May and June have been great months for kart racing fans. Last month, Team Sonic Racing dropped, offering a cooperative twist on Sumo Digital’s series of Sega-themed racers. Then, last week, we got the long-awaited Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled — a complete remake of Naughty Dog’s 1999 PlayStation classic, developed for modern hardware by Activision’s Beenox studio.
It’s fate that these two games would be pitted against each other. Kart racers are fewer and farther between today than ever before, and it’s been more than two years since Mario Kart 8 Deluxe graced the Switch. If you’re only going to play one, which should it be? Here’s how they stack up.
From a strict handling, weapons and wheel-to-wheel action standpoint, there’s very little between TSR and CTR. Both pretty much follow the genre conventions by the book. Rubber-banding AI is inevitable, and the most fun you’ll have with either title will undoubtedly come while playing with friends. Though that’s not to say they don’t diverge from the traditional format in a few notable ways.
For Team Sonic Racing, the difference maker is unsurprisingly its team-based gameplay. In TSR, racers are split into groups of three, and their points are tallied based on finishing position at the end of the race. That’s not a particularly novel concept though; what makes Sumo Digital’s approach unique is the way the game encourages teamwork.
You can tuck behind your teammates for a tow, then slingshot by them with a speed boost. You can share your items with someone else, so they can take the fight to the leader or defend themselves. There are five teams of three characters each in TSR, and they all fit a different class — speed, technique or power — that entitles them to different perks. You can also upgrade your ride with some small performance enhancements, via Mod Pods.
Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled lacks these mechanics. You could say it’s more of a pure racer, with a greater emphasis placed on vehicle control and maneuvering because the karts themselves are noticeably quicker, and CTR’s drift system is surprisingly involved.
In fact, drifting in this game is actually intimidating compared to the hold-and-steer approach of TSR and Mario Kart. To carry the most speed through a drift, you have to keep one of the shoulder buttons pressed to hop into the slide as you tap the opposite shoulder button at regular intervals to trigger up to three boosts. The strength of the burst is determined by a constantly-filling meter; miss your mark and you’ll either get a weak blip of speed or none at all.
The drift mechanic is a significant reason why being fast in CTR is so challenging. Even seasoned players might feel overwhelmed attempting to execute pinpoint boosts while managing their drifting, and fending off attacks from opponents, and avoiding on-track obstacles. To make matters worse, drifting doesn’t feel terribly responsive in CTR; the steering angle never feels quite tight enough, and sometimes you try to enter a shallow drift and end up skidding straight on instead, unable to change direction.
That’s not to say all of Team Sonic Racing’s changes to the traditional kart-racer formula work either. The nature of the cooperative play makes the game really only fun in multiplayer; AI teammates will never pick up the slack if you’re falling behind, and on the harder difficulty levels they’ll pretty much just drag you down. TSR also feels a bit too slow — like Mario Kart at 50cc, but all the time — which will likely bore after a while.
Ultimately, which style of play you prefer will ultimately depend on what you’re looking for from your kart racer. But overall, Team Sonic Racing gets the edge simply because it’s bringing a bit more originality to the genre.
Winner: Team Sonic Racing
The most impressive thing about Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled is just how massive it is. Yes, there’s all of the tracks and characters from the PlayStation original, but it’s easy to forget how big CTR was.
Many CTR fans will remember the game’s Adventure Mode, which employed overworlds much like Diddy Kong Racing did, joining together all the races and challenges of the single-player campaign. In 1999, these overworlds felt like a massive, sprawling environments; 20 years later, the illusion of grandeur is gone. That’s to be expected really, though the Adventure Mode still has its collectibles and boss battles to test your perseverance.
However, Beenox went even further with Nitro-Fueled than it really needed to, by also including courses from CTR’s sequel, Crash Nitro Kart. So, all told, we’re looking at a whopping 31 tracks (not including the Battle Mode arenas) and 26 characters (with more on the way as DLC), along with new costumes and cosmetic modifications for karts. Impressive stuff.
Team Sonic Racing, on the other hand, is not as remarkable from a content standpoint. There are 21 tracks in the game, which is not a small number — until you realize that many of them have been carried over from Sumo’s last two kart racers, Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing and Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. In fact, Transformed had more circuits overall, as all of the exclusively Sega-themed locales from the previous game have been ditched for TSR, which is a strictly-Sonic affair. Even most of the music has been lifted wholesale from the first two games, save for a few choice additions from the franchise composer Jun Senoue and his band Crush 40.
Therein lies the problem with Team Sonic Racing: it doesn’t have enough original content to make it feel fresh, and unlike the case with CTR, TSR’s predecessors are still recent enough in players’ minds that the recycled content doesn’t justify its own existence. Furthermore, with 15 characters exclusively from the Sonic universe and none of the cameos from Sega franchises that Transformed featured, TSR can’t help but feel like a step backwards. And the game’s Story Mode, which is pretty much a flowchart of events dressed up with back-and-forth text exchanges between Sonic and his forgettable friends, can’t save it.
Winner: Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled
Performance and Graphics
Here’s where Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled seals the deal. As far as kart racers are concerned, Beenox’s update to CTR looks better than it has any right to. Beyond the lush, detailed locales and varied environments, the game is teeming with visual flourishes and effects that bring the action to life. Characters emote and cycle through cute, zany animations while behind the wheel, shadows are on point and a dash of motion blur ratchets up the sense of speed. I imagine anyone who loved CTR on the PlayStation is going to fall in love with how circuits they memorized long ago have been rendered in this edition.
There is, however, one caveat. Nitro-Fueled runs at a capped 30 frames per second on all platforms (and the game isn’t out on PC yet). Some hardcore players will likely scoff at that, though personally I’m not too bothered by 30 FPS in a kart racer — especially considering what’s been done on the fidelity side.
Playing on the Switch, I’m honestly in awe of how great CTR looks. Sure, the resolution isn’t as crisp as Mario Kart 8’s, and of course unlike Nintendo’s racer, CTR doesn’t run at 60 FPS. However, performance-wise it seems Beenox has taken the handheld as far as it can go, and didn’t dilute the experience too significantly compared to what you get on PS4 and Xbox One.
Team Sonic Racing, however, is a mixed bag. You do get 60 FPS gameplay on PS4, Xbox One and PC, though the Switch version is limited to 30 FPS. The tradeoff here is that while TSR runs more smoothly than CTR on certain platforms, it’s pretty boring visually, lacking the general flair and attention to detail that breathes life into the Crash universe. Graphically, I came away unimpressed with TSR on PC due to framerate hiccups that persisted at the same point on certain tracks, lap after lap, as well as environments that looked only slightly punched up compared to their appearances in Sega’s earlier kart racers.
Winner: Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled
Winner: Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled
Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled simply has more going for it across the board: more tracks, more to do in its single-player campaign and more to see. While Team Sonic Racing’s unique mechanics might make it more fun in a multiplayer context, it pales in comparison to All-Stars Transformed before it, and aside from the cooperative play, fails to distance itself enough from its predecessors.
Anyone who grew up enjoying the original CTR should be very pleased with Beenox’s remake. Nitro-Fueled could’ve been a shameless play on fans’ nostalgia, but instead, Beenox modernized and improved upon Naughty Dog’s work in every way. The result is more than a fitting tribute — it’s the best way to play one of the finest kart racers ever made.
Credit: Activision, Sega