If it didn’t already feel like the 90’s were making a comeback, then look no further than the latest video game remake starring an iconic orange marsupial in a fully decked out set of wheels. The original Crash Bandicoot trilogy was quite the success seeing as the groundbreaking Super Mario 64 never got a follow up. However before departing to the Jak and Daxter series, then creator Naughty Dog went out with an engine roar with Crash Team Racing. One of the more enjoyable Mario Kart clones that just might be better than the game it was inspired by. Fast forward 20 years later following the success of the N. Sane Trilogy where Activision commissioned Beenox to create a brand new edition of this classic from the ground up on multiple platforms. For this review, we’re taking a look at the high definition editions on the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4.
An alien known as Nitrous Oxide invades Earth with the intent of turning the blue sphere into a concrete parking lot in the name of his home, Gasmoxia. That is, if he defeats the best racer on the planet. From there it’s a competition between all the characters in the Crash Bandicoot series like Coco, Pura, Ripper Roo, and Papu Papu, for the title of the fastest racer in the galaxy.
There wasn’t much complexity in the story outside of the final race, but this has a few additional enhancements to make the narrative more inclusive. The cutscenes showcase more story driven interactions between racers, so it’s amusing to see animals like Ripper Roo go from polygons to high definition when they’re given more material to use for intimidation or remorse. It is what it is and doesn’t need to be too complex. Especially since the original intent of Nitrous Oxide was to have the franchise jump the shark. Spoiler alert, it didn’t work.
Unlike the trilogy, the racing game had to cut some corners in order to achieve its presentation on the first PlayStation to the point where a penguin character went completely unnoticed. But with the advancements of today’s consoles, those corners have been erased for finer visuals. There’s the detailing on the fur and idol animations when the car is standing still, but there’s also a neon pallet brimming in the ultra-realistic aesthetic. It’s like if Crash made his own adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days. And listen to the engine roar when the boost kicks in. The sound is very crisp and top notch creating the illusion of driving at 90 miles per hour. And the explosions when a missile collides with the competition? Absolutely pleasing to the soul. This is one of the examples of taking the foundation and improving on it.
If the simple story isn’t what you’re here for, then the improved gameplay will keep you company. Being a kart racer there’s plenty of menu options from adventure mode, to local competition, to the ever expanded online play. Adventure mode has you competing in the original 16 tracks to win trophies and compete with bosses like Ripper Roo and Papu Papu to win keys that grant you access to Nitrous Oxide. Crates contain weapons to share with those about to serve you dust for lunch and Wumpa fruit to increase your speed and give your arsenal an extra dose of lethal force. There’s also more items to collect like time relics and CTR tokens if you want to unlock the true ending (spoiler alert). If anyone’s ever played Diddy Kong Racing, you’ll be right at home, only this time you can play classic edition or tweak the difficulty seeing how hard the original was even on easy mode. The single player campaign is both a wild take on the kart racer and a crash course to sharpen your skills before competing against friends.
Speaking of which, when’s the last time any game had this amazing quality of local multiplayer? Let alone the option in general in this mandatory online age? And you don’t even have to us external controller ports this time. While the couch provides another opportunity to create more memories with swear words, rage quits, and drinking, it’s the online lobby that really brings out the best this has to offer for a new generation of gamers. In addition to the original 16 tracks and a new battle mode, this also includes courses from Crash Nitro Kart which immediately makes up for how much the racing series declined in quality after 1999. It would’ve been nice if they were part of the single player campaign, but why look a gift marsupial in the mouth? And the rewards you’ve unlock range from customizable colors, various stickers, and many skins that go so far as to change the species of your animal. Even characters that were impossible to include because of technical limitations make their grand debut with polished style. And guess what. It turns out that using in game currency and NOT real world money makes the game very accessible to a large audience without feeling like a cynical, corporate cash grab, unlike many popular franchises that have fallen prey to the poisonous recurrent user spending monetization era. For Activision’s sake let’s hope that never comes to mind in the future.
Be warned though, the drifting mechanic is not for everyone who’s used to the automatic boosts in Mario kart 8. In order to maintain a high speed, you need to drift with one button and push a separate button at the right time as part of a risk/reward system to gain top speed against others. This is a case where the game tells you to get gud when it comes to the drifting mechanic to fully appreciate what it brings to the table, and it might be an acquired taste. I’ve played this since the days of the first PlayStation and still managed to brush up on old habits but I can’t speak for newcomers who are just getting into this series. That and the Wumpa fruit coins are inconsistent in quantity even if you win first place, which doesn’t drive incentive to improve your racing skills.
Crash Team Racing: Nitro Fueled hits it out of the park for this marsupial’s comeback that proves games from 20 years ago can age like fine wine if given the proper care and updates of time. The story feels more visible with the new material, the presentation receives a full blown make-over, and the gameplay refines everything while adding so much content to bring out the most potential seen in the eyes of the fans. It just might be a little better than the original. If you want to get the most out of this game, pick up the PlayStation 4 edition as it has exclusive Sony content like tracks and retro skins for those who want to drive down memory lane. That and the Nintendo Switch’s online requirement to receive Wumpa fruit coins at the end of each race can be a disappointing omission when on the go. As a longtime fan of the series, it’s an easy recommendation. But to newcomers who are used to the automatic boosts in Mario Kart 8, approach with caution and a bunch of orange cones. For everyone else, put the pedal to the medal and don’t look back.