Rare’s Diddy Kong Racing was the counterpoint to Nintendo’s Mario Kart 64. Both were released on the N64 in 1997 and to this day debate rages over which racing game is the best.
To outsiders this is no doubt inane—the games likely appear as cutesy things which have no place in a grown adult’s life.
You’re wrong, they’re awesome, we love them, and you can stop making fun of us or we’re going to bloody cry!
Diddy Kong Racing
Back in 1997, British developer Rare was the leading games developers in the world.
It was arguably even above Nintendo, whose masterpiece Ocarina of Time hadn’t yet hit the market.
Rare had already landed Goldeneye 007 in 1997 and was one of the first games developers to receive widespread acclaim outside of the gaming media.
And Diddy Kong Racing cemented that reputation as creative geniuses.
It’s a mighty fun, but enormously challenging, adventure racing game. It even has a plot, of sorts, to defeat WizPig in your fancy automobiles.
You get to pick from one of 10 races. And we loved Tiptup, who N64 Magazine also championed.
What may look like an accessible title is, in fact, as hard as bloody nails.
Inevitably, we have to discuss the difficulty of Diddy Kong Racing. But first we’ll consider its premise.
In any Mario Kart game, the player races to win. You use power-ups to help you along, but first place is only ever your realistic goal.
In Diddy Kong Racing, things take a different turn. Initially you race to win, but Rare ingeniously implemented a series of challenges to complement the gameplay.
They strap a (bizarre) story around the racing, add in bosses, and alongside the go-kart introduce a hovercraft and aeroplane into the mix.
And then there’s Timber the Tiger.
When this game was released, around this time in 1997, the N64 Magazine was particularly freaked about this one.
Why? The eyes. Timber looks positively crazed! The insinuation being he’s often out partying a tad too much.
But, anyway, asides from that the others seem like a pretty wholesome and solid bunch of personalities.
Now… onto the difficulty! Nintendo’s games, and indeed several of Rare’s from this era, were deceptive.
They’re accessible for most ages, but they’re designed specifically to offer a challenge for everyone.
The developers are aware their games are played by adults and, indeed, if anything the cartoony graphics simply act to further enhance the escapist fun.
After you complete the opening stages, things are ramped up a great deal, and they keep heaping on new demands.
One of which involves taking races on in the highest difficulty setting, collecting eight cunningly hidden coins around each track, and winning the race.
Not doing all that and finishing second isn’t enough. You have to win the race as well, otherwise it doesn’t count.
That can be astonishingly frustrating (yet rewarding, upon completion), with many an N64 pad taking a battering due to this back in the day.
Diddy VS Mario
Okay, so the big old debate back in 1997 (though to the present day) is whether Diddy Kong Racing is better than Mario Kart 64.
Nintendo’s effort is a great but heavily flawed game. Although this appears to have been forgotten as gamers look back fondly and reminisce about the battle mode features.
For us, Diddy Kong Racing bags it every single time. Just as a racing challenge, with the variety of courses (and vehicles) making it a pleasure.
Whilst Rare didn’t really add to the series (Diddy Kong starred in the Donkey Kong Country series), and Mario Kart 8 for the Wii U is now the sweeping masterpiece of racing games, it stands as a classic coda in gaming history.
We’re glad we’re able to discuss this sort of stuff. 20 years back this wasn’t possible—largely due to misconceptions about the industry.
But now video games are a mainstream phenomenon we can sit back and stare at this cute game. And wonder just why it’s so bloody devious.