Crash Nitro Kart Hands-On Preview

Crash and his wacky pals are racing toward the N-Gage, and we've got our first look at the game.

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VU Games' Crash Nitro Kart first raced its way onto console platforms and the GBA last November. Though the game wasn't anything outwardly remarkable, it was a simple, fun kart racing game that featured a solid collection of play modes and a wacky roster of characters from VU's Crash Bandicoot series. Next month, Crash Nitro Kart will be released on Nokia's N-Gage, and along with it will come Bluetooth and N-Gage Arena support, as well as a new battle mode and a host of unlockable extras. After spending some time with the N-Gage version of Crash Nitro Kart, we find ourselves liking many of the feature inclusions but also having a few fundamental concerns about the gameplay.

Crash Nitro Kart on the N-Gage isn't terribly different from Crash Nitro Kart on the GBA, though it does feature more in the way of play options.
Crash Nitro Kart on the N-Gage isn't terribly different from Crash Nitro Kart on the GBA, though it does feature more in the way of play options.

Crash Nitro Kart's basic controls are primarily the same as in the GBA version of the game. The 5 button accelerates, the 6 button brakes, the 2 button lets you jump/powerslide, and the 7 button allows you to launch weapons you pick up along the course. Eighteen different characters will be available in the game (though not all of them will be unlocked from the get-go), including the likes of the vile Dr. Neo Cortex, the muscle-bound Crunch, the hilariously misnamed Tiny, and, of course, Crash himself. The basic racing action seems roughly on par with the GBA version, especially in terms of how your racers handle and turn.

With that said, we did find a few flaws. The first and most glaring issue in the N-Gage version of Crash Nitro Kart is that the N-Gage's screen seems too limiting for games like kart racers. We frequently had trouble seeing exactly where we were on the track and where the next turn was coming up, which ultimately made racing quite frustrating at times. The other main issue was with the sense of speed. The differences in speed between different characters were certainly noticeable, but on the whole, the actual in-game sense of speed for all racers was a little on the erratic side. Sometimes it seemed as though we were going extremely fast, and then only a minute later we'd be slugging along at a snail's pace. Hopefully this is an aspect of the game that's still being tweaked.

In terms of play modes, Crash Nitro Kart fares significantly better. The adventure, arcade, and time trial modes from the GBA version are all included in the N-Gage version and seem to be just as good as before. The arcade mode features single, quick, and cup races. The cup races are three track groupings of races that allow you to compete for specific cups, such as the Wumpa Cup or the Nitro Cup. The adventure mode features a bit of a story, in that Crash and his friends/foes are kidnapped by the entertainment-crazed ruler of an alien planet and are forced to kart-race through a number of different levels for the entertainment of his people. As you compete, you'll earn cups and keys that let you unlock the newest races.

The GBA version of Crash Nitro Kart featured four-player multiplayer via GBA connectivity. The N-Gage version also features four-player multiplayer, though via the system's Bluetooth support. After going a round or two with the Bluetooth multiplayer, it's safe to say that it performed quite well, with no real lag to speak of. In addition to basic racing, the game's multiplayer component also features a battle mode of sorts, in which you can beat the heck out of your opponents. Evidently, you'll also be able to use the N-Gage Arena in Crash Nitro Kart, both to unlock extra goodies and to access uploaded ghost races.

N-Gage Arena support lets you unlock new characters and other random goodies, as well as get your ghost race on against uploaded times.
N-Gage Arena support lets you unlock new characters and other random goodies, as well as get your ghost race on against uploaded times.

On the whole, Crash Nitro Kart doesn't look terribly different from its GBA predecessor, though a few upgrades have been made. The racers themselves are slightly more detailed, and the racing environments have gotten a bit more of the 3D treatment, with more-dynamic-looking set pieces and environmental hazards. While this is all well and good, the camera does seem to have a nasty habit of clipping through the various 3D set pieces. We're hoping this is just a temporary issue. The in-game audio seems to be coming together pretty well. The main theme song and other little snippets of music are quite catchy, and the in-game race audio actually sounds solid and makes good use of the N-Gage's speakers.

While Crash Nitro Kart for the N-Gage certainly seems like it will bring some appreciable qualities to the table, the concerns we have are definitely a bit of a sticking point for us at this stage of the game. We like the multiplayer features and upgraded graphics, but the inherent issues that seem to come from the differences between the GBA and N-Gage screen types are problematic. With that said, we certainly hope that things turn out for the best when the game ships next month. Stay tuned for a full review of the game upon its release.

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