As we wait to see if Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon will return in new games, Activision remains focused on their past. Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is another successful remaster that melds the classic gameplay from Naughty Dog’s original 1999 release with the latest in modern visuals. The racing excitement hasn’t lost any of its luster over the years, and the added detail applied to the characters, tracks, and their surrounding environments makes this nostalgic trip feel new again.
To be clear, this is not a collection of Crash’s kart-racing trilogy (Crash Team Racing, Crash Nitro Kart, and Crash Tag Team Racing). Instead, developer Beenox does something different; you can play CTR in its classic form, or experience a “nitro-fueled” version which features characters from Nitro Kart along with a new upgrade system allowing the karts to be customized with decals and more. The changes, which also allow the player to switch characters at any time, may not sound like much, but go a long way in making it feel like a more rewarding experience. After each race concludes, you earn new customization items and currency that can be used to purchase new characters, karts, and more. Yes, most of the characters from Nitro Kart are fairly lame, but I got into the kart customization, which includes wheel-less hover ship options.
The Adventure Mode races are as wickedly difficult as they were back in the day, both in terms of pushing the player to race without error, and the A.I. opponents being incredibly aggressive. If you want to coast through the game, you can select the easy difficulty setting prior to entering the campaign (it sadly can’t be changed once it starts), but I recommend getting knocked around on the medium setting – it delivers a high level of intensity, and shows why this game was adored back in the day. Most races are nail-biters.
Crash Team Racing follows the kart racing formula most of us are familiar with to a T. This means you powerslide around corners and hit item blocks that arm you with weapons to use against your opponents, hopefully knocking them out of position for a narrow victory on the final lap. Both of these elements are implemented admirably (especially in how the items you get are based on your positioning), but the one area where the game stands on its own is through how boosting is handled. If you truly get in a groove, you can boost almost all of the way around the track.
In addition to track-mounted green arrows that reward you with an automatic jolt of speed, the player can obtain a turbo boost by gaining altitude by hitting ramps and performing a jump maneuver at the right time on specific parts of tracks. The best way to rocket ahead of opponents, however, is to boost while powersliding. This action is a harrowing rhythmic minigame, in which you perform timed button presses as a meter fills. You can obtain three consecutive boosts in one slide, which gives you a huge advantage. I can’t stress just how much fun this turbo system is. When you get good at it, you use it everywhere, even on straightaways. However, there’s a real danger of overdoing the boosting and smashing into walls, which makes for a great risk/reward mechanic.
The aggressive A.I. is also keen on boosting, so you have to master it to just hold your own against these opponents on the tracks, which are excellently designed. The tracks are short, yet filled with dangerous animated sections and unique elements that make each one feel somewhat distinct. You even find some tracks reused in interesting ways for the one-on-one boss battles – another fun challenge that changes up the flow of gameplay. Once any track is complete, you can revisit them for fun secondary diversions like CTR Challenge (where you must hunt down the letters C, T, and R and win), and Relic Race a fun, but chaotic race against the clock.
If you take a detour out of the campaign (which only takes a few hours to complete), the Local Arcade mode almost contains another full game’s worth of content. Beenox added 13 of Nitro Kart’s tracks, which can be accessed for single race, battle, time trial, and other enjoyable challenges. No content from Crash Tag Team Racing is in the retail release, but will be added at a later date through post-launch downloadable content. Most of this content can be played via four-player splitscreen. A more streamlined selection of racing options is also available for online play. It’s nice having all of this content on the side, but, well, it’s on the side and doesn’t exactly pull you in, unless you intend to compete against friends.
Crash Team Racing is every bit as good now as it was back in the day. Naughty Dog created something special with the boosting system, and I urge everyone who enjoys arcade racers of this variety to give it a shot. Beenox’s enhancements only make it better.
This old racer can still rip across the track and is well worth a look.
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