Diddy Kong Racing retrospective

24th April 2008 – 2.57 pm

Having played some Mario Kart Wii recently I was mulling over other racing games I've played. I remember Diddy Kong Racing from the N64 fondly. I don't recall whether the game was released before Mario Kart 64 or not, but I had both of those two games and enjoyed them both. It may be that Diddy Kong Racing was released first, as I have no affinity with the Donkey Kong games released in that era that would lead me to buy the racing game, apart from it being a racing game.

I think the handling in both games was fairly similar, at least in the feeling of being in control of the vehicle. With Diddy Kong Racing offering races in hovercraft and aeroplanes the handling between the two games cannot be directly compared across all cases. Both the hovercraft and aeroplane handled well, although the aeroplane needed a bit of practice to get the hang off. The steeering of the hovercraft lagged behind the driver's input, mimicking hovercraft in real life I imagine, and were much fun to drive as you could buzz across any surface just as easily as any other.

Diddy Kong Racing had a single player mode that was more involving than Mario Kart's, and was more akin to Super Mario 64. The player had to complete races to collect balloons, and once enough balloons were collected new stages were opened to race in and new vehicles were enabled. These stages included challenge stages where the player had to complete eight coins littered around, and sometimes off, the racetrack whilst still finishing first in the race itself. Once all the stages were completed there was a boss to race against, who was fast and had special attacks to use against the player. These were tough, and almost game-endingly so. The walrus had me awfully frustrated for the longest time before I managed to beat him, because of the bubbles he throws that stop you in your tracks as well as the motions of the waves. After beating him and opening up the next stages the racing was much smoother.

I even managed to complete the final boss and open up the hidden stages. The lighthouse that seems ornamental in the game becomes a rocket ship that transports everyone up to a space station where four more tracks are unlocked, and a new stage of racing can take place. I had to defeat the last boss to get to that stage, but the real enemy was always the walrus. I had to try to get past that stupid creature again when my cartridge was fried after lending the game to a friend, and I'm not sure I ever defeated him a second time, keeping the space stages locked away once more.

The power-ups in Diddy Kong Racing were not random like in Mario Kart. The type of power-up picked up was determined by the colour of power-up balloon you drove through, and the same power-ups were placed in the same positions for each race on the same course. The power-ups themselves were quite simple, offering a missile, speed boost, or magnet. The power-up could be enhanced twice by picking up a similar type of power-up more than once without using it. The missile became ten missiles and then a homing missile, and the speed boost and magnet power-ups had an increased effect. The fewer types of power-up and the predetermined nature of their positions kept them powerful enough to offer strategic uses, but prevented the random destruction frenzy that often accompanies Mario Kart games. Because of this, Diddy Kong Racing could be argued to be more of a racing game than Mario Kart, even though they both offered a similar experience in pure racing terms. And in Diddy Kong Racing if you weren't carrying a power-up the joystick button that normally activated them instead sounded a horn on the racing vehicle, which is just as much fun beeping as firing a green koopa shell.

The choice of characters was good with Diddy Kong Racing too. As with most games I tended to restrict my options to the cute characters or those who offered superior handling of the vehicles over speed or weight. I enjoyed playing as the tortoise a lot, and later on played nearly exclusively as Timber, a really cute tiger cub. One of the neat little touches that kept me far more entertained than perhaps it should was on the character select screen. On selecting a character the character would let out a little exclamation, but more amusingly upon deselecting them they would let out a little grumble of disatisfaction. In Timber's case this was a cute growl. I spent far too many times just selecting and deselecting the tiger before starting to play in any one game.

With all this reflection I owe it to myself to see if the game is available on the Wii as a download, and look to pick it up if it is. I have a suspicion I read that it is available but also that some changes were made that affect the gameplay. I'll have to look in to this some more.

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