Sam Brooks reviews Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled, an exercise in mining nostalgia for diminishing returns.
If you were a 90s kid and had a console, you were either a Mario Kart kid or a Crash Team Racing kid. These were the definitive party games of our era – more party and more competitive than the actual party games from both franchises (Mario Party, Crash Bash) – because they were games that you played over time and built up skills, rather than got lucky at.
Also? Because go-kart games are like shots of serotonin straight into your brain stem. Bright colours, bouncy sounds, quickfire gameplay. And Sony hasn’t had a good one since, well, the first Crash Team Racing game.
Remaking Crash Team Racing is an absolute no-brainer, especially considering the success of the Crash Bandicoot and Spyro remakes. The bones of that original game are so solid – it’s not just a rip-off of the Mario Kart format, but a subversion and upgrade of a few of that game’s mechanics – that it remains the gold standard for the genre. Hell, a few years ago, I remember people getting around a dusty old PS1 at a bar to play a Crash tournament, and while the graphics showed every single second of its 15 years, good bones are good bones.
In the vein of those aforementioned remakes, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled gets right most of what it does simply by covering those old bones with a beautiful new skin. The core mechanics are the same, although you’ll run into trouble if you’re relying on two-decade old muscle memory to powerslide. You pick one of the Crash characters – either from the trilogy that absolutely everybody played and loved or the subsequent games that people played and absolutely nobody loved – and drive around various wacky tracks. If you pick up enough apples, you go faster. If you pick up weapons, you use them against your foes. Like any race, the driver at the front of the pack wins. Simple, sleek, satisfying.
In all honesty, it’s a reskinned Mario Kart. But when it ain’t broke, there’s no point fixing it. The upgrades are largely cosmetic – but it’s like going from the pharmacy to MAC. This game is straight-up gorgeous, as all of these remakes have been. There’s a slightly Dreamworks-y quality to the animation that makes me wonder how quickly it will age, but for the moment everything pops and it’s a candy-flavoured delight to look at. You might be surprised to see tracks and characters from the under-played and under-released sequel, Nitro Kart, in the game, and even more surprised to see tracks from the early, almost entirely unknown sequel Crash Tag Team Racing, but these just feel like icing on the remake cake.
This remake isn’t perfect, unfortunately. Some of those flaws are new, like the unfathomably long loading times. Sometimes it can take up to half a minute to load a race, which is fine if you’re boosting through adventure mode, but when you’re sitting in a group of people eagerly awaiting the next race to begin, it’s a bit of a drag.
The other flaws are some straight-up racist depictions. We’re in 2019, and we shouldn’t be accepting some incredibly vague appropriation of Polynesian culture with Aku Aku and Uka Uka, two mentor-figures that exclaim ‘Ooga booga’ (or words to that effect) when they’re summoned to protect you. Additionally, Papu Papu – a bumbling, overweight vaguely Aztec tribal leader who refers to himself in the third person and in broken English – can’t be a character that anybody was crossing their fingers and hoping to see. The depiction of both is vague enough to almost get a pass, but being vague in what you’re appropriating is not quite the same as just not doing it.
Although fun, this remake does give me pause. What’s the end goal here? Is it to cash in on the skeleton of a game everybody already loved, and get them to shell out for a prettier version? Or is it to introduce these classics to a new generation of gamer who might balk at playing games that they consider to be ‘ugly’ with ‘old graphics’?
It’s no coincidence that the latter two of these remakes, Spyro and this, have had art styles that far more closely resemble Fortnite than they do their original games. Gamers aren’t stupid, but sometimes people who buy games for gamers are low-information, and end up going for something that looks similar to the game their kid/adult/significant human is playing. And in that situation, you could do a whole lot worse than Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled. If I could use that little Men in Black gun to make me forget Crash Team Racing and experience it for the first time, I’d do it.
I’m glad, of course, that I don’t have to drag out my Playstation 2, blow it off, and then find my scratched-up Playstation 1 copy of Crash Team Racing. We’ve struck gold with both the remakes of the Crash trilogy and Spyro the Dragon trilogy now, but you can only strike gold so much before you start start hitting rock.
Crash Team Racing Nitro Fueled is available for Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch and Xbox One.