Crash Team Racing was always superior to Mario Kart. There, I'm getting my hot take out of the way nice and early. With that in mind, the numerous sequels to Nintendo's flagship racer meant that it's been the most popular choice for over a decade, because if we're being honest, the original CTR on PSOne doesn't quite hold up anymore. Mechanically it's still absolutely sound, but visually? It's a mess - which is to be expected of a game from 1998 - but there's also bugs and exploits everywhere.
Beenox had a huge task ahead of it, because how do you turn such a beloved, nostalgic game into something fit for modern platforms and audiences without inevitably annoying someone? Vicarious Visions managed it with the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy; despite being an almost faithful recreation with graphical upgrades, the minor changes to Crash's hitbox meant he'd slide off surfaces he'd otherwise balance on in the original, and all of a sudden the N. Sane Trilogy wasn't quite the game people wanted.
Nitro Fueled is more than just a remake of the original game though; you also get access to all of the tracks in Crash Nitro Kart, though the absence of the Crash Nitro Kart adventure is somewhat disappointing. With the Retro Stadium bonus track, this means there are 34 tracks available at launch. That's a hefty amount of courses to practice and perfect, and with the 26 character roster, seven game modes plus the adventure, and online play, Crash Team Racing Nitro Fueled avoids the problem of players getting bored by simply including a shed load of content.
Staying true to the original
All the infamous exploits like falling off the track to respawn at a section further along, or jumping through the terrain to completely skip entire sections are gone, as you'd expect. Aside from that, almost every track is a perfect recreation of the originals, with so much more life injected into the backgrounds. Polar Pass features a polar bear DJ with dancing penguins, Papu's Pyramid has a boater trying to ascend a waterfall, and Mystery Caves has pterodactyls floating around the lava. Things that most people won't even notice as they zoom past have an immense level of detail, something that simply wasn't possible with the original due to technical limitations.
This is a stellar job by Beenox, because it truly feels like I'm playing the original again. Driving feels sharp and responsive, you still need to power slide through every corner and maintain your speed through the straights, and the game is just as unforgiving if you make a single mistake on the harder difficulties. Every aspect of the game is as you'll remember it from the original, including the bosses.
It's tricky to find a balance between appeasing the players that want the game to be a like-for-like recreation, and those who'd prefer some of the tougher aspects to be toned back slightly. Bosses like Pinstripe and Nitros Oxide, and N. Tropy's infamous time trials are examples of this. Beenox hasn't changed these whatsoever; they're still incredibly hard, but with enough practice and a sprinkle of luck, they can be beaten. I bloody hate Pinstripe though… those bombs.
As unforgiving as it used to be
With that in mind, despite it being kid-friendly, Crash Team Racing isn't - and has never been - a game for kids. It's like Mario Kart's big brother, who is unfairly harsh and tells him to man up if he complains. It's much easier to get back into a Mario Kart race if you fall behind the pack, but in the world of the bandicoot, recovering is tougher because the tracks are harder, a single mistake can set you way back, and the overall challenge is far more difficult.
I mentioned it above, but perhaps the only drawback to Crash Team Racing Nitro Fueled is the inclusion of the Nitro Kart tracks, but lack of adventure mode from the same game. The Crash Team Racing adventure is absolutely stellar; all new cutscenes in the graphically enhanced world with updated character models is wonderful, while the hub island that connects to all the different regions is like returning to an old holiday location.
I can only review what I'm able to play, but I'd be foolish not to mention the promising post-launch roadmap Beenox has announced with its Grand Prix series of events. If you somehow manage to grow bored of the masses of content the game has in under two weeks, the Nitro Tour Grand Prix kicks off on July 3, which will introduce a new track, more cosmetics and characters, and challenges for players to tackle. Nitro Fueled is a complete package from the start, but Beenox has outlined its plans for even more content if it's still not enough.
Players may recoil in horror at the Pit Stop; a Fortnite-style in-game store that features new characters, skins, karts, and more for sale via Wumpa Coins. All of these Wumpa Coins are strictly earned in-game though. There is no option to spend real money on these whatsoever, and you earn more for winning races, with online multiplayer races rewarding considerably more than the single player component. Some of the skins are so cute too, like Polar's utterly adorable fisherman outfit.
Beenox has managed to take the original Crash Team Racing, and somehow made it better. 20 years ago, this was the kart racer to play, but Mario Kart gradually usurped it and since the early 2000s, Crash has been laid dormant, waiting for its time to seize the throne and become the king of kart racers once more. That time is now, because Crash is back, baby.
UPDATE: After the latest patch Beenox has released for Version 1.02, I'm very happy to report online multiplayer seems to be working almost flawlessly. All of the previous bugs are gone, which means the online feels incredibly smooth with little to no issues. If this changes again I'll update this but I think Beenox has fixed the problems, at least for the time being.
You can also watch our review in video form below: