one difficulty is too tame to entertain and the next one on the ladder is a source of gigantic frustration.
That maddening nature is augmented by how the AI has been implemented, because – like it happens with the bosses – there is very visible rubber-banding going on, as even if one takes the lead and drives like a lunatic, constructing any kind of advantage is a rare feat; to top it off, the CPU-controlled drivers also display behaviors in building speed, navigating tough turns, power sliding, and avoiding items that are just unnatural. As such, in spite of how Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is far from being impossible or downright unfair, as it is – instead – just a very demanding game that, therefore, holds an absurd amount of value and a long curve towards mastery, it could have done a better job at balancing its challenge.
There are, therefore, plenty of complaints that can be throw at Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled. Save for the lack of polish exhibited by its wild jumps in difficulty, though, none of them are significant enough to hold the title back; and even in that case, it is possible to look on the bright side to see this excellent remake as a racing title that contains a magnitude of challenge that succeeds in pushing even the most skilled players to the very edge of their abilities.
Everywhere else, the title shines as one of the strongest entries in the genre, achieving notable positions in the amount of content it sports, in the sheer depth of its demanding mechanics, and in the impressive variety of modes it has. And due to those awe-inspiring qualities, the frustrations that are bound to rise from the occasional encounters with absurd AI behavior are likely to come off as situations that can be overlooked in favor of the chance to appreciate the considerable achievement in kart racing that Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is.