Competition breeds innovation. This is a fundamental idea throughout culture, creativity, and even classroom activities. While it's not the be-all-end-all, it can't be denied that one of the driving factors for product quality is to be better than the other guy. Competition is also healthy for the gaming scene. Sony and Microsoft's rivalry, whether friendly or cut-throat, has helped both companies to push out the highest quality they could.
Nintendo may not compete in the same way, but their constant innovation and unique style always tends to push them into the conversation. However, due to the tangential of their content, they usually are seen as peerless. Many of their IPs lack a direct competitor in today's environment. One of these IPs is a spin off of their most famous one, Mariokart. In terms of kart racers, most of the population only really thinks of Mariokart. Nothing compares to it's cultural impact or, as many would atest, quality. However, recently Beenox, under Activision, remade an old rival of Nintendo's kart racing spin-off. Crash Nitro Kart: Nitro Fueled hit the streets. As a kid I loved it, and playing the remake today, frankly I think it has enough cause to compete. I'm here to make its case.
Be not afraid. I'm not here to try to convince anyone that Crash Team Racing: Nitro Fueled (which will be further referred to as CTR) is better than Mariokart. Rather, my goal today is to make the case that they are comparable enough in quality and different enough in style that they can make for a good pair of rivals. So let’s discuss the two most important points: how it plays, and what’s in it.
Both games being in the kart-racing genre, they are rife with similarity in the core mechanics. The main aspect of Mariokart and CTR are racing karts on fantastical tracks, collecting items along the way, and using weapons against other racers to drive them off the road. The two games also feature several cup races, characters to choose from, and offer single and multiplayer. That, however, is where the similarities start to fade. Let’s start with the one more people are familiar with, Mariokart.
Driving in Mariokart 8 Deluxe is incredibly approachable. Turning is responsive, but not dry. You feel the differences in car handling, and there is that slight waver that makes racing games feel more engaging. Drifting is also done incredibly well. In traditional Mariokart style, pressing a button while turning will change your turn radius, and if held long enough will give the player a small boost. The tracks are designed in such a way that for the most part you don’t have to drift, but the tracks get a lot more interesting and rewarding if you do.
Speed is generally dictated by two things. First, by whatever CC you have picked for the game, the options being 50, 100, 150, and 200 going up in speed. Generally I’ve seen most people stick to around the 100/150 range, as it provides adequate speed without going much too fast, especially if someone in the group isn’t particularly well versed. Speed’s other factor is the character and kart chosen. Each playable character has their own weight class, which affects speed and push-ability. In this game, the kart, wheel, and glider can all be chosen to affect the speed, handling, acceleration, etc. in different ways. This gives practically limitless types of racers, however they do require specific characters and kart parts to be selected.
Finally, there are three main things one encounters in tracks, ramps/boost pads, coins, and item boxes. Boost pads give you a significant boost if driven over. Ramps will provide an opportunity to do a trick by pressing the drift button, and if done will grant a boost upon landing. Coins can be collected, and provide a miniscule boost when done. However, if a racer has ten coins they are marginally faster in everything they do. However, falling off or getting hit will lose the player three coins. Item boxes are what provide the racer one or two items to use. These range from mushrooms for a boost, all the way to a blue shell that flies past the competition and bombs whichever poor soul is in first place. The item variance is wonderful. Overall, the gameplay has a very low skill floor, and a generally average skill ceiling.
In CTR, the driving is comparable to Mariokart. Turning is responsive, and generally feels good to control. Drifting is the first large distinction between the two. While drifting in CTR, a meter in the bottom right of the screen fills up. If it fills all the way, no boost. However, if you hit the drift button again right before it fills up you get a small boost. When you do, the meter begins filling again. You can get this boost up to three times per drift instance. Early tracks in CTR can be driven fine without drifting, but past the midway point of the game it becomes essential to do so. However, drifting has another “secret” mechanic within. There’s no real mention within the game of this, nor indication, but the community has agreed to refer to it as reserves. Everytime you use the drift boost, but you weren’t done from the previous boost, that unused length gets put into your reserves. If you are driving and not boosting, your reserves will be used to continue whatever boost you just had previously. Therefore, if you drift enough you can feasibly complete entire races while boosting the whole time. There are two things to note about this, however: its power and its fragility. As I’ll get into a bit later, different boost pads have different boost speeds. If you hit the fastest one, while having a lot of reserves, it can result in some absolutely insane speeds. However, if you get hit by ANYTHING, item, cliff, or even graze a wall, all of your reserves immediately deplete. So you really have to be ace on your steering and drifting in order to take advantage of the system.
Speed in CTR is variable. There isn’t a setting of CC as there is in Mariokart, rather the overall speed of the game is consistent. The two factors in CTR that affect speed are drifting skill and driving style selection. I’ve just gone over it in detail, but the speed difference between someone who doesn’t drift at all, and a “blue flame” drifter (I’ll explain soon) is staggering. However, the other choice in speed is more direct. In the original Crash Team Racing, stats were directly correlated with character selection. However, in the brand new CTR, a few months in the development team decided that if they’re revamping customization (which will get into) everywhere else, why not here too. So while you can pick your character and kart parts separately, you can also choose your driving style. There are five (six if you count classic which just has the character’s original style) styles to choose from that affect the speed, acceleration, and turning of a driver.
There are also three main things you encounter: ramps/boostpads, wumpa crates, and item crates. The ramps work similarly, where if you press drift at the end you’ll trick and get a boost when landing. However, boostpads in CTR are not all created equally. There are a few speeds they give, from moderately more than a drift boost, to a semi-rare “blue flame”. Certain jumps in CTR require high speed, so boost pads before these jumps provide this. This, combined with high drift reserves, means you can take this incredibly high speed for a joyride throughout the map. Wumpa crates give the player 6 wumpa, and getting hit loses you three. They don’t provide a speed boost, however having ten of them makes any item you use an upgraded version of that item. Finally, item crates provide one item that can be used offensively or defensively, similar to many items in Mariokart, albeit less diverse. The items get a pass, however, due to each one having an upgraded version, effectively doubling the item count. Overall the skill floor is a bit higher, but the skill ceiling is incredibly high.
That’s all well and good. Now let’s talk content.
In Mariokart 8 Deluxe, there isn’t exactly a traditional story mode or campaign. You have the option to pick from any cup to race for a trophy, and pick one of four speeds to do it in. For a racing focused game, this is really all you need. There are four regular cups, four retro cups, and the four cups that were DLC from the original Mariokart 8 on Wii U. Four tracks in each of those brings the total tracklist to 48. Very respectable, but keep in mind these are the exact same tracks from Mariokart 8, so technically there are no new courses in this remake for Switch. The courses themselves are very aesthetically pleasing and diverse. If there’s one thing Nintendo always hits home in it’s presentation.
As far as game modes goes, there is the basic race, time trial, and battle. A race is fairly straightforward, you and several other players or computers complete laps to cross the finish line first. Time trials see you driving solo on a course with just three mushrooms in order to complete a track as fast as possible. Finally, there are five battle modes, all with different objectives therein. All have you competing in an enclosed area directly with other players in more contact based objectives.
As far as customization goes, there’s a good selection here. Many beloved characters from the Mario and extended Nintendo franchise are here, 41 in total not counting some with alternate colors. They have added five more than the original game’s full roster of 36. You can also add in Miis, putting yourself in the game. Furthermore, you can select any kart/bike/atv, wheel, and glider combination.
Content is really where CTR begins to run away with it. Firstly, it has a true story mode. Labeled “Adventure” on the main menu, there is a full campaign with a sprawling hub world that has you racing on each track, racing against bosses, and completing other objectives on beaten tracks to progress. There are cups in the game, however, most people remember the courses in sets of how they appear in the campaign more than the cups. CTR has an advantage in track number, technically being a remake of Crash Team Racing with all of the content of the sequel Crash Nitro Kart for the PS2, minus the story mode in that game. Because of this as well as the monthly Grand Prix Beenox had done providing additional free content, the total tracklist of CTR comes to 39 (40 if you have a PS4, but the track is just a stylistically different version of a pre-existing track). This includes the 18 tracks from Crash Team Racing, 13 tracks from Crash Nitro Kart, and eight fully original tracks Beenox made for the Grand Prix. The tracks range from easy to very difficult, and are all reimagined from the PS1 and PS2 graphics incredibly well.
For CTR there are seven different game modes. A regular race, time trial, and battle mode are present, all similar to CTR’s Nintendo compatriot. The battle mode also includes five different modes within. However, there are four more modes in CTR. Relic Race, similar to a time trial you are racing alone trying to get the best time, however there are crates scattered across the course that will pause the timer for 1-3 seconds if hit. CTR Challenge, where you have to win a race while simultaneously collecting the three C, T, and R tokens hidden throughout the track. Crystal Challenge, which has you collecting 20 crystals strewn about one of the battle mode stages. And in their last Grand Prix, Beenox created the new game mode Ring Rally. This mode involves racing around a track with a diminishing timer, but you get boosts and extra time for driving through rings which get smaller and provide faster boosts the more laps you complete.
Customization is really where CTR shines. In the original games, you could pick your character: Nine in the first game, sixteen in the second. However, Beenox really did some work on the capabilities of customization in this remake. Currently there are 56 playable characters, all from the first game, the second game, it’s 5 unplayable bosses, the third racing game in the series, other assorted characters from Crash’s past, and even just a regular crate. Further, each character has anywhere from 2 to 10 alternate colors and costumes. Then after that, you can pick a kart, paint job, decal, wheel, and sticker combination. The list is huge, and honestly almost too much. Luckily with the addition of driving style, you can pick whatever you want without having to worry about messing up your preferred controls.
If I had to put numbers on these games, I’d probably give Mariokart 8 Deluxe a 7.5/10. The game is very fun, and I’ve put countless hours into it. However, it is fairly by the numbers, and a new mariokart game would have been a lot nicer to see on the brand new console. As for Crash Team Racing: Nitro Fueled, I’d give it a 9/10. I’ve also sunk more hours than I’d like to admit into this game, and love it to bits. Now I know a lot of people out there are calling this a bad take, that CTR is just a limp copy of Mariokart. But if there’s anything I want to leave you with, it’s this: give Crash Team Racing a shot. You don’t have to convert to the church of the bandicoot, but try the game out. It’s a great time, and is more than deserving of sharing the kart racing spotlight with the big boys. And hey, it’s $20 cheaper than Mariokart 8 Deluxe is, and that’s at full price (it goes on sale digitally a lot) Plus, if Nintendo feels threatened enough, maybe it’ll spark some true innovation into their games and make the genre better as a whole.