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Diddy Kong Racing Review

Publisher - Nintendo
Developer - Rare
Platform - N64
Type - Racing
Score - 8/10

Just in time for Christmas is Rare's new racing game: Diddy Kong Racing. For those of you who don't know, Rare is the development team that's responsible for all the 16-bit Donkey Kong Country and Diddy Kong games. Now their taking their second tier heroes into the 64-bit realm with a new cart that's already breaking sales records. Records Schmecords, is it any good? Hang on friends, I'll fill you in.

So, why did I call the Diddy Kong characters second tier heroes? Well, even though Rare is a separate entity from Nintendo, Nintendo is responsible for their existence and has handed them Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong. Mario is Nintendo's cash cow, and DK and family have always been second best. Rare has turned Donkey Kong into a successful character and following that, his son Diddy. Diddy Kong puts the spotlight on Diddy Kong and it slips in plugs for two new characters in particular: Conker the squirrel and Banjo the bear. Both Conker and Banjo have their own games (similar to Mario 64) in development. Mario Kart 64 displays Nintendo's royal family; Diddy Kong Racing introduces us to the new kingdom next door.

The first thing I thought about when I heard about DKR (Diddy Kong Racing), I thought, "Oh boy, here comes Mario Kart part II." After playing the game, I'd have to say that DKR is derivative of Mario Kart, but It's not quite the same game.

First and foremost, the racing engine is not the same. There are slides, but no power slides in the Mario Kart sense. Other than that, the car based racing is pretty much like Mario Kart. The controls fall on the same buttons, balloons that bestow power-ups litter the track much like the item boxes, and you collect bananas to increase your speed, which is just like collecting coins in the 16-bit Mario Kart. Another glaring similarity are the speed-up arrows. When you drive over (or through) a speed-up arrow, you get a quick boost of speed. There are a few of these in Mario Kart 64, and they were very common in the Bowser stages of the original.

Luckily, DKR tracks bear little resemblance to Mario Kart. They are very well rendered and detailed, and almost nothing ever looks flat or 2D. Tracks are filled with snow, blazing with luminescent lava, or gushing over with spiffy waterfalls. The water isn't quite as good as Waverace, but it's probably number two on the neato water scale. One thing to notice is that the tracks are notably shorter than Mario Kart.

IF that was all that DKR was, I'd say that it was a shameless Mario Kart knock off, but it doesn't stop there. DKR spices things up with two more types of vehicles: air planes and hovercrafts. Much like the tank in Starfox has similar controls to the Arwing, the other vehicles in DKR are very similar to the cars. This makes mastering all three vehicles almost as simple as mastering one vehicle. The hovercraft can go over almost any type of terrain, and the planes ignore terrain altogether. All the vehicles use the same courses and the same power-ups. Not all the vehicles are available for every track, but players racing each other do not have to choose the same vehicle. You can race car vs. hovercraft, or car vs. plane, or any other combination. That's something Mario Kart won't do.

DKR, which does not intially have a battle mode (you can unlock one in the game), does introduce something new to racing games: the adventure mode. The adventure mode is a one player game that strings the race tracks together, attempting to form a coherent story line. It's an interesting idea, but the adventure mode is still a racing game. There are some differences from "Tracks" racing mode.

Adventure mode has a central hub from which you venture forth. The hub serves as a practice ground and occasionally as a challenge area where one of the characters will dare you to a race. The idea is to search for golden balloons. When you collect enough balloons, you earn the right to race on the racetracks. Once on the track, you must learn it well enough to place first. When you defeat the course you'll be rewarded with a gold balloon, which will allow you to access new tracks. Once you've beaten all the courses in an area, you earn the privilege of racing the area's boss. The bosses are neat and imaginative, and tough enough to make you lose a few times. THEN you have to go race all the tracks in that area again. This time you have to collect eight silver coins and still place first. When you beat all the tracks a second time, you get to race that level's boss again in a tougher race. If you manage to win again, you get to engage in a grand prix style race through all the tracks in the area. Only after you win the series have you beaten an area.

That's basically what adventure mode does, it gives you a meaningful sequence in which to race the courses alone. This isn't any good if the courses aren't any fun to begin with, but DKR already has cool course design, so adventure mode works quite well. If you're planning on owning DKR, you'd better sit down with the Adventure mode 'cause you have to beat tracks to unlock them for multiplayer races.

DKR's multiplayer is probably what's going to keep you coming back for more. Once you have all the courses available, you and up to 3 friends can fritter away your weekends zooming through splendid jungle landscapes and unforgiving frozen tundra.

There are a few things that I have to make clear before you run out and grab this cart. First of all, this game has a younger audience than Mario Kart. Mario Kart is totally wacky, but there's enough adrenaline in the game to keep older players entertained. DKR's characters will definitely appeal to the kids, but not as much to the older crowd. Also, DKR, while better rendered and detailed, seems to have a low frame rate and doesn't feel as fast as Mario Kart. This game looks and sounds incredible and it will enthrall the children, but I don't think it will give most people the racing experience inherent in Mario Kart, Extreme-G, and SF Rush.