When another Crash Bandicoot remake was announced, I was skeptical. After playing the pretty but operationally abysmal N. Sane Trilogy, I wasn’t keen to see another of my childhood favorites become beautiful yet unplayable. Thankfully, when Beenox picked up the Crash Team Racing remake, they had listened to all of our bleating and whining and raging and did everything they could to not churn out something like Vicarious Visions did in 2017. The result was Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fuelled (or Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled, if you prefer the American English on the box).
The original Crash Team Racing (or CTR for short) came out in 1999 on the Playstation and despite being a blatant Mario Kart ripoff, it very easily eclipsed it in terms of handling and track design. The story of CTR is very simple: Crash and his friends and foes have suddenly taken to kart racing and one day a villainous alien named Nitrous Oxide appears and threatens to turn their planet into a parking lot…unless the fastest among him can best him in a race. Through the adventure mode, you travel through four areas, each with five tracks, earning trophies by winning a race on each track and defeating bosses (all villains from previous games) and unlocking each new area until you finally reach your race with Oxide.
In addition to just trophy-collecting, there are also CTR races, where you have to collect three tokens (a “C”, “T”, and “R”) around the track while also winning the race to earn a CTR token, and relic races, where you race around the track as fast as you can while breaking golden time trial boxes to take precious seconds off your time to earn a relic. Relics can be sapphire, gold, or platinum. Only by collecting all the time trial boxes, being exceptionally skilled, or a combination of both will net you a platinum. In the later game there are also gem cups that only unlock after certain conditions are met.
Outside of the main Adventure mode, there are also Versus modes for single tracks, Cups for four back-to-back tracks with cumulative scores to determine who is the best, Battle mode with special arena areas where you can change the types of power-ups, the battle mode (e.g. capture the flag, last man standing, point battle), time limit and number of attacks required to win, and Time Trial mode where you can earn special bonuses by beating the pre-loaded best times on each track.
There are a couple of new and updated Battle modes in Nitro-Fuelled, and in the single track sections, all of the tracks from Crash Team Racing: Nitro Kart are now available, which is something I was neither familiar with or aware of ahead of the game’s release. I had seen the Nitro Kart tracks in trailers and assumed that they were brand new tracks. All of the characters from Nitro Kart can also be unlocked for use in the non-Adventure modes through various means.
I am told by our friend who has played Nitro Kart that the tracks and characters looked good, although there were some key things about certain tracks that had been changed for the worse. Specifically, in one track in Nitro Kart, the karts would drive up the side of a building rather than through it. In Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fuelled, this has been replaced with driving through the building, presumably because all of the different kart designs would have been too annoying to animate for the up-the-wall section.
Graphically-speaking, the tracks, menus, characters, and everything else about the game looks beautiful. The tracks and battle arenas have been beautifully recreated, although some of them look way different in certain places. For example, the tunnels in Tiger Temple are decidedly brighter than the dark tunnels from the original. And the entirety of Rampage Ruins has had a face lift so that the color scheme matches that of Papu Pyramids, rather than the muddier, darker look it used to have. While it’s a little surprising from a nostalgia perspective, there’s nothing wrong with these changes, as they still look great. Gamers who have seen the trailers and pre-release videos by the developers will have already noticed the vast amount of extra content added in each of the tracks.
There’s little nods to the games throughout the series, such as a big dragon in the background of Dragon Mines, some of the clone guys in cages and the birds you jump on in Crash Bandicoot in Cortex Castle, and many more. The level of detail that’s been put into the recreation of the tracks has been really faithful to the series and shown a lot of love and care for what came before. Also, the speed has been drastically increased across the board, so previously teeth-grindingly boring or annoying tracks such as Coco Park and Tiny Arena are now drastically improved or, dare I say it, fun? Another point in Nitro-Fuelled‘s favor is the music. Each track’s…er, track, has been remastered but kept similar enough that it’s recognizable, all while adding a little extra flavor in certain places. For example, Tiny Arena now has little electric guitar riffs that punctuate certain points in the race or the music itself, and that certainly fits everything about that particular racetrack.
While the recreation of the tracks has been very faithful, there are a few little things in terms of the tracks and the gameplay itself that have been changed for the worse. The well-known shortcut in Crash Cove is really difficult to pull off now, whereas previously it was one of the most reliable. Perhaps gamer hands that are untainted by years and years of CTR during childhood will find it easier to pull that one off consistency, but everyone in our group had trouble where there was none before. Other minor gameplay issues include instances where you hit a wall and try to hop your kart back into the correct position. The game seems to have a lot of trouble with this, as if you’re hopping while holding the analog stick to the left, the game will sometimes make your character hop once or twice to the left, then back to the right, then to the left again. Super irritating and cost me more than a few races and time trials.
The rubber-banding seen in the original Crash Team Racing that saw high levels of player skill being rewarded by AI characters (particularly Polar, one of the slowest characters by stats) tearing ahead as runaway winners is still alive and well. This game has a real runaway winner problem, but I suppose that’s actually more realistic in the sense that in other true racing games, if you screw up early in the race, that may just result in you losing overall with no way of catching up.
Other elements of gameplay have been vastly improved. Certain shortcuts have become a little more reliable, such as the longer Hot Air Skyway fork jump. Most importantly, if you choose the Nitro-Fuelled version of Adventure mode, rather than being locked into playing as one character, you can change your racer at any time between races. I have to assume that the game scales and adjusts the NPCs and other factors to make this fair, but it’s really helpful to be able to swap over to a character like Dingodile who’s built for speed when doing time trials, or to a character like Pura who’s adept at turning, is very helpful.
In Nitro-Fuelled mode, you also unlock modifications for your kart (all aesthetic, thankfully) and also different skins for different characters, such as Scuba Crash (circa Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped) and Ripper Roo’s gentleman outfit (Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back). Some of these modifications are unlocked by meeting conditions in the game, while some are available on the Pit Stop/Daily Deals section of the main menu. With each race in non-Adventure mode and in Nitro-Fuelled mode, you earn Wumpa Coins, which can then be spent on anything in the Pit Stop. For non-Adventure mode, you can also unlock Nitro Kart racers, if you were ever particularly fond of the Norms or Zem and Zam or whoever else. Who else can smell oncoming micro transactions?
Another excellent part of Nitro-Fuelled mode is the ability to play as the bosses you’ve unlocked! Furthermore, they’ve been given stats equivalent to the other characters, so no longer will playing as Ripper Roo ensure victory against standard characters. Even Nitrous Oxide, once beaten, can be selected, which is a first for Crash Team Racing and something I was always salty about not being in the original when I was a kid and had no sense of what made a balanced game. Interestingly, even without selecting different skins, you can now play as the same character as one of your local or online co-op partners. You can have a battle or race full of N.Gins if you want!
On the earlier note about small details, I was absolutely delighted to discover that the giant save screens available in the original Crash Team Racing are alive and well and operate in exactly the same way that they used to – slam your kart up against them and wait for the screen to boot up. I’m often disappointed by the lack of creativity in save screens or lack of save screens at all (a tragedy of the autosaving era), so the developers ensuring that this was included really warmed the cold cockles of my heart. While there are modern racing controls (e.g. acceleration on the R and L buttons), the default and true way to play the game is still available, just as it was back on the PS1.
Beside the minor issues in gameplay that were mentioned earlier, Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fuelled, both from a nostalgic viewpoint and a modern day gaming viewpoint, is really spot on. The AI is absolutely devious in the best possible way. Rather than feeling as though the AI are simply following a track and tossing a few dice now and then to see whether they attack someone or not, it actually seems as though they’re reacting to what you and the other players are doing and responding accordingly.
More than once I’ve been shot out of the air at the last critical jump when I was in the lead – something you would have only expected a fellow human player to do because it was so cruel and pointed. Really, it feels like even when you’re playing with an all-AI list of racers, you’re actually playing with real people, and that, to me, shows that CTR has been appropriately updated to mimic actual car racing games, rather than purely sticking to the days of kart racers.
I guarantee that newcomers to CTR and even to Crash Bandicoot willstill have a blast playing this game. It’s easy to pick up, the handling is great, the track designs are colorful and varied, and it’s just a really great time overall. Long time fans of Crash Team Racing will absolutely fall in love all over again. I think the mark of a good remake is that while you may return to the original on occasion and think of it fondly, you’re still very happy to play the remake for its convenience and for the strength of its recreation. The N. Sane Trilogy failed at this – I’ll always boot up my PS3 in favor of playing the remakes, but as for Crash Nitro-Fuelled? You can find me down at the glorious HD race track any time.
Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fuelled is available now on Playstation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.