Ah Diddy Kong Racing, one of my old friends, how nice to see you again. How fitting is it that Diddy Kong Racing is Rare's first DS title. One of my favorite games for the Nintendo 64, the game that in my opinion took Mario Kart 64 and improved on it in every possible way. This particular remake comes on the back of another standard-setting Mario Kart game, but can Diddy Kong Racing improve on it in every way?
There is a slight story to the game, but its really not important, infact I'm not even going to bother telling you about it, just know that your competing to earn the right to race the evil WizPig. One of the first questions I should answer about this game is how close is it to the original? Actually its pretty damn close, so close it made my heart melt as the memories came flooding back from its predecessor 10 years ago. However there are a few new twists in the form of new challenges and a handful of additional tracks.
The game plays pretty much like any other karting game, hell Diddy Kong Racing was one of the games that defined the genre. One of the unique aspects of the game is you get to play in karts, hovercrafts and planes. Each vehicle has a slightly different control style, for example the hovercraft slides around a lot and the plane can obviously move both vertically and horizontally. Similarly to other kart games, the tracks are littered with speed boosts and power ups.
Running over colored balloons will give you a power up, run over more than one of the same colour and your power up is increased. For example, 1 red balloon gives you a rocket, 2 red balloons gives you 5 rockets and 3 red balloons gives you a homing rocket. The other power ups consist of speed boosts, obstacle/traps, shields and magnets (that almost work like speed boosts). Whilst this simple approach worked well back on the N64, it is a little disappointing Rare didn't add a few new variations of weapons, Mario Kart got a bunch of new weapons recently.
Single Player mode is essentially split between Single Race and Adventure mode. Single race mode does exactly what it says on the tin, quick play races of tracks that are already unlocked in Adventure mode, this is coupled with a Time Trial area which is again very familiar and allows you to set lap times. Adventure mode is required to unlock new tracks and characters; progress is made by completing events throughout the different zones, each zone consists of 4 tracks, a challenge and a boss race. Winning the 4 tracks gives you the opportunity to race the boss, which then unlocks a second phase of challenges after which you have to race the boss again. Upon completing all the zones (multiple times) you finally get to race the gigantic WizPig.
Of course you don't have to limit yourself to computer opponents, online and local multiplayer is also a huge part of the game. The local play can handle up to 8 players, and the online up to 6 (thats 2 more than Mario Kart DS managed). There isn't really a lot to say about the online mode, it is very similar to Mario Kart DS, you can either play against random people in a "Match Making" mode, or against friends using the friend code system. Whilst this works pretty well, it still suffers from the fact its a bit too simple. You'll probably have more fun playing with 7 friends in the same room, the competition can get very heated!
There are a handful of features that are new to the DS version of the game, such as designing your own kart emblem (again, much like Mario Kart DS) there's also an attempt to use the touch screen at the start of the race where you use the stylus (or your thumb) to spin the wheels, this is how you get a speedy start. This "feature" actually proves very annoying, something I feel adds nothing to the gameplay. The second phase of "challenges" in adventure mode also tries to take advantage of the touch screen, this is the balloon popping challenge where you fly around the track on Taj's (the games host character) magic carpet popping balloons with your stylus. Whilst this almost works, its really not that exciting and soon gets a little boring.
There is a total of 24 race tracks in this game, which is pretty damn respectable for a handheld title, there have been four new editions on top of the N64 tracks; these have all been themed around the classic Donkey Kong Country jungle area. There is even a hidden "Wish Race" feature which is in essence a level editor, it allows you to piece together your dream race track and share them online.
I really enjoyed playing Diddy Kong Racing DS, its good but not quite great. Generally the game is very well presented with clear menus, good graphics and sound. However, I feel the controls aren't quite spot on, probably to do with the fact the DS only has a d-pad, it just doesn't feel as good as the original. Therefore if you had to choose between this and Mario Kart DS, I'd probably have to recommended Mario Kart DS as your primary purchase. This small downside shouldn't stop you from picking up this game if your a fan of the genre, I'm confident you'll enjoy it.