I love racing games of all kinds and kart racing is one of my favorites sub-genres. Mario Kart 8 has pretty much been the only game disc inside my Wii U since 2014 and has set a very high bar for any other casual kart racer. But Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is anything but casual when it comes to kart racing, and with track designs that mirror Nintendo’s course library and features all the crate-smashing, power-up collecting, crazy kart combat as Mario, this is one Bandicoot who is ready to face off against Mario and his pals.
Before jumping into this awesome remake of the 1999 original, Activision’s legal department would like to have a word with you. Please read and “sign” the 42-page license agreement and 28-page privacy statement. OK…now we’re ready to dive in but where to start? There is just so much content waiting to be explored and that’s before the season content updates start to drop…oops; they already have. Beenox offers up the traditional classic kart racing experience playing alone or with friends in outstanding 4-player local split-screen or head online for 8-player action.
Adventure mode is the core solo experience and allows you to explore a vast world of race challenges all set within a unique hub world. Scattered launch pads will grant you access to race events and earning trophies and first place finishes will unlock additional pads and doors to new areas. You’ll eventually go up against boss opponents whose defeat will earn you a boss key that opens a boss door. Adventure mode races are challenging and unless you are an expert with the drifting mechanic that fuels the complicated nitro boost system then you may want to start this game out on Easy. You’ll also want to change the controls over to the alternate system – in my opinion this works much better since you can accelerate with R2 rather than the X button while trying to roll your thumb over to the circle to fire power-ups. You can then use L1 and R1 to trigger the boost system.
Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is hard, both in mastering the boost system as well as the opponent AI, which even on Normal mode is quite oppressive. I knocked out a first-place finish on my first race in Adventure mode, but the second race took me 54 tries. The third race took 47 attempts and even then my checkered flag was pure luck, as I did absolutely nothing different from the other 46 attempts. Even when playing on normal difficulty with three friends in split screen the computer would almost always get the top four finishing positions while all the humans were in the bottom half of the rankings.
Changing the difficulty to Easy immediately saw the humans rise to the top in both multiplayer and solo racing. You can’t change the difficulty in mid-Adventure mode so suck up your pride and pick Easy from the start rather than get 4-5 races in and have to start over. The most noteworthy observation from switching from Normal to Easy was how the AI drivers who used to be quite thorough in smashing every crate and using every item against you would now swerve to avoid those same crates on Easy. Normal difficulty requires track memorization so you can exploit every moment of drift and nitro boost and a whole lot of luck in what you randomly get in those power-up crates. It was nice to see that the crates seem to spawn items appropriate to your place in the field, so if you were in the back of the pack you’d get a mask or nitro boost, but if you were in the front you’d get a shield or some sort of item to mine the track behind you.
Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled follows the classic rules and kart racing signature design, as you speed around the track in a variety of karts driven by a variety of characters. Each character/kart combo has various attributes for speed, acceleration, etc. so there is a potential for some strategy in picking the right kart for the right track, but honestly, once the light turns green and kart chaos breaks out, it truly is all about the power-ups and your ability to chain your drifts and nitro burns for as long as possible. Jumping off ramps or dirt ridges and busting a sick trick will also earn you a boost when you land. Drifting (or power sliding) is the underlying mechanic to the entire game, and if you can’t figure this out you are doomed to playing on the Easy setting. Nitro boosting is a game within the game, requiring masterful precision as you begin the slide to fill the meter then press another button to unleash the boost…up to three in a row for a crazy burst of speed. On Normal skill the AI will be doing this nonstop leaving you in the dust. There is no rubber-banding in this game and even if you get all the best offensive power-ups you’ll never win (or even place) if you can’t boost.
Racing games live and die by their courses and Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled comes with over a dozen awesome track designs you can play individually or as part of 4-track tournaments where your cumulative score based on finishing position determines the victor. Mario Kart fans will easily recognize numerous tracks designs, but even those inspired by Nintendo’s racer still add their own distinctive flair. These tracks are accessible in the Adventure mode as well as the Local Arcade mode for solo and multiplayer modes like race, time trial, battle, and a fun last-car standing mode. There are some really fun modes like trying to win the race while finding and collecting the letters CTR or a fun spin on the battle mode where you collect crystals and try to have the most before the timer hits zero. The trick is that there is a fixed amount of crystals so you are trying to attack the other karts and make them spill theirs. If you want a greater challenge you can even add in AI karts and choose their skill level. Combat modes allow you to limit weapons and power-ups to mix things up even more.
In additional to actual gameplay content there is an entire store full of cosmetic upgrades from paint jobs, rims, tires, and even decals for your kart. The Pit Stop rewards store is where you can spend all those credits you’ve been earning while playing every other mode in the game. The PS4 version we reviewed also had some exclusive retro content with retro character skins, retro karts and a retro track. There is a whole lot more content coming in future updates including more tracks and some highly anticipated content from Tag Team Racing.
Technically, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is a very pretty game with plenty of enhanced geometry and superior textures, lighting and shadows, and some reasonably good fur on the critters. There is some super-aggressive motion blur, both full-screen and per object, that cannot be turned off or even adjusted, and it was honestly making me nauseous for the first hour or so until I got used to the screen blurring when making sharp turns. What surprised me the most was that even after ten years of tech advancement this game can’t hit 60fps. The PS4 Pro is running the game at a native 1440p and upscales to 4K nicely, or if you’re playing on a 1080p screen will super-sample down for a crisp image, all at a very stable 30fps in both solo and split-screen play. Adaptive v-sync locks down the image nicely eliminated any sign of screen tearing and also synchs with the DualShock4 for precise controls.
Hopefully this game will be coming to PC with uncapped framerates and faster load times; did I mention it can take a minute or more to load a track on the PS4 Pro? Game graphics are outstanding but the cutscenes seem to be running at much lower quality, like heavily compressed pre-rendered cutscenes. The music and sound effects are outstanding with a great mix of tunes befitting a kart racer and all those signature sounds of power-ups and engines noises and my favorite…”Ooga Booga!” every time you activate the voodoo mask.
Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is a challenging racer that may prove too challenging for younger gamers or even older ones who can’t grasp the concept of drifting to boost. Even so, you can probably brute force your way through all the content on the Easy setting and there is unlimited potential for multiplayer fun with the local and online modes. I can’t remember the last time I had to charge all four of my DualShock4 gamepads. It’s worth noting that only the primary profile will earn any trophies when playing split-screen. Are you ready for one of the most challenging kart racers since…well…since 1999? Then polish those rims and strap yourself in for one crazy kart racer that will keep you and your friends busy for months to come.