Ever since Activision first introduced the idea of giving the original Crash Bandicoot games a new, beautiful coat of paint, a vocal subset of fans could be heard crying out for one thing: a Crash Team Racing remaster. Now seemingly committed to the idea of churning out beautified versions of classic IP, following last year’s Spyro remasters, Activision has enlisted developer Beenox (The Amazing Spider-Man, Skylanders: Superchargers) for the honours. The result is Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled, which continues the trend of blurring the line between remaster and remake by using the original framework of a PSX classic and giving it a completely visual overhaul.
Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is more than a simple ‘remaster’ of the PSX original though, and Beenox have added some welcome modern concessions to the mix. For starters, while the main Adventure Mode has all the same tracks as the first game, the arcade/multiplayer modes have been blessed with remastered tracks from the PS2 sequel, Crash Nitro Kart, near doubling the roster of courses available. There’s also a brand new character and kart customisation system with a heap of racer skins, kart models, paint jobs and stickers to unlock and apply. All of the requisite game types are here too, like battles, time trials and variants from Adventure Mode like relic hunt and CTR challenges. The game’s value proposition was always going to be in question given the Crash and Spyro remasters were entire trilogies, but there’s definitely a healthy amount of content here and Activision are promising all new tracks in future, which could give this some serious longevity.
Why do some animals wear clothes and some don’t? This troubles me
Adventure Mode is the most substantial thing on offer and will likely be the immediate draw for anyone looking to get that nostalgia hit. In it, the evil alien Nitrous Oxide travels to Earth and challenges Crash and friends to a series of races where the wager is the planet itself. I’m not sure who approved Crash to gamble with Earth but this mode needed a plot so there it is. To get to Oxide, you’ll pick a character and complete races connected by a small, drivable hub world that slowly unlocks as you earn trophies. If that’s all sounding familiar it’s because Adventure Mode is pretty much a carbon copy of the original with all of the same tracks, challenges and bonuses. If you’ve smashed this mode 100% in the past you’ll do it again as though 20 years haven’t passed. If you struggled with the platinum time trial scores as a kid you’ll definitely feel the same here. Nothing’s changed. One major difference is that you’re now able to change and customise your character while playing through Adventure Mode; something you couldn’t do before. For purists there’s an option to play a more ‘classic’ version that locks you into your character choice like old times. The new version also has difficulty levels that you can select before you start, although once in, you can’t change the difficulty without starting over; something that I learned because I thought I was ready for ‘hard’ straight off the bat. This is an old-school game all the way, and that means that even the medium difficulty can be a pretty substantial challenge until you wrap your hear around the powersliding (and get a bit lucky).
As soon as I jumped into my first race in Nitro-Fueled I realised I would have to ‘unlearn’ a lot of habits from modern arcade racers like Team Sonic Racing and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe if I was going to succeed. As with Activision’s previous ‘remasters’, gameplay here is near 1:1 with the original. If you’ve never played Crash Team Racing let me tell you upfront that the boost system takes some getting used to. Similar to Mario Kart is a hop button that doubles as a drift, which when maintained can give you a speed boost. Unlike other racers though, this boost needs to be activated manually by pressing a second hop/drift button with the correct timing. It’s actually not a terrible mechanic and adds a little more skill into the typical drift/boost style of racing, but the control scheme hasn’t aged quite as well. By default, the two boosts are mapped to the shoulder buttons (not the triggers) of your chosen controller, while accelerate and brake (which is awesome and basically lets you turn on a dime) are on the face buttons. It works fine, and there’s a new, alternate control method that switches a couple of things around, but I really would’ve loved the ability to customise the controls myself because neither option felt truly comfortable for me.
HURRY UP SEAL OR YOU’RE IN TROUBLE!
Because it sticks so rigidly to the formula it’s based on, the racing in Nitro-Kart can’t quite match that of its current competition. Compared to the tracks from, say, Team Sonic Racing (which I admittedly adore) the courses here are noticeably more basic. Where other series have embraced verticality branching paths, the majority of CTR’s circuits play it pretty safe. That’s obviously down to them being modelled directly on the tracks in the PS1/PS2 games, and hopefully the proposed new ones are a little more exciting, but it’s a sore spot nonetheless. There are still some great, memorable tracks to race on though like Tiny Arena and N.Gin Labs. Weapons are also pretty formulaic in hindsight, but I do still really like the fact that each weapon has a ‘Juiced Up’ version that activates when you’re holding enough wumpa fruit. Again, Mario Kart and Sonic Racing just both have their power-up game honed to a fine art and so it feels like a definite step backward here. It’s not quite a mark against a game that is clearly designed to play on nostalgia more than to compete in the genre, but it does still mean that this isn’t the best arcade racer on the market right now.
If you’ve played either the Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy or the Spyro Reignited Trilogy it won’t come as a surprise that Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is a very handsome game. While the track layouts are basic, the environments they’re set in are lush and packed with colour and detail. It’s always a lot of fun to see familiar places that were once incredibly low in detail brought to life with new art, and to see the new artists’ interpretations of those places. Character models are the real star here though, each animated with a ton of personality and featuring some of the most impressive fur rendering that I’ve ever seen in a game. It all runs beautifully too, even with extra players on board in splitscreen. I can really appreciate any game that allows switching between old and new versions of the soundtrack, too. If I had to raise a complaint about the game’s presentation it would honestly just be that the front-end menus are a bit bland, but that’s really grasping at straws as far as criticisms go.
Tiny Arena is the best track and you can’t tell me otherwise
Something I’m still a little confused about though is the Pit Stop; the menu where unique characters, karts and other cosmetic items are unlocked with in-game currency. If that sentence alone has you reeling in disgust – let me tell you now that so far there are no microtransactions in this game. Phew. There is, however, an insanely high asking price on each item that reeks of the kind of arbitrary grind that publishers usually use to trick people into handing over real cash. A new kart set, for example, can cost somewhere around 3000-4000 coins and a single race win will typically net you somewhere around 60 coins (give or take). It’s nice to know that the game will be heavily supported post-launch with a regular rotation in the Pit Stop, and even adding in brand-new tracks through Grand Prix events, but the ridiculous grind for this content makes me nervous that Activision might try to reach into my wallet eventually. Really, my gripe is that there was obviously either the intention of including microtransactions in early development, or someone at Activision/Beenox assumed that taking real money out of the equation would somehow make these mechanics fun. They’re not.
Luckily, Nitro-Fueled is packing a decent amount of content in general. Between the adventure mode and the 16 main tracks contained therein, plus a couple extras and another 13 or so from Nitro Kart and all of the battle arenas and other different modes, there’s a lot to sink your teeth into here. The character roster is also fairly stacked, though it’d be a stretch to call at least half of them memorable. Everyone has a few skins to unlock, as well as new karts, decals and colour schemes, and a good chunk of these are obtained through more traditional methods like racking up race wins with a particular character to unlock their skins. There’s definitely enough here to keep a solo player happy, which is good to see, but of course it’s multiplayer where a game like this really shines. Getting a few friends around for some splitscreen racing is still a blast, and CTR is a surprisingly big draw for people who maybe haven’t played a game since the PS1/N64 days and remember the orange bandicoot more than the portly plumber. I wasn’t able to test the online play prior to writing this review as nothing was live yet, but if the post-launch support remains strong and keeps the community interested it should be a great option.
Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is a lot of fun, even if it’s not the best modern mascot racer of the bunch. A world where there are at least three excellent current entries in the genre is a world I want to live in though, so it’s great that there’s more choice now than ever. There’s decent promise for the future too, so if you still hold a candle for the original or you’re looking for a great kart racer to chuck on regular rotation with friends, there’s a lot of value here.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro // Review code supplied by publisher