Admittedly, I’m not part of the group of people who experienced Crash Team Racing when it was released in its heyday. I’ve heard stories about it since that has elevated it to cult status among the older generation of games. Now, after all the clamour for an update to the franchise, we have a new game to experience: Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled.
Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is a remaster of the original game from 20 years ago, with elements included from its sequels, Crash Nitro Kart and Crash Tag Team Racing. You also get the full roster of racers that have featured between the three games, though you’d have to unlock some of them through other means like playing Adventure mode.
Adventure mode, essentially the game’s story mode, gets you started on the game quickly. The extraterrestrial Nitros Oxide lays claim to being the galaxy’s fastest speedster and challenges Crash Bandicoot and his friends to a race to prove that notion.
After listening to that over-the-top monologue, you’re brought straight into the game’s hub world. The hub world is split into four themed areas, each featuring five race tracks, the last of which is a boss track which then unlocks the next area upon defeating the boss. Annoyingly, there’s no fast travel option to travel to a specific area. That means that to get to the last area, you’ll need to go through all three areas.
It is clear from the outset that Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is catering to players who previously played the originals, and it gets people into the game as quickly as possible. That’s great for them, but it leaves newer players like me in the lurch.
There is no means of a tutorial at the beginning. You’re allowed to drive around the hub world to figure out the controls, but that’s about it. Having no tutorial might not seem like a big deal, but once you actually get into the game, you’ll understand the need for it.
The phrase “easy to learn, hard to master” is something that genuinely encompasses Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled. You only need to take note of three aspects while racing; accelerating, power sliding and using items.
While acceleration and item usage are self-explanatory, power sliding itself takes skill. You make use of power sliding to navigate around turns faster, and there’s also a gauge that allows you to have a speed boost after sliding for a time.
It is choosing when to power slide and timing the speed boosts correctly on race tracks that make this a tough game for the impatient. You’ll curse and swear a multitude of times as you mistime your slides and hit a wall or run off the track. The game is unforgiving when it comes to these mistakes.
“Okay, one more try” is something you might find yourself saying when you play Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled. Racing itself is a thrill to do, with excellent handling and the spine-tingling feeling of going fast. Though I may get frustrated from constant losses, I also felt that there was an improvement in my skills as I learned the intricacies of the track, proving to be ample motivation for me to go another round.
The tracks are also masterfully timed to play into that mindset. Each track lasts an average of about two minutes, so if you do lose a race, you don’t feel as though you’ve wasted a lot of your time.
That being said, for a game that is heavily reliant on so-called ‘skill’, luck plays too much of a role in how you place in the standings. On one race you could be bombarded by items from the A.I, while on another race you’re left alone.
This aspect is especially accurate with boss levels. Bosses are relentless, throwing items in my path and unrealistically catching up with me despite securing a seemingly insurmountable lead. You pretty much have to rely on obtaining the right items from item crates in order to best your opponent.
The race tracks themselves have been wonderfully updated for the current generation. Each track is distinct and unique from one another: from the snowy spectacle of Blizzard Bluff to the acrophobic airs of Hot Air Skyway, every location provides its own distinctive feel – something I was never bored of experiencing.
Within the Adventure mode, you could also partake in CTR Challenge races, Crystal Challenges, and Relic Races. The CTR token challenge requires you to collect tokens with the letters C, T, and R before finishing in the first place to win, while Crystal Challenges task you to collect a specific amount of crystals in an area before time runs out. Relic Races are a neat take on time trials. Basically, you have to smash through numbered crates in a track, each number on the crates indicates the number of seconds frozen as the clock ticks down. It encourages multiple tries as you try to get the lowest time possible.
Outside of Adventure mode, you have Arcade mode which has other tried and tested modes in the genre like Capture the Flag and Battle Mode. Local split-screen racing of up to four players is also available here to pit yourself against your friends at get-togethers.
The game also has a dedicated online mode for you to flex your skills against people around the world. Unsurprisingly, going online makes every race chaotic and stress-inducing as each and every person attempts to earn bragging rights.
Like in Adventure mode, you can customise your racer with cosmetic items to stand out against the crowd. Somewhat frustratingly though, is that you’re only allowed to change your customisation while waiting in the lobby under a time limit, making it unnecessarily hectic to do.
Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is a game of highs and lows. One moment I was left fuming at an undeserved last-minute loss and another had my bruised fingers shaking after winning a race from an hour of trying. You’ll be hard-pressed to find another game in the genre which evokes these feelings.
Visuals courtesy of Activision.