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Diddy Kong Racing

Rated E for Everyone


Nintendo 64 (N64)






November 1997

ROM Size:

96 megabits


One to Four Simultaneous




Cartridge (3 slots) and/or Controller Pak (1 to 4 pages)


Rumble Pak



> Final Rating: 4.7 out of 5.0


What a year (1997) this has been for Rare. We got Blast Corps, the addictive action/puzzle game, back in March. Then we got the incredible GoldenEye 007 in August. Now we get Diddy Kong Racing in November. Diddy Kong Racing is actually the first game that Rare is publishing and Nintendo is exclusively distributing. At any rate, it further exemplifies Nintendo and Rare's commitment to quality. This is the latest triple-A title that not only shows off the N64's capabilities but also proves that developers can still make games with more substance than flash.


Diddy Kong Racing is a "racing/adventure" game. What does that mean? Well, racing is definitely the main attraction here, but there are quite a few adventure aspects, too. For example, all worlds and tracks are accessed via the "Central Area," which is setup just like Super Mario 64. Instead of walking around, though, you drive around. The default vehicle is a car, but it can be changed to a plane or hovercraft, too. Plus, there is a background story to the game and different objectives you have to complete on the tracks.

Gameplay & Control

When you start the game for the first time, you'll meet Taj, an elephant with an Arabian accent. He helps by giving you hints, switching your vehicle, presenting you with challenges, and more. In order to access the various worlds in Diddy Kong Racing, you are required to have a certain number of Golden Balloons. If you don't acquire enough Golden Balloons, or if you didn't complete a certain task, then you cannot enter the level.


From the Central Area, which is where you always start each time you turn on the game, you can ride to four different worlds: Dino Domain, Snowflake Mountain, Sherbet Island, and Dragon Forest. Once you enter the door to go to one of these worlds, you're put in the "lobby" of that world. From there, you can ride up to the different doors. In each world, there are four main racing levels, a boss door, a challenge area, and a trophy race.


Let's look at what needs to be done in each world. Your first assignment is always to get a first place on all four main racing levels in that world. Beating each individual racing level will net you one Golden Balloon. Once you do that, you can challenge a boss to a one-on-one race. If you beat the boss, then that opens up the Silver Coin Challenge. For this, you go back and race through those same four levels again. This time, though, you must get eight silver coins before you finish the three laps and you must finish in first place.


If you finish the Silver Coin Challenge on all four levels within the world, then you can face the boss a second time. He is much tougher the second time, however. Beating him the second time will give you a piece of the Wizpig amulet. It also will open up the Trophy Race. The Trophy Race is setup just like Mario Kart's Grand Prix mode, except the points are divided up a different way (9 for first, 7 for second, 5 for third, 3 for fourth, and 1 for fifth).


After going through all four racing levels again, if you come out on top, then you win the Gold Trophy of Champions for that world. But, wait, there's still one more thing: If you can find the hidden key in one of the four main racing levels in that world, then you can open up a Challenge area. The Challenge area is Diddy Kong Racing's version of the Battle Mode (more on this later). Beating the Challenge area will give you a piece of the T.T. amulet.


It's too bad that Rare included a great idea as a cheat. Just enter JOINTVENTURE as a Magic Code and two players can play the Adventure mode simultaneously! The objectives  are the same as the one-player mode. And while you only can alternate when driving in the Central Area and racing against the boss, you can play the racing and challenge levels together.


Diddy Kong Racing throws three different vehicles your way: the car, the plane, and the hovercraft. The game does mix up the vehicles from level to level quite nicely. Naturally, however, some levels do limit the vehicles you can choose. For example, you can't use a car on a level that's solely water. Or you might not be able to use the plane if it would be too easy to take a massive shortcut. In the "Tracks" mode, which is Diddy Kong Racing's Match Race, you and other human opponents even can use completely different vehicles. One might use the car while the other uses the plane. If you have the option to choose in the Adventure mode, then the computer opponents will use the same vehicle that you pick.


Of course, you'll need someone to take control of those vehicles. So here's a list of characters, which vary in abilities just like the drivers in Mario Kart 64: Timber the tiger, Pipsy the mouse, Diddy Kong the monkey, Banjo the bear, Conker the squirrel, Bumper the badger, Tiptup the turtle, and Krunch the kremling. I use Tiptup and my friend uses Pipsy. We chose them because they're similar to the original Mario Kart's duo of Toad and Koopa Troopa.


You might be wondering about the game's control. The Control Stick is used to control your vehicle. The A button is used to accelerate. The B button is used to brake. Holding B and pressing back on the Control Stick will cause you to go in reverse. The Z button is used to fire a weapon (a horn will sound if you don't have one). The C group is only used to toggle some on-screen indicators like speedometer, camera, etc. Finally, the R button is used for a sharp turn.


With the car, you can do a power-slide by holding down the R button. However, your car does not hop like the original Mario Kart. With the plane, press it twice—while holding left, right, up or down—to do a roll or flip. And with the hovercraft, pressing R will cause the boat to jump. Also, using B and R in conjunction with each other will enable you to do a super sharp turn or even a 180 if held down long enough.


What may disappoint die-hard Mario Kart fanatics the most is Diddy Kong Racing's weapon selection. It's a little on the lacking side, but it does grow on you as you play the game more. Five different colored balloons exist: yellow gives you a shield, red gives you missiles, green gives you "droppers," blue gives you speed boosts, and rainbow gives you a magnet.


These colored balloons appear at many different places on the track—but they are not random. Sometimes they're in a row with other colors and sometimes they're off to the side. What's different in Diddy Kong Racing is that these Weapon Balloons can be upgraded, becoming more powerful with each power-up, all the way up to level three. To upgrade them, just keep the getting the same colored balloon without picking up any other color.


Sadly, Diddy Kong Racing's Battle Mode, which is referred to as a "Challenge," is not as good as Super Mario Kart (Super NES) or Mario Kart 64. There are a mere four areas to choose from. While two of the levels are straight "be the last one alive" type of stages, two of them offer actual challenges. There is one improvement, however: Computer opponents will play if fewer than four humans are participating.


For instance, the goal of Fire Mountain is to hatch three baby dinosaurs before your opponents do. What you must do is fly down to a center area, grab an egg (if there's one there), and drop it in your designated nest. The goal of Smokey Castle is to fill your treasure chest with 10 bananas before your opponents do. The other two levels, Icicle Pyramid and Darkwater Beach, are the "normal" Challenge areas. The way these two work is that you have eight bananas to start. Each time you're hit, you lose two bananas. Once you have zero bananas, you're out of the battle.

Graphics & Sound

Graphically, Rare shows itself off as the only developer to offer seemingly fog-free action. Moreover, the actual racing levels look lovely, too. If you're playing the game in the one-player mode, seven other highly intelligent racers on the track battle you. Some of the levels in which you race with the car might have huge polygons moving around; for example, the first level has a big dinosaur moving around on it. The plane levels usually have huge polygon-based structures throughout the level. And the hovercraft levels have some perpetually calculated wave effects, just like Wave Race 64. At times, they look even better than the waves in Wave Race 64 because of the transparent nature of the water.


The two-player mode looks just as good. There are few minor changes to keep the frame rate humming. For example, that huge brontosaur is nowhere to be found. Additionally, only six (two humans and four computer opponents) vehicles are on the track at once instead of eight. The three- and four-player modes, which operate just like Mario Kart 64's, lose a bit more detail, but it's still one of smoothest multi-player games yet on the Nintendo 64.


The only knock against Diddy Kong Racing's graphics is probably the somewhat excessive amount of clipping. It's not unbearable, but it's more than we're used to seeing in a 64-bit game. Rare probably would have fixed many of the clipping problems if it had more time.


Aurally, Diddy Kong Racing is impressive—that is, if you can tolerate the kiddie-like nature of it all. First, there is a tremendous amount of speech in the game. Taj (the helpful Arabian elephant), T.T. (overseer of Time Trial and game status), and all the bosses have multiple sentences of speech. Rare tried to make each one sound like what it looks like, but some of them come off sounding a bit cheesy.


All of the racers in the game also have a voice. But most of their comments are mainly yelps, grunts, yippies, yahoos—that sort of thing. Each racer probably has more than a handful of those types of comments.


Music in the game is interesting, too. Considering the Mario Kart games never exactly had good music, some of the tunes in Diddy Kong Racing are quite catchy. Most of the music fits the level's theme.


Diddy Kong Racing emerges as a very enjoyable game—one of the few must-have titles on N64. Compared to Mario Kart 64's one-player mode, Diddy Kong Racing's Adventure mode is fantastic. But once that mode has been played through, it becomes strikingly clear that Mario Kart 64 is unequivocally the better multi-player game. Buy Diddy Kong Racing for the very good Adventure mode, but don't expect multi-player action on the same level as the Mario Kart series.
















After all the hype disappears, Diddy Kong Racing emerges as a game that's very good but not superb. Compared to Mario Kart 64's one-player mode, Diddy Kong Racing's Adventure mode is fantastic. But once that mode's novelty has worn off, it becomes strikingly clear that Mario Kart 64 is unequivocally the better multi-player game. There are three main problems with Diddy Kong Racing's multi-player mode: lackluster weapons, different vehicles, and the Challenge mode. Let's face it, Mario Kart is great because of its weapons. Diddy Kong Racing's weapon selection is very much lacking. Second, the additions of the plane and hovercraft appeared to be a good idea, but they present a problem if the people you're playing with don't like to use them. Finally, the Challenge mode just doesn't hold a candle to Mario Kart's Battle mode. When it's all said and done, Diddy Kong Racing is a very good game on its own right, but it doesn't quite compare to the multi-player action of Mario Kart 64.


Review by: Scott McCall

First Reviewed: November 11, 1997

Appendix Added: March 6, 1998




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