Crash Bandicoot’s re-emergence has been one of the highlights of the PlayStation 4 era, with Sony’s former mascot now very much a part of the mainstream gaming furniture again. With the PSone’s seminal Crash Team Racing representing one of the few times the Mario Kart juggernaut has been put under any kind of sustained pressure, it was only a matter of time before Activision resurrected the popular kart racer, and the remastered Nitro-Fueled represents the sum of its efforts. But two decades after the release of the original, can this classic still compete with modern-day masterpieces like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe? We kitted a couple of our staff members out in racing suits, and sent them on a pre-release mission to find out.
Anthony Dickens, Managing Director
Having vivid memories of heated battles on the original Crash Team Racing, I’ve been one of the many fans waiting for the opportunity to jump back in and power slide my way back to the top. For me, the key aspect of any kart game is in the controls and having spent an hour or so with the original title the night before our preview I was surprised as to how well the controls still stand-up today. Tight, responsive, and most of all still very enjoyable.
Playing Nitro-Fueled for the first time you should be prepared to be slapped in the face with the gorgeous vibrant visuals, soaked in detail frame after frame. But if you’re serious about beating your colleague you’ll need to focus and block all that out. I’ll admit it, I had a slight advantage over Sammy having played two of the four tracks available during my aforementioned "research" but the other two, from the 2003 sequel Nitro Kart, were fair game.
Muscle memory is a funny thing, and if you’re like me you’ll probably start playing Crash Team Racing in Mario Kart mode which naturally isn’t very fruitful. The good news though is that Beenox seems to have faithfully recreated the general "feel" of the controls: steering is tight, precise, and only minor things appear to have changed on my initial play time. For example, glancing a wall seems to slow you down more now – more realistic you could say. Gravity also seems to be a little more realistic and a little less exaggerated, but that could just be me.
It’s fair to say that Crash Team Racing was a shameless clone of the best karting games that came before it, but it did have one thing up it’s sleeve: its excellent drift/boost system, which seems to be intact – even if we were a little rusty at it.
Ultimately I had a lot of fun destroying Sammy at Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled on the somewhat limited demo. For me, questions remain on whether the final game will simply be a faithful upscale or will it have evolved enough to compete with the karting juggernaut that is Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Either way, I’m looking forward to finding out.
Sammy Barker, Editor
I’ve always argued that Crash Team Racing had a significant headstart on its Nintendo flavoured contemporary, with a certain plump Italian plumber only really catching up to Naughty Dog’s effort in more recent years. Call it sour grapes if you like, but playing this hotly anticipated PlayStation 4 remake has shaken my opinion to its very core.
Don’t get me wrong, like the excellent N. Sane Trilogy before it, Nitro-Fueled looks the bee’s knees, and it’s authentic to the PSone original. But trundling along at an iffy 30 frames-per-second, this pre-release demo that Activision’s showing at PAX East among other events felt slow and unsatisfying, even if the overall controller response was sound.
Obviously I can appreciate the effort that developer Beenox has invested into revitalising the visuals, and the included Nitro Kart tracks which accompany the original roster of circuits are certainly going to pop on an HDR screen. But the added attention to detail can make it difficult to telegraph turns, and I’m not convinced the unwieldy boost mechanic has stood the test of time.
For those of you unfamiliar with the 1999 original, the title differentiates itself from the likes of Mario Kart by implementing an additional meter, which builds as you slide. Rather than flicking the analogue stick from left to right, you essentially need to keep your eyes on the gauge and hit the opposite shoulder button as it fills.
While there are exhaust sparks to illustrate the system, I generally found it took my eyes off the road, and with hazards at every turn, any lack of concentration can and will be punished. The setup means that the default controller mapping is sub-optimal, too, with the accelerate, brake, and item commands all mapped to the face buttons, forcing you off the gas when you want to employ your artillery.
Perhaps my impressions have been coloured by the considerable pasting I took from my esteemed colleague, but I have to admit I came away from this demo the teensiest touch deflated. Activision’s once again done an admirable job faithfully resurrecting an old favourite, and with content from Nitro Kart the package feels like it's going to be robust. But in an age of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, sloppy track designs and a sub-standard framerate make me ponder whether our ol’ pal Crash may be the one having to do some catching up this time around.
Activision is becoming an expert at effectively resurrecting PSone classics, and Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled is a remaster that’s clearly going the extra mile. With slick presentation and a robust offering of content spanning both the original instalment through to its PlayStation 2 successor, this is looking to be a comprehensive package in one of the PS4’s most underserviced genres.
But question marks do linger over the quality of some of its tracks and its overall performance. Running at 30 frames-per-second, this demo may not be representative of the final version, but the publisher’s yet to confirm whether supercharged platforms such as the PS4 Pro will offer an alternative 60 frames-per-second option. If it doesn’t, that could be a big banana skin when compared to Mario Kart.
Nevertheless, the aesthetic is excellent and the boost system is faithful – even if it does come with an adjustment period attached. With a summer release scheduled, the publisher clearly recognises that this release is made for late-night split-screen multiplayer sessions, and unlike other trends from the 90s, that’s a pastime that never gets old.
Are you looking forward to Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled? Do you think it will fill a gap in the PS4's anaemic arcade racer category? Try to time your boosts in the comments section below.