Ten years after its original release on the PlayStation, Crash Bandicoot and his friends are back in their karts for Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled, a remaster of the classic racing game. This top-down HD upgrade of the Naughty Dog original is from Beenox, the studio best known for its work on the Skylanders toys-to-life series, and it’s nothing less than a love letter to the golden age of kart racing.
I sat down for an hour-long demo with Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled back in January and was met with a modern kart racing title that’s every bit as good as the original. It’s no secret that it’s a big year for this arcade-y subgenre, with Team Sonic Racing also set to zoom onto the track this May, and the race between these two games is going to be tight. But, after trying out three remastered tracks with many of our favorite racers, we suspect that Crash Team Racing will be the leader of the pack.
It should be said up front that we didn’t get to play much of the game. In fact, the demo was a bit limited, only featuring three tracks — Crash Cove, Dingo Canyon, and Polar Pass — and a few characters, including Dr. N. Gin, Tiny Tiger, and Crash himself. But what I did play was a perfect recreation of Naughty Dog’s game down to the funky menu music, which immediately triggered, at least for this writer, memories of racing his friends in elementary school.
The graphical upgrade is the big stunner of this remaster. Speeding down the three racetracks reveals just how improved the visuals are, from individual strands of Crash’s hair to the new assets added to the courses, such as all of the animals hanging around Crash’s Cove. Monkeys hang from the finish line while birds fly over you. In fact, all of the courses feel alive as far as the eye can see. I noticed no pop-in or framerate drops, just hints of a larger world beyond the tracks, places Crash has perhaps visited in his other adventures.
Beenox has also clearly put in the time to make the controls feel as authentic as possible. Whether you’re dodging the seals sliding across the icy Polar Pass, drifting around the twisty Crash Cover, or trying to make the big jump on Dingo Canyon (a jump I failed at completely during my first run through the course), the controls feel smooth and responsive. I was delighted by how familiar the whole experience felt, how the muscle memory started to come back to me after I’d failed to make the jump off that ramp in Dingo Canyon for the fifth time. Oh, and you can still escape those terrible TNT boxes by mashing the jump button.
To add a bit of strategy to this action-packed racer, not every character is created equal. The character selection screen features a neat little stats box that lets you compare the different contestants, meaning that you’ll pick wisely based on the kind of player you are (do you like top speeds or better handling when drifting?) and the course you’re on. For those looking for the most well-rounded racer, Crash Bandicoot is undoubtedly a great place to start.
I was told during the session that the game will feature all 18 tracks from the original game as well as the original seven battle arenas which offer a battle royale-like vehicular combat alternative to the standard racing. Also included in the box will be a new online mode with leaderboards. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to try any of these features during my playthrough.
At the end of the demo, I had a chance to chat with Stephane Gravel, production director at Beenox, about bringing this game to current-gen consoles. Gravel was quick to share that Crash Team Racing was a labor of love for the studio.
“The game came out when I was starting in the games industry and it was our go-to game during lunchtime,” Gravel says. “Now I just can’t wait to play with my kids. We’re going to play split-screen and it’s going to be a blast.”
Indeed, I had a blast with this remaster and suspect that gamers of all ages will flock to it when the title drops later this year. Perhaps, this new iteration of Crash Team Racing will even be the advent of a new golden age for this beloved subgenre.
Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is out on June 21 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.