Growing up, the only racing games I was ever really interested in was Mario Kart 64 – but when Diddy Kong Racing was announced, it caught my attention. It combined the fun cartoony graphics and multiplayer mayhem of Mario Kart 64 with some new racing mechanics like multiple vehicles…and let me play as Banjo and Conker before their games even released!
While a racing game at heart, Diddy Kong Racing also has a (wonky) story! After selecting your character, you are introduced to the antagonist Wizpig, an evil intergalactic wizard pig. Wizpig has won all the races on his home world, and has come to Timber’s Island to take control of it. The only way to take it back is to beat him in a race! Soon after you are introduced to the flying elephant genie named Taj (who sounds like he just quit his job from the Kwick-E-Mart). Taj explains that you must explore the island and win races to collect golden balloons, which unlock more races and boss races.
There are five main “worlds” to explore (Dino Domain, Snowflake Mountain, Sherbet Island, Dragon Forest, and Future Fun Land) each with a boss race battle. Once you defeat the boss the first time, you must re-race all the levels in the world and win first place while also collecting 8 silver coins scattered throughout each race track. This allows you to race the boss a second time to finally complete the world. Once you defeat the first four worlds, you get to face off against Wizpig, and upon defeating him, unlocking Future Fun Land (something I have never done)!
In terms of design, I really liked the one-player mode. The over-world area (like the Mario 64 castle) really made this game feel more like an adventure and I liked having to explore to find each of the races (like finding the paintings in Mario 64)! Hidden areas and balloons could also be found if you searched hard enough! While some might not like the repetitive nature of collecting the silver coins in each stage, I did not mind it as it was a lot more challenging and fun! What really made this game stand out was racing not only a kart, but also a hover-craft and airplane! Many of the 20+ stages are designed to accommodate more than one vehicle type as well, which dramatically increase the replayability and fun of the levels.
In terms of gameplay, the racing feels great! Controls are tight and each of the characters have a distinct feel. Each of the vehicles (especially the kart and airplane) feel great. I was slightly less enthusiastic for the hovercraft as I felt like it was sliding all over the place compared to the other vehicles, but it opened up a lot of cool water levels that would not have been available otherwise.
The game also introduces some cool new battle mechanics! Each stage is littered with different coloured balloons which represent different types of power-ups. For instance, red balloons are for a weaponized rockets and blue balloon are for speed boosts. When you touch a balloon, you can use the item (like in Mario Kart 64), or you can collect another balloon of the same type to make it even more powerful. For instance, collect two red balloons to change your rocket into a heat-seeking rocket. All items can be powered up three times, but beware – if you collect another coloured balloon it replaces the powered-up item and you need to start from the start! I really loved this mechanic as it added another layer of strategy on top of regular racing.
The game also introduces the boss races! I found the first boss race to be extremely challenging while the second, third, and fourth bosses much easier. Even as a child I have NEVER beaten Wizpig and plan on eventually facing off against him and finally unlocking the final world (which I have yet to play even though I played hundreds of hours of this game as a kid).
In terms of graphics, the game looks great for an N64 game with many of the tracks having awesome character with little pop-up. The sound of the game is also great with a fully-voiced cast of characters (and the only time we ever get to hear Banjo speak in regular language). The game also has a multiplayer mode which is very similar to Mario Kart 64 – you can race and you can battle. It’s a blast to play!
Overall, Diddy Kong Racing is a fun adventure-packed racing game that has many unique features like multiple vehicles and and open-world to explore. The only racing game on the N64 that rivals it is Mario Kart 64. Overall, I give this game a 8/10 – the game looses some marks on some unnecessarily hard boss races (like Wizpig) which I have never beat to this day (and I played this game for hundred of hours as a kid)!…but maybe I am just being bitter 😛
Final Score: 8/10