If you’d asked me a couple of years ago, I’d have guessed there’d be few people that love Crash Bandicoot as much as myself. As I write this, licensed Crash socks warm my feet and plastic recreations of the iconic character adorn my desk. Clearly, I’m not the only Crash fan ecstatic to have him back though. When the N-Sane Trilogy was announced, I was, of course, tremendously excited but secretly wishing its inevitable success would bring back my true favourite Crash game, Crash Team Racing. Sure enough, my prayers were answered and Nitro-Fueled is here, and it’s everything I hoped it would be.
Booting up the game was a near spiritual experience. As a kid of the late nineties who grew up with PlayStation, I spent a significant amount of time burning rubber in Naughty Dog’s original kart racer. The theme music and selection sounds are ingrained in my memory and to hear them remade and blaring from TV once again fixed a permanent smile on my face. Popping into the menus, I notice you can switch on the ‘Legacy’ music for the original sounds, but it’s not necessary. Beenox has nailed this remaster and created the definitive CTR experience.
The game looks incredible with Beenox going further than a simple recreation, adding all sorts of new details to each course. Animated scenes playout along the edge of the track, all within the theme for the character associated with the track. Rats scuttle about in N. Gin Labs and the stained glass windows of Cortex Castle tell more of the story between Crash and Dr Neo Cortex than before. Along with each of the character’s voice quips and signature celebratory dance moves, it works to bring more personality to the game than the original.
It’s awesome to see a bunch of Nitro Kart tracks added in there too, but I’m a little divided on the tracks as a whole. It’s a holdover from the original, but as memorable as they are for me, I don’t know if newcomers will be as enamoured with them. Sure, the tracks are varied enough and the well-hidden shortcuts keep you on your toes, but the track hazards are rather basic and there are no real super memorable, crazy setpiece sections I associate with numerous Mario Kart tracks.
I was a little disappointed to see the menus and character selection overhauled as drastically as it has been. The black and white checkered flag backdrop has been replaced by a rather solid blue and you know to choose from a rather generic character selection screen rather than scrolling through each of the characters in their workshops like in the original. It’s a rather superficial complaint, but with such attention to detail everywhere else, I’m a little disappointed they didn’t give you at least the option here.
But how it plays remains relatively unchanged. I was genuinely surprised to find the controls were the same by default. Starting my first lap, I held down the trigger to accelerate, like a fool. Indeed, there is an alternative control option (albeit only one) but anyone attached to the classic will no doubt appreciate playing it as it comes.
The same mechanics are all there too. Whilst it looks slicker than ever, power-sliding around each corner is the secret to speed. Chaining together consecutive boosts to reach maximum speed is a simple enough challenge to wrap your head around, but pulling it off in the heat of the race is another challenge altogether. It’s the age-old easy to learn but hard to master formula; the game is accessible but racing the perfect lap can prove quite the challenge.
The game’s classic Adventure Mode has also seen some sensible changes. If you can remember, the campaign-like mode sees the alien, Nitrous Oxide, threaten to destroy Earth if the planet’s best racer is unable to beat him in a race. You can see where Rick and Morty’s Cromulons got the idea! It’s a straightforward, appropriately zany story in which you use an overworld to travel between a series of races, collect keys to face bosses in head-to-head races before eventually facing Oxide himself. There’s also added Time Trials and collectible challenges you need to complete to 100% the mode and face Oxide in a final showdown.
From memory, the game got hard real quick and I was excited to see a ‘Classic’ difficulty mode which recreates this ramp in difficulty. It really challenges you to master each course and perfect all the twists and turns to triumph. Doing so sometimes took me a good hour, and there was this monumental sense of achievement when I finally clutched a win, crossing the finish line meer microseconds before my opponent. In my mind, it was reminiscent of the feeling when you beat a Dark Souls boss that’s been pummelling you for hours, but that’s obviously as far as that comparison goes.
Like I alluded to previously however, this game is much more accessible. I experimented with the other difficulty settings and the ‘Easy’ mode is very manageable and keeps the game family friendly. ‘Medium’ is where it starts to get tough, and only real pros ought to be able to tackle ‘Hard’. All in all, it should take a bit of effort to Platinum the game is you’re up for the journey.
In each of these new modes, you can change your character and difficulty setting on the fly. They’ve added a bunch of character and kart customisation options that you too can adjust on the go as you unlock them. I had a lot of fun playing around with different looks for the characters and there’s more promised in the roadmap of soon-to-be-released content.
The game is rather generous in awarding new cosmetic items at the end of each race, as well as rewarding you with coins that can be exchanged at the ‘Pit Stop’ for other unlockables. I was initially apprehensive at the idea that certain characters, karts, etc. could only be unlocked by purchasing them at this virtual store, assuming this would be where microtransactions take over, but all of these are earned by playing the game. I was able to accrue enough coins in my playtime to at least unlock all the characters so I’m sure completing it in its entirety will provide ample opportunity to unlock everything.
With brand-new online functionality and split-screen returning, there’s plenty to keep you busy unlocking everything with other modes on offer, from Grand Prixs to Battles. I’m a touch disappointed that there isn’t a Mario Kart-style ‘VS Race’ with customisable rules as I’m sure there’s an item or two some people will hate and like to remove if it were possible. I didn’t take any issue with the balance, however, so personally, I’m not all that phased.
And that’s as much as I can critique the game. My past week with it has been quite the ride, a delightfully nostalgic (road) trip. Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled is everything I hoped it would be. It’s a super polished, accurate recreation of the original game I hold near and dear, with added flair and personality. It holds up against the best contemporary kart racers and is perhaps the best kart racer available on any non-Nintendo platform. It’s a damn good time to be a Crash fan. I’ll see you on the track.
THE PLAYSTATION 4 VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A DIGITAL COPY OF THE GAME WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
This is the definitive Crash Team Racing experience. Nitro-Fueled is everything I hoped it would be, a faithful recreation of the classic game with added flair and personality. A lack of custom race settings and some superficial gripes are not enough to dissuade me that this is among the best kart racers available. Crash is absolutely back, baby!