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Diddy Kong Racing DS Review

Greg_Damiano By:
GENRE Racing 
E Contains Mild Cartoon Violence

What do these ratings mean?

Evolution of the species.

Microsoft has thrown lots of money into acquiring game studios in the past few years, but there’s one mascot they’ll never lure away from Nintendo’s stud ranch. You good folks know I’m talking about Shigeru Miyamoto’s first son, Donkey Kong, and his monkey clan.

Rare is making a debut on the Nintendo DS by revamping the nine-year-old N64 classic Diddy Kong Racing. And while the system already has a solid kart racer, maybe you've played so much Mario Kart DS that you're looking for a new checkered flag. In any case Diddy Kong Racing DS is a satisfactory distraction if lawyers and detectives aren’t your thing.
click to enlargeFor the uninitiated, Diddy Kong Racing is all about using miniature go-karts, stunt planes and inner-tube hovercraft to win races and defeat a giant space-pig (your life is now enhanced with this knowledge). If someone gave the Muppet Babies some Power Wheels cars, you would pretty much have Diddy Kong Racing.
When it came out nearly a decade ago, I thought the original Diddy Kong Racing was a nauseating mess of loose controls, bleeding colors, and maniacally wide grins. I wondered if I had crossed the go-kart tracks over to the wrong side of Nintendo-64-town. My negative impressions made me a little wary of this retread, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that, with a few fixes and lots of new customization features, the DS version is a much more playable game.
Tightened controls and sharper graphics bring merciful definition to Diddy’s island grand prix. Diddy Kong Racing doesn’t push the DS functionality but it passes the test - I played the game during an airplane trip this weekend, and though I felt (and looked) silly blowing into my DS for speed boosts, the action was plenty adequate, and security did not arrest me upon landing.
Still, it's rough going on the DS screen: the speed ramps are invisible until you're on top of them and the power-up balloons are much more difficult to pick up. The AI karts take every ramp and power-up, so you really need to memorize and perfect each track before you can beat it.
click to enlargeAnd even though the controls are better, I still don't like Diddy Kong gameplay in general. The items never change location so there's only really one path to take through every level, and it's impossible to catch up to the other racers if you miss a single item or speed boost. At least the Mario Kart series has the power-slide boost; it's abusive but it's something you can do to pull ahead, beyond starting strong and nailing every power-up. The absence of a player-controlled power move makes it that much more frustrating to get nailed by an AI weapon or stuck on tunnel mouths that shouldn’t be in your way.
The harsh difficulty curve makes the preschool-friendly art and dialogue feel condescending; Rare has written well for both children and adults in the past, but Diddy Kong Racing makes no such attempt. Or in DK terms, “This writing is silly! I’m a racer! Bananas!”
One very cool extra is a track creator where you actually draw the road on your DS and share it with other players. The multiplayer in general is certainly the highlight of the game; the WiFi mode has a great interface that lets you know which of your friend-code buddies are actually online and playing. Multiple game types and support for multiplayer through just one copy offer every kind of experience for any group of six to eight players.
Diddy Kong Racing DS also introduces lots of customization features to the game, starting when you paint your racer icon; the coins you collect in races can be spent on changing your vehicle speed and color. You can even buy the billboard space around the game and paint your own graphics to display everywhere.
click to enlargeThe graphics, as mentioned, have cleaner lines than the N64 version, and a few nice DS-specific touches - like frogs that snap like rubber bands - add brief but delightful visual gags. I’m impressed that Rare went to the trouble of re-recording all of the sounds for the DS (I guess they had to repackage them anyway to meet memory requirements), especially since you can re-record almost every sound yourself using your microphone. My Diddy Kong card does all of the cussing for me, shrieking out obscenities every time another cart pulls ahead or I hit a wall, it’s the ultimate in convenience. Thank you Rare! Or in DK terms, “I &^%$ on your face!”
Remember when you got Mario Kart 64 and played the hell out of it, then you checked out Diddy Kong Racing because Mario Kart was so old? But you and your friends would still rather play Mario Kart 64 any day of the week? That's the same feeling you'll get with Diddy Kong Racing DS. It's great filler if you need a change of scenery, but still a distant second behind Mario Kart DS.
C+ Revolution report card
  • Customize stats, sounds and art
  • Lots of unlockables and game modes
  • Multiplayer features
  • Trite adventure mode
  • Cheap and unforgiving
  • Looks like it's made for babies
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