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Diddy Kong Racing DS Review

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Developer: Rare Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: February 6, 2007 Also On: None

Diddy Kong Racing was one of my favorite video games ever created. As a kid, I had something of an obsession with kart racers–Mario Kart 64 and Diddy Kong Racing were my forte, and as a result the Nintendo 64 was my console of choice. Imagine my excitement when Rare announced that, despite being owned by Microsoft, they could and would proceed to re-make Diddy Kong Racing in a DS format. I was ecstatic, and all of those memories of playing Diddy Kong Racing with that hideous, clunky Nintendo 64 controller steam-rolled my attention. You could have thrown Halo 3 in my face February 6th and I’d have shelved it for Diddy Kong Racing DS.

Unfortunately, I’d have quickly retrieved Halo 3 and commenced slaying aliens, because Diddy Kong Racing DS is quite the disappointment. In fact, if it’d come out two months earlier, I’d have nominated it the most disappointing game of the year and done so with a furious glare aimed at Rare. Of course, that is simply because of my past with the game, but whatever. With my childhood memories tarnished and heart broken, allow me to tell you why Rare needed to work harder in the pits.

You’d expect me to hammer Diddy Kong Racing DS with traditional re-make complaints, but in fact, the problem here is that Diddy Kong Racing DS simply isn’t enough like its original form. Gone are the silver coin challenges, which forced a player to master his or her driving skills as well as the layout of each track. Gone are the bananas that sped up your engine and allowed even Krunch to keep up with Tip Tup and Conker. Speaking of Conker, he’s missing–he’s probably still shooting teddy bears in his awful Xbox re-make. Gone as well is Banjo–he must be too busy with Kazooie in his upcoming Xbox 360 title. Licensed character complaints aside, DKR DS is actually much different than the N64 original. You’ll still race in three different vehicles through four tracks in four different hubs, take on a boss character, compete in trophy races, and find keys to unlock other challenges. You’ll still try to stop Wizpig from his domination of Timber’s island. You’ll still talk to Taj the wizard elephant and T.T. the talking clock.

The sad thing is that the progression in this game is skewed, slow, and annoying. Here’s how it goes: finish each track in first place to race the boss. Beat the boss to unlock “balloon challenges” on each track, then pop all of the balloons on each track to race the boss again. After beating the harder version of the boss, race the tracks in succession in the Trophy Challenge. Find the “Wish Key” to unlock the “Wish Door” and its challenge against T.T. Finally, race the boss a third and final time with ridiculous touch-based controls to clear a hub. Phew, I’m tired of this game just after describing it.

Diddy Kong Racing will ultimately and unescapably be compared to Mario Kart DS, a much better title. The truth is, though, the games play with entirely different mechanics. Mario Kart DS and all of its predecessors were item-based games that allowed even a lapped contestant in 8th place to find a way to victory with the help of powerful items. Diddy Kong Racing DS is much more focused on driving skill than items, though the items do help. Should you find yourself in 7th or 8th place in the second lap, you’re probably out of luck. No high-powered item is going to propel you forward to a lucky victory. Though this makes the game much more challenging than Mario Kart, it also at times makes it more frustrating, especially when you consider the three separate vehicle types. Controlling a hovercraft under any condition isn’t fun. Some races are a test of any human’s sanity.

One could tell that Rare was in charge of this game even before seeing all of the company’s logos and characters. Diddy Kong Racing DS asks you to collect golden balloons to unlock doors and new races. It has you finding coins scattered along the race tracks to buy upgrades to your vehicles and other features. You’ll pop fifty golden balloons in the balloon challenges (why not just collect them?!). You’ll have to find four “Wish Keys.” There are four quarters to each of the two amulets found in the game, both Wizpig’s and T.T.’s amulet. There are four trophies earned in the Trophy Challenges; need I go on? There are dozens and dozens of things to collect, and though it reflects Rare’s 1990’s style (this is the same team that asked you to find thousands of bananas in Donkey Kong 64, after all), it has absolutely no real place in 2007.

The touch-based games are horrendous. In fact, anything requiring you to touch the DS or blow into the microphone is a worthless, degrading addition to the game. You’ll notice little things around the hubs to interact with–for example, you can flick frogs or talk to Taj and T.T. by tapping them on the screen. Prior to each race, you can earn a rocket start by spinning a kart’s tires with the stylus, twirling a plane’s blades with the stylus, or blowing into the microphone to spin the hovercraft’s fan. Useless! I’d have preferred the archaic “jam the A button after the second light” mechanic. Developers, take heed, blowing or making noise into the microphone is not fun! Popping balloons in that challenge is only made annoying by the camera controls, which would have been much easier had they been mapped to the D-Pad. As for the touch-based boss games, well, I’m sure you get my drift by now: using the touch screen in this game is not fun, not intuitive, and detracts from the entire experience.

Visually, Diddy Kong Racing DS looks very good–superb, in fact–but it runs at 30 frames per second, chugging at exactly half the rate of Mario Kart DS and several other DS games. High-speed races seem much slower at half the frame rate. Still, the courses are designed cleverly and I’ve always been a fan of the art design. Musically the game is truthfully slightly repetitive but I couldn’t help enjoying some of those MIDI tracks that were stuck in my head in 5th grade. Ah, memories. I’m annoyed that Rare didn’t port all of the voices, though; these new ones aren’t nearly as charming. Taj is especially lame.

I am clearly harder on this re-make than the average reviewer because it concerns one of my personal favorite games growing up as a kid, but that doesn’t really matter. Overall, Diddy Kong Racing DS is a disappointing re-make and a generally decent but very undercooked racing game. One could say that this one’s a little too “Rare” for the liking, huh? What a pun. Where the original DKR excelled at almost everything, DKR DS falls short with awful force-fed touch mechanics, endless amounts of collectibles, a miserably slow sense of progression, and an equally miserably slow sense of speed. Unless you plan on taking the game to its very robust and stacked online mode with the DS’s WiFi Connection, you probably won’t be blown away by anything the game has to offer, even if you were a sucker for the Nintendo 64 original like I was. Those who haven’t tried the original or are suckers for WFC might want to try out the DS remake, but be wary of all the junk you have to go through just to hit the track for a race.

Graphics: 8
Sound: 7
Gameplay: 7
Creativity: 5
Replay Value/Game Length: 9.5
Final: 7.3
Written by Cliff Review Guide