While Crash Bandicoot is an icon of the fifth generation of consoles, the manic marsupial found the move to the next generation difficult. His first post-PS1 outing, The Wrath of Cortex, left little impression on the video game world, but undeterred, Crash’s new custodians Universal and Vicarious Visions proceeded to pursue the license, with his second racing game following Crash Team Racing.
What is Crash Nitro Kart? When Universal and Vicarious Visions started production it was known as Crash Team Racing 2 before the eventual name change. The original title is better shorthand for the final product, a next-gen update of the beloved karting classic for the PS1, found its way to multiple consoles in November 2003, including the original Xbox.
For Xbox devotees who may have felt they missed out, Crash Nitro Kart has the same controls and a similar feel to Crash Team Racing. It has the same track features like turbo pads and all the same weapons as the first game, as well as some new ones. It also follows the same format as the first game; a campaign in which players progress by winning races with additional relic races and token challenges.
While it’s more or less the same as the original game and though the graphics are much improved, this game has less tracks, fewer playable characters, a shorter campaign and fewer multiplayer and customization options. It’s strange then that despite the upgrade CNK gives players less than more. The biggest addition is the ‘Team Up’ function which happens mid-race, but doesn’t add much to gameplay, nor is it ever clearly explained what it is there for.
There are some advantages over CTR: whereas there you raced as the same one character for the entirety of the campaign, Crash Nitro Kart gives you options for deeper gameplay. The racers here are split into a good team made up of Crash, Coco and Crunch (reformed after the events of Wrath of Cortex) and a bad team of Cortex, N. Gin and Tiny (other characters can be unlocked but are not available in adventure mode). They all find themselves racing at the behest of the alien Emperor Velo XXVII, who is seeking the universe’s fastest racers to challenge him.
When the campaign begins the game has you choose between a good team, with the racers on each having different stats: faster characters are worse at turning, while ones with better handling have lesser acceleration. The skill then is choosing the right character to ensure the best result on each track. Campaign cutscenes are different depending on which team is chosen and, like its predecessor, CNK also has boss races but no familiar faces feature – instead the bosses are all new characters.
In terms of racing, Crash Nitro Kart doesn’t have the same feel of speed that its previous-gen version did so well, but it does have some good tracks on offer. Jungle Boogie, Tiny Temple and Barin Ruins are both fast and furious while the stand out is the surrealistic Out of Time; here differing areas and terrain can make for a challenging, exciting drive. Some tracks are simple and later stages in particular go on for much too long, but on the whole CNK delivers on its courses.
The problems with Crash Nitro Kart were reflected in its response upon release, with critics praising the presentation over the gameplay. It’s possible to have some fun with the game but comes up short when compared to its supposedly smaller predecessor. The game’s tracks were later recreated for 2019’s Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fuelled, while for Crash completists there are still a dwindling number of second-hand copies available on eBay and Amazon.
What do you remember of Crash Nitro Kart? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.