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Diddy Kong Racing

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Reviewed by Scott McCall What a year (1997) this has been for Rare. We got Blast Corps, the addictive action/puzzle game, back in March. Then we got the incredible GoldenEye 007 in August. Now we get Diddy Kong Racing in November. Diddy Kong Racing further exemplifies Nintendo and Rare's commitment to quality. This is the latest triple-A title that not only shows off the N64's capabilities but proves that developers can still make games with more substance than flash. Diddy Kong Racing is actually the first game that Rare is publishing and Nintendo is exclusively distributing. Despite this solely being a Rare game, I think it's safe to assume Nintendo is playing a big part in it with all the Nintendo logos plastered throughout the game, the fact that all customer support will be taken care of by Nintendo of America, and because Nintendo is handling all of the advertising and promotion. But, of course, Diddy Kong Racing wasn't supposed to appear this year, anyway. If it weren't for the delays of Banjo-Kazooie, Yoshi's Story, MLB Featuring Ken Griffey Jr., and Conker's Quest, we probably would have never heard of Diddy Kong Racing until well into 1998. Does this mean the game feels rushed or unpolished? Absolutely not. In fact, the only area I can see Rare possibly improving is the fair amount of clipping in the game. But that's a moot point. So you've heard that Diddy Kong Racing is a "racing/adventure" game. What does that mean? Well, racing is definitely the main attraction here, but there are quite a few adventure aspects, too. For example, all worlds and tracks are accessed via the "Central Area," which is setup just like Super Mario 64. Instead of walking around, though, you drive around. The default vehicle you have is a car, but it can be changed to a plane or hovercraft as well. Plus, there is a background story to the game and there are different objectives you have to complete on the tracks. When you start the game for the first time, you'll meet Taj, an elephant with an Arabian accent. He helps by giving you hints, switching your vehicle, presenting you with challenges, and more. In order to access the various worlds in Diddy Kong Racing, you are required to have a certain number of Golden Balloons. If you don't have enough Golden Balloons, or if you didn't complete a certain task, then you cannot enter the level. You may realize that this is just like Super Mario 64 in that you had to have a certain number of Power Stars to enter a level. Like Super Mario 64, Diddy Kong Racing is also a non-linear game. If you're having trouble with one level, then you might want to try another level -- that is, assuming you have enough Golden Balloons to enter it. From the Central Area, which is where you always start each time you turn on the game, you can ride to different worlds. There are four different worlds (along with a fifth, hidden one) to race in: Dino Domain, Snowflake Mountain, Sherbet Island and Dragon Forest. Once you enter the door to go to one of these worlds, you're put in the "lobby" of that world. From there, you can ride up to the different doors. In each world, there are four main racing levels, a boss door, a challenge area, and a trophy race. Let's look at what needs to be done in each world. Your first assignment is always to get a first place on all four main racing levels in that world. Beating each individual racing level will net you one more Golden Balloon. Once you do that, you can challenge a boss to a one-on-one race. If you beat the boss, then that opens up the Silver Coin Challenge. For this, you go back and race through those same four levels again. This time, though, you must get eight silver coins before you finish the three laps and you must finish in first place. If you finish the Silver Coin Challenge on all four boards, then you can face the boss a second time. He is much tougher the second time around, however. Beating him the second time will give you a piece of the Wizpig amulet. It will also open up the Trophy Race. The Trophy Race is set up just like Mario Kart's Grand Prix mode, except the points are divided up a different way (9 for first, 7 for second, 5 for third, 3 for fourth, and 1 for fifth). After going through all four racing levels again, if you come out on top, then you win the Gold Trophy of Champions for that world. But wait, there's still one more thing. If you can find the hidden key in one of the four main racing levels in that world, then you can open up a Challenge area. The Challenge area is Diddy Kong Racing's version of the Battle Mode (more on this later). Beating the Challenge area will give you a piece of the T.T. amulet. Now you know how Diddy Kong Racing gets its replay value and challenge, as all of the above tasks must be completed on all the worlds. Even though it seems like an artificial way to increase the game's length, it really is insanely fun to play through all those levels multiple times. And as you can probably imagine, it takes several hours just to complete all the tasks in one world. Diddy Kong Racing throws three different vehicles your way: the car, the plane and the hovercraft. Until you complete the Silver Coin Challenge on a board, you are forced to use the designated vehicle in the race. You start off with the car on the first several ones, then you're forced to use the plane on the fourth level of the first world. Later on you'll have to use the hovercraft. The game does mix up the vehicles from level to level quite nicely. Naturally, however, some levels do limit the vehicles you can choose. For example, you can't use a car on a level that's solely on water. Or you might not be able to use the plane if it would be too easy to take a massive shortcut. In the "Tracks" mode, which is Diddy Kong Racing's Match Race, you and other human opponents can even use completely different vehicles. One might use the car while the other uses the plane. If you have the option to choose in the Adventure mode, then the computer opponents will use the same vehicle that you pick. Of course, you'll need someone to take control of those vehicles. So here's a list of characters straight from the instruction booklet: Timber the tiger (medium acceleration, medium weight, good handling, medium top speed) Pipsy the mouse (high acceleration, light weight, excellent handling, medium top speed) Diddy Kong the monkey (medium acceleration, medium weight, good handling, medium top speed) Banjo the bear (low acceleration, heavy weight, good handling, high top speed) Conker the squirrel (medium acceleration, medium weight, good handling, medium top speed) Bumper the badger (medium acceleration, medium weight, good handling, medium top speed) Tiptup the turtle (high acceleration, light weight, excellent handling, medium top speed) Krunch the kremling (low acceleration, heavy weight, difficult handling, high top speed) I use Tiptup and my friend uses Pipsy. We chose them because they're similar to the original Mario Kart's duo of Toad and Koopa Troopa. You might be wondering about the game's control now. First of all, the control scheme cannot be configured, though I don't think it needs to be. But I figured I'd mention it. Anyway, the Control Stick is used to control your vehicle (sorry, no support for the Control Pad). The A button is used to accelerate. The B button is used to brake. Holding B and pressing back on the Control Stick will cause you to go in reverse. The Z button is used to fire a weapon (a horn will sound if you don't have one). The C group is only used to toggle some on-screen indicators like speedometer, camera, etc. Finally, the R button is used for a sharp turn. With the car, you can do a power-slide by holding it down. However, your car does not hop like the original Mario Kart. With the plane, press it twice while holding left, right, up or down to do a roll or flip. And with the hovercraft, pressing R will cause the boat to jump. Also, using B and R in conjunction with each other will enable you to do a super sharp turn or even a 180 if held down long enough. Racing action in Diddy Kong Racing is decidedly similar to Super Mario Kart and kind of different at the same time. First of all, there are bananas on the road in Diddy Kong Racing that act just like the coins in Super Mario Kart. Hallelujah! I was disappointed when coins weren't included in Mario Kart 64. In Diddy Kong Racing, picking up bananas, to a maximum of 10, will increase your overall top speed. You can collect more than 10 bananas, but they won't increase your speed beyond that. However, they will give you added protection, as getting hit with a weapon will make you lose two bananas. Another important part of Diddy Kong Racing's gameplay is the zippers. While they disappeared like the coins in Mario Kart 64, the zippers are back and more prevalent than ever in Diddy Kong Racing. In fact, you almost have to hit every one on some levels to catch up to or maintain first place. And, yes, Rare was intelligent enough to include zippers at appropriate locations depending on which vehicle you choose (zippers for the plane are in the air). Now how about those weapons? In all honesty, this will be what disappoints die-hard Mario Kart fanatics the most. Diddy Kong Racing's weapon selection is a little on the lacking side, but it does grow on you as you play the game more. There are five different colored balloons. Different color balloons appear at many different places on the track -- but they are not random. Sometimes they're in a row with other colors and sometimes they're off to the side. What's different in Diddy Kong Racing is that these Weapon Balloons can be upgraded, becoming more powerful with each power-up, all the way up to level three. To upgrade them, just keep the getting the same colored balloon without picking up any other color. Here are the weapons in the game: The Yellow Balloon (yellow with purple stars) is a shield. Level one is a short-lived shield that protects you. If you run into an opponent while having it on, it will throw them off course a little. If you power it up to level two or three, it just becomes more powerful and even injures your opponent more! The Red Balloon (red with yellow stars) will give you missiles. This one is everyone's favorite. Level one offers you a single, unguided missile. Level two offers you a single homing missile. It's fairly intelligent but not quite as smart as Mario Kart 64's red shell. Level three gives you 10 unguided missiles. The cool thing about the level three Red Balloon is that you can be down to eight, six, two, one missile -- whatever -- and if you pick up another Red Balloon, then it will replenish your supply back to 10. The Green Balloon (green with yellow stars) gives you the droppers. Level one is an oil spill. Level two is a mine, which will cause even more damage. Finally, level three is a bubble. If an opponent touches it, they will be encased in it for several seconds. The cool thing about the Green Balloon is that if you are using the plane, then these droppers will be placed in the air. And, yes, oil does float on water. The Blue Balloon (blue with yellow stars) gives you speed boosts. This is probably just about as useful as the Red Balloon. Level one gives you a short boost and level two gives you an even longer boost. But then there's level three. Not only does it give you a longer boost still, but it makes a really, really cool loud sound. The Rainbow Balloon (green, blue, red and yellow swirls) is a magnet. It locks on to the nearest racer ahead of you and pulls you up to their position. Level one is somewhat weak while level two is slightly more powerful. Level three, however, will drag the target back to you. Wow. I think all got all of the background information out of the way. Sorry for going overkill here, but I wanted to provide you with as much information as possible about the Diddy Kong Racing experience. I guess now it's time to move on to actual opinions.... From the moment I turned on Diddy Kong Racing, I was extremely impressed with the game's visuals. Rare pioneered something called "Real-Time Dynamic Animation." This technology is supposed to consist of kinematic data rather than frame data. With frame data, which is what all previous polygon games have used, there is a specific set of motions programmed into the game. With kinematic data, the code is supposed to be more generalized so that motion can be altered, giving you a unique sequence...or something. I don't know if I've seen this in the game or not, but the game sure looks very good at any rate. The Central Area from which you access the individual worlds, much like Super Mario 64, looks fantastic. Everything is anti-aliased, perspective corrected and all that good stuff. The actual racing levels look pretty darn nice, too. If you're playing the game in the one-player mode, there are seven other highly intelligent racers on the track with you. Some of the levels in which you race with the car might have huge polygons moving around, i.e., the first level has a big dinosaur moving around on it. The plane levels usually have huge polygon-based structures throughout the level. And the hovercraft levels have some perpetually calculated wave effects, just like Wave Race 64. At times they look even better than the waves in Wave Race 64 because of the transparent nature of the water. The two-player mode looks just as good. There are few minor changes to keep the frame rate at 30 frames per second, though. For example, that huge brontosaurs is nowhere to be found and there is only a total of six (two humans and four computer opponents) vehicles on the track at once instead of eight. Although it was slightly disappointing there were six racers instead of eight, hey, I'm not complaining. It sure beats the hell out of those racers (TGR, MRC) that don't even offer racing with the computer in the two-player mode. The three- and four-player modes, which operate just like Mario Kart 64's, lose a bit more detail, but it's still one of smoothest multi-player games yet on the Nintendo 64. Throughout the whole game, Rare shows itself off as the only developer to seemingly offer fog-free action. That's right, you won't see it here. You can see far off into the horizon in all gameplay modes (OK, with the exception of maybe a cave in a boss level). The only knock against Diddy Kong Racing's graphics is probably the somewhat excessive amount of clipping. I mean, it's nowhere near unbearable, but it's more than we're used to seeing in a 64-bit game. But as I said earlier, I think Rare would have fixed a lot of the clipping problems if it had more time. Aurally, I must say that I am quite impressed with Diddy Kong Racing. Let me start off by saying that pretty much all of the voice, sound effects and music are more kiddie-like in nature, but that sort of thing never bothered me. First, there is a tremendous amount of speech in the game. Taj (the helpful elephant), T.T. (overseer of Time Trial and game status) and all the bosses have multiple sentences of speech. Rare tried to make each one sound like what it looks like, but some of them come off sounding a bit cheesy. All of the racers in the game also have a voice. But most of their comments are mainly yelps, grunts, yippies, yahoos -- that sort of thing. Each racer probably has more than a handful of those types of comments. Music in the game is kind of interesting. Considering the Mario Kart games never exactly had good music, some of the tunes in Diddy Kong Racing are pretty good. In fact, you might even notice that a few have chants in them. Most of the music fits the level's theme. So a haunted-type level will having haunting music, while a level set in a volcano has almost tribal-like music. Most of the levels, though, have the typically happy-go-lucky style of music. Let me make one more comment about the sound. The game's sound seems to have great stereo separation. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the sound was in surround sound, especially considering that two upcoming Rare games, Banjo-Kazooie and Conker's Quest, will be in surround sound. Yet another fabulous job by Rare, the only N64 developer who seems to be able to eliminate fog and compose good background music. Control in the game is generally pretty great. The car controls just like you would hope, except for the fact that it doesn't power-slide like the karts in Super Mario Kart. Oh well. The plane has very good control, too, though my friend can't seem to use it very well. However, I'm going to gripe about the hovercraft. In my opinion, the control could use some tweaking. It's overly difficult to keep it constantly moving around bends, in my opinion. Nevertheless, I don't mind using it when I have to. In fact, it gets quite wild using speed boost over those waves. And now for the meat and potatoes -- gameplay. No, this is not a Mario Kart clone. If this is a Mario Kart clone, then Sonic the Hedgehog is a Mario clone, Mortal Kombat is a Street Fighter clone, Xevious is a Galaga clone, and so on. There are similarities, but it's too different to be generally lumped into a clone category. Diddy Kong Racing's Adventure mode is just great. It's ridiculously fun, quite lengthy, and pretty challenging. The amazing thing about Diddy Kong Racing is that the computer racers do NOT cheat. What a novel idea! It almost seems as if they can tell how good you are and adjust to that. But if you don't think they're challenging enough, then enter this code to make the computer intelligence markedly more difficult (TIMETOLOSE). It's too bad that Rare included a great idea as a cheat. Just enter JOINTVENTURE as a Magic Code and two players can simultaneously play the Adventure mode! This mode must have actually been more than an afterthought, too. Here's how it works: Only one player can be on the map screen (the Central Area, lobbies) at once. So they'll have to choose which level you play and such. However, if you go to a race and the other person wins, then they get control of the map screen. When you play the Adventure mode simultaneously, remember that there will be six total racers on a track instead of eight. The objectives are all the same as in the one-player mode. The first time through the tracks (you and your friend race simultaneously against the computer opponents), one of you has to place first. When facing the boss, only one person can race it at a time. If you die, or if you press start and pick "Restart Race," then the other player gets an opportunity to race the boss. With the Silver Coin Challenge, your coins are not pooled together. One of you must still collect all eight coins and finish first at the same time. What's pretty cool is that the silver coins you need only appear on your screen. Once my friend looked up at my screen and saw a coin that he thought he needed. But as it turned out, he already got it (I didn't), which meant it wasn't on his screen at that same part. If you choose to pick "Tracks" instead of "Adventure," you can go play any level that you opened up in the Adventure mode. If two people are playing, then you can choose if you want a total of two (you and a friend), four (two human and two AI) or six (two human and four AI) racers on the track at once. You can also choose the "Trophy Race" for each world to do it up Mario Kart GP style. One nifty thing to note about the Tracks mode is that it keeps track of your first, second, third and fourth place finishes. I thought it was a nice touch that it kept track of third and fourth place finishes. And what about Diddy Kong Racing's Battle Mode, which is referred to as a "Challenge"? Sadly, it is not as good as Super Mario Kart or Mario Kart 64. Again, there are a mere four areas to choose from. While two of the levels are straight "be the last one alive" type of stages, two of them offer actual challenges. For example, the goal of Fire Mountain is to hatch three baby dinosaurs before your opponents do. What you must do is fly down to a center area, grab a egg (if there's one there), and drop it in your designated nest. It will then be vulnerable in the nest for about five seconds. During this time, your egg can be stolen, or you might want to steal someone else's. If it's not stolen after that time, it will count as one egg. Then you'll need to go down and grab another one to put in your nest. There are also weapons around to take care of would-be thieves. The goal of Smokey Castle is to fill your treasure chest with 10 bananas before your opponents do. The bananas appear scattered all around the course. You can carry two bananas at a time. Again, there are weapons around and you can steal bananas before your opponent puts them in his or her treasure chest. The other two levels, Icicle Pyramid and Darkwater Beach, are the "normal" Challenge areas. The way these two work is that you have eight bananas to start off with. Each time you get hit you lose two bananas. Once you have zero bananas, you're out of the battle. (There's no ghost racer or bomb or anything.) Icicle Pyramid is the best of the lot. You use the car in this one. There are multiple levels to the pyramid, with single balloons scattered around. Darkwater Beach is almost as good. It puts you in a hovercraft as you race around a big lake with sand dunes, logs, and even a small bridge and tunnel. For obvious reasons, the weapon selection in the Challenge mode is less than in the normal modes. Red Balloons can only be powered up to level two (sorry, but you're not allowed to get the 10-missile, level three power-up). The Green Balloons only give you mines (no oil spills or bubbles). And the Yellow Balloon will only give you a level two shield. Although this was obviously done to make the Challenge mode fair, maybe the whole game just generally needs a few more weapons? Oh yeah, one more thing I should note about the Challenge mode is that if you play it with two players, then two computer opponents will join you! That's right. You can play against the computer in the two-player Challenge mode! Or if you play it with three players, then one computer opponent will join in. And you can even play it by yourself (against three computer opponents) in the one-player mode. The computer is actually fairly intelligent as well. Diddy Kong Racing is one of the best racing titles ever, one of the best games of the year, and probably just one of the best games of all-time. It's too early to tell how well it stacks up against Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart 64. My gut feeling, however, is that two-, three- and four-player racing won't be quite as spectacular (needs more weapons and better Battle Mode arenas), but it's easy to tell that the one-player mode beats the crap out of the Mario Kart games. Do yourself a favor and get this game. It's one of the few must-have titles out there -- especially for the N64.

Graphics: 4.6 out of 5 Sound: 4.4 out of 5 Control: 4.5 out of 5 Gameplay: 4.7 out of 5 Lastability: 4.7 out of 5 Overall: 4.6 out of 5

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