|System: PS4, Xbox One, Switch|
|Release: June 21, 2019|
|Players: 1-4 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Comic Mischief, Cartoon Violence|
by Lucas White
I have never played the original Crash Team Racing. I wasn’t much of a PlayStation kid, never getting around to that platform until the smaller PSOne remodel and Final Fantasy IX. Needless to say, I missed a lot of the more mascot-y stuff, in favor of the more insular Japanese fare I was into at the time. I played the Crash and Spyro core titles, but my nostalgia radar doesn’t really include those characters. However, I freakin’ love kart racing games. Mario Kart is something I’ll always be down for, and I’ve even been into the stranger offerings in the genre such as Donkey Kong Barrel Blast and Konami Krazy Racers. Team Sonic Racing is one of my favorite games of 2019 so far. I like racing with goofy characters and throwing items at them. So, I was happy to finally give the Crash Bandicoot version a whirl, especially in the wake of Activision’s well-received platformer remakes. After spending time with the new Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled, I come away with mixed feelings as a kart racing enthusiast. On one hand, I liked a lot of what Nitro-Fueled had to offer. On the other hand, I found myself intensely frustrated by it.
Kart racing was so thoroughly run into the ground during previous console generations that the genre almost died outright. For any game that isn’t Mario Kart, the developers have to do a lot of work to stand out. Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled, developed by Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions house Beenox, appears to be relying heavily on polish, and with a good result. This is easily one of the best kart racing games you’ll ever look at with your eyeballs. Characters are as well-animated and furry as they were in the N. Sane Trilogy, and the environments are lush with details. The general visuals and sense of speed are also super polished, so the overall experience is just really solid. Nitro-Fueled feels like a proper current-gen mascot racer.
When it comes to playing Nitro-Fueled, there isn’t a whole lot of innovation here. This title is being marketed as a remake of the original Crash Team Racing, even though it contains content from Crash Nitro Kart and Crash Tag Team Racing, and perhaps that explains its relative simplicity. Tracks send the racers through multiple laps, snagging various toys and accessories that you throw at other cars to get them out of contention, Wacky Races style. Otherwise, you’re using the familiar suite of items: explosives that strike out in a straight line, homing shots, on-track hazards, and more. The items aren’t terribly laden with personality, but they are returning sights and sounds from the greater Crash Bandicoot series. Where one of the biggest issues appears is within Nitro-Fueled’s drifting mechanic.
Drifting is a crucial aspect in kart racers. Any self-respecting kart racer needs a good drift to join the ranks alongside Mario Kart. Those are the official rules, probably. Nitro-Fueled’s drift betrays the game’s relative speed and ease of use, making the barrier of entry for actual success in a race quite high. Not only do you have to watch and engage with a meter when drifting, but players also have to deal with a delay to get started due to a “hop” being mapped to the same button. The hop is much higher than it is in other games, making maintaining your intended direction something you have to account for before you start turning. This part feels like complexity for the sake of appearances, but in reality it’s cumbersome and Nitro-Fueled places far too much immediate emphasis on it.
See, one cool thing about Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is its adventure mode. Ostensibly inspired by the likes of Diddy Kong Racing, players get to drive around in little hubs before challenging races and chase after different kinds of rewards. When you start, you immediately think of Diddy Kong Racing if that’s a game you played. However, the scale is much smaller, making a lot of this mode feel superficial. The hubs are tiny and don’t hold many secrets, and the boss fights are just one on one races with normal characters. It’s fun, but feels half-baked. While it’s fun, Nitro-Fueled is also bizarrely difficult. On medium difficulty, players will need to practically master the basics of drifting in order to win even the first race. You don’t progress unless you win. Meanwhile, easy difficulty is too far in the other direction, making winning races seem trivial.
Having a challenging kart racer isn’t necessarily a bad thing, nor is it frowned upon. The aforementioned Diddy Kong Racing could often be a challenge, but it encouraged player growth along the way. Nitro-Fueled seems to expect you to know what you’re doing from the get-go. At the same time, loading screens and post-race scenes are full of tutorial content, some of it voice acted. This game, in many ways such as these examples, seems to be at odds with itself in terms of how hardcore it wants to be. Is it kid-friendly, wacky and full of repeating tutorials? Or is it a badass racer that requires expert skills to win? The conclusion I arrived to is that Nitro-Fueled isn’t going to pop a gaming party the same way Mario Kart will.
That said, a challenging, single-player oriented kart racer is an intriguing premise. While Nitro-Fueled doesn’t necessarily present itself that way, looking at it so perhaps bathes it in its most flattering light. Since races are so fast and furious, and since adventure mode requires a first place to win a course, there’s a lot of room for motivation to “git gud.” Pulling off consistent, perfect-rated drift combos is gratifying when you see the payoff seconds later, and considering there’s an achievement for winning a race by milliseconds, some of this feels deliberate. It’s an interesting choice, and this angle possibly even helps Nitro-Fueled feel more distinct against its peers.
This console generation has been great for kart racers. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Nintendo Switch is a new summit for the genre to aspire to. Team Sonic Racing asks fundamental questions about typical kart racer structure, and makes racing a cooperative experience. Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled feels a bit too derivative, obviously borrowing ideas from competitors. But it’s also the most distinctly challenging of the bunch, almost working best as a single-player endeavor rather than a fun, multiplayer party game. It’s hard to tell if there’s room for that, as Activision itself seemed to struggle with how to sell this one. Crash Bandicoot fans will certainly be happy, and are likely already on board. Those looking for a challenge will have a good time chasing trophies. Casual/Party players who like kart games probably will want to stick with Sonic and Mario.