Diddy Kong Racing was a blast to play back in the N64 days. Competing against kart, hovercrafts, and airplanes all at the same time was a gameplay element that was completely unique for its day. Fans probably feared that Rare, a now Microsoft owned license, would never release another game under the Big N. The developers have now ported their classy racing title to the DS, but they focused way too much on DS-istizing this product.
Unlike Mario Kart, Diddy Kong Racing features an Adventure mode where the player drives through a central hub and plays each stage as they become unlocked. Driving around this world really gives this game an adventurous feel, something not normally associated with racing games. Wizpig, an evil beastly hog, has taken over an island and it is up to Diddy and his friends to stop him by racing around in small vehicles. Yeah, the story doesn’t really make too much sense, but who cares?
Diddy Kong Racing on the N64 was a good game, but the developers added so many horrible touch screen mini games and touched based control to this DS version, it is enough to make fans sell this game as quick as they bought it. In the original game N64 version, the player would compete in a silver coin challenge which is composed of collecting 8 silver coins and getting first place. Now in this DS version, this challenging but fun mode has been replaced by a stupid touch screen mini game with horrible play control. Playing through an “on the rails” first person perspective, the player must pop balloons by tapping them with the stylus and drag coins to the coin purse on the bottom right of the screen. But the view point is also handled with the stylus. If the player wants to look around, you must stab and drag the screen. But more often than not, there is not enough time to look around because the camera moves so fast. Plus, what exactly does this have to do with racing? This mode is better suited as a Mario Party mini game than a major part of a racing title.
The second and worst use of the touch screen control is the way the player gains the boost of speed right as the race launches. In order to gain this boost, the player must use the stylus to rub a wheel icon on the touch screen as if revving an engine (or blow into the mic depending on which vehicle you are using). However, doing this is the most awkward transition in the history of the DS because the player will either A) be unable to hold down the accelerator button, or B) be unable to steer, depending on which hand is used. I’m serious and cannot emphasize this point enough. This is the worst use of the DS’s touch screen EVER. Why this was implemented into the final product is purely mind boggling. Did the developers actually, you know, play the game before they released it? Anybody can easily see that adding this function into the game does not, in any way, increase the fun factory. It is only a hindrance.
Another horrible use of the touch screen comes into play with boss battles. After you beat the same boss a couple of times, the final boss fight becomes unlocked. The third time is most definitely not a charm and is probably the worst and most frustrating mode of the game. Using only the stylus and the player’s ability to draw, controlling your racer is strictly done by drawing lines. Penning lines on the bottom radar/map screen, and shooting weapons, is so incredibly difficult to control, I guarantee that there will be many DS systems broken in frustration from this mode. Only after playing the first boss a few dozen times was I able to finally beat him… and believe me, I would have stopped long ago if I did not have the responsibility of reviewing this game.
Beside the horrible use of touch control, the developers also added a new weapon upgrade system, which is not entirely bad. Weapons and items are gathered by running over balloons in a race, but the more of the same colored balloon you collect, the stronger the weapon will become. For example, if you get one red balloon, you will be able to shoot one missile. If two red balloons are collected, you will be able to shoot 5 missiles. Finally, if you collect three red balloons, your five missiles will then be converted into one big heat seeking missile. Newly added to the DS version are instant weapon upgrade coins. If one of these rare coins is found during a race, whatever weapon or item you have can instantly be upgraded into something more powerful. For example, if you collect your one red missile balloon and use this coin upgrade, your missile then turns into three auto heat seeking missiles like the Three Red Shell weapon from Mario Kart. This is one of the very few new features that is actually a positive in this DS port.
Another minor, but still frustrating flaw that totally bugs the hell out of me is the reverse function. In most kart racing games, when you break and come to a complete stop, your vehicle will automatically start moving in reverse if you hold down on the controller. Not in Diddy Kong Racing DS. In order to go in reverse, you must come to a complete stop using the break button, let go of the break, then hold down the break button again to travel backwards. A minor flaw that could have been a little more fluid, but it is sure to bug players when they drive into a corner and need a quick way out.
Another downfall about this game is the re-recorded voice quips. The N64 version actually had decent voice acting all things considered, but all the new voice work in this DS version sucks to high hell. Taj, the magical elephant that guides the player around, now sounds like a 35 year old child molester with a lisp. Plus, Conker and Banjo are no where to be found; probably due to licensing issues with Microsoft (or perhaps a hang-over, eh Conker?). Instead, players can unlock and play as Wizpig for the first time. This is not exactly an even trade, but something is better than nothing.
This game can be played single card, multi-card, or via Nintendo WiFi connection. Diddy Kong Racing’s online lobby system is probably second best for the DS, next to Metroid Prime Hunters. Unfortunately, there is no voice chat option. However, the rest of the menu and tracking system are clean, informative, and easy to use. And whatever characters you unlock in the single player mode become available in for multiplayer.
To keep this game plugged into your system for a while, the developers added a ton of unlockables that can be purchased from the main menu screen. Purchasing these unlockables are done by collecting coins that are spread out over each track. Most things cost a good chunk of change so they will require time and patience to unlock them all. And fans should note that these coins on the track took the place of the bananas, which slightly increased your speed in the N64 version.
New to this game is the ability to create your own track and edit your own icon avatar. Just like in Mario Kart DS, the user has the ability to create his or her own icon to take with them online. The game will even has several save slots incase you want to make something new, but don’t want to lose your current masterpiece. The Create-Your-Own-Track mode actually sounds great, but winds up being quite a let down. Using the touch screen, the player draws a line. This will be the shape of the track. Then the player draws a line as to where the starting line will be. But that is the extent of the options. When the race actually starts, each stage takes place in some eerie cloud stage, somewhat reminiscent of Mario Kart’s Rainbow Road. But the player has no option to give his stage a background, boarders on the track, height and depth (the game does this automatically for you randomly), where items will be placed, booster placement, or an option to mirror the track. This mode is cool, and exactly what fans wanted, but it needs more customizing options.
Back in the day, this game has some pretty impressive graphics. But like many things, time has not been kind to Diddy as textures look pretty muddy and the polygons look exceedingly blocky. After playing the silky smooth 60 frame per second Mario Kart DS, it is hard to play another racer at 30 frames per second with blocky textures. But it should be noted that I did not experience any type of lag or drop in frame rate when playing online with several other players.
The game does make use of the DS Rumble Pak. But the rumble function only goes off when the player runs into a wall. It seems that there could have been more use for this GBA Slot expansion.
Diddy Kong Racing DS is a dumbed-down, bastardized version of the N64 hit. All the touch screen control and mini games completely suck to high hell. The online mode has been put together with some care considering it is a DS game, but the voice quips are just plain horrible and actually, kind of disturbing. If you always wanted to play Diddy Kong Racing against other people in the world, now you can. But other than this feature, I would strongly recommend playing the original over this version any day.