The Crash Bandicoot resurgence continues with the return of its kart-racing counterpart in the form of Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled.
Developer Beenox had a lofty task on its hands thanks to the legendary status of the title, the nostalgia factor of the kart racer itself and the fact the recent Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy was so superb on a number of levels.
A remake of a game from Naughty Dog back in 1999, the latest CTR is a marriage of the classic game and modern capabilities and designs. Any concern players might have had about a cheap cash-in on another remake can go in the rear-view mirror—CTR Nitro-Fueled is a triumph, bringing a juggernaut of the kart-racing scene back to the forefront of the conversation.
CTR was never easy.
Crash's kart racer was never a little brother to Mario Kart, as the difficulty, lack of catch up mechanics, tough A.I. and distinctive powersliding gameplay set it apart.
Those who have played the series in the past can rest assured nothing has changed here. The newest entry in the series is markedly faster than Mario Kart 8, has a tough initial learning curve for newcomers and one of the best-feeling gameplay loops available in any racer.
The crux of the gameplay is built around the powersliding mechanic. It sounds simple but quickly acts as the biggest divider in player skill gap and ability to play on higher difficulties. At its most basic, players tap a bumper button to engage a slide in a direction of their choice. Tapping the opposite bumper at the right time gives an instant boost. Chain three in a row and players get a super boost of sorts.
Otherwise, this is a typical kart racer, and players know what to expect. However, it is the design that really brings out the fun.
Each of the game's 30-plus tracks was meticulously crafted with the powersliding mechanic in mind, and it shows in the smoothness of the gameplay and rewarding feeling of both improving skills and learning the tracks. This is old-school gaming attention to details. Not every game released boasts maps created for the gameplay, which is why, for example, some first-person shooters have extreme meta shifts that no longer fit the maps.
It is possibly the best thing about the latest iteration of CTR.
The items found throughout races have this same sense of detail and in no way feel like a Mario Kart mimic. These directly tie into the universe's lore and—even better—sometimes offer a game within a game. The TNT box, for example, is something players can try to shake off before it explodes, all while paying attention to the race at hand.
Item minigames within races extend to collectibles too. Wumpa fruits are housed in crates throughout maps and making a point to go out of the way and get those boosts the power and potency of later item pickups.
And forget multiplayer for a moment—the A.I. likes their powerslides and boosts, too. The game isn't hard, per se, but it won't hand-hold either. Opponents are aggressive in their approach, which is refreshing. Even so, it never really feels unfair except for a few of the boss battles in singleplayer.
As has always been the case, CTR is more competitive than most might expect. But once players grasp powersliding, getting down to perfecting times, gunning for unlocks and even competing online in this robust package is a blast.
Graphics and Presentation
CTR Nitro-Fueled is gorgeous by modern standards, especially in comparison to the older entries in the series.
For those who were around for those versions, this trip down memory lane will be stunning.
The track detail could almost classify as distracting. Back in its heyday, arguably the biggest positive about the CTR visuals were the blocky shadows characters cast as they skirted around tracks. Now, players have to dodge boulders in the desert while not being distracted by birds overhead and an array of fish swim throughout an aquatic level, to name just a few examples.
Each track manages to feel different too. The lava-dodging reds of one map effortlessly follows the vibrant blues of a dinosaur-themed course where turtle shells act as ramps.
The passion thrown into the source material here extends to sound design too. It is a little tucked away into the menus, but those players who wish to only listen to the original PlayStation 1 soundtrack can do so.
The presentation options extend to turning off pre-race cinematics, too, though it is hard to get tired of a panoramic of each of the great-looking courses. The biggest presentation drawback stems from the loading times. Maybe it is an exaggerated feeling because the on-track action is so fast, but the loading times between selecting a mode, a race, followed by the post-race stuff feels like it drags.
But if that's the biggest complaint from a presentation standpoint, the game isn't doing too poorly for itself.
Esports and Features
CTR Nitro-Fueled might be better positioned than Mario Kart in esports potential.
Whereas Nintendo doesn't seem interested in the idea for its series, CTR has a few things working for it.
For one, CTR is heavily skill based, and that pairs nicely with the fact that the items actually capable of changing the complexion of a race via an insta-win button rarely drop for players. As long as there isn't a massive reliance on RNG that can skew outcomes, esports potential will always be there.
And the ecosystem is there too. Online play is in and has a nice array of features. Even in 2019, the local multiplayer could mean plenty of real-life tournaments, too, so a healthy competitive community is bound to pop up.
It would help to keep in mind the scope of esports continues to change. CTR is fun to watch, so if certain personalities pick it up, even more viewers could flock to the game. There does seem to be a Fortnite-stylized niche in the esports environment right now where CTR might be able to step in and seize the moment.
And if not, the rest of the package still equates to seemingly endless replayability and a longstanding community.
The latest iteration of CTR takes inspiration from how gaming has evolved since its latest release.
The gargantuan 30-plus tracks spanning those found in prior games is a nice starting point. The eight original characters are the only ones available from the start, but it doesn't take long for the roster to blossom to 26 characters spanning the series' entirety, including some fun surprises in the form of unplayable mainstays from earlier games.
It wouldn't be a remake in 2019 without some innovation. On that front, CTR allows players to choose and trick out different karts. These don't have major impacts on gameplay by any means, but it would be remiss not to mention there are some really fun visual unlocks avaliable.
The innovation extends to single player modes. "Classic" and "Nitro-Fueled" adventure modes top the list. The former is exactly what it sounds like, whereas the latter takes a page out of modern design, permitting the selection of difficulty levels, characters and rides between races.
Adventure mode contains one of the biggest drawbacks of the game, though. Blasting through five hub worlds with bosses at the end of each is a fun structure and keeps things interesting, but the whole ordeal can grind to a halt in a hurry. Podium places aren't enough to advance—first place or bust. And going head-to-head with the bosses isn't an easy task either. So while it all sounds good on paper, players are going to need to either go in on a easy difficulty at first or get prepared to grind the same races over and over in the name of improvement and advancement.
Relic Race is a highlight. What should be a simple time trial adds a fun twist where boxes actually pause the timer, so the pursuit of high scores immediately becomes a fun task of chaining together as many powerslides as possible.
CTR Challenge offers another multitasking experience. It sounds simple: Find the letters CTR on a course while coming in first place. However, it's anything but as paying attention to where those letters might be on top of dealing with a usual race is a challenging, if fun side experience.
With modern designs come potential modern pitfalls too, though. There is an in-game shop known as the Pit Stop, where players spend hard-earned Wumpa Coins on customization options. There isn't an option to spend real-world money on these, but the need for a store seems like a way to fit in and isn't actually necessary.
Luckily, upcoming Grand Prix events with new content added to the game mixes things up nicely. And aligning with the modern-games-done-right theme here, the rewards available during this limited-time events later shift to the Pit Stop so anyone can earn them.
The fact CTR Nitro-Fueled is stuffed until it nearly bursts with content should have video gamers giddy. Even if kart racing isn't their jam, the surefire successes for Beenox here will set a good example for the rest of the industry.
Narrowing the scope, this is an achievement of an offering, a superb marriage between modern and classic. The original CTR games had almost endless replayability because of the never-ending quest for improvement on a bevy of courses and with different characters.
Now CTR is souped up for modern times, fleshed out with features covering all ranges of accessibility and promises continued love and care as the game's life cycle continues.
If CTR took another massive break-between-entries gain, Nitro-Fueled wouldn't have any problem sustaining players for the full duration, perhaps even better than the original did.