I say ‘recreation’ and not ‘remaster’ because of how much has been done to spruce up each track. Somewhere in the back of my mind I have the memory of playing the original game, and while the course structure felt familiar, the look and theming of the stage are anything but, and in most cases took me until the setpieces to finally realize that I had indeed played the course before. One particular example that particularly stands out in my mind is Roo’s Tubes, an underwater course where you drive through transparent tubes not unlike most modern aquariums. Back on the PS1, graphics were dark and muddy, but brought onto the PS4 it takes on a life of its own, with a brighter-blue palette and gorgeous corals that better convey what the original game was likely going for.
Of course, racing games aren’t just about the graphics. On the surface level, CTR: Nitro-Fueled plays similarly to Mario Kart, having a loose control to the characters. However, CTR has always had enough unique mechanics to stand out on its own, including features like powered-up items when at 10 Wumpa Fruits, as well as a drift boost system that can be done up to three times at once. In particular, the latter mechanic really tripped me up coming from the simpler Mario Kart (especially how it used both shoulder buttons, and fails if the bar reaches max), and the fact that this is crucial in races to do well means that CTR naturally has a higher skill curve than Mario Kart. As a kid, I had completely ignored the mechanic, relying on regular turning and items to maintain my lead.
This brings me to my next point – the AI. Whatever Beetox and Activision has done to improve the AI must have been huge, because as a kid I would use Crash, and my younger brother would use Polar, and I would handily win first place in nearly every course. Here, I’ve only been able to do so only around 1/3 of the time, and that’s even before bringing item use item use into play. This is likely subjective, but this game is the first in a while where I’ve had so many AI races where I’ve been so thoroughly ‘karted’. Either way, this was likely to cater to the game’s higher age demographic and nostalgic players looking for a challenge, and is likely a plus in that regard.
If you’re looking into this game as a local multiplayer experience, then this is likely one that you’ll enjoy, as this game supports up to four players at once, just like the original. I was able to try out 2-player with my brother, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the game now used a more conventional left-right splitscreen instead of the original’s top-bottom splitscreen. The map screen is also shared in the middle, which is confusing when in the middle of the race, but that’s all minor stuff once you get into the heat of the action.
Sadly, not all is at peace. The game is trapped at just a locked 30fps, which while decent does pale in comparison to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s 60fps. (The original ran at 30fps too, but we can do better in 2019, can’t we?) Additionally, some of the visual effects used to enhance the visual appeal, such as motion blur and some of the flashier explosion effects, are great on paper but messes with gameplay a bit too much for my liking. Finally, loading times can last up to somewhere between 15-20 seconds, even when just going to the final placement screen, and this wait can feel unbearably long when seen multiple times throughout a cup.
In the end though, Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled is very enjoyable, especially if you’ve played the original even a little. It’s great to see a kart game that challenges the player actively, and the graphical upgrades are nothing to scoff at. When you master the boosting, it feels great, and winning in this remaster definitely feels more rewarding than in the original. And of course, nothing will beat seeing the dumb face Crash makes on the podium when he wins.
Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled is available on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.