Hands-on with Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled: Oozing with old school bandicool
Accelerating towards the glorious renaissance of local multiplayer.
CTR: Nitro Fueled reawakened something primal in me. Playing it in an old-school multiplayer scenario (where my opponent was within trash-talk and face-punch distance,) made me revert to a competitive teenager state. Adulthood disappeared into my rear view mirror the second that light turned green. It was lovely.
Every hit from a missile made me strangle my controller a little in frustration. Every ill-advised drift around a TNT box had me busting out a weird little overbite expression. At one point my crafty opponent, Nathan Lawrence, hammered me into a triple-whammy-death (think: missile hit, into a dodgy pickup and then I careened off a cliff). Half spluttering in rage and half laughing my head off, I knocked over a full can of Coke as I spread my arms out to the cosmos in an unvoiced question of WTF. (Sorry again for the mess, Activision.)
It's sad to say it, but I'd forgotten the raw power of damn good local multiplayer – a feature that absolutely no gamer wanted to see disappear from our hobby, but it was brought to the brink of extinction anyway. Why did that come to pass? I honestly couldn't tell you, I just know that suits were involved and it was a sin.
It would be a colossal understatement if I said that developer Beenox has tuned the graphics up to modern standards. What we have here is a complete graphical engine overhaul – the tracks are brimming with additional 4K detail, the racers are animated to OCD Disney Pixar levels and everything is bathed in a sumptuous lighting system. My 1999 self could not have even conceived of Crash Team Racing looking this good or purring along this smoothly. If you travelled back in time and put it in front of me, it'd be like feeding a caveman sherbet. Pretty sure my head would explode.
Much to my delight, the 15 character roster has been opened up pretty well for my demo and it allows me to get reacquainted with some beloved old favourites from my youth. The rogues gallery in front of me includes Crash, Coco, Dingodile, Papu Papu, Polar, Ripper Roo, Dr. Neo Cortex, Pinstripe, Dr. N.Gin, Komodo Joe, Tiger and Tiny Tiger. I stick with Crash and Pinstripe – my "mains" from far too many years ago.
Likewise, I'm pretty stoked that I get to test out four full courses. Ye olde Papu's Pyramid looks resplendent with more intricately textured Incan ruins and overgrown vegetation that comes with man-eating piranha plants. The moodily lit Sewer Speedway is just as serpentine and satisfyingly full of alternate routes, too. After that I tried my hand at Electron Avenue, a neon-soaked revamp that is so gorgeous it looks like it's been ripped out of the Wipeout Omega Collection remake. Speaking of imported tracks from Crash Nitro Kart, my last race has me getting smushed into cogs and camshafts as I try (and fail) to find the optimum shortcut run through Clockwork Wumpa.
Though I'm rusty as hell after a 15 year hiatus, I find a familiar groove with the old powerslide mechanic. As always, holding down R1 starts an awkward a hop, and then you'll need to steer hard into the apex of the corner when you land. During the slide your turbo meter will fill from green to red, and a tap of L1 will give you a short boost of speed if you time it on red. Daredevils can do this three times per slide, if they can nail the weird little rhythm required. Fail to do this correctly, and you'll spin out (though not in a beneficial Crash Bandicoot way that belts nearby enemies).
Threading these powerslides through course hazards and around landmine weapons dropped by your competitors is invigorating stuff, as is getting "hang time" off jumps to milk out a bit more speed. (Basically, if you get Tony Hawk amounts of air, you'll earn quite the turbo indeed.) This must all sound pretty simplistic on paper, but don't be fooled – the pick-up-and-play nature of the controls combined with a fairly straightforward arsenal of deployable weapons makes for sheer chaos.
An age ago the talented team at Naughty Dog finely engineered CTR to effortlessly keep pace with the trailblazing Mario Kart series. With Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled, Beenox has lovingly preserved the original and resisted the urge to throw any monkey wrenches into what was more or less a perfect formula for fun. We're accelerating towards nothing less than the glorious renaissance of local multiplayer (with online options thrown in for good measure). Do yourself a favour by clearing off your couch and firing out a calendar notification to some friends. Event date: 21 June 2019. Event title: The kart-breaking moment when I make your self-esteem come Crashing down.