Crash Bandicoot’s time away from the spotlight also meant he spent time away from the stoplight. His post-PS1 descent into obscurity meant that most players weren’t as likely to remember that the famed bandicoot was also as strong behind the wheel as he was behind a pair of platforming jorts. Vicarious Visions gave him back his jorts and naturally it’s now Beenox’s turn to renew his license with CRASH TEAM RACING NITRO-FUELED. While the N. Sane Trilogy revealed an archaic skeleton beneath its new coat of fur, Nitro-Fueled shows how strong the engine in this kart was and continues to be.
Crash Team Racing’s engine was so strong because of its solid fundamentals. Power sliding and boosting around was arcadey in a way that a kart racer should be and yielded better results the deeper you dug. Chaining together power slide boost after power slide boost allowed seasoned players to find ways to snake through entire tracks without losing momentum. It was an intuitive, skill-based rhythm and goofing that up in a remaster would mess up veterans could have likely been a worse system.
Nitro-Fueled emulates that cadence and feel almost flawlessly, meaning that seasoned PS1 racers can almost immediately snap back into their muscle memory 1999 without any adjustment. This feel is important and it’s where the N. Sane Trilogy stumbled. And unlike that collection, Crash Team Racing’s core is still approachable and since that core has been almost flawlessly recreated this iteration, Nitro-Fueled remains an experience that most audiences can enjoy.
It also gives back what you put in, as not everyone has to learn how to power slide to have fun, but those who want to learn those systems will find a deeper kart racer that rewards skilled play over luck. It’s even easier to do power slide boosts now, given the helpful, more detailed meter and glowing tires that signal when to boost.
Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled Review | Refueled and recharged
Beenox didn’t tamper with its mechanics but it did make some adjustments and improvements in other areas. Visual upgrades are the obvious first step in a remaster like this and Nitro-Fueled wonderfully upholds the original’s vibrant color palette while also adding to it. Naughty Dog was limited by the hardware at the time, only able to roughly showcase its imaginative style through bright basic colors in sparse yet pretty environments. Beenox was able to fill in the blanks here by adding a ton of extra touches that seem in line to what Naughty Dog probably would have done.
Tracks are filled with more moving parts that expand upon the lore and make everything look more alive. Characters also have more expressive animations that help them act like the cartoons they are. Although you can switch to the original in the options, the soundtrack also uses the PS1 installment as a template that remains as catchy, but with more channels and aural detail. Newcomers will be able to enjoy the eye-catching array of colors and infectious score but old timers will appreciate the additions that haven’t stepped upon what was already there.
Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled Review | Tweaking the engine
Beenox’s polish also works in favor of the Nitro Kart tracks. While Crash Team Racing is the beloved star of the show, tracks and characters from Crash Nitro Kart also appear alongside content from the PS1 classic. Following up CTR originally cast a dark shadow on all of Nitro Kart but being placed alongside its predecessor in this collection allows it to tangentially soak in CTR’s glory.
They’re still imaginative and well-designed courses but now they’re able to more easily fit in without being judged as some “other.” It also pays a bit of homage to other Crash games and while it would have been easy to ignore those dark years, these details show a respectable amount of reverence for the series as a whole.
Nitro-Fueled also has improvements in other areas as well. Karts and characters are now customizable, letting players mix and match from a large array from a huge array of cosmetics, granted they have enough Wumpa Coins. While this is probably an avenue for Activision to splice in microtransactions somewhere down the line à la Black Ops 4, the game benefits from having something that extends its lifespan. The solo campaign is only a few hours long and doesn’t offer much replayability outside of Time Trials, CTR Token challenges, and the joy that comes with getting better. Buying and earning new skins, stickers, and kart parts puts just enough of a carrot on a stick to keep you coming back in a modernized way.
Online play is also designed for replayabilty but it’s not nearly as modern. Playing against others online in Crash Team Racing is novel as it’s not often that a 20-year-old offline game gets new life via 21st century internet. Entering lobbies for either Battle Mode or regular races works on a basic, fundamental level.
Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled Review | Slamming on the brakes
But the basic nature of the online modes ends up shoving a potato in the game’s tailpipe. There’s no ranking system to speak of and since Nitro-Fueled excellently emulates CTR’s feel, 20-year veterans are often matched with new players who don’t know how to turbo boost through the whole track and exploit shortcuts. Matches are robbed of their competitiveness because of the enormous gap in skill that this game makes no effort to remediate.
Online play is also not as smooth as it should be. While it’s generally functional, its shortcomings are the most apparent in its weapon arsenal. Missiles blow you up before the timer expires, Aku Aku Masks often hit you before the masked racer is close enough, and sometimes you’ll just explode for some unknown reason because of an off-screen laggy weapon you can’t see. Countering becomes tedious since you have to anticipate a delay that’s too difficult to compensate for. It’s not unplayable, but just an annoying speed bump.
Although the whole online offering is full of small, annoying speed bumps. Battle Modes don’t show the scoreboard nor do they tell you exactly what to do. An invisible scoreboard means that games seem to end randomly and teammates will often cluelessly drive around because it’s not always clear what the goal is. Lobbies also don’t always fill back up after a race and racers who stay will usually be part of a bot-filled match. And even though the local multiplayer support is fantastic and flexible, it’s not possible to play local split-screen online, which is a disappointing oversight.
Patches may fix some of these problems and its upcoming seasonal events may address its underwhelming presentation. However, it’s a bare-bones online experience that evokes nostalgia in the wrong ways. Satisfying kart racing mechanics carry it but they shouldn’t have to carry its online modes all the way across the finish line.
Despite those bumps in the road, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is both a respectful reimagining and a superb, modernized kart racer in its own right. It accurately borrows from its inspirations and enhances their qualities in ways that feel true to what Naughty Dog would have done if it had the hardware. Gorgeous visuals and expressive animation would have given it the veneer of a Crash game, but it’s the game’s accessible yet deep racing mechanics that show it’s truly Crash under the hood. And having both the look and feel of a Crash Team Racing game is why Nitro-Fueled deserves a gold medal.
GameRevolution reviewed Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled on PlayStation 4 with a copy provided by the publisher.