We have been treated to a totally rad ’90 and 2000s resurgence lately. From brightly colored windbreakers to a ton of retro merch, our lives are being bombarded with nostalgia on all levels. So it was only a matter of time before the video game embodiment of the era’s crude, cartoony, outrageous attitude made his grand return. Crash Bandicoot served as the perfect gaming representative for the Kool-Aid Jammers generation, and now he’s back with CTR: Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled, a remaster of the original 1999 video game Crash Team Racing melded with its 2003 follow-up Crash Nitro Kart, which will be released on Friday for PS 4, Xbox One, and Switch.
Like most awesome video game characters, Crash originated as an answer to Mario. When Nintendo debuted its ex-plumber, it set a standard for every new gaming platform to have its own mascot. For Sega that was Sonic, and for PlayStation that was Crash. Crash Team Racing developer Naughty Dog took inspiration from games like Donkey Kong Country and Super Mario World. It also made its debut Crash game, 1996’s Crash Bandicoot, one of the first distinguishable 3D platformers, after Super Mario 64. (During development, Crash was even referred to as “Sonic’s Ass Game” because of the 3D game’s butt-centric view.)
But Crash Team Racing stood apart from Nintendo’s family-friendly approach. Crash was a little bit Taz, a little less Mario. His rough-and-tough attitude was more adult, but still PG. He could have fit right in among the most popular Nicktoons characters, and no one would have batted an eye. Naughty Dog gave him a memorable cast of supporting characters too, including Coco Bandicoot, his little sister, and Tawna, the Jessica Rabbit of the Crash Universe, along with my personal favorite, the ever-sinister, yellow-headed Doctor Neo Cortex. (He was primarily responsible for all the wild and wacky mutated creatures seen on Wumpa Island.)
“The characters are adorable. Even the villains are adorable,” Thomas Wilson, Beenox studio co-head and creative director, told me when we talked at the E3 gaming conference last week; Beenox is the developer in charge of Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled. “It was important for us to inject as much personality as possible into the characters in the game, because that’s what sets it apart.”
Crash games remained PlayStation exclusives until the turn of the century, when Crash moved to multiplatform and lost his way trying to adapt, finally vanishing in 2010. It was a dark few years. Then, at E3 2016, it was announced that Crash would come back in a remastered trilogy that included the first three Crash platforming games. People lost it, like really lost it, myself included. Some remasters and remakes simply updated frame rates and textures. Not Crash. The Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy looked gorgeous, with fully new graphics and gameplay. It was a phenomenal recreation while staying faithful to the original releases. Despite the face lift, you felt like you were playing the same old Crash platformers.
When it came to the upcoming Crash Team Racing kart racer remaster, it was extremely important that faithfulness remained. “We wanted to make sure the game felt right,” Wilson said. “Authenticity was our first pillar.”
After playing the game for a short time at E3, I found that the remastered version plays exactly like long-time fans of the franchise will want it to. They’ll feel that difficulty curve and power-slide mechanic that always set Crash Team Racing apart from other kart racers. And they can still store those boosts for the entire stage, which was a hugely important feature.
“If they were power-sliding through their favorite course in CTR, it had to feel right and attach that muscle memory,” Michelle Fonseca, vice president of product management and marketing at Activision, which is publishing Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled, told me at E3. “Twenty years later, their lives are a whole lot different. They may have been 5 years old and this may have been the first franchise that they played, and now they’re adults with jobs and kids of their own. This is a franchise that they want to come back to and share with new generations.”
And the cast of characters in Nitro-Fueled is bigger and better then ever, with customizable skins—including throwback polygon skins for Crash, Coco, and Doctor Neo Cortex. They all have even more personality thanks to crisp new visuals, natural-feeling animations, and flushed-out facial features. For example, Crash gets antsy while you edit his kart and skins in the menu; he’s easily distracted by his surroundings. Polar the polar bear has an adorable sneeze and patiently taps his steering wheel.
Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled offers different skins, customization options, an online mode, an adventure mode, and more. There are no loot boxes but plenty to unlock, including ongoing seasons with characters like Spyro and Tawna. I got a wonderful feeling of nostalgia and simpler times while playing, but I also felt like I was playing to earn more, as is our modern gaming tradition.
Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled proves something that gaming companies (besides Nintendo and indie developers) seem to forget. It’s not always about how realistic and scaleable something is. Personality makes a strong, lovable, and successful game. Crash once again paves the way for some of our favorite ’90s characters to return to consoles—cartoon noises, power-sliding, burning rubber, and all.