Crash Team Racing is an absolute banger, but better yet it’s not just a banger but a sort of weird, off-brand, alternate universe banger: the best kind, and the rarest kind.
There are almost no off-brand bangers, you see, and I think that’s why CTR gets such a bad rap from the usual Franchise-Kart fans, what with all their blue shells and banana skins and other definitely-ripped-off-from CTR things. Crash Bandicoot, all ’90s eyebrow-wiggling and nu-metal jorts-wearing, is not a good enough character to be an entire platform’s mascot in 1999, let alone 2019; and the Crash Bandicoot Cinematic Universe is not even close to a good enough universe for it to get its own sixteen-character kart-racing spinoff – or, at least, so the received wisdom goes.
But the received wisdom, let me tell you, is wrong. There is no better franchise to hide an authentically brilliant racer in than Crash Bandicoot. Look past the jorts and the eyebrows and the extreme wonk of those characters – seriously, just take a second and actually look at them – and you’ll find an absolute gold mine, like popping open a tube of Prongles – “Once you pop… it’s great!” – and finding that they actually taste better than the original.
CTR has some of the best kart-racing tracks ever made – Hot Air Skyway, Polar Pass, Papu’s Pyramid – just like the original Crash, between the difficulty spikes or maybe because of them, still has some of the most compulsive pass-the-pad platforming. Its items are weirdly intricate, so much so that twenty years of playing this ridiculous game to death still isn’t enough to completely master the remote-detonating of a rolling bomb. The shortcuts are just the right balance – tricky, but almost illicitly tempting – so I’m still going for them, at the risk of pointlessly throwing away a lead, when I really should know better. Somehow, CTR just works, when it has absolutely no right to.
Having played a bit of CTR Nitro-Fueled, the much begged-for remaster, I can say that all of that is absolutely still there. The tracks feel exactly right, the racers feel distinct (maybe just a little twitchier, perhaps?), the eyebrows are still wiggling and the shortcuts are still annoyingly tempting. I only played the standard Arcade mode, in single-player against the CPU and in splitscreen, and I only played three tracks – Crash Cove, Dingo Canyon, and Polar Pass – but they play just about identically, those twenty years of muscle memory working just about fine. All the characters, tracks and modes are returning, although Activision was non-committal when I pushed for a full list of them and, given the generosity of the N-Sane Trilogy remaster, you can read into that what you wish. In brief it feels plush, and faithful, and all that “how it always looked in my head” kinds of authentic that you’d want from a proper rebuilding of a classic.
The only thing at risk is, slightly ironically, some of that original wonk – but that’s not really something you can be certain on in such a short space of time. What I want from a CTR remaster is for it to still feel like I’ve bought a game from a bootleg dealer at a car boot sale, with the name written straight onto a plain CD ROM in permanent marker, that is, somehow, actually really good. The one thing I worry about with Nitro-Fueled is that Activision, and the developers at Beenox who are handling it, smooth away just a few too many of those wonderful, eye-gougingly jagged edges, and in the process lose some of the absurdity. I worry, a little, that all the corporate glee at being in on the joke with you sort of ruins it, the way Prongles, god love ’em, are sort of ruined when you realise they’re not a knockoff but a manufactured joke, from the people who make Cards Against Humanity.
But I do think we’ll be fine, because it’s 2019, and this is still a video game about racing Australian animals in jorts – just a bit prettier.