Check out our video review:
Crash Team Racing for the original PlayStation was the start of the Crash Bandicoot racing games. The next racing game would be Crash Nitro Kart, released in 2003, and for some reason, I don’t remember this game coming out. I don’t remember hearing about it or reading about it. I remember hearing about Crash Tag Team racing but I had no idea Nitro Kart existed for the longest time. Developed by Vicarious Visions and published by Universal Interactive, Crash Nitro Kart was released for the Game Boy Advance, GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox in November, 2003, and the N-Gage in July, 2004. For this review, I played the Xbox version. Crash Nitro Kart is a kart racing game a lot like Crash Team Racing. In fact, I’ve read it’s indirect sequel.
The story here goes that Crash and his friends are abducted by aliens and brought to a large coliseum where they learn the galaxy is ruled by an alien known as Emperer Velo. He wants teams to race for his own entertainment. If the Earthlings can’t win the races, he will destroy the planet. The story is presented with cartoon-y cutscenes and decent voice acting that matches the cartoon-y look and feel the game is going for. The game does have multiple endings which depends on what team you choose.
If you’re a veteran of Crash Team Racing, you’ll feel right at home with the mechanics. In fact, all the ingredients that make up Nitro Kart are almost identical to those in Crash Team Racing. The mechanics and how you progress through the Adventure mode are all the same. From the trophy races to Gem Cups, it’s all very familiar. There’s single player and multiplayer modes. The Adventure mode is like the story and is where you can unlock more content. You start by choosing a team. Team Bandicoot or Team Cortex, both of which consist of three characters that you can switch between before races. There’s also Team Trance and Team Oxide and you can only join them in modes outside of the Adventure. If you’ve played Crash Team Racing, you should be able to get the hang of things pretty quickly. And I will say the gameplay is more challenging this time around.
Each character has different stats in speed, acceleration, and turn. You can accelerate, brake, drive in reverse, hop, and power slide. Hopping off ramps and inclines gets you hang time which results in a boost when you land and you can once again perform a power slide boost by sliding until the turbo meter turns red and then pressing a button to activate the boost. You can do this three times in a row during a slide. Your kart will transform when driving over anti-gravity parts of the tracks. It doesn’t really affect anything but it does look cool. One of the more interesting aspects of Nitro Kart is the team-based racing. In the Adventure mode, you’re part of a team and a member of your team will participate in races with you. You can’t attack them with items and they will often take the lead or get in your way which becomes annoying when you’re trying to attack another opponent not on your team. If you remain in close proximity of your teammate, your team meter will charge up and when fully charged, you can activate Team Frenzy where you temporarily have access to unlimited items. It can help you overtake opponents if your trailing behind but that also depends on the items you get.
In the Adventure mode, you’ll drive around hub worlds complete with warp pads to different tracks. You have to win the trophies in a world before you can race that world’s champion or boss. You’re rewarded with keys for beating the champions. The keys are used to unlock gates to the other worlds. Beating champions also unlocks their respective world’s Relic Races and CNK Challenges. In Relic Races, the goal is to set the fastest time possible and to aid you are time crates scattered around that stop the clock when broken. Completing CNK Challenges rewards you with Tokens. You need to collect the letters C.N.K. scattered around the tracks. They are usually in hard-to-reach areas and this time around, they really are. Getting to some of these locations can be a pain in the ass. Then there are the Crystal Arenas where the objective is to acquire all of the Crystals in the arenas before time runs out. Acquiring enough tokens of a specific color unlocks that token color’s Gem Cup which consists of multiple races where you’re awarded points based on your finishing position. The racer with the most points at the end of the Cup, wins. And winning Gem Cups unlocks new characters.
Almost all of the items from the previous game return. You can fire tracking missiles, unleash bowling bombs, slow all your opponents down with the N. Tropy clock, blow past opponents with the Turbo or Invincibility Mask items, drop explosive crates, and protect yourself with the Power Shield which can no longer be fired as a projectile. Exclusive to the Battle Mode are the Super Engine, Invisibility, and Red Eye missile items. Items can be juiced up by collecting ten Wumpa Fruits which are acquired by breaking the appropriate crates. Also, racers that get hit can drop Wumpa Fruits. Breaking X crates rewards you with three of the same item. New to the Arsenal is Ice Mines which is similar to the Beakers from Crash Team Racing. When juiced up, the racer will be covered in ice, slowing them down. The Static Orb can be placed on the track to slow racers down and when juiced up, their controls will be reversed. Finally, there’s the Tornado Top which acts like the Warp Orb from the previous game. It targets the racer in first and when juiced up, targets every racer in front of you.
There is definitely rubber banding going on and Nitro Kart is much more challenging than its predecessor. I found that AI opponents will pass you more often and they frequently blow past you right at the start of races, even if you manage to start with a boost. It’s usually not hard to catch up but I found the most difficult opponents to pass were usually my own teammates. The AI will constantly be up your ass unless you’re power slide boosting constantly but I never saw them use items like the Tornado Top or N. Tropy Clock. Most of the bosses are pretty easy to beat in my experience with the exception of Velo who I found extremely frustrating. They all seem to drop items onto the track and some are accompanied by other characters.
In addition to the Adventure mode is the multiplayer modes which I didn’t get the chance to try and other single player modes like Quick Race, Team Race, Cup Tournament, Race Time Trials, and Lap Time Trials. In all modes except the time trials, you can select one of three difficulty levels. Quick Race is where you can select any character and track of your choosing. In Team Race, you join forces with the AI team members and compete in races just like in the Adventure mode. In the Cup Tournament mode, you choose a Cup and race on three tracks for points. Race and Lap Time Trials both have you trying to set record times. In Race Time Trials, the goal is to set a record time for the race and in Lap Time Trials, you want to set a record lap time. If you’re fast enough in a Race Time Trial, you will unlock N. Tropy’s ghost for the track. And beating his ghost on every track unlocks him as a character.
The tracks all vary in theme and there’s all kinds of hazards to avoid like fire, electricity, creatures, crushers, and other things. You can fall off ledges, you’ll slow down when driving off-road, and boost pads will give you a burst of speed. There are shortcuts you can utilize and the CNK Challenges usually force you to take the alternate paths because that’s where the letters are. You’ll slide on ice, slow down in mud, and breaking exclamation point crates will activate something on the track like hazards or boost pads. The later tracks have more twists, turns, and hazards. The early tracks are easy enough but many of the later tracks resulted in a lot of trial and error until I memorized them. And that’s partly due to the AI being more challenging.
Crash Nitro Kart employs a colorful and cartoon-y visual presentation with detailed tracks. However, I found many of the visual effects like explosions to be lackluster and some of the animations, especially of opponents, to appear choppy. The backgrounds are detailed, the weather effects in some tracks look cool, and the game has enough visual variety to keep things interesting. The music is whimsical and up-beat but I didn’t find the soundtrack as memorable as that of Crash Team Racing and the sound effects are lacking. Characters will shout and spout lines during races but many of the other effects like the sounds of karts and explosions aren’t loud enough and just don’t sound satisfying. On the technical side, the frame rate did dip frequently. It becomes noticeable when there’s a lot of action on-screen and weather effects and happens more often on certain tracks. Also, the game crashed on me once.
Nitro Kart uses the same formula as its predecessor but it’s not as polished. The frame rate dips can be a nuisance and the visual oddities like the choppy animations can be an eyesore. Overall, I like the game and appreciate the more challenging gameplay even though it can sometimes border on frustration. I like the larger roster of characters but some of the new items feel new in name only since they function a lot like some of the items in Crash Team Racing. The tracks are well designed and all of the game modes ensure there’s a good amount of replay value. I feel like the Team concept is unnecessary, at least in the single player, but it is neat being able to switch between characters so you’re not stuck with just one throughout the entire Adventure.
I would recommend Crash Nitro Kart to fans of the previous game. It’s a fun and silly kart racing game with plenty of game modes, action-packed racing, and challenging gameplay. It could have used some more time in the oven but the good outweighs the bad. If you’re a fan of the kart racing genre, definitely check out Crash Nitro Kart.