Super Mario Kart began what’s known as the “character go-kart” genre in the world of videogames. Ever since that game’s release more than a decade ago, it’s almost been like a development creed for a team stuck with a license: “When in doubt, make it a racing game.” We’ve seen these in all shapes and sizes across every videogame system, putting a wide variety of characters like Looney Tunes, Rugrats, Spongebob, Shrek…even videogame heroes from Hudson and Konami went four-wheeling at one time or another.As the story goes, the one game that came close to being as good as Nintendo’s original kart offering was Naughty Dog’s Crash Team Racing released a half decade ago on the original PlayStation One. Vivendi Universal obviously wants to return to the success of that game design, especially since Crash is a multi-console hero now. In comes Crash Nitro Kart for the Game Boy Advance, a handheld-specific rendition of the racing game released for the Xbox, GameCube and PS2. In portable form, the developers did a great job on racing design with excellent attention to car handling, challenge, track design, and a ton of racing modes to increase replay. But the graphic engine’s habit of continuously slowing down during particularly hectic moments is too prominent to ignore…and is a serious downer to an otherwise great GBA kart racer.
- Eleven racers
- Arcade and Adventure modes
- Link cable support for four players (multiple cartridge)
- Cartridge save (three slots)
- Internet rankings at www.vvisions.com
- Connectivity with GameCube version
Just like the console versions, the Game Boy Advance rendition of Crash Nitro Kart has been handled by Vicarious Visions, the development team that originally brought the bandicoot to the handheld in The Big Adventure and N-Tranced platformers. Though the development studio originally started in the Game Boy market with racing games such as Polaris Snocross and Sea-Doo Hydrocross, this is Vicarious Visions’ first Game Boy Advance racer…and the team’s first GBA design to utilize a Mode-7 engine for the game design.
The plot of Crash Nitro Kart puts Crash and crew on a remote planet where they’ve been kidnapped by the “evil” Emperor Velo, forced to race against the alien posse as well as Neo Cortex and his crew of cronies. While players can just jump right in and race the game’s circuits in Arcade mode, some tracks and racers aren’t available until they go through the game’s Adventure Mode. Here, players can either choose the good or bad side from the start; Crash is fighting to save the world, while Neo’s got other plans for Earth. Both teams have their own balance of characters and racer abilities, from heavy and fast to light and spry, so there’s a kart suited for your specific style of racing.
Even though we’ve played kart racers of varying quality on the Game Boy Advance, Crash Nitro Kart is definitely the one, apart from Mario Kart: Super Circuit, that had so much attention paid to its game design. The handling of the cars is really spot-on, especially with the powerslide in action. And the weaponry is well-balanced with a nice assortment of offensive and defensive attacks, most of which are inspired from Mario Kart, just retuned to fit the Crash Bandicoot universe.
But it’s the Boost element that really gives Crash Nitro Kart its charm, and makes the game feel more its own than simply a Mario Kart clone. In a powerslide, the racer quickly builds up a boost meter that must be activated at a specific time, and a successful powerslide can give skilled players as many as three linked boosts. This is where the champions are made; without the powerslide technique mastered, there’s no way you’ll be able to become Earth’s champion. This mechanic is mapped extremely well to the GBA’s button limitations: during a powerslide, you actually have to release the accelerator and tap that button to activate the Nitro blasts. It may sound awkward, but once you play it in action you’ll understand just how well it works in Crash Nitro Kart.
The Game Boy Advance game goes further by offering additional incentives to continue playing with extremely challenging tasks; to collect CNK tokens in each track, players will have to collect C, N, and K tokens scattered along the track and come in first. Each world also contains a “Crystal Arena” that challenges players to collect all the scattered crystals in a set amount of time. Other tracks have a Relic Race that requires players to race the track under a certain time, smacking into crates that will freeze the clock for the designated time painted on the box. Of course, there’s link cable support for four players, with a few racing and battle modes in the multiplayer features. And let’s not forget the Time Trial where players can rank their times up on the Vicarious Visions website through a password system.
But with all this implemented, the one factor that brings it all down is a sluggish game engine. As great as the track, character and weapon graphics are, the game is meant to move at a speedy and smooth clip…and when characters group together on-screen, it’s almost too much for the system to handle. The game chugs noticeably, and it’s not just occasionally, either. Any time there’s multiple characters boosting or activating a specific power-up, the engine just slows down. It doesn’t happen much, if at all, in time trials or during “boss battles,” but when most of the game takes place in an eight-character race, it’s just unforgivable to have such a fast-paced game slow down to a crawl in patches during the gameplay. And it definitely affects play during a race, especially when players are used to the timing of the Nitro meter during regular, non-sluggish play and must adjust their button presses where the engine bogs down.