Thursday, June 27, 2019

Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled (PS4, XB1, NSW) Review

What a treat the start of summer has been so far! Last night SuperPhillip Central reviewed Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, and it was a greatly adored game. Now, we have Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled to sink out teeth in to, and the review is all revved up and ready to burn some rubber. Check it out.

Kart racing with Bandicoot Power

The original Crash Team Racing owed a good deal to mascot racers of the past for it to come in to fruition. There's of course the Mario Kart series for building a successful foundation, as well as Diddy Kong Racing for which CTR's Adventure Mode was clearly inspired by. That notwithstanding, the original Crash Team Racing added enough to the formula with its unique and high skill ceiling that the game rightfully earned its place among the best in the genre.

Now, Activision and Beenox have brought CTR back with a remarkable remake with Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled, taking all of the content from Crash Team Racing and throwing in all of the characters and tracks from Crash Nitro Kart as well to create what should be one of the best mascot racers around. While it certainly lives up to the original, there are some niggling issues that put the brakes on Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled being the best kart racer in town.

Bandicoot power is back, Crashamaniacs!
CTR is a highly technical racer, and one that requires some patience and perseverance to get a hold of. The main reason for this is the high bar of entry that comes from the drifting and boosting system. Rather than modern Mario Kart's boosting system where the longer you drift, the longer your boost when you exit your drift, Crash Team Racing uses a gauge as you drift. When the gauge gets full enough, you hit the opposite shoulder button to let loose a boost--this is all the while using proper timing to get as much boost energy as possible without failing. You can unleash up to three boosts in one drift, and at the start, it can be quite overwhelming to watch your boost gauge (or alternately the smoke from your exhaust) to determine when to hit the button to boost properly. However, with practice, one can use muscle memory to chain boosts together quite easily.

That said, it's because of this barrier of entry because of drifting and boosting that Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled isn't exactly the most beginner-friendly racer out there--nor is it the most accessible. It's not quite the game to bring out for parties or game nights with lesser experienced friends, as with my experiences with my own friends new to the game, frustration and boredom set in way before there was time for fun and excitement.

Another reason for this is that of the items in Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled. Once a player gains a significant lead, there's really no way to catch them. Items are a crap shoot, favoring more attacking opponents in the middle of the pack rather than first place. A sensationally skilled player will have no problem breaking out from the pack of racers and leaving them in the dust while everyone else beats each other senseless with items. There are no Mario Kart racing miracles here.

When first place can earn an Aku-Aku invincibility mask, you can guess that the item balance is a bit off.
Still, if you can manage to hop over the preliminary hurdle, you'll find a highly enjoyable racer here. One main part of this is the brilliant track design, spanning over 30 tracks between the original Crash Team Racing and its non-Naughty Dog-made sequel Crash Nitro Kart. The latter are just as quality of races as the former, though CNK has many more hazards on tracks to worry about--plus they're generally significantly longer races overall. All are littered with cool shortcuts that require skill to achieve. It's not as simple as using a boost to speed across a patch of grass--it's more pressing the button to have your kart hop so you catch enough air to land on an otherwise inaccessible part of track to shave precious seconds off your time and/or cut your opponents off at the pass. From tropical jungles and sandy coves, to polar mountain passes and neon cities, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled really doesn't have a stinker in the whole slew of tracks the game contains. It's really a matter of quality AND quantity in the game without the need to settle for one or the other.

Don't worry--Coco Bandicoot and Pura both looked before they leaped.
The main single player draw of the original CTR was its Adventure mode, and this closely followed what Diddy Kong Racing created on the Nintendo 64. You explore simple hub worlds (though in CTR they are merely a means to get from one race to another rather than adventurous worlds to discover goodies in) and participate in races. There are four tracks per world, and upon finishing all four in a given world, a race against that world's boss opens up. These boss races aren't nearly as enjoyable as Diddy Kong Racing's as you're against characters that love using rubber-band AI and littering the track with items. No matter how big your lead is on these boss characters, they quickly gain on you in later difficulties and proceed to pass you, once again spamming items behind them.

This is a good time to speak about the difficulty of the Adventure mode in general. Easy mode is way too much of a breeze to beat, while Normal mode is a little too challenging, particularly with the aforementioned boss races. Meanwhile, Hard is just ridiculous. The balance of these modes seem off overall, but if you want a challenge, you'll certainly get on with Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled's Adventure mode.

Apart from standard races are optional CTR Challenges where you must collect the letters C, T, and R which are scattered about tracks--usually in hard-to-reach or time-costing locations--AND win the race. There is also something called the Relic Race which is like a time trial, save for the fact that you're tasked with breaking time crates that range from 1-3 seconds, each pausing the timer for that many seconds as you compete against the clock to get under a certain time. These modes are a great deal of fun, and they can all be played outside of the Adventure mode as well. This is great if you'd like to compete in these challenges in the Crash Nitro Kart tracks, which are not featured whatsoever in Adventure mode. It's purely CTR there--though in Nitro-Fueled you can choose which character you'd like to race as instead of being purely limited to Crash as your Adventure mode racer.

Old, familiar tracks have new life breathed into them.
All of the characters from both Crash Team Racing and Crash Nitro Kart are available to race as in Nitro-Fueled, though many require you to unlock them. This includes the brand-new playable boss characters that originally needed to be unlocked through cheat codes back in the day. Characters and karts can be customized with different skins and recolors, most earned by purchasing them with Wumpa Coins in the Pit Stop, a shop that regularly updates and switches out its selection of karts, characters, and stickers daily. Unfortunately, this also means that if you want a particular outfit for a character or a specific kart body you see online, you have to continually check the Pit Stop shop with each update in hopes that the item you're looking for appears there to purchase.

Dress for success--and to cross the finish line in first!
Speaking of online, this is where Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled falters a little. While some races run relatively well, many times I've raced where I'd be hit by something that came from seemingly nowhere or other racers would seemingly disappear and reappear on the track, making it where hitting opponents and avoiding their attacks seemed impossible.

Additionally, the Matchmaking option is a bit of a misnomer. It's merely the option you go to if you want to play against randoms online. It does not match you based on skill whatsoever, which can create situations where first place finishes the race far ahead of everyone else and the race ends before most--if any other--players can actually finish themselves. The track selection online is also limited by only having three track choices each time for players to vote on. I saw many repeats show up and a considerably limited pool of tracks available throughout my online experiences with the game.

Lastly, players across the Internet, including myself, still have no clue how Wumpa Coins are even awarded after online races. Sometimes I would get only 40 coins for coming in first, while others I'd get over 500 for coming in sixth. There's a confusing lack of a rhyme or reason for how Wumpa Coins are handed out, and some transparency from Beenox would be most appreciated.

Eyes on the road, Dingodile! That's one of the first things they teach you in driver's school, for cryin' out loud!
While online isn't up to par as of yet (though it's hardly an atrocious experience--dare I say it's a darn good bit of fun!), there's no question that there's an extraordinary amount of personality and polish put into the presentation of Nitro-Fueled. Even the most drab of tracks from Crash Team Racing have gotten a face lift, and some look absolutely unrecognizable from their old selves. The tracks are filled with new touches and sights to behold. I had fun just exploring racetracks, braking completely at different spots to witness every little intriguing point of interest I saw. The music is just as good, and while it certainly doesn't have as much memorable themes as the competition, it's more than serviceable enough.

This game has more personality than *I* do! Hey! I resent that remark even though I said it!
With Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled, a new generation can witness just why so many fans from the original PlayStation days revere Crash Team Racing so much. Meanwhile, longtime fans of the original game can return a revitalized remake of a remarkable racer with excellent added content, so-so online play, and more polish and personality than you can shake a Wumpa Fruit at. Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled has its issues of course, but overall, it's one of the best buys a kart racing fan can ask for.

[SPC Says: A-]

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