lauantai 17. syyskuuta 2011

REVIEW - Diddy Kong Racing (1997)

GENRE(S): Racing
RELEASED: November 1997
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo

Few games have undergone development quite as radical as Diddy Kong Racing. The original draft of the game was actually a strategy game set on an island in the prehistoric era. A few months into development, it was changed to a racing game starring characters from Rare's reserves. As a second to last announcement, the game was revealed to be a 64-bit sequel to R.C. Pro-Am, Rare's popular racing title from 1988. Finally, the game was nailed as a spin-off of Donkey Kong Country, yet also a platform to introduce a few new characters that were to have their own games in the future. In fact the game has very little to do with the Donkey Kong franchise - poor Diddy's not much more than a sales pitch - and it reeks of Mario Kart from miles away, but the most important thing is that Diddy Kong Racing is a great game.

Monkey Kart 64

Kevin Bayliss : Diddy Kong
Eveline Fischer : Pipsy
Lee Schuneman : Bumper
Chris Seavor : Conker / Banjo

Timber the Tiger invites his friends from all over to race around his home island while his parents are away on vacation. An evil wizard named Wizpig invades the island and manipulates the four guardians of the island to help him conquer it. Diddy Kong leads the youngsters to challenge Wizpig and his henchmen to a racing tournament.

Me and my best friend had hardly gotten over the awesomeness of Mario Kart 64 when Diddy Kong Racing came out in Europe. We loved the game, but for some reason, it just didn't stick on us the same way as Mario Kart 64; actually, there might have been a few reasons. First of all, the game struck us as a carbon copy of one of the best damn racing games ever made, and just not as good or artificially cool since at the time, Diddy was the only familiar character in the game - and just thrown into it to give the game a commercially viable title. The game's design really has nothing to do with the Donkey Kong franchise, it looks more like a Spyro the Dragon spin-off. Also, it's missing a battle mode, one of the greatest multiplayer treats of the Mario Kart series, even though the gameplay's so similar otherwise. However, it does have the Adventure mode, something the Mario Kart series never had, and which helps the game stand out in a good way. I experienced it for the first time just a couple of years ago; back when the game came out, I was only interested in racing against my friends in the Tracks mode. After breaking my balls to hack through the Adventure mode, I think I finally "got" Diddy Kong Racing, and that it is way more than just the bland, rainbow-coloured replica of Mario Kart 64 I remembered it to be.

By land...
The graphics are good - the game looks WAY better than Mario Kart 64. Rare wiped their asses on Nintendo's cutouts and pseudo-realistic tracks, replacing them with full 3D characters that look surprisingly smooth, and cartoony tracks that still look like levels in any early Spyro the Dragon game; however, let's keep in mind that the first game in the Spyro franchise had not yet seen release, so who's ripping off who here...? Ten voice actors are credited, four of them for specific roles. The game is one of the few Nintendo 64 games that have real speech instead of a few random catchphrases or outbreaks, or some monotonic, basically pointless jabber to simply prove Nintendo 64's "technical superiority". Rare's in-house composer Eveline Fischer provides Pipsy the Mouse's voice, but David Wise returned from his brief exile to write the whole bulk of the soundtrack. Dave was really not on the mark here - I think this is my least favourite Wise soundtrack after WWF WrestleMania. It's OK, but simply not nearly up to par with Dave's best work. It's got too much tempo (Dave's at his best at mid-tempo), and it's simply unimaginative across the board. I like the occasional subtle references to some of Dave's tracks from Donkey Kong Country... they do not belong here, though. As I've mentioned a few times already, Diddy Kong Racing is part of the Donkey Kong franchise by name only.

Artificially, the game creates an image of a conversation between storyboard and character designers at Rare. "OK, team - we need to move on. Anybody got a new character? No? OK, let's do it this way. Let's go through all of your desk drawers. Fuck the Pro-Am project, let's stuff all those leftovers in a racing game, see who creates the best buzz and pick up on that, OK? ...What? How can we sell this game, you ask? Good question. Well, we still have time to squeeze Diddy into it. Hell, let's name the game after him while we're at it. Kids are bloody stupid." ...And so Diddy Kong Racing became one of the Nintendo 64's best- and fastest-selling titles. And also, the Banjo and Conker franchises were born.

In the Mario Kart series, Bowser's always been my favourite character to use. Hell, pretty much the only character I've used. Back when Diddy Kong Racing came out, most of the characters were brand new. Diddy was the only familiar one to me, and at that time, one of my favourite video game characters thanks to his starring role in Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest. So, I always played as him. Nowadays I do have a favourite above everyone else - Conker the squirrel, who made his debut in this game and was slowly heading to one of the most shocking changes in character in the second title of his own franchise, the M-rated Conker's Bad Fur Day. Kind of hard to believe this cute, happy-go-lucky squirrel went on to be the most controversial and adult-oriented Nintendo protagonist of all time... therefore, pretty much one of my favourite video game characters of all time. air...
After choosing your character from the cast of eight - there are also two unlockable racers - you're given a choice between the Adventure and Tracks modes. The Tracks mode is very self-explanatory; you and up to three friends can engage in racing for fun on all of the game's tracks unlocked on the go. This mode is also good for grabbing a feel of the game. The controls are exactly the same as in Mario Kart 64, and very fluid. The Z button is used to take advantage of power-ups and weapons stored in balloons across the road. The weapons aren't really such a part of the experience as they are in Mario's series of games. The standard weapons are quite boring and few in numbers. The most basic weapon is the missile, which you can upgrade. Perhaps the biggest difference between Mario Kart and Diddy Kong Racing is that not only are there cars for you to race with, there are also hovercrafts and planes. Learning to control the plane efficiently is difficult, but very rewarding - it's surprisingly comfortable.

The Adventure mode also gives you a chance to practice with all three vehicle types right off the bat. By gathering balloons hidden on Timber Island and given to you as rewards for winning races, you need to unlock and win each and every race in the game and conquer the four guardians' domains. You can do all the races in the game in any order you want, as long as you have enough balloons to qualify for the race. It's quite like opening doors in Super Mario 64 with the proper amount of Power Stars. Once you have finished every race in one domain, you're taken to a boss battle in which you race against one of the four guardians. These special tracks are usually more or less linear, but the guardians are ultra-fast and need to be kept in check with a healthy dose of missiles up the ass. Once you've won, the guardian gives you a new challenge: the Silver Coin Challenge. This time, you need to conquer each race in their domain, but also gather all of the silver coins laid across the tracks. You must collect them all AND win the races to succeed in the challenge and fully complete one domain. Quite tricky from the beginning, I tell you. The game is nearly effortless as long as you're just racing - the difficulty level soars after you engage in the first Silver Coin Challenge. So does the game's single-player lifespan, though.

...and by sea.
Diddy Kong Racing is actually one of the longest-lasting single-player racing games ever seen, all thanks to the Adventure Mode and other challenges which I haven't brought up at all yet. Every domain has a secret track, unlockable with a key hidden somewhere on one of its standard tracks. If you manage to win on each one of these tracks, conquer every domain on Timber Island to the hilt and finally defeat Wizpig on his home turf, Adventure 2 is unlocked for some ultimate challenge. It's the same thing as Adventure, but all of the tracks are flipped and all the Silver Coin Challenges become even harder than they were on the first round. If you're into cartoons and racing, you will absolutely love this game.

It's so totally not a Kong game, it does have the scent of another legendary (and better) slapstick go-kart franchise all over it and standard racing by car or hovercraft is extremely easy, but the mere idea of the Adventure Mode in Diddy Kong Racing brings enough fresh meat and challenge to the table to make a highly impressive and unique game in this restrictive genre. It's so nice to see that even once, a game is actually better than I remembered it to be, by this many hunches.

SOUND : 7.3


a.k.a. Wild Cartoon Kingdom, Adventure Racers, R.C. Pro-Am 64

GameRankings: 88.67%

Banjo and Conker went on to star in their own successful franchises. Tiptup the turtle also went on to appear in the Banjo franchise. Krunch the Kritter is an enemy design made for Donkey Kong 64, which was in its very early stages of development. The boss character Tricky the triceratops went on to appear in Star Fox Adventures in 2002.

Two sequels to the game were planned: Diddy Kong Pilot and Donkey Kong Racing. The first game was ultimately made part of the Banjo franchise and renamed Banjo Pilot, and the second one was canned when Rare jumped ship to Microsoft. At this time, the only "sequel" to the game is its 2007 DS conversion.

Banjo and Conker do not appear in Diddy Kong Racing DS, since Rare owns the exclusive rights to their characters. They're replaced by Dixie and Tiny Kong.

Diddy Kong has been a playable character in the Mario Kart series since Mario Kart: Double Dash!! for the Nintendo GameCube, released in 2003.

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