Some racing games take themselves very seriously. This is not a bad thing – the best examples of the subgenre that prefers to call itself racing simulations rather than racing games offer incredible true-to-life experiences and even competitions in which large amounts of money are on the line. This end of the racing game spectrum is all about trying to create a racing experience that is as close to the real thing as possible – verisimilitude always takes precedence over such plebeian concerns as “fun”.
Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled, or CTR, is about as far on the other end of the spectrum as is possible. Like other kart racing games (the most famous of all is the Mario Kart series), CTR is all about the fun – and the more over the top and ridiculous, the better.
There is no risk of mistaking this for a realistic racing sim – the anthropomorphic marsupial on the cover makes it pretty clear what we’re dealing with.
CTR is a remake of a 1999 original that came out at the height of the original Sony PlayStation’s dominance of the gaming world. It put the PlayStation’s unofficial mascot – console mascots were still sort of a thing back then – behind the racing wheel of a kart, just as Nintendo had done with its mascot for the first time in Mario Kart seven years prior. What could reasonably have been expected to be merely a cynical cash grab turned out as one of the best kart games ever. In retrospect, it seems obvious that would be the case – the developer was after all Naughty Dog, creators of the original Crash Bandicoot platform games and the studio that would go on to develop the Uncharted and The Last of Us franchises.
Activision subsidiary Beenox took over development duties on CTR for the remake, and it is clear they paid a lot of attention to keeping the nostalgia crowd happy while still adding enough new features to make this a thoroughly modern game.
The game looks beautiful and runs smoothly. The Crash Bandicoot series’s signature cartoon style is beautifully updated for modern consoles, as it was by Vicarious Visions in Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy in 2017, but Beenox does this even better than the already very impressive work in that release.
It’s all very colourful and busy, yet runs silky smooth – essential for games of this type. Even more essential is making sure that the player is always aware of what is happening on track, no mean feat in game where you’re hurtling along a psychedelic path, along with a host of other competitors all using a range of special abilities to wreak havoc on their opponents and improve their own odds of victory.
In some kart games, it can feel like the random power-ups you pick up during a race play too large a part in the final outcome. CTR has the expected staple of defensive and offensive items, such as homing missiles, shields and speed enhancers, but it never feels like the luck of the draw is more important than the ability to find the best racing line, jump at the right time or execute a series of perfectly timed speed boosts. In the end, skill will trump luck nine times out of ten.
CTR is available on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. The portable nature of the Switch makes this version particularly appealing – a few CTR races definitely help to make even a long flight feel short. Being able to race against up to three other people the same console is also always welcome in this age of online-only multiplayer (there is a robust suite of online options as well). But perhaps the most welcome of all of CTR’s retro-inspired design choices is the decision to eschew the scourge of modern gaming: microtransactions and loot boxes. You can’t pay to win, and none of the myriad cosmetics you can use to modify your karts and characters cost a single cent of real-life money.
CTR is an example of how to do a remake the right way. It’s rich with content and updated with just enough modern features so that even someone raised on Fortnite will be able to appreciate why older gamers have so many fond memories of this classic.
Updated: June 25, 2019 10:44 AM