Monday, August 26, 2019

Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled

Prior to the start of development on the Jak and Daxter series for the PS2, developer Naughty Dog managed to revisit Crash Bandicoot one last time, this time a kart racer called Crash Team Racing for the original PlayStation. Humorously, this pattern of three main entries followed up with a kart racer would be repeated with Jak and Daxter in the form of Jak X: Combat Racing. Though Crash Bandicoot continued on beyond the original Naughty Dog games, there would still be further kart racing games in the series on multiple platforms. Following the release of Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy from developer Vicarious Visions in 2017, a similar remaster/remake treatment would be announced for Crash Team Racing by developer Beenox, rounding out the original Naughty Dog series. After having played the game for a while after launch, I found the overall experience enjoyable, though not without some serious caveats regarding post-launch content.

While Crash is racing with some of the other characters, they are invaded by the evil alien Nitros Oxide, who claims to be the "fastest racer in the galaxy" and seeks a challenge from the best racer on Crash’s planet. Following this, Crash (or whoever the player chooses) must race against Dr. Neo Cortex and his minions for a chance to race against and stop Nitros Oxide.

Similarly to N. Sane Trilogy, Nitro-Fueled receives a major graphics overhaul to be more in line with the aforementioned collection. This form of remaster adds a lot to the game world, breathing more life into the environments in a way not possible with the original PlayStation’s capabilities. Interestingly, it’s not just tracks from the original Crash Team Racing, rather this game also includes tracks from the Vicarious Visions-developed Crash Nitro Kart in addition to all-new tracks added through updates, providing a bonus for those who are familiar with that game. Similarly, the character roster is also a mix of characters from the aforementioned games, in addition to new characters added through special events (more on that later).

Another feature of the game is full voice acting in a similar fashion to Crash Bandicoot: Warped, allowing one to finally hear the voices of characters from the first two or so games. One stand-out is Robbie Daymond, whose recent roles include Hunter the Cheetah in Spyro Reignited Trilogy and Goro Akechi in Persona 5, as the voice of Pinstripe, showing he has some untapped potential with his vocal range. The music is also very well-done, with each track having a distinct theme that ties in with its aesthetic and associated characters.

Nitros Oxide (Corey Burton), the main antagonist of the game.

The controls for the game handle really well, with the karts only having a little bit of momentum when stopping, allowing for a very smooth racing experience. The power slide mechanic, in which you can get a speed boost up to three times at once while drifting, takes a little getting used to, though one’s mastery of the technique can sometimes be the deciding factor in a race. One thing to note though is that the game defaults to Classic controls (when racing games used the X button or equivalent to accelerate), and so you have to go through the options menu for Alternate/”Modern” controls (R2 or equivalent to accelerate), which I find to be a lot more comfortable to use.

The game features a large selection of gameplay modes, both online and (especially) off. One of the main options is the Adventure Mode, which is required to go through to unlock a number of characters. Completing it unlocks Nitros Oxide (unless you got the Nitros Oxide Edition of the game for early access, which I did not) and provides an avenue to unlock Fake Crash by completing Crystal Challenges and racing through the Purple Gem Cup. I will say, however, that, while you are able to change which character you are playing whenever you want (I stuck with Crash Bandicoot anyway), you cannot change the difficulty without starting a new campaign, so you have to be careful. There’s also the ability to complete Time Trials for each of the tracks, and completing all of them by beating N. Tropy’s times unlocks him for play.

Some other offline modes include battle modes, local multiplayer and Cup races that involve racing through sets of four tracks. There is also the introduction of an online component, with options including private matches or matchmaking in addition to some of the single-player options. The quality of the online races may depend on one’s internet connection, though in my experience I didn’t find any noticeable lag; I did, however, experience the server not connecting one time, resulting in the entire party disbanding before the race could even begin.

One major feature introduced to Nitro-Fueled is the Pit Stop (a feature carried over from Radical Entertainment's Crash Tag Team Racing), essentially an in-game store where one can unlock characters and customizable kart features, the availability of which rotates on a daily basis, using the in-game currency of Wumpa Coins. Wumpa Coins can be earned by completing races and challenges across all modes, the amount of which depends on your placing and both the length and difficulty of the track. Completing online races on weekends also earns you double Wumpa Coins, which makes this a more ideal time to be grinding on Wumpa Coins in order to unlock more content.

A new feature recently introduced (at the time of this writing) is Grand Prix events that introduce new characters and kart mods. These can be purchased in the Pit Stop via Wumpa Coins, however some content must be unlocked by earning Nitro Points through completing objectives. The rate at which you earn Nitro Points is also influenced by how you customize your kart and even which character you are using, including the event exclusives. Grand Prix events are also themed, such as the recent (as of this writing) Back N. Time Grand Prix that introduced Baby T. from Warped as well as baby versions of Crash and Coco. The original Nitro Tour Grand Prix previously introduced Tawna from the original Crash Bandicoot as well as the Trophy Girls from the original Crash Team Racing as playable characters, all with full voice acting; future Grand Prix events have also been teased that will introduce characters such as Spyro from the Spyro the Dragon series and Nina Cortex, Dr. Neo Cortex’s daughter (niece?) from Traveller’s Tales’ Crash Twinsanity.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with either of these features, what can rub someone the wrong way is the idea of certain content, such as Grand Prix content, being timed, especially the exclusive characters. The item bundles normally in the Pit Stop’s rotation are also overridden by the Grand Prix bundles, which created some serious frustration with obtaining the character N. Trance (from Vicarious Visions' Crash Bandicoot 2: N-Tranced), whom I didn’t find until later was only available in the Summer Time Pack. Thankfully, he was added to the normal rotation after the Nitro Tour Grand Prix, though the same cannot be said for the Nitro Tour-exclusive characters.

A view of the Pit Stop prior to the Grand Prix events.

When thinking about this, I couldn’t help but draw some comparisons to the mobile game Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links: In Duel Links, new characters from the anime series are introduced over time through special events, usually with the character later becoming available outside the event (for those who could not participate) by completing a list of in-game objectives. While I’m not suggesting Nitro-Fueled follow the model of a mobile game, they could at least learn something from Duel Links by making at least the characters permanent Pit Stop items at a later date.

On the subject of mobile game models, Nitro-Fueled also introduced microtransactions alongside the Back N. Time Grand Prix, allowing the player to purchase additional Wumpa Coins from the PlayStation Store at a rate of 1000 Coins for every $1 USD, in bundles of 2500, 5000 (+250) and 10,000 (+1000) Coins. While the idea is there, this implementation seems a bit odd for a game that already costs $40 MSRP, even if the feature is completely optional; if you’d rather not spend your money on Wumpa Coins, you’re better off grinding for them using the previously-stated method of racing online during weekends, since the grind during weekdays can otherwise get unbearable.

In spite of some of its issues with post-launch content, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is still an overall enjoyable game that is highly recommended for Crash Bandicoot fans. It’s a fun racing game with some entertaining characters as well as some gorgeous graphics and a number of gameplay features that offer a great deal of replay value. Whether you are an existing fan of Crash Bandicoot or you’re looking for a fun racing game (or even a good alternative to Mario Kart), I would suggest giving this game a try.

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