Crash Nitro Kart - Overview

Another trio of platformers, another kart racing spin-off: Crash Nitro Kart is a sequel to Crash Team Racing, but is it the successor that it deserved?

Crash Bandicoot drives his kart around a sunny beach. The sun can be seen in front of him.There's a clear attempt to emulate the look and feel of Crash Team Racing.

Compared to CTR, Vicarious Visions's take on Crash Bandicoot racing is a prettier outing, thanks not only to the more powerful hardware but also the similar art style (it helps that the series' original character and environment artists, Joe Pearson and Charles Zembillas, worked together on it). Each character looks quite detailed and has unique animations this time, and the alien planet motif provides some interesting new places to race in. The game additionally runs at 60 frames per second, making it twice as smooth as CTR, though also more inconsistent thanks to frequent frame skipping (particularly on the PlayStation 2 version). For the first time in the series, the cutscenes are pre-rendered, and they quite a lot nicer than the in-game graphics. Disappointingly, Nitro Kart doesn't fare as well in the audio side of things, with a less upbeat soundtrack being muffled by annoying kart engines and character taunts. Be sure to give the volume settings a try to get the most out of it.

The race tracks have taken a toll. There are only 13 of them, resulting in awkward cups of 3 and a narrower selection than CTR's 18 tracks. Most tracks are quite large now, and the bigger ones can feel like a marathon to complete, for better or worse. It's worth noting that you'll find a couple of new features in most tracks to spice things up a bit: crates with exclamation marks will activate specific traps or ramps, and there are anti-gravity segments that will have you driving up walls (literally) and even going through corkscrews, shuttle loops, and ceilings. This doesn't change the gameplay significantly, since the camera rotates along with your character, but if anything, it makes things visually interesting, and tracks like Android Alley provide unique opportunities like hopping off dents on walls.

Fake Crash drives on the walls of a large yellow tunnel.The new anti-gravity segments complement the returning mechanics from CTR.

Most of the major mechanics from CTR make a return, including power-sliding and boosting. That's not to say the controls are 1:1 with the original though, since karts are noticeably slower and heavier. Even the boosts you get from hopping off ledges don't feel quite as effective, and the gameplay doesn't feel as tight overall. On the plus side, boosting while power-sliding is a bit more intuitive, since the power-slide gauge appears next to your kart instead of sitting at the corner of the screen.

Power-ups are functionally the same as in CTR, albeit with different names and appearances in some cases, and you can't throw bubble shields anymore. This time, getting 10 Wumpa fruits is easier said than done, since you only get 3 fruits at a time from crates, and there aren't individual fruits scattered around the tracks anymore. It's possible to land a hit on someone and make them drop some of their fruits for you to pick up, but it does little to alleviate the issue.

Team-based gameplay is another addition in Crash Nitro Kart. Some modes will have an ally joining you, so it counts as a win if either one of you comes in first place. If you drive close to your partner for a certain amount of time, you can also trigger Team Frenzy and get unlimited power-ups for a short while. As a whole, the team mechanics are fairly basic and harmless at best, though they do feel like a random afterthought at the end of the day.

Tiny, Cortex, and N. Gin stand in front of a winner's podium.For the first time in a Crash game, cutscenes are pre-rendered and look all the better for it.

All of CTR's game modes are back. Adventure mode works almost exactly the same as before, and it includes the same type of challenges (and padding), though you also get an AI-controlled partner with you during normal races. A welcome change is the ability to switch between different characters, since you now have to pick between Team Bandicoot and Team Cortex at the start of the game, with each team having one character for each driving style: balanced, acceleration, and speed. There are also different cutscenes for each team, so if you have the time and patience to go through Adventure mode twice, you'll have that extra incentive to keep you going.

The remaining modes are organized in more intuitive ways, and everything you could do in CTR is present and accounted for. For example, Multiplayer mode lets you toggle AI racers on and off, so you can replicate the original Arcade and VS mode with up to 4 people (despite featuring 4 player split-screen, CTR would only let up to 2 human players race against AI opponents). Unfortunately, racing with friends and AI opponents at the same time is hampered by the mind-boggling decision to end each race as soon as only 1 human player hasn't crossed the finish line yet, robbing them of their chance to improve their current standing. It's not terribly important if you're not planning on turning AI racers on anyway, but now there are even less reasons to do it.

Quick Race and Team Race are fairly self-explanatory, and Time Trial makes a return, unchanged and with the same kind of padding where you need to unlock ghosts before you can actually challenge them. Annoyingly, you still can't view each character's stats in any mode besides Adventure, so have fun figuring out and memorizing how the unlockable characters handle.

Battle mode is back with larger arenas than ever. In fact, one might say too large, since it can make it harder to reach your opponents. Still, some arenas have traps that you can trigger manually like in some of the race tracks, so there are more opportunities to gain the upper hand. There are some new sub-modes that make things more interesting as well. In Capture the Flag, you'll need to head to your opponent's base and bring its flag back to yours, and there's a similar Steal the Bacon mode where the flag appears outside the base and up for grabs. The Crystal challenges from Adventure mode can now be enjoyed competitively as well, and lastly, you get an Arena Editor, which is less exciting than it sounds, since it only lets you change the crate placement.

All in all, Crash Nitro Kart may not be as tightly designed or have as much content as CTR, but being a disappointing sequel doesn't mean it's a bad game. It has some merits of its own and a few novel ideas. That said, if you have to pick between one or the other, the choice is obvious. It's also worth mentioning that Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled recreates all of Nitro Kart's tracks and arenas with CTR's more fine-tuned controls and mechanics, leaving few reasons to play this game unless you're feeling curious or nostalgic.

The good

  • Appealing graphics and art direction
  • The pre-rendered cutscenes look great and provide nice character moments
  • The anti-gravity segments are a welcome addition
  • You can switch characters in Adventure mode

The bad

  • Few race tracks
  • Some tracks and arenas are too large
  • The karts feel heavy and slow
  • It's hard to collect 10 Wumpa fruits in a race
  • CTR's padding problems are back
  • Character stats still aren't shown outside Adventure mode
  • The kart engines and character taunts get annoying

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