While we’ve certainly gotten a few entries in the genre that have tried to prove otherwise, thus far there’s only been one defining kart-racing game for players to enjoy. And ironically enough, it’s Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, a version that we were introduced to some time ago back on the Wii U, well before it became a household name on the Nintendo Switch.
Of course, we’ll soon be getting some contenders ready to challenge the mighty plumber for his throne. Next month, Sega will debut Team Sonic Racing, which looks to pick up right where 2012’s Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed left off, with the same developers (Sumo Digital) in tow.
However, right after that, Activision looks set to surprise once more with Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled. Based on the Crash Team Racing that came out for the original PlayStation in the late 90’s under the developers at Naughty Dog, this Beenox-produced effort looks to recapture the same spark that made Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy and Spyro the Dragon: Reignited Trilogy such big hits for the company. It’ll be just the breezy ride we need to get us through the heydays of summer.
Back Behind the Wheel
Right off the bat, Crash Team Racing reminds you that you’re in the bandicoot’s world based off of the characters that are selectable within the game. These include Crash himself, of course, along with his nemesis Dr. Neo Cortex, a smattering of his rogue gallery of villains, including a character that’s in a straitjacket and thus driving with his feet, and a few of Crash’s colleagues, including an adorable polar bear and his sister Coco.
Like Mario Kart 8, Nitro-Fueled lets you select from different vehicles. Judging by my test drives thus far, they all play about the same, but there are minor differences that set them apart aesthetically. For instance, it’s pretty cool to be revved up in a ride that features a neat little skull design on the front. Like you’re a Hell’s Angel or something.
You can select your ride before the race begins, then check off that you’re ready to go. You’ll see your final selection alongside the other racers within the game, so you’ve got a pretty good idea of who you’re going up against. This factors in well with the game’s multiplayer component, which we’ll get to a little later in this article.
On the Road Again
Once you are set to race, you’ll be able to select from over 30 different tracks set within the Crash universe. The developers at Beenox (who you may remember from their work on the excellent Spider-Man games Edge of Time and Shattered Dimensions, before they settled in on some Call of Duty side work) have done a great job with track selection here, from tropical settings straight out of the original Crash Bandicoot to a fantastic looking futuristic city, laden with neon-based tunnels and cool side roads to take you off the beaten path. There are some great selections that take place in an underground sewer as well.
For track design, Beenox did its homework, remastering some favorite tracks from the original Crash Team Racing to great effect. But it also decided to add some flavor from the Vivendi Entertainment era of the Crash series, in the form of bonus favorites from the Crash Nitro Kart game that came out in 2003 for Xbox, PlayStation 2 and Nintendo GameCube. These will mix things up nicely and give players more terrain to run across, even if some tracks may be locked at the beginning. Hey, we’re fine with earning our keep here.
Visually, Nitro-Fueled looks very pleasing thus far. Each character has special animations that show off their flair, particularly that wolf in the straitjacket, who takes it upon himself to even jump for joy after nailing a boost jump off a ramp (and, surprisingly enough, landing solidly back in the vehicle once he’s done- that’s one lucky rider). It’s also great to see their reactions after nailing a drift or shrugging off a power-up that took them out of the loop for a moment. Beenox knows its character design here, and it truly shows thus far.
The track design is also quite enjoyable, especially when it comes to taking advantage of shortcuts. Sure, you could follow the typical path in the game, but savvy drivers may notice some options that will give them a few seconds of advantage as they attempt to regain the lead. For instance, in one stage, I was surprised to find that I could jump across a set of moving gears in one of the industrial areas of the game, shaving precious seconds off the clock and putting me back in a second place position after I had dropped into seventh. Each track is littered with these shortcuts, though some are obviously easier to find than others. It’s pretty neat of Beenox to sprinkle these in, just to keep things interesting.
Nitro-Fueled has a steady frame rate of 30 frames per second on the original PlayStation 4 hardware, but those of you with an Xbox One X and/or PlayStation 4 Pro will be able to enjoy the game at a solid 60 frames per second when all is said and done. These will no doubt be the superior versions of Nitro-Fueled, though there’s nothing wrong with taking the game on the portable front with the Switch, if you can step away from Mario Kart 8 long enough.
Some Warped Gameplay, With a Nitro System That Takes Getting Used To
As for how Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled handles, it definitely has some flair of its own. Vehicle handling feels spot on when it comes to mastering corners and staying on the beaten path, though there are times you may hit a wall if you’re not careful. Fortunately, there’s an interesting boost system that compensates for that.
Beenox could have easily just copied the system that works so well with games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed, in which you simply earn a quick boost after successfully coming out of a drift to get back into a race. However, the developer instead opted for a little strategy, something that actually involves two buttons in order to execute.
Here’s how it works. You use one of the shoulder buttons on the controller to initiate the boost. Now, you need to ensure that you’re going the right way with the analog stick into the drift. Otherwise, you’ll end up turning the wrong way and run the risk of rolling right off the track or hitting some debris on the side of the road. This can throw off your momentum. So make sure you’re set to go into the drift before trying to pull it off.
Now, once you do that, you begin going into the drift. You’ll see some black smoke that’s ready to pop up from the rear of your vehicle. Once this happens, you can hit the other shoulder button and you’ll earn a mini-boost that will help you gain some speed as you turn. You need to be precise with this or you’ll miss the opportunity.
Savvy players that get a hang of this system will be able to use it three times going into the drift, which can definitely serve as a plus when it comes to staying in a race. It’s a tricky system, but I actually like what Beenox has done with it. It adds a bit of flair that you weren’t usually expecting from the likes of a Crash game.
As for the rest of the handling, it’s smooth. The game features a neat system where you can earn boosts coming off of jumps just right at certain points on the track. The turning feels pretty precise, and being able to use power-ups is almost like second nature.
On top of that, jumping also serves as a benefit to break open barrels that are holding Crash’s precious fruit inside. By collecting this, your power-ups actually become stronger, whether it’s adding a little more kick to the rockets that you fire, or protect yourself a little bit longer with shielding. So it never hurts to track these bad boys down and add them to your arsenal. Some of them you have to hunt, but that’s just part of what makes Crash Team Racing so special.
Bring Your Friends For This Party
That said, the AI we went up against during our hands-on was pretty brutal. We started out ending up somewhere around fifth to seventh place just because computer drivers were much more skilled than us. Thankfully, Beenox devs did note that the difficulty could be adjusted, in case there are younger players or family members out there that want less of a challenge and more of a Sunday drive, as it were.
And then there’s the option to race alongside friends. Nitro-Fueled will come with various multiplayer abilities, including being able to take on others online. The game will feature up to eight players racing at once. Beenox didn’t say if cross-platform play was possible (it’ll likely be specific to machines, like Xbox One players for Xbox One X, etc.), but it’d be nice to see this go cross-network, if possible.
We didn’t get too much of a chance to test out multiplayer, but the connected races we did take part in were smooth, and getting a race started didn’t take too long at all.
Now, for those of you that prefer more of a local challenge, you’re going to get it. Crash Team Racing does support up to four players in split-screen, just as the original games did, so you can hop in and toss around power-ups at your buddies and scream in sweetness as you take that decisive first-place victory. It’s a fun feature that’s a staple for a game like this, so, as the Beenox rep told us, of course it’s included. And that includes the Switch as well, meaning that Mariohas some competition from Crash once again. (We won’t forget Sonic either. The next couple of months should be fun for cart racing fans.)
So whether you prefer online competition or going at it locally, Nitro-Fueled has your multiplayer fix covered. And that’s an important factor for those of you that like to connect during a race.
Get Revved Up
There are still questions to be answered when it comes to Nitro-Fueled, like how the Switch version will handle or how good the game really looks with advanced Xbox One and PlayStation 4 hardware. But we’ll get those answered, ahem, down the road?
For now, the point is that Crash is once again back behind the wheel, and Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled looks set to continue the ride that we began taking with N. Sane Trilogy nearly two years ago, celebrating a legacy that’s been long overdue for a comeback.
Beenox has done its homework with the game’s visuals and feel, and though the boosting system could take some getting used to, it’s unique and intuitive once you do get the hang of it. The game is a lot of fun, especially once you take advantage of the shortcuts and really show your friends a thing or two when it comes to dominating a race.
Whether Crash can knock off the mighty Mario has yet to be seen, but regardless of end result, Nitro-Fueled might just be the fun ride that a lot of folks are looking for when it rolls up on June 21 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch. I will certainly be waiting in the garage to roll out once the dog days of summer kick in, and it’ll make for a nice treat once we’re through whatever E3 has to offer.
UPDATE: So we talked a little further with the team and it appears there was some miscommunication at the event. The game will run at 30 frames per second across the board on all platforms, including Xbox One X and PS4 Pro. That said, though, it does look quite good in this state, so it shouldn’t affect the game’s performance in the least.
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