As one of the few who somehow missed the original Crash Team Racing entirely despite being a fan of the core series, I was genuinely excited when Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled was announced at the 2018 Game Awards. This was my chance to play through a classic with the added convenience of a modern console. However, I didn’t quite know what to expect considering my only real experience with kart racers came from Nintendo’s take on the genre. Initially, I thought to myself, “I’ll have a nice, comfy weekend in with Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled, maybe run a few races with my girlfriend.” Boy was I caught off guard when I jumped in and struggled to earn even second place on medium difficulty.
My first few races were some of my most frustrating experiences in recent memory. I consistently found myself slamming into walls, getting absolutely obliterated by items I wasn’t yet familiar with, and just generally struggling with the powerslide mechanic. Obviously, this is all to be expected when picking up a new game, but that didn’t stop me from becoming irrationally angry every time I got sniped by a rocket or blasted off the track by a giant energy ball that was meant for the person in first, not my hapless sixth place self. I was innocent. Collateral damage. Seriously though, why me?
embarrassingly common occasional outbursts aside, I found myself having a great time practicing and learning. While the general mechanics and items are similar to what you might expect from a kart racer at first glance, there is a surprising amount of depth to the gameplay, not to mention the overflowing charm from the game’s environments and characters. This is especially true for the game’s adventure mode.
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Jumping into it, I was immediately enamored with its presentation and personality. I’ve always had a soft spot for the characters in the early era PlayStation games, and Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled immediately had me feeling nostalgic and eager to get started. Adventure mode begins by introducing the villain — an alien by the name of Nitros Oxide — via an adorable cutscene chock-full of familiar locations, characters, and music. Oxide claims to be the fastest racer in the galaxy and challenges Crash and his friends to race, with the fate of the planet at stake. The plot is goofy and simple, but a fun and welcome addition when compared to other genre mainstays like Mario Kart.
Once the narrative was established, I was set free in the overworld to win every race in a given area before facing off against a boss to move on to the next locale. I rolled up to the first track available to me, Crash Cove. Before the race even started, I was blown away by the visuals and the amount of love and attention that was clearly put into the world. Everywhere you look there is something to admire, from the gorgeous environment to the shenanigans from miscellaneous background characters.
Keep in mind that at this point, I have yet to actually compete in a race, and have been arrogantly thinking my experience with Mario Kart would make this easy — I was especially overconfident since this was the game’s opening track. I was quickly humbled, overwhelmed by the powerslide and power-boost, wumpa fruit item enhancements, and unforgiving enemy AI that, even on medium difficulty, seemed to navigate the track like professionals. After plenty of losses and some trial and error, I finally started getting the hang of some of the game’s more unique mechanics.
The powerslide is tricky but essential. While the idea of powersliding or drifting/boosting is by no means new to kart racers, the powerslide in CTR has the added layer of timing your button presses with the boost meter to gain speed. Once you start a slide with L1 or R1, you then have a short window to hit the opposite shoulder button during the slide for a boost. If you time the button presses correctly, you can boost up to three times during a single power slide. If your timing is off, you lose the boost. Collecting wumpa fruit is also a must, as it increases your top speed and enhances the capabilities of some combat items. Chemical beakers change color and have additional bonuses, bombs blast radius grows, and rockets travel faster, just to name a few. Character selection is also incredibly important, as each has different stats that affect gameplay. For example, I typically found myself playing as Crash because his stats are balanced, making him easy to pick up for a beginner. If I found myself struggling on a particular track, I switched to Coco, who has a lower top speed but greater acceleration, making it easier to recover from attacks or mistakes.
Cut to a few tracks later, and I had unlocked the first area boss, which, to my surprise, was introduced through another adorable little cutscene. Boss encounters are one-on-one races against various villains/characters from the Crash universe that, when defeated, allow you to advance to the next section of the adventure overworld. These boss races are a fun gimmick and nice change of pace to the typical 8-player showdowns, but not particularly engaging beyond that. Each one takes place on a different track, but they all function in essentially the same way. If the boss overtakes you, they constantly leave a trail of items like TNT, nitro, or beakers behind them to impede your progress, and that’s pretty much it. They don’t pick up any additional items or throw anything forward, so if you’re familiar with the track and can get an early lead, they aren’t much of a challenge.
In addition to the traditional races in adventure mode, every track also has a time trial and token challenge, making this one of the most replayable kart racers, not to mention all of the unlockable customization options for characters and vehicles. Each token challenge or time trial is more challenging than the last, and all will quickly help you master the twists and turns of each individual track. Token challenges are also typically designed in a way that intentionally draws your attention to areas of the track you might not normally notice in the heat of a race, so they are a great way to familiarize yourself with individual layouts.
On the whole, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is a wonderfully charming nostalgia trip that has something to offer for both casual and hardcore players. It absolutely earns its place as a beloved entry in the kart racing genre and can stand toe-to-toe with any of its contemporaries. It currently lacks some basic quality of life options — like horizontal split screen — and can sometimes be shockingly difficult, but is ultimately a must-play for both Crash Bandicoot and kart racer fans alike.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A copy was provided by Activision.
Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is an adorable and charming trip down memory lane, packed full of challenging content for the most dedicated players while still being accessible and fun for the whole family.