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Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled - Overview

With the success of the N. Sane Trilogy, it's not too surprising to see the beloved Crash Team Racing being given the same remake treatment. There is a lot to experience in Beenox's recreation of Crash's first racing game, so fasten your seatbelts!

Crash Bandicoot and Neo Cortex drive small karts on top of a wooden bridge in a sunny jungle. Like the N. Sane Trilogy, Nitro-Fueled ups the ante in visual fidelity.

Detail is the name of the game in Nitro-Fueled. From the very moment you start the game, everything feels like it was lovingly and masterfully crafted, whether it's Crash failing to hold his grin for too long in the title screen, the dozens of unique characters and events around the race tracks, the subtle jingle when you unlock something, or the 70 pages worth of Activision's policies that you must agree to when it's your first time starting the game (and no, that's not an exaggeration; there are literally over 70 pages of the stuff).

This CTR remake sports all-new graphics that fall in line with the N. Sane Trilogy, yet the stronger art direction, cartoonier effects, and more considerate lighting make it the clear winner as far as visuals go. No two tracks look the same, and the amount of cosmetic additions makes each environment feel like it's telling a story of its own, from the Viking village set in Polar Pass, to the train chugging along in Dingo Canyon, or even the stylish graffiti-laden walls of the once plain-looking Tiny Arena. No Crash game released prior had half as much fun stuff going on in so many places, making the world you're racing in feel truly alive. It doesn't get distracting in the middle of the action, and curious explorers who take some time to soak in the atmosphere will be surprised by how many humorous things are going on outside the track boundaries. Things like an opera-singing fish, a DJ polar bear, a lab assistant being held captive by Pinstripe's goons inside a diner, and a whole lot of chickens (what's with Canadian Crash studios and poultry?) It's a large part of the game's new identity, and while it still looks like CTR, it also feels like Beenox made this game their own.

Tiny Tiger, N. Gin, and Crash Bandicoot race in a purple, lightly-brit futuristic metropolis.All of the characters have unique animations that fit them to a T.

The attention to detail extends to the playable cast, naturally. Taking a cue from Radical Entertainment's Crash Tag Team Racing, each character has several unique and lively animations, and the presence of unlockable skins also lets you pick alternate colors and outfits, some of which even have unique victory animations. It's an absolutely impressive leap from the stiff and simplistic movements of the original CTR's blocky models. Seeing these characters display such rich and distinct personalities is a treat, as even those that used to be more subdued are now oozing with charm.

Though CTR was never a story-heavy game, the cutscenes that play for each boss have been substantially improved. Instead of each boss merely talking to you in their kart, they all know how to make a grand entrance now, showing just how much the cast benefits from the more powerful hardware. Not only that, but there are finally subtitles for the all the cutscenes, something that had only ever been present in certain games that had no voiced dialogue. It only took the series two decades!

A moonlit jungle area surrounded by ancient ruins.The environments feature a level of detail unmatched by any previous Crash games.

And despite how beautiful it all looks, the only compromise here, if you can even call it that, is a frame rate firmly locked at 30 FPS across all consoles. Not only is the action stable with no dips or slowdowns, but it's also consistent across every game mode on every console, regardless of how many people are playing. In addition to the stable frame rate, the game employs a motion blur technique similar to the one seen in the N. Sane Trilogy, so you can see everything you need with clarity (though an option to completely turn it off would have still been welcome). Indeed, the graphics are undeniably one of the game's strongest selling points, and even on the Nintendo Switch, where the level of detail isn't quite as high, it's still a visual splendor.

The music, one of the most polarizing aspects from the previous remake, is another improvement. The new audio tracks still take a lot of artistic liberties, but they're generally more faithful to the source material. The presence of dynamic layers only sweetens the deal, and it's fun to notice certain changes taking place depending on your current placement (such as the added accordion when you're on the pirate ship in Crash Cove, or the heavy percussion as you drive over the grating in N. Gin Labs). Moreover, some of the repeated themes now have unique instrumentation, so each boss has his own variation. But even though there are plenty of incentives for choosing the new soundtrack, it's also totally optional — the original 1999 soundtrack by Josh Mancell is still here, and you can easily switch to it from the options menu, even if you're already in a race. Now that's getting the best of both worlds.

Crash and the others race in tube-shaped environment located underwater.The gameplay mechanics like boost reserves and power-sliding are very faithfully recreated.

So how does it play? If you're a fan of the original game, you'll know how important the mechanics were, and thankfully, Beenox had its fair share of old-time fans working on the game, including creative director Thomas Wilson. Everything that gave CTR its own unique identity is faithfully recreated, and most differences you may find are either harmless or positive. If you know the original game like the back of your hand, it won't take you long to get used to Nitro-Fueled, and it's great to see a fine-tuned return of all the mechanics that made the original game stand the test of time. The controls are still the same, and while it's no longer possible to accelerate with the right analog stick, there is a new alternate control scheme that you're encouraged to try.

Besides the basic stuff like power-sliding and everything it entails, the more secret techniques the game doesn't tell you about are still present and accounted for, so rest assured you can still air-brake (and more easily as well), stack up boost reserves, and achieve different turbo levels, which are now more clearly indicated by the color of your kart's pipe flames (red being the slowest speed, yellow ranking above that, and blue being the insanely fast juice you get from super turbo pads). Other things are also made more obvious; besides an optional HUD that gives you more information, you can turn on "Nitro Wheels" that light up when you're power-sliding, letting you know you can do a boost (in addition to the kart's smoke turning black and the power-slide bar filling up, as usual). Another nice change is the ability to see each character's stats before any match, instead of in Adventure mode only. Yet, for some reason, you still have to manually change the camera every race if you prefer the pulled-out view.

In a Mayan-pyramid-type setting, Papu Papu drives his kart fiercely, while Pura looks concerned as he's about to run over a bubbling beaker with green liquid.All of the original power-ups and items are back.

A very useful addition is being able to change driving styles, regardless of which character you're playing as. Even though all the characters still have their own default driving styles, this is now an option that you can change before each match, meaning you'll get a chance to play as anyone you like and still pick your favorite stats. You can pick Pura with Speed-type stats, Dingodile as a Turn-type, and so on, without restrictions. There's even a whole new driving style named Drift, which feels like a nice compromise between Speed and Turn, at the cost of low Acceleration. With so many options now available, there's really no excuse not to try and see what works best for you and select the characters you like the most.

The power-ups are generally identical in function, though there's definitely something wrong with missiles. They only lock on to characters that are on-screen (erm... most of the time) and make no effort to not hit any walls along the way. Conversely, it feels like AI characters can always hit you with them, even from a great distance away, so there does seem to be some unintuitive trick to it. Another difference is that Warp Spheres (or Warp Orbs, as they're now called) are extremely fast, so you better keep a shield handy if you can.

A futuristic coliseum with a gargantuan metallic statue of Tiny Tiger, posed as if it's holding the place together with large chains. Pura and Polar are seen driving on the track inside.Adventure Mode continues to be an important and lengthy component.

Every game mode offers a richer experience than before. Adventure mode's progression flow is still the same (and that unfortunately includes the padding), but you get a new customization item every time you beat a race or challenge (more on that later). You also have the option to pick between the Classic and Nitro-Fueled settings. With the latter, you'll have access to 3 difficulty levels, and you can use different characters and karts at any time, including those that weren't in the original Adventure mode. It also lets AI racers use all the same power-ups and customization features that you can. While the AI characters are practically brain-dead on Easy, the Hard difficulty level is an absolutely ruthless experience. This makes your opponents faster than you and extremely devious, laying traps in the worst possible places. Don't be surprised if it takes you several attempts just to get the trophy in Crash Cove. The AI behavior is carried over to other game modes, again correlating to the difficulty level you choose.

A brand new mode called Ring Rally was added to this souped-up version of CTR. The objective there is to go through the rings decorating the track, in order to win points and extend the time left until the rally is over. You get an infinite number of laps to do this, so you can keep going for as long as your skills will allow. It's not as simple as it sounds, though, as the rings get smaller every lap, and the speed boost you gain from them becomes more potent. There is no reward for beating Ring Rally, but it's a fun new distraction in an already content-packed game.

Crash launches his kart through a series of large rings inside a cavern featuring a large creature's ribcage adorning the walls.Ring Rally mode is one of many new features in the remake.

The remaining game modes are mostly kept the same, but you get some additional options here and there, such as the ability to play in mirrored tracks for a little spin on things. Another notable addition is the ability to play battles against as many AI characters as you want, instead of this being a strictly multiplayer mode. The AI option is also present if you're racing against friends in local split-screen (something that was first introduced in Crash Nitro Kart).

As for Time Trials, these are still as annoying as before, since you still need to unlock each track's ghost in succession; even if you get a better time than a ghost, the victory doesn't count unless you're specifically racing against him. But despite this annoying type of padding, if Time Trial is your jam, you'll be pleased to know that two new ghost types have been added. Beating N. Tropy's ghost in a track still unlocks Oxide's, but beating his now unlocks Emperor Velo's (who was originally a Crash Nitro Kart character), and if you're good enough to beat even that, say your prayers and prepare for the absolutely merciless developer ghosts, which will test every fiber of your being and destroy your thumbs. You know you're in for a bad time whenever the name William P. shows up on the list.

Crunch and Tawna wait in their karts as the race is about to start.Online play is a major addition to the game.

It wouldn't be right to talk about the gameplay without bringing up the brand new online mode. The original PlayStation had no online capabilities, but 20 years into the future, Nitro-Fueled is the first (proper) example of online play in a Crash game. As long as you have an active subscription to your console's online multiplayer service, you can compete with players from all over the world and participate in races and battles that encompass the game's impressive repertoire.

Besides creating and participating in private matches with online friends, you can also choose the Matchmaking option, where you'll play against random players from around the world. The game tends to pick those who are who are on the same skill level as you, to avoid having experts mopping the track with beginners (it should be noted, however, that this is fairly inconsistent). Speaking of which, the item balance is quite different when playing online, and it was tweaked to provide the best experience based on community feedback. One example is the presence of the Super Turbo item, which is normally only seen in Battle mode. On the other hand, the mode selection is quite barren for a game of this nature, and something like a no-items mode would have been a good addition.

Crash, Coco, and Cortex race through a western canyon with a number of diners along the road.Some of the online issues can lead to frustrating results.

Split-screen is not an option while playing online, so you can't have a local friend join you in this mode. What you can do is have online friends join you in Matchmaking, though this is fairly unintuitive, as the game doesn't explain that you need to sit outside a Matchmaking lobby before they can join you, and only then should you choose that option. In Matchmaking, you always get 3 race tracks or battle arenas to vote for, though for some reason, certain tracks appear considerably more often than others, and if 2 or more tracks are tied in the poll, the one on top is invariably picked.

As far as the online experience goes, you will frequently run into hilarious bugs and not so hilarious desync issues, such as invisible beakers, players teleporting randomly across the map, the race failing to start, or even the last-second decision that you didn't come in first place after all (despite getting the best time). This all stems from a much larger problem, namely the lack of dedicated servers. Apparently, every online match has one player unknowingly acting as the host, so if their connection isn't up to snuff, you're guaranteed to have some wacky stuff going on.

It should also be noted that the loading screens and mandatory wait times between matches make it very slow for you to actually get into the next race or battle, at least in Matchmaking. To make matters worse, since each lobby has one player acting as the host, if that person happens to leave, everyone else is kicked out with them, forcing you to wait until the game finds another lobby to join. This can even happen as the game prepares to load the next race, meaning you'll have to sit through the loading screen before it tells you everyone has left, and then sit through another loading screen before you can decide what to do next (it's very obvious some people do this intentionally just because they can). Better get used to that waiting music.

Coco drives a colorful kart in the sand while wearing a beach outfit and a straw hat, with Dingodile following close behind while wearing shades and swimming trunks.This time, there are a vast number of unlockable skins, karts, and other customizable items.

As should be clear by now, there is a lot of new content to enjoy in Nitro-Fueled, but everything discussed so far is just the tip of the iceberg. The character skins already mentioned are accompanied by a variety of vehicles, wheels, decals, paint jobs, and stickers, including Oxide's hovership, the karts from Crash Nitro Kart, some of the cars from Crash Tag Team Racing, and even a bunch of brand new vehicles. Since your stats are entirely dependent on the driving style you choose, these are just cosmetic additions that will let you customize your ride any way you want (though unfortunately, there is no way to save a favorite set).

Vehicles aren't the only thing added from Crash Nitro Kart, since you also get all of its characters (including bosses), tracks, and battle arenas! You're practically getting two remakes in one, with the ability to play through CNK's stuff using the faster and tighter gameplay of CTR. Plus, since some of the tracks in CNK used to look like copies of CTR, the developers made a conscious effort to give them a more distinct visual overhaul (a good example being Inferno Island, which no longer looks like an extension of Crash Cove, thanks to the nighttime setting). That's not to say the more original CNK tracks didn't get makeovers of their own, with Electron Avenue sporting a neon-bright vaporwave aesthetic, for example. All of the battle modes CNK introduced are here too, and they're retroactively applied to the CTR arenas as well. It's entirely possible to play Capture the Flag in Rampage Ruins, for example.

Crash drives inside a large cathedral decorated with imposing gargoyle statues.All of Crash Nitro Kart's tracks and arenas were adapted to CTR's faster gameplay.

One thing worth noting is that due to CNK's shorter track selection, cups were comprised of 3 tracks in that game. This is no longer the case, with the CNK tracks now being divided in cups of 4, complying with the way CTR does things. This also means that a whole new cup has been introduced to accommodate the leftover track (Clockwork Wumpa), as well as Oxide Station from the original CTR, which was never featured in Cup mode.

The only downside to the CNK tracks is the lack of anti-gravity segments. Anti-gravity may not have marked a substantial difference in gameplay back in the original CNK, but it was at least creative and cool to look at, and it does feel like there's something missing when you can't drive up the giant clock in Out of Time, or go through the giant shuttle loop in Thunder Struck. Overall, it's still a very fair trade-off for even having these tracks in CTR to begin with, and the segments that were tweaked to bend to CTR's mechanics ultimately don't feel out of place. If anything, the faster CTR gameplay and the liberal use of super turbo pads in these tracks makes their length more appropriate now, as long as you can power-slide like a pro.

Megumi, Tawna, Isabella, Liz, and Ami race through an Arabian town.There is a slew of brand new tracks and characters that have never been playable before.

Nitro-Fueled is more than a combination of CTR and CNK, though, and you'll be seeing a lot of things that have never been seen before. 8 all-new tracks join an already impressive collection, bringing the total to 39 (or 40 if you count the PlayStation 4-exclusive Retro Stadium, though that's just a copy of Turbo Track with a PS1 paint coat), as well as some new cups to accomodate them, some of which are thematic. Most of the new tracks make good use of some of the more advanced techniques, so they're well-suited for the competitive crowd, with lots of shortcuts, super turbo pads, and certain gimmicks that have never been seen before. Like the remaining tracks, these are all unlocked by default and ready to be enjoyed as soon as you first play the game.

Perhaps most notably, almost every major character in the series makes a playable appearance, including some that had never been playable before. All of the PS1-era characters are present and accounted for, including the bandicoot girls who previously presented the winner's circle, now each with their own distinct personality. Characters from newer games are also part of the roster, and there are even some mind-blowing choices that are either extremely obscure, baby versions of established characters, or entirely new ones, as is the case for Hasty and King Chicken. Heck, you can play as an inanimate crate if you want. A crate! There's even something for fans of Spyro the Dragon, who makes another playable appearance alongside two other characters from his franchise and bringing along a track based on his games.

Not every major Crash character is here, but it's easier to count the few who aren't compared to the 55 available choices (technically 56, if you count the second version of Rilla Roo that was added after the original design was not well-received by fans). This aspect alone turns Nitro-Fueled into a series-wide celebration of the history of Crash Bandicoot, and the fully unlocked roster is truly a sight to behold. Unlocking that roster, however, is where things get dicey.

A menu showing various characters and items to purchase.Most of the unlockables that are new to Crash Team Racing rotate daily and must be purchased with virtual coins.

With the exception of race tracks, almost everything that wasn't present in the original CTR has to be unlocked through a menu called the Pit Stop, where you can spend Wumpa Coins you've earned from playing the game and from beating the daily, weekly, and monthly challenges. Additionally, with every 6 races, you will see a glowing crate that contains a flying, golden Wumpa fruit, and catching it after it flies away will give you extra coins.This reward system isn't a bad design choice on paper, but there are some glaring issues with its execution.

The first problem is that the amount of coins you win from playing offline is absurdly low. You can get five times as many coins while playing online, though even this bonus only lasts for 30 non-sequential minutes of play time every day (something the game calls Wumpa Time, but never actually explains within its own context). You also get a 2x multiplier if you're playing on weekends, which does, thankfully, work in offline modes, despite not having started that way. In essence, if you're playing by yourself or against friends on the couch, or if you're not making the most of your online Wumpa Time, prepare for a very long grind before you can finally unlock what you're after... if that unlockable is even available at the time.

You read that right — all of the characters, karts, and items in the Pit Stop are only available on a daily rotation basis. For example, if you'd like to unlock Crunch, he needs to be a part of the daily deals, or your only option is a singular other character. You can force things to rotate twice a day, and you can keep buying characters and other items in succession to let other things show up, but everything requires too many coins for this last strategy to be viable, especially since you don't know what you're getting next. The bad news doesn't stop there, though.

Not only are Wumpa Coins scarce in offline mode, but you won't win any coins at all if you're not connected to the Internet (Nintendo Switch users who play on the go, beware). The Pit Stop isn't available without an Internet connection either, so you can't even use the coins you've already earned. But there is one simple reason behind all of these problems...

A screen encouraging the purchase of virtual money with a picture of coin stacks.Wumpa Coins are intentionally limited to boost microtransaction sales.

Microtransactions are something you would probably not expect to see in a Crash Bandicoot game, but here we are. You have the option to buy packs of Wumpa Coins with real money, which is quite a controversial decision for a game of this nature. The problem isn't that you have to get these items or buy Wumpa Coins (you don't). It's that all of the aforementioned limitations only exist because Activision wanted to have microtransactions in a remake of a twenty-year-old game.

Not giving players the choice to unlock the stuff they want when they want it, as well as limiting the coin payouts to offline players are both things deliberately put in the game from the start, in order to create a demand for Wumpa Coin packs. Moreover, due to these packs being sold at real cost, it also explains why you need to be connected to the Internet: the publisher wants to control and check whether a player is earning coins through legitimate means, so as to validate the existence of their coin packs (along with the artificial scarcity they implemented).

And so, instead of featuring a nice unlockable system like that of Crash Tag Team Racing, the game tries to manipulate players who don't have the time, patience, or restraint to unlock cosmetics without paying for them (which is especially aggravating when you consider a large chunk of Nitro-Fueled's demographic are children; in fact, it's pretty telling that Activision chose to only introduce microtransactions once all the important reviews got out and the bulk of the consumers had already bought the game). Make no mistake: charging for post-release content is a fair and understandable way to compensate for the time and resources put into making it, but you should be given the option to buy what you want at any given time, rather than waiting indefinitely for it to show up... and of course, it should be priced justly. Whether this system ruins your enjoyment of the game is something only you can decide, but there is no denying it shouldn't be in the game.

If you're judging Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled solely by its base content, it surpasses the original game in every way, superseding an already fantastic title with flying colors. Coupled with the presence of all the tracks and characters from Crash Nitro Kart, a bunch of entirely new ones, and an unprecedented attention to detail, this is quite clearly the best racing game in the franchise, and depending on who you ask, it might even be the best Crash game overall. The online experience could be better, but it adds an extra layer of longevity to the game, especially when you're playing with friends. The only real shame here is that a game this fun and lovingly crafted was forced to have microtransactions, making most of the extra characters and items a chore to unlock by design.

The good

  • The gameplay is faithfully recreated from the original game, and some of the changes and new visual indicators make it even better
  • Outstanding presentation and attention to detail
  • Over 50 playable characters pulled from almost every game in the franchise
  • All of the characters have richer personalities than before
  • Subtitles are finally introduced to the series
  • All of the tracks from Crash Nitro Kart are included and available from the start
  • New cups have been introduced
  • The brand new Ring Rally mode is an enjoyable distraction
  • There are more Time Trial ghosts to beat
  • In addition to the new soundtrack, you have the option to play with the original one
  • The alternate control scheme and extra race options are welcome additions
  • Driving styles are no longer character-restricted
  • It's now possible to play the game online with others
  • The Grand Prix events add new tracks, characters, karts, challenges, and more

The bad

  • The introduction of microtransactions, which have no place in the game and are responsible for the intentional limitations surrounding most unlockables
  • Wumpa Coins are scarce excluding a couple of time-based bonuses, one of which only works in online modes
  • You need to be connected to the Internet to win Wumpa Coins and access the Pit Stop, even if you want to unlock the Pit Stop characters and items that are already installed
  • The unlockables in the Pit Stop are only available on a daily rotation basis, with no indication of what comes next
  • You will most likely run into bugs and desync issues in online modes every now and then
  • Getting into an online race takes a long time
  • Skill-based matchmaking doesn't always work properly
  • The padding from the original CTR is back in full force
  • The remake still doesn't remember your camera preference between races
  • There is no way to save your favorite kart set-ups.

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