Although it doesn’t look like there’s going to be a Mario Kart 9 any time soon, the Switch is starting to grow its own roster of licensed karting games in a way not seen since the GameCube days. Just last month we got Team Sonic Racing, for example, and even though the likes of Nickelodeon Kart Racers and Hello Kitty Kruisers are rubbish they still count (at least for the purposes of this elaborate intro).
Now it’s time for Activision to enter the fray. Having already seen enormous success with its remakes of the original Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, the publisher hopes lighting will strike twice with this all-improved take on 20-year-old PlayStation karting game Crash Team Racing. Thankfully, for the most part it’s succeeded, but that’s not to say the game is entirely without its flaws.
It obviously goes without saying that the most notable selling point of Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is how fantastic it looks. Although its characters and tracks are mainly based on those from the 1999 title, this isn’t a straight HD upgrade where the resolution’s been increased and the textures have been tweaked a little. Instead, everything has been entirely rebuilt from scratch, meaning courses are now packed with little details and character animations are bursting with personality.
Everything runs at a solid 30 frames per second, which may disappoint some given that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe runs at 60. That said, the original CTR also ran at 30 and it was the love for that game that has us looking at this remake two decades later, so anyone claiming they adored the original but that 30fps on Switch – and every other version, incidentally – is a deal-breaker is maybe being a tad disingenuous. The reality is that the frame rate is at least stable, which is far more important, and everything looks phenomenal to the extent that you could easily argue it’s one of the most visually impressive Switch games to date (docked, at least: it’s a little blurry in handheld mode).
It would be underselling Nitro-Fueled to call it a simple graphical update of the original, though. There’s far more in here than was in the PlayStation game, to the extent that you could argue it’s more of a combination of both Crash Team Racing and its sequel Crash Nitro Kart. As well as all 15 characters and 18 tracks from the original game, you also get all the unique racers and courses from Nitro Kart, bringing the total count to 26 characters and 31 tracks.
The extra tracks don’t carry over to the game’s Adventure mode, however, which is essentially a straight port of that of the original game and as such only features its 18 courses. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s more Diddy Kong Racing than Mario Kart: placed in an open environment with different linked areas, you drive from course to course winning races and taking on various challenges in order to earn enough collectibles to proceed.
These challenges are a bit of a mixed bag. Relic races – which are essentially elaborate time trials where you have to smash time crates as you race to keep the clock frozen – are compelling stuff and will have you racing them multiple times as you try to figure out your best route. On the other hand, the CTR races – which have you trying to finish in first place while also collecting the C, T and R tokens hidden in obscure locations – can be a little frustrating.
This is partly because for many people, at least initially, the simple act of finishing first will be a tricky task in itself without having to worry about picking up collectibles too. Much like the PlayStation game it was based on, Nitro-Fueled is unapologetic about its level of difficulty. While playing on Easy is naturally a laid-back affair that probably won’t provide much of a challenge, the step up to Normal difficulty is large enough that regular first-place finishes are nowhere near guaranteed.
A lot of this comes down to mastering the game’s turbo drifting system, which has far more of a learning curve than most other karting games. Rather than simply holding down a drift button, you also have to tap a second drift button up to three times to activate your boosts: the better you time these taps, the better the boost. Add to this the fact that you enter drifts with an old-school Mario Kart hop – which requires a lot more skill to get the turn angle right – and it’s going to take you a long time before you’re comfortably pulling off boosts without thinking about it.
This isn’t necessarily a problem, of course. It’s accurate to the original, and had it been made easier then there would no doubt be backlash. As it is, the handling may be hard to get used to and the AI may be cheaper than AmazonBasics USB cables but the Easy difficulty is a perfectly fine compromise for both beginners and younger players who may be getting into Crash and his chums for the first time.
Far more of an issue are the loading times, which are frankly infuriating. Practically every race takes 40-45 seconds to load, which can be especially annoying if you’re playing through a four-race Grand Prix and therefore have a combined total of around three minutes to wait. There’s no doubting the visual quality of this game, but if the payoff is that you even have to wait for more than half a minute just to see the trophy celebration screen, you may start to wonder if you’d have taken a slightly less graphically impressive game in favour of shorter loading times. On the bright side, at least restarting a race only takes a second or two.
Our other main concern is the Wumpa Coins, which are the game’s currency. Wumpa Coins are used to unlock a bunch of skins, kart customisation options and – most importantly – 10 of the game’s 26 characters. You earn Wumpa Coins by taking part in both online and single-player matches, but here’s the annoying thing: not only can they be an enormous grind, you can only get them when you’re connected to the servers.
This isn’t necessarily a problem in the other console versions of the game, but given that the Switch is designed to also be played on the move, this means there’s a good chance that – if you can’t find a decent Wi-Fi connection when you’re out and about – you’ll be making zero progress towards unlocking those new characters or customisation options. We recently took a four-hour train ride, during which we nearly completed the Adventure Mode, and had amassed the princely sum of zero coins by the time we reached our destination.
This alone is frustrating but it has the potential to soon be concerning too. Activision has planned a bunch of timed ‘Grand Prix’ events, where a number of new DLC characters and customisation pieces are going to be added and available for a period of time (similar to something like the season system in Fortnite). Players will be able to get some of these new DLC items by taking on set challenges, whereas others will be available by spending Wumpa Coins. We can easily see a situation where those who play mainly in handheld will be missing out on a lot of this ‘free’ content (though, of course, the cynics in us wonder if it’ll become paid content in the future for those who couldn’t unlock everything in time).
All of the above may read more negatively than positive but that’s mainly because we feel its drawbacks are worth pointing out. If you consider all of these – the higher than normal difficulty, the long loading times, the inability to unlock things offline – take them onboard and decide that they’re all things that you can live with, everything else is an absolute delight. There’s so much to play through in this game and whether you’re a fan of the original or discovering it for the first time, it’s likely you’re going to be hooked: it’s just a shame there are the odd sigh-inducing moments in there.
Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled is a visually phenomenal upgrade on a PlayStation karting classic, and one that faithfully recreates both its positives (its unique drift boosting system) and its potential irritants (30fps, tricky AI). It does bring a whole new set of issues – mainly lengthy loading times and the fact that playing offline stops you making any progress towards unlocking anything – but while these prevent the game from becoming an absolute must-have, they don’t sour the experience enough to stop us wholeheartedly recommending it regardless.