Review: Diddy Kong Racing (N64)

In this review, we check out the racing game Diddy Kong Racing as released for the Nintendo 64. This game more or less falls into the series of Donkey Kong games in an indirect way mainly because the featured character is Diddy Kong.

Released in 1997, this game is a racing game with adventure elements thrown in. The game incorporates numerous Rare characters and even throws in a few new ones for good measure.

The story is mostly the fact that WizPig is wreaking havoc on the island and the only way to drive him out is to be the best racer – eventually, you have to race WizPig himself.

Unlike a number of racing games that were also released on the Nintendo 64, the menu’s end once you select a file and character. Your character is immediately thrown into a large “lobby” area where you are greeted by a blue elephant names Taj. You can switch between vehicles by talking to him – which is excellent because the single propeller plane is the best way to get around the island.

From there can explore the island. You can either search for the secret balloons hidden on the main island or just go right into the first smaller lobby area across the bridge to take on your first race.

One of the great aspects about this game, as I alluded to earlier, is the multiple different vehicles you can use. There is the standard go-kart, the hover-craft and the plane. Each vehicle has different aspects to them such as the hovercraft’s unique turning style or the planes ability to fly through zippers only accessible to the vehicle in question.

Another unique element to this game is the various items you go pick up. There is the TT amulet pieces, the WizPig amulet, the golden trophies, the hidden keys, the silver coins and, of course, the balloons that are used to unlock new courses. All have to be collected at some point to fully beat this game, but each collectable has their own unique contexts (silver coins can only be collected after you beat the boss – which is then mandatory to continue).

In addition, there are bosses you have to race against at various points in the game which is seemingly a somewhat novel concept in the Nintendo 64 era of gaming.

To add to this, there’s the unique ‘challenge’ levels that can only be accessed after you find a hidden key in a given domain. Some of them are your standard “last man standing wins” battle matches, but there’s also multiplayer style levels that get you to collect items or collect and guard against other players such as the egg challenge found in dino domain.

The graphics in this game are impressive for a game released on this console. There’s so many nooks and cranny’s in this game that are to be found, it’s actually difficult to appreciate how much effort it would have taken to design and fully create through graphics and design. While there are 2D sprites, some of them actually do a good job into fooling you into thinking it’s 3D such as the fan on the back of each hovercraft. Only after careful examination did I realize this was a very dynamic 2D sprite. Some 2D sprites are obvious like the trees, but they really don’t detract from the overall game in the slightest. The effects from getting hit from a rocket, for instance, were also a nice touch.

The audio is also quite impressive. The music ranges from primitive style music to Christmas style music to spooky music to space-like music. The music even changes mid-race which I thought was an impressively nice touch. The sound effects also gives that cartoon-like edge to it all that isn’t too obvious, but also adds a certain level of depth to this game that makes it enjoyable such as when your character runs into a tree.

It’s hard to find anything to really nitpick about in this game, but I did find that the octopus boss was more difficult than the dragon. Since the octopus boss appears earlier in the game than the dragon, I would have expected the dragon to be more difficult, but it’s the other way around. Of course, that could be my skillset impeding me in some parts of the game. I don’t know.

Another flaw in this game is that it forces you to repeat certain parts. While it adds a certain dynamic to the game, it does take away from the replay value. Of course, if you play through this game once, then wait a few years, you’ll be happy to play it again in my opinion.

Overall, I would say this game is the pinnacle of kart racing games on the N64. If you play this game first, it will spoil you as you try other kart racing games released on this console. It also shows that it’s possible for other companies to best a flagship Mario game (namely, Mario Kart 64) in a particular category.

Furthest point in game: Beat it twice.

General gameplay: 23/25
Replay value: 5/10
Graphics: 10/10
Audio: 5/5

Overall rating: 86%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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