If you were to imagine kart racers as dinosaurs, Mario Kart would be a Tyrannosaurus Rex. This monster franchise has held unimpeachable sway over all it surveys since the release of Super Mario Kart way back in 1992. Groups of slightly drunk friends flock to Mario Kart for its easy controls, pick-up-and-play vibe, and cast of colourful, enchanting characters.
Over the years, there have of course been pretenders to Mario Kart’s throne. One of these is Crash Team Racing, developed for the original PlayStation. If Mario Kart is a T. Rex, then Crash Team Racing is a Velociraptor. It’s a spry, spritely alternative to the agreed-upon master of kart racing games, and a very viable option for anyone looking for a dash of skill in a kart racer.
Fast-forward twenty years and Crash Team Racing gets its very own N. Sane Trilogy-style remaster. Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled comes to us from Canadian studio Beenox, whose name you might recognise from the 2016 Call of Duty: Modern Warfare remaster. Beenox wants to bring CTR’s mixture of skill and fun to modern gaming. Will the studio succeed? Is CTR still a property worth thinking about?
The answer to this question is, happily, a resounding yes. I’m not sure what’s missing in gaming right now, but there’s a very serious argument to be made that Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is the antidote. This is an embarrassingly feature-rich game that puts many of its competitors – including the aforementioned Mario Kart – to shame. Beenox should be proud of itself.
Let’s start with the visuals, as Beenox itself seems to have done. Nitro-Fueled simply looks beautiful. This is a ground-up remake, so every single track has been lovingly remastered in HD. The sharp turns of Papu’s Pyramid, the beautiful beaches of Crash Cove, and the vertiginous drops of Hot Air Skyway all look breathtaking in this new version of the game, as do the lively, expressive characters.
If you’ve never actually played Crash Team Racing, here’s a quick crash (ha ha) course. CTR is nominally a kart racer in the vein of Mario Kart or Diddy Kong Racing. Just like those games, players can collect weapons to aid their progress in the race, with better weapons becoming available as a player drops positions. Courses are suitably wacky and fun, with plenty of obstacles to avoid.
Where CTR differs from its stablemates is in its technical racing. Drifting is crucial in most kart games, but in CTR it’s the game’s lifeblood. As you drift, you can earn up to three boosts. Using these in quick succession will give you a massive speed boost, and you can use this boost not only to get ahead in the race but also to find secrets and hidden stuff within each course.
All this, plus the skilled course design, comes together to give Crash Team Racing the reputation of being the thinking person’s Mario Kart. Nitro-Fueled absolutely retains that reputation. All of the original game’s frenetic karting action is present and correct here, to a frankly impressive degree. It’s clear that Beenox loves the original CTR and wants to replicate it as much as possible.
That’s not to say there’s nothing new. Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled adds every single course from the PS2 sequel Crash Nitro Kart. Yes, every single one. The total number of tracks on offer here is 31, so there’s no risk of getting bored or losing interest in the game any time soon. The new game also adds customisable karts and new parts to unlock with in-game Wumpa Coin currency.
Another area in which the original Crash Team Racing was praised was its single-player campaign. Nitro-Fueled brings this, like pretty much all of the original game, over wholesale. The Adventure Mode now boasts a new mode, Nitro-Fueled Mode, which allows you to change your kart and racer between missions. Other than that, it’s still the same mode: race on courses, complete time trials, and collect C.R.A.S.H. letters.
Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled doesn’t quite play exactly like the original. There are one or two control quirks that make the game a little more friendly and forgiving to new players than the PS1 game was (have you revisited that recently?). By and large, though, this is CTR as your memory renders it: beautiful, smooth, and fluid, with plenty of unlockable characters which I don’t want to spoil.
The biggest strength of CTR Nitro-Fueled is also its biggest weakness, though. There’s just not much new here. Although plenty of new courses and characters have been added, the core racing experience is still pretty much the same as it was in 1999. That’s partly a problem with racing games as a whole, though, and it’s difficult to imagine what more Beenox could have done to differentiate the game from its PS1 progenitor.
Whether or not you buy Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled will depend on one thing: are you in the market for a fun, frantic kart racer with a ridiculous amount of content? If you’re not, you won’t enjoy this, because it’s not much more than that. If you are (and everyone should be), then this is a glorious, joyous celebration of nostalgia that manages to bring something new to the table as well.