Diddy Kong RacingRare takes a good idea and makes it better.
Diddy Kong Racing is Nintend's biggest winter holiday release for '97. The game beams with bright primary colors and cute characters, and it screams to be compared with the game from which it originated, Mario Kart 64. Everyone with their head screwed on will do just that, and frankly we re glad. Diddy Kong Racing is an excellent follow-up to the somewhat controversial Mario Kart, improving on all of the game s weaknesses and inventing a few new additions of its own.
Diddy Kong's main drawback is that it's just so cute, certainly too cute for its own damn good. It feels almost cynically calculated in its look, feel, delivery, and even, ironically, in its timing. It s Rare s version of Disneyland, just in time for the winter holiday. The game lacks the originality of Rare s Blast Corps, and is deep down, a Mario Kart 64 clone. That said, it s the best kart game we ve ever seen.
What s most exciting about Diddy Kong Racing is its consistent, organized, strategic gameplay. All 30 courses (five worlds) are built perfectly into a giant Overworld, and although many of the courses are short, there are lots of objectives besides just straight racing that make them versatile and deep.
For a start, there are boss characters. These are accessed by winning straight races. Success reveals a boss, who is then raced against. Once beaten, the boss grants a second new mission -- a Silver Coin Challenge. Here, you collect the eight silver coins dotted around the track and take first place. And as if that isn t enough, once you've beaten all the bosses, you go back and race them a second time to win pieces of an amulet. This time, the bosses are much, much harder. And then (yes, there s more), you have to beat all of your opponents in a sequential series of races (called the Trophy Race), which later on helps you to seek out new worlds.
This is certainly a big challenge. Helping out is an arsenal of stuff -- power drifts, a cool new Sharp Turn Technique, various weapons, provided by multicolored balloons, and bananas, which actually aid, rather than hurt you. What s more, you have the brilliant addition of two new vehicles, the plane and the hovercraft, each of which are easy to learn, but hard to master.
Graphically, the game is the most spectacular of its kind. All of the glitchy polygons that flickered in a game like Super Mario 64 are gone. Rare has managed to master Realtime Dynamic Animation, which enables polygons to span larger surfaces and to be more flexible than before -- without substantial loss of frames. It should be noted that, just like Goldeneye, the frame-rate is not 30 frames per second, but since the game is so enjoyable, this detail is less annoying. Specular highlighting, light-sourcing, and sweet looking transparencies are used to great effect, all providing the game with a clean, shiny-looking appearance that even the most critical Japanese gamer will look upon with smiling eyes. It must be noted that nearly every object, save a few flowers and shrubs, are polygons. That includes the characters, which move at a smooth frame rate, and perform funny little animation sequences like looking at other characters as they drive by.
In the audio department, the comical voice reactions of the characters is also heart-warming, even if some of the characters are just too damn cute and are certain to annoy older gamers (Pipsy, Timber, Conker stand up and take a bow). The music is charming and dynamic, which is standard to most games, but is somehow more coordinated and well-timed in this game. For instance, driving around the Overworld and choosing characters in the character select menu provides different musical environments. In fact, each character has his or her own music, most noticeable by flipping from character to character in this aforementioned menu. Sound effects are all appropriate and well produced.
In the end, Diddy Kong Racing is a calculated, copy of a game that Nintendo, not Rare, originated. But as is the case with Rare, the company has that amazing knack for taking an idea and crafting it into something beautiful. Diddy Kong Racing is a deep, colorful game with an overly kiddy feel and look. But after a few minutes, you ll be compelled with subtle details, blissful gameplay and graphics, and the full, rich world that makes Diddy Kong Racing an even better game than Mario Kart.