Growing up Crash Team Racing was one of my favourite games. It was actually the first kart-racer I loved and it provided an introduction to a genre that has arguably always been dominated by Mario Kart. It is therefore inevitable that a remake of this classic game will bring up comparisons with Mario Kart Deluxe 8. And while it’s hard to compete with Nintendo’s virtually perfect racer, CTR Nitro-Fueled is the first game that, in my eyes, even comes close. Not only does it look and sound amazing, but the unique drift mechanic still really makes it stand out. Plus, the addition of so much extra content is sure to make fans very happy and the success of the entire package allows you to somewhat overlook the issues that it does have.
You know that a remake has been done well when it actually feels exactly like you remember it, but looks way better than it ever was. And CTR Nitro-Fueled hits that mark beautifully. Sure you have to get through Activision’s 70-page legal compendium before starting but once you do each track’s sloping turns, jumps and hazards are exactly where and how you remember them. But now instead of old-school PS1 pixelated panoramas, you have vibrantly detailed backdrops. Every track opens up with a short cinematic that really lets you appreciate and enjoy the updated visuals. And while they were all very pretty, my favourites were probably the snow-themed levels (Polar Pass and Blizzard Bluff) as well as the simply gorgeous ‘Out of Time’ from Crash Nitro Kart.
It feels exactly like you remember it, but looks way better than it ever was…
As you would expect, the PS4 and Xbox versions do offer more visual details, but I opted for the Switch version to be able to play ‘on-the-go’ and because it is my ‘multiplayer’ console. And even after watching a few side-by-side comparison videos – I was surprised at how good the Switch version looked. The game runs at 30FPS across the board (60FPS is usually preferred for racing game à la MKD8 and does feel like a missed opportunity). However, after playing for many, many hours I only experienced a frame drop on two solitary occasions and one of those was during a pre-race cinematic. Most of the time the game runs smoothly and the tracks all look fantastic.
The soundtracks have also been remastered and likely thanks to the consultation with original CTR composers, Mark Mothersbaugh and Josh Mancell, they sound fantastic: updated for a modern sound while still maintaining a real familiar feeling. However, again with fans in mind, both new music and original (called Legacy in-game) music is available from the audio options menu at any time. So you can toggle between them pretty easily based on your preference. The sound design, in general, is just fantastic. I was really impressed with how the voices of the characters changed based on where they were; from echoing in tunnels or drifting as they fly through the air – or in one very specific occasion when all the sound just drops off as they hurtle through deep dark space for a second or two – the details are just great.
Instead of old-school PS1 pixelated panoramas, you have vibrantly detailed backdrops and an updated soundtrack that still feels familiar…
At first, the gameplay felt occasionally unresponsive. I was really struggling to drift and keep up in my first few races and kept clipping tight corners and ruining my race. However, after playing a while I realised that my inability to initiate drifts well and my labouring speed was due to a serious Mario Kart hangover. The drift mechanic that made Crash so unique at the time it originally came out is back and it takes a while to get used to. Particularly if you play a lot of Mario Kart. However, once you do there’s nothing better than chaining a few well-timed hops into a perfect three-drift boost and flying past a whimpering Tiny. And while the weapons/items may seem similar to Mario Kart – CTR relies a bit more on drifting and racing lines than the mad mayhem of its Nintendo counterpart and that really makes it feel unique.
Content-wise this game will keep you busy for some time. In the Arcade section, you can choose from single races (over 30 tracks), several four-race cups, battles (12 arenas), time trials and more. And while it is called ‘Crash Team Racing‘ the game has loads of content from Crash Nitro Kart too. Local multiplayer is particularly great in these modes. And for those technically minded out there – even while in split-screen there were no noticeable slowdowns or framerate issues. Across the different modes, winning races earns you Wumpa Coins (the in-game currency) which then allows you to unlock more content (characters, skins, karts and a host of other items) in the Pitstop ‘store’ (no real money needed). The online mode allows you to set up private matches (specific games settings of your choosing), regular matchmaking and even linking up with friends in both race and battle modes.
While opinions may differ on this – I personally loved the story (Adventure) mode in the original game and it was the mode I was most excited for in the remake. This time around you are able to choose between experiencing it in the original format, Classic Mode, or an updated Nitro-Fueled mode. The latter allows you to select between three difficulty settings, as well as opening up the use of different characters and kart customisation options as you unlock these during the game. Returning to each reimagined world as I warped to save the planet in a winner-takes-it-all final match up is exactly the kind of wonderful nonsense that makes this game so memorable.
Once you master the drift mechanic there’s nothing better than chaining a few well-timed hops into a perfect three-drift boost… and with so much content you’ll have a lot of time to perfect it.
As you can tell from the glowing report above – there is a lot I loved about this game. And while, as a fan, I likely have rose-tinted glasses on, I really do think even newcomers will find something to love. However, all that being said there are some issues that definitely need to be considered.
First off – the difficulty feels a little off. On easy you win every race by miles. But on medium it is really tough to finish first until you have come to terms with the drift boost. Although many may appreciate that challenge – I do worry because the jump feels a little too big from easy to medium. The spike and repetition may actually put some people off. Also, despite the amazing depth of characters (something like 26 to choose from) only three classes exist – beginner, intermediate and advanced. While these alter the speed, acceleration and manoeuvrability depending on the choice, changing up your kart or character skin does not seem to have any impact on performance at all.
Loading times are long, the medium difficulty feels a little intimidating and online needs work…
Next, these two issues may be specific to the Switch but need to be mentioned nonetheless: Loading times and Online play. Before each race, you wait almost 45 seconds watching a loading screen. And while this may not seem like that much time, when you finish a race you experience another loading screen before watching the same podium cinematic and then another before hitting the menu again. It all feels just a bit too long and I’m hoping a patch, later on, can get these down a little.
Right from the start, it seemed players across the world were experiencing issues playing online. Lots of disconnections, disappearing and reappearing players and lag made playing online really tough. To their credit, the development team has already sent out patches to sort out a lot of these issues. However, while I eventually did manage to race online with a full lobby, most of the time I was lucky if I found one other person. Happily, having asked a few people that are playing on the PS4 it seems this is an issue unique to the Switch.
It is a little disheartening to not find players online on the Switch. And it means that if you are a big online player, the PS4 version is the best way to go, especially because online games offer the most Wumpa Coins and will make filling up your unlockable roster much easier. I suspect the Switch issues have something to do with us being in far away South Africa and how the matchmaking system is set up. However, barring the odd exception, when I did find other racers, the races ran relatively smoothly and so it seems the patches have improved the overall experience.
Near-perfect triple-boost drift
Beenox and Activision have done an amazing job of reviving a classic. While sounds, visuals and gameplay have been updated for the modern age, the game still feels just like you remember it. Plus, the addition of so much extra content really feels like this nostalgic trip has a whole lot more to offer. Despite some substantial shortcomings, CTR Nitro-Fueled may not reach the heights of Nintendo’s own big name kart racer, but it’s the first game in a long while that even comes close. And while similarities will always be apparent, CTR Nitro-Fueled really does a good job of hewing out its own path and fans of the original games will not be disappointed.