|Title||:||Diddy Kong Racing|
|Review by||:||Ken Gagne|
Often, a popular character will unsuccessfully be fitted into other genres, and sold on the name alone. This proves not to be the case in Nintendo's Diddy Kong Racing, a Nintendo 64 racer which proves itself an excellent, self-standing racing title.
To some extent, DKR is a clone of the wildly-popular Mario Kart 64 game. Several figures from the Donkey Kong Country series race across sixteen courses and various other bonus stages in a variety of colorfully silly worlds. Each stage will employ either a car, hovercraft, or plane, or later any vehicle of the player's selection. But, access to each area requires a number of balloons, similar to the stars in Super Mario 64. Balloons can be earned by placing no less than first in each race, or by performing other special tasks. Progress regarding balloons and trophies is saved directly to the cartridge.
The graphics are, as mentioned, playfully colorful. Most of the characters are cute and cuddly, while the worlds they explore appear less than lethal. The childish appearance should not deter experienced gamers, though. The 3D-scrolling worlds are a delight to be leisurely travelled, while the various characters only seem friendly, that they might more effectively have you eating their dust.
The music makes a smooth transition from area to area. Entering the winter scene, for example, the tunes almost begin to sound like takes on actual Christmas songs. The racers and the various characters with whom they interact each have a distinctive voice and accent, although the speech itself is not always intelligible. Small sound effects, such as the ringing of a bell bumped into during a race, are nice touches.
The control configuration is nearly identical with Mario Kart. Each racer responds differently, so finding the proper one for a particular gamer's tastes is important. Several techniques for boosting, braking, and turning comprise a diverse bag of tricks, learned with help from in-game tips. Although the handling nature of the three vehicles differs slightly, they are familiar enough to master without much difficulty.
There is plenty of challenge to Diddy Kong Racing. First, each track must be won by coming in first, not second or third. This goal is then added to that of collecting eight coins scattered across the course; accomplishing both these goals can be nigh-impossible at times. There are only five different items which can be employed during a race. Each has three levels of power, but still lack the strength necessary to cause an upset needed to win. The computer opponents do not cheat (such as receiving mysterious speed boosts when they're falling behind, as in Mario Kart), but sometimes gain nearly insurmountable leads.
Playing the game over and over to get a perfect score will become routine, as will searching for just one balloon necessary to enter the next course. Time trials can be raced and two "ghosts" of best runs can be saved to the memory pack (which can be swapped with the Rumble Pak during play). Up to four players can compete in the races with computer characters as well, but the number of battle courses is limited. Mario Kart is a better party game.
Diddy Kong Racing has great potential as a Christmas gift. It has plenty of replay value and very few faults. Its adventure aspect is lacking in Mario Kart, but does not live up to that title in other areas. Overall, it is not quite the better racer of the two, but it's still worth going ape over.
This article is copyright (c) 1997, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 24-Nov-97