Following on from the huge success of Crash Bandicoot: N.Sane Trilogy, there was bound to be talk of “What next?” for Crash himself – a once forgotten PlayStation mascot who has again captured the hearts and minds of gamers. That talk will have quickly led to one of two Crash spinoffs: Crash Team Racing and Crash Bash. Thankfully, the first one chosen was a remake of Crash Team Racing – announced at The Games Awards 2018 – but secretly, I hope Crash Bash isn’t too far behind.
Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled isn’t just a simple remake of the first Crash Team Racing game though – a criticism you could throw the way of the N.Sane Trilogy if you were super critical – but rather an amalgamation of the other Crash racing games as well: Crash Nitro Kart and Crash Tag Team Racing. Obviously, the first CTR game is front and centre of this package, but certain tracks and characters have been brought over from the original sequels, with more planned through in-game events known as Grand Prixs.
The racing is very much as-you-would-expect; eight characters line up on the start line and complete three laps of crazy twisty turny courses, using the variety of power ups picked up by smashing through boxes to propel you along the track or – more commonly – attack your opponents. You can drift around corners using the bumper buttons but a well-timed press of the other bumper whilst drifting can give you a speed boost. This is an absolutely crucial tactic for even beginners to master if you want the best times.
If it all sounds very similar to the Italian plumber, it is. But whereas that laid the foundations for kart racers, the method has been perfected here with the various tactical additions you can perform.
The main mode in CTR is Adventure mode, complete with a story that helps string along the narrative from race to race. Nitrous Oxide has threatened to turn the planet into a giant parking lot if he cannot be beaten by the best drivers. If they win, he will leave the planet alone. In order to face Oxide, players must defeat the bosses of the four areas in a 1-vs-1 race to obtain their key. Collect all four keys and you can take on Oxide in the final challenge.
As with any Crash game though, keys aren’t the only things to collect in these races. Complete a race the first time – that is to come in first position, anything else isn’t good enough – and you will win a trophy. Each area has four trophies to win before you can take on the boss for the key. After defeating the boss for that area though, each original race opens back up with numerous new challenges.
Relic Race will test your skills as you try and get the best time possible on each track; there won’t be any opponents to distract you and time crates are dotted around to help you reduce your overall time, but that doesn’t mean this is easy. Then there are CTR challenges that are similar to normal races, but you have to finish first whilst also collecting the letters C, T and R that are hidden throughout the track. Winning this grants you a CTR token: Collect four of the same colour and you can then attempt the Gem Cup for that colour, which is a series of four races. Come first overall in this and you will be rewarded with a colour Gem. Similar to the Crash Bandicoot platformer games, these colour Gems are the hardest to obtain and will require you to throw the kart around every corner at top speed, as well as hope for a heap of luck.
However, the purple CTR tokens aren’t obtained by repeating races. Instead, these are rewarded for completing Crystal Runs. Contested on the battle arenas, the player must collect all 20 crystals dotted around the map within the time limit. These are the only time that the battle arenas are used in Adventure mode; if you want an actual battle on them against opponents you will need to set up a match online or against bots in the other modes.
All this loot and shiny collectibles then must be the reason for my biggest gripe with the game: the loading times. For a game that is all about going as fast as possible to reach the chequered flag, the loading times present the perfect oxymoron. Going from the hub area to a race can take upwards of 40 seconds, longer still if you are jumping into Adventure Mode from the main menu. Thankfully, when restarting a race, the loading time isn’t as long. Which is just as well, because it is something you will be doing a lot of.
Much like the N.Sane Trilogy, CTR is a much harder game than you remember. Sometimes it can feel like all enemy projectiles are making a beeline for your kart, and always seem to knock you off the edge of the track whilst opponents around you carry on regardless. There is an option to reduce the difficulty – as well as increase it – but only on the ‘Nitro-Fueled’ Adventure mode; Classic mode only has the one difficulty.
Classic mode also doesn’t allow you to change characters on the fly, so that healthy roster of characters available to you are pretty redundant unless you choose Nitro-Fueled Adventure mode at the beginning.
And what a roster it is! The good, the bad, the big, the small, the classics, the obscure, even the cameos. Pretty much anyone who has appeared in a Crash Bandicoot game is available as a racer, with those that aren’t coming later as a post-release drop – including a certain purple dragon also going through a renaissance. At the beginning, only eight are available to choose from including Crash, Cortex, Coco and personal favourite Dingodile. Defeating bosses in Adventure mode unlocks them as playable racers and then a visit to the Pit Shop – an in-game shop packed with customisation items – and the rest can be purchased using Wumpa Coins that are awarded at the end of each race.
But you can only brag so much when all you’ve done is race against virtual opponents. The local multiplayer from previous entries remains for up to four players but now CTR features online multiplayer where you can take on the best of the best in up to eight player races and battles. Just be grateful there isn’t an achievement for winning an online race.
There are 47 other achievements to earn though, and a real mixed bag in terms of difficulty. Finding shortcuts will net you some Gamerscore, as will collecting all the various gems and trophies. The harder ones come from completing Adventure mode on hard, and beating N.Tropy and Oxides times in Time Trial mode. Trickier ones to unlock come not from a lack of skill but the RNG factor of the pickups, but overall there is a lot to keep you going and it will be a well-earned 1000G.
It says a lot for a game when I have just been pipped to the post by 0.2 seconds for the third race in a row, and yet I am still having fun. Sure, it is frustrating and the pillow beside me takes a verbal and physical beating, but I quickly press the restart button – and sit through the lengthy loading screen – to do it all again. The racing is pure, the karts feel great on the track and most importantly, I never feel cheated.
It’s always been said since the first CTR release that it is the biggest and best rival to Mario Kart, the two sets of loyal fans arguing which is the better one. But Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled on Xbox One is now undoubtedly the line in the sand; the new benchmark to beat that has left all its competitors’ way off in the distance after taking one too many TNT crates to the face.