Diddy Kong Racing DSESRB:
Platform: Nintendo DS , DSI
Developer – Rare Ltd.
Publisher - Nintendo
2-8 Players - Wireless Single-Card Download Play
2-8 Players - Wireless Multi-Card Play
2-6 Players – Nintendo’s Wi-Fi Network
Rumble Pak Compatible
Touch Screen Compatible
Videogame developer Rare made the jump from Nintendo’s camp to Microsoft’s campus in 2002 and when this occurred many thought they saw the last of any Rare games on a Nintendo console. Well this is true with any Nintendo home console Rare has still released a few titles for the DS, and the most recent title in this category is Diddy Kong Racing DS. The title should sound familiar to anyone who owned an N64 as this game was released on Nintendo’s 64 bit machine in the late 1990’s. This time around there is a few new additions to the existing game and a boatload of content to keep one busy.
Diddy Kong Racing made the transition to the DS pretty well. The colors are quite bright and vibrant on the DS Lite’s screens and the overall style definitely gives it a cartoon look to it. The textures and backgrounds are relatively well done too which helps the game maintain a relatively solid framerate while allowing little to no clipping as you race on the various levels. This was somewhat surprising to me as the DS is not a 3D polygon texture pushing machine and the hardware was able to handle the transition of Diddy Kong with no problem. I should note that this game is about 10 years old, so in it’s day it was a pretty good looking title, but age has not been kind as today’s gamers are used to so much more. Don’t get me wrong, it still looks nice, but when compared to Mario Kart DS this game does seem somewhat dated.
The audio is what you would expect for a platform based kart racer. The music seems suited for each themed level and when played for long sessions, which this game tries to make you do, it can get quite repetitive. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good, and definitely has that Nintendo feel to it, but long sessions will see you turning down the DS’s volume. There is not much voice in the game in terms of each character, but there is a short phrase or two that exists and is spouted when they get hit, or hit someone else, using the special weapons found in the game. As for the rest of the sound package, I guess I could best sum it up as sounding...kartish, with squealing tires, props of planes spinning and missiles flying, everything is here.
Diddy Kong’s story is relatively basic, but hey it’s a racer so what did you expect, a deep and emotional story? To put it simple there is an evil pig by the name of Wizpig who has taken control of an island inhabited by your typical cute Nintendo like animals. These little critters solicit the assistance of Diddy Kong who agrees to help. Of course there are some weird avenues to the story, like how you get assistance from a purple elephant-genie named Taj. Now how the heck does and elephant become a genie? Anyhow, I am sure you are not surprised though, the game is a racer so the story is pretty much secondary here.
For those that played the initial Diddy Kong Racing on the N64 the core gameplay remains pretty much the same. This modern update on the DS has some new race modes, some new characters, touch screen support and online multiplayer. Typical to a racing game based on a platformer the races are located on a central hub, each with its own theme. So you will come across the stereotypical snow stage, beach stage, volcano stage, etc., and all are located on the island you are trying to save. Each level has a specific number of balloons that you must collect prior to entering that level. Balloons are acquired by mostly winning races, while a few can be randomly found on the island and a few can be won by beating Taj’s challenges. I should forewarn you, there is no balloon prize for second place so you have to win each and every race to collect the needed balloons. Once you have finally cleared each race in a specific hub you can challenge the boss for that specific level.
The races themselves take place in different vehicles including a kart, plane or hovercraft. These vehicles are quite fun to drive and you will no doubt enjoy one over another. I found that I had a tough time choosing my favorite as each had different handling that made it that more enjoyable in each of it’s specific levels. Rare thought they would get a little creative here and use the special abilities of the DS. As a race starts you are given the opportunity to do a prerace boost, and each is different depending on the vehicle you are driving. For the hovercraft you blow into the microphone, for your cart you move your stylus over a tire and spin it, and for the plane you move your stylus in a circular motion to spin a propeller. While this feature is great in theory, it just didn’t feel as comfortable as it could have and I could have really done without it. Once the race starts Diddy Kong Racing shows that it is your typical kart racer as you drive over pads to get speed boosts and use various special weapons (e.g. missiles, mines or oil slicks) to become victorious on each track. I found the learning curve to be quite fair and each race did get progressively more intense the deeper into the game I went. Each race was fair too as I did not feel that AI was using the famed rubber-band tactic to keep the races close. Sure, I struggled now and then in the odd race, but the there is always a chance for you to win each race.
Now if you remember my introduction, I indicated that there is a lot to do. Well there is. Once you finish each hub, and finally beat the boss, it is not over. You are rewarded for beating the boss, but the reward is playing the levels over again on a self-guided magic carpet where you only need to pop lots of balloons and collect coins found on the level. These were somewhat enjoyable, and a change from the standard racing. After popping balloons you once again face each areas boss. It’s a little harder but not impossible. Once you do this you race all the hub’s various races again but in a tournament format only to fight each level’s boss a third time. I have to tell you though the third time through is different, and somewhat strange. It is viewed from above and you use the stylus to race. You spin a wheel to gain speed and then you draw a path for your kart to follow. Once it slows too much you spin the wheel again. The fall back of this aspect is that you don’t control your cart when you are gaining more speed spinning the tire and you’ll find yourself all over the track. Like the prerace boosts, this is a great concept in theory, but could have used more refinement in its implementation.
There is also a stab at single player replayability. There is the ability to upgrade your vehicles by spending the coins that you collect while racing. However it is somewhat a tedious experience as I found I had to repeatedly race tracks in an effort to get enough coins to purchase the upgrades available. There are also unlockables and collectibles (e.g. track editors, special characters) but again, it can get quite tedious to collect everything as there is a lot to be done in order to get each reward. I should note that although I found these extensions in gameplay somewhat wearisome, you may not as some people love the quest to collect everything in a game. However, I would have to ask, does racing the same tracks over and over again really make it that rewarding. Bottom-line it is all personal choice on how you may view this aspect.
Multiplayer makes an appearance in the DS version of this kart racer. Anywhere up to eight players can play in either a single race or tournament. The added feature is that you can do this using either multiple copies of the game, or only one. For those people that only have one copy of the game amongst you, you can still choose from a pretty good selection of tracks and all the drivers available. This was nice to see as Nintendo made sure people trying out the multiplayer experience could enjoy this game regardless of the number of copies in a group. Online racing also makes an appearance in Diddy Kong Racing DS for up to six racers. I found this experience pretty smooth in terms any possible lag found. Each race was somewhat enjoyable and did not suffer from any online issues. You can race random people too and don’t have to have their Diddy Kong specific friend code to do so. Like some online games released before it, I wish that they would allow voice communication with other players so you can set up more games (there is a mic and speakers on the DS for goodness sakes!). I also wonder if it is possible to do this when you are racing. The lack of voice communication is somewhat of a downer, but overall if you don’t mind not talking you may just enjoy this online aspect of this game. Overall Nintendo made Diddy Kong’s multiplayer a pretty good experience.
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