Crash Nitro Kart, from Kaolink and Digital Bridges, is a reasonably faithful reproduction of the recent Super Mario Kart-inspired console game for the mobile phone. Unfortunately, accuracy isn't enough to make an interesting game. This kart racer has solid graphics and control, but it's a pretty monotonous play.
The races take place over a total of 12 different tracks in three different areas: city, beach, and castle. Each race is three laps. Your gameplay choices are limited to single race or tournament, which is a back-to-back race through each area.
The four characters, taken from the platform game Crash Bandicoot, all handle differently. Crash is easy to steer, but his speed is only average; Neo Cortex is the fastest of the bunch, but difficult to control; Crunch isn't as fast as Neo Cortex, but he picks up speed quicker; finally, Coco has stats slightly below Crash's. Strangely, there are no advantages to playing the character Coco, unless you just want a slower version of Crash (or a female character).
It's a neat idea to have such appreciably different racers in the game, and onscreen meters make Crash Nitro Kart easy to pick up. Character icons at the top shift based on the current race order, making it clear who's in the lead at any time. A long line with colored dots shows everyone's distance from the finish line. However, it would have been nice if the game featured an actual overhead map, as it is difficult to anticipate the many sharp curves on the tracks.
The single-race mode is limited to tracks already won in the tournament mode, though it does start off with the city area available. Playing single races in the beach and castle areas requires winning tournaments. In the single race, you pick the character and track, and then race against the other three characters. The focus here is on making the best race time; you can put your name in and save record-breaking times. The lack of a ghost race mode, where you can race against yourself, or perhaps even other players' best times, is something of a disappointment.
Tournament mode is more interesting than single-race mode, since it offers more variety and the opportunity to unlock new tracks. You race against opponents on the first three tracks of each area and, if you get first place, you unlock the next area to race. Each area's final, secret track is locked until you win the final tournament in the castle area. As in many other racing games, you win points based on your placement and the winner is determined by adding the numbers up. Winning first place gives you four points, while second and third gives you two points and one point, respectively.
There are plenty of items to pick up in both modes, courtesy of bonus boxes culled from the platform game. Rows of boxes are set at designated parts of each track and, as in Super Mario Kart, running into them gives you a random item. There are at least a half-dozen items, from missiles to speed boosts, and each has a colorful icon that pops up in the upper left-hand corner. Items are easy to use--just press the 5 key--but their uses aren't immediately clear. Grabbing a little worm icon makes you go faster, while getting the clock item shrinks all of your opponents so you can run over them. Perhaps hardcore fans of the original Crash Bandicoot series will understand.
Your opponents are tough but fair, and they race with a fun aggressiveness that seems to be indicative of the character. For instance, if you are head-to-head with Coco, she'll focus on getting her speed up and leaving you in the dust. On the other hand, the evil Neo Cortex will try to bump you off the road at any cost. It's pretty funny to watch Neo, who looks like Wario from behind, trying to knock you off the track with his oversized head.
The controls are responsive, but for some reason Digital Bridges decided against making the gas automatic, meaning that you'll have a sore thumb after playing for more than 15 minutes. The items are appropriate and come in handy. Unfortunately, some of them, the TNT and missiles in particular, don't seem effective at all. TNT is dropped behind you during the race, but opponents rarely, if ever, actually hit it. More than likely, you'll run into the TNT yourself on the following lap. Missiles fire directly ahead of you in a straight line, but the tracks in Crash Nitro Kart are so curvy that the chances of it hitting anyone are very slim. It would have helped if the missiles actually moved relative to the road, which is not too big of a reality stretch for a game about racing marsupials.
Though the visuals in this game aren't bad, the overall variety of the graphics is severely limited. The developer actually managed to capture the visual essence of the series. Crash fans will recognize the characters and some of the backgrounds. Unfortunately, most everything in Crash Nitro Kart is small. The actual racing area takes up less than a fourth of the screen and, though the parallax scrolling background is nice, it takes up even less space than the track. Most of the game screen is dedicated to sky. The lack of variety also hurts the gameplay itself, as there are no major differences between city, beach, and castle aside from water and moats. In short, there's no real motivation to unlock the later levels.
The sound also falls on the repetitive side. The theme song is catchy and fun, but it's only a 10-second or so loop during the menu screens. The actual game doesn't have any music and the sound effects are light and rare, so the game fades into silence too often.
Overall, Crash Nitro Kart is an average racing game that might appeal to diehard Crash Bandicoot fans--but there are simply way too many behind-the-driver race games on the cell for it to stand out on its own merits. If you don't like Crash Bandicoot, this game probably isn't worth downloading.