Retro Review: Diddy Kong Racing
I know, I know. It might be a little bit early for another Retro Review but I’ve had Nintendo 64 on the brain lately so I couldn’t help myself but dive back in to explore one of the games from my childhood in semi-detail for the enjoyment of others.
Or the enjoyment of myself, realistically it’s probably a mixture of both.
For anyone who missed the chance to play Diddy Kong Racing back when it first came out on the Nintendo 64 – let me tell you right now that it was basically the Wario of Mario Kart. It was a very similar project to the original Mario Kart, only with some slight variations and deeper curve on its difficulty level – and obviously the success of the former has directly led to the lack of sequels of the latter, and yet Diddy Kong Racing still had a few core concepts which Mario Kart could learn a few things from.
Obviously it was a driving game, although at its core it was also a level based vehicle game where you travelled from world to world taking part in themed race levels – not unlike the original structure of Mario where you travel through several different worlds and do a few levels in each. One of the best parts about the four worlds that you explore in Diddy Kong Racing, was the boss levels – which generally involved you racing against an oversized enemy with a particularly devious strategy (spoilers, they cheat often) on a unique course to conquer the world.
Conquer all four worlds and you get to face the end boss, Wiz Pig – whose name was feared almost as much as it was mocked.
Honestly Diddy Kong Racing was a bit too much of a Mario Kart clone for most peoples liking, but those that discarded it based on that reasoning missed a hell of a game because of it. While it did feature cutely coloured racing tracks through swamps and icy terrains and the such, it also had some unique ideas like having three different types of vehicles (Plane, Car, Hovercraft) which the Mario Kart franchise wouldn’t pick up until much later on.
It even handled items differently, using balloons over the rainbow diamonds used in Mario Kart and with specific colouring for types of items – allowing you to choose what kind of pick up you were going to receive, and even stack certain pick ups for greater effect. For example if you picked up a red balloon you received one missile, hit another one and that’s a homing missile, hit a third and you get 10 missiles – this is the kind of fun thinking we are talking about.
It also had a crazy cast of characters which were completely outside the Mario universe – as well as being characters which either were already the star of their own Nintendo franchise or soon would be. Obviously there was Diddy Kong, but also lesser known Nintendo friends like Banjo from Banjo and Kazooie, Conker from Conkers Bad Fur Day as well as some other creatures who would never exist in other Nintendo games, like Timber the Tiger or Tiptup the Turtle.
One of the most notable differences between Diddy Kong Racing and Mario Kart was the difficulty. While Mario Kart had its own tiered difficulty system through the use of different speeds (50cc, 100cc,150cc), Diddy Kong Racing used both the worlds themselves and a sort-of double back procedure to hinder progression.
Essentially the first time you conquered a world you just defeated all the races then the end boss. However, at this point you had to go back and conquer all the races again – this time collecting 8 silver coins from 8 unique locations within the race, as well as finishing in first place. I don’t have to tell you that some of these coins were placed in uniquely fiendish locations – and by the time you get to the later worlds, they can seem downright impossible to collect while still making first place.
At the end of the day there probably wasn’t much room for Diddy Kong Racing in a world which already had one Mario Kart, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t home in my heart for both of these great titles who were just trying to make it honest in a simpler time for gaming.
Nowadays some people might call Diddy Kong Racing a copycat, but I prefer to think of it as a rival – one which might not have stood the test of time quite as well as its fellow.
Still it gave me many joyful hours, so I can’t help but tip my cap in respect.