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August 2022

Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Racing
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Beenox Studios
Release Date: June 21, 2019

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Switch Review - 'Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled'

by Andreas Salmen on Aug. 13, 2019 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Crash is back again, and this time he’s revved up to the max in Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled, an authentic Crash Team Racing experience that's been remastered in stunning HD and so much more.

Nostalgia is a fragile thing. Memories of good games usually provide pleasant flashbacks, but not every gem from our past aged well. Activision has been busy remastering two major icons with Spyro and Crash, both of which successfully revived long-dead franchises to critical acclaim. Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is the next title to receive a similar treatment. It's said that the third's the charm, but does it hold true for Crash Team Racing on the Nintendo Switch?

Remastering any title is a tall order. It means making crucial quality of life improvements while retaining the feeling of the original. At the same time, the title should appeal to new audiences who aren't going in with a fan's rose-tinted glasses. A good balance has been struck with Crash Team Racing, but there are a few rough edges that will dampen the experience for fans and newcomers alike.

At its core, Crash Team Racing is a kart racer and one of Mario Kart's oldest rivals on the PS1 (and partially PS2). While kart racers have a place on any system, the Switch is a trickier turf, as it houses the king of kart racers, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and a variety of other games, such as the recently released Sonic Racing. Crash Team Racing has its own niche, as it looks better than its rivals and values skill and challenge above anything else.

On the surface, it looks like a run-of-the-mill kart racer with cute graphics, exaggerated physics, and a tendency to provide fast and erratic racing fun. Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is a remake of more than just the first game, as it contains tracks and characters from all Crash Bandicoot entries. In total, there are 31 racing tracks, 12 battle arenas, and 26 characters as well as several customization options and skins to mix things up. Those numbers aren't set in stone, since the game provides regular free updates with new tracks and (potentially) new characters.

The gameplay is straightforward, so if you've played a kart racer before, this title won't surprise you. You pick a character and a kart and try to get first place against local, CPU or online opponents. Along the way, there are crates that provide certain offensive or defensive items to edge ahead of the competition. Unfortunately, that will not be enough to consistently win races. Crash Team Racing requires you to pay attention to a few more mechanics in order to have a shot at the cup.

Essentially, the goal is to be the fastest racer at any given time, which means the more boost we have, the better. There are one-off sources of nitro that grant a temporary boost, but if you really want to get the upper hand, you need to get the hang of the drifting mechanics. Using either of the shoulder buttons, we can drift around corners. While doing so, our boost meter and exhaust pipe top out up to three times. If we activate the opposite shoulder button at the right time, we can activate and increase our boost during and coming out of the slide. If we hit all three at the perfect time, we'll get a perfect boost, and less-perfect timing or misses cause us to get less in terms of additional forward momentum. It's a mechanic that may feel wonky at the beginning, but there is a learning curve. Winning races requires drifting perfectly and consistently throughout a track.

Boost can be acquired by air time through jumps, and if they're timed well, you can string together jumps and drifts to keep a series of boosts. Wumpa fruits from the mainline Crash games are also present. You can collect and hold up to 10 at a time, which will give you a boost in speed and item potency. If you learn and master these mechanics, you'll be on your way to trying to master this game. Tracks are pretty much the same but prettier, which means that shortcuts are intact if you remember them. Given the tough difficulty of the game, you'd be wise to use them as often as possible.

Remember the time the Crash trilogy remaster was released and everyone was painfully reminded that games used to be a lot harder? Crash Team Racing is very similar. Races can only be won by coming in first, and doing so is a tough challenge even on medium difficulty, especially in adventure mode during boss fights. It seems that the game uses a few antiquated design tricks — like rubber-banding — to make the experience more challenging. If you want to enjoy this game, prepare to invest some time and training because it's not nearly as approachable as Mario Kart. It feels less reliant on luck rather than actual skillful play.

Content-wise, there is a lot to do. There are the mentioned tracks and characters to unlock and play, and there are the actual game modes. If you're playing alone, Adventure mode is likely going to be your first stop. It's rare to see a pure single-player mode in such a game, but it works well. It's a complete remake of the original story mode, with boss races, challenges, hub worlds (like Diddy Kong Racing), races, and even a loose story to tie everything together. This is where you're probably going to struggle for the first time. Boss races will haunt you for a while until you finally crack them. It's a fun mode that provides players with ample incentive to see it through to the end.

Beyond Adventure mode, we can compete locally in single, races or cups, time races, CTR races, or crystal races. Every track can be raced in different modes, some tied to time or special collection items. If you plan on 100% completing the game, that's a tall order. The next big part is online, which works but doesn't really shine on the Switch. Online matchmaking has improved since the game's initial release, but it doesn't win any prizes. We can compete in races and battles online, but matchmaking can take forever, with occasional interruptions or ending prematurely without any apparent reason, which kills any desire to play CTR online. It's a shame, but hopefully it will get more stable over time.

Another big post-launch feature are Grand Prix events, which are similar to seasons, like in Rocket League, where all progress is counted toward a tier reward list that grants players additional content and customization items while in season. New Grand Prix season also continually adds fresh content by introducing new characters and tracks. How the customization is acquired, however, is a tad worrisome.

Through all actions in-game, we receive Wumpa coins, which are used in the shop to buy new characters, kart customization items, skins, and so on. It already smelled like it could be meant to be used for microtransactions, which were absent when the game launched. Fast-forward a couple of months, and Activision has announced that it will introduce microtransactions into the game to give players the option to boost their Wumpa coins generation. Take that as you will.

Whenever we talk about a multiplatform game on the Switch, the technical aspect is one of the main talking points. The game looks pretty, with a very detailed art style and beautiful animations. Tracks and characters are presented in a beautiful way and ooze with charming details. That's as true for the Switch as it is for the other platforms, with some minor concessions. Resolution and details are reduced, which cause a slightly softer/blurrier image in both handheld and docked modes. It doesn't look extremely downgraded, though. It plays smoothly and without major incidents, but loading times are on the longer side, which did noticeably interrupt the flow of the game.

The most notable difference in terms of processing power is the inability to play four-player co-op in handheld mode, which would've been an issue for being able to read things on the screen anyway. Instead, up to two players can compete locally, and the frame rate is the same across all platforms, hovering around 30fps.

Where does that leave us? Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled on the Switch is my favorite kart racer, even managing to outshine Mario Kart. The focus on tight and challenging gameplay that requires skill over luck was a nice change of pace. Add to that the great presentation and amount of content, and there's not much else that you could wish for. At this point, the only real complaints are the long loading screens, the microtransactions that Activision is rolling out, and the sometimes-broken multiplayer component. It's enough to make it anything but a perfect game, but it's a good title, especially for the $40 price tag.

Score: 8.8/10

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