When I recently visited a local Game retailer, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was a copy of Diddy Kong Racing DS on the shelf. I played the original on the N64, and it was one of my favourite games for the console, the original premise being a kart racer with the option to choose to race as a kart, a hovercraft or a plane around the courses. It also had an interesting and colourful hubworld, which could be explored, and additional collectables within racecourses that could be found by changing to a different vehicle or by going off the beaten path. Remembering the original so fondly, I had no choice really but to pick it up!
I found myself some free time, and began to play; immediately, I began to miss the original. I was greeted by some story that Wizpig (a wizard pig, he was in the original) was terrorizing “the island”, and the inhabitants (other racers) had called for the Kongs. I didn’t much care for it, but then it’s a racing game, it’s not about the story.
So, I selected my racer and began to race. The first race, set in Dino Domain, wasn’t 100% as I had remembered it, but it wasn’t bad. The powerups were there, the speed seemed a little slow (I figured that it was a handheld device, so that’s acceptable), but around the course was dotted small coins. I picked up a few of these on the way around, and finished the course.
Here’s where the first of my major gripes reared it’s head. Once the course is complete, you cannot re-enter. If you want to re-enter, you have to clear all of the other races, and then beat the area boss, who will then set the second of my major-gripes as a challenge. He sets the coin challenge, where you are taken around the stage on a rail-style tour, and the goal is to use the stylus to tap balloons to pop them, and drag coins into a small bag (purse?) in the bottom corner of the screen, changing the way you are facing by more stylus-swiping.
Firstly, this style of level has always irritated me, but the execution is what infuriated me with this game. These are racing courses, for multiple vehicles, and as such have tight corners and blindspots – this is not an environment suited for a stylus-based collectathon. I persevered, completed the levels and was invited to re-challenge the boss to a “tougher rematch”. This was an absolute garbage race, as this needed you to trace around the touchscreen to steer your kart, and to swipe a wheel that appeared to retain speed. This is a horrible, horrible implementation of touch controls, it was literally shoe-horned in, and it shows.
Graphically, this game has been downgraded from the original. Unlike Super Mario 64, which was given beautiful polish for the DS release, this game is very granular and pixelated, however it does run very smoothly with minimal lag.
The main game is infuriating, and to a fan of the original it really does feel like a bastardization, but the main draw has and will always be multiplayer. The saving grace for this game is that it does offer single-kart download play, and so if you choose to pick this up you only need one copy to play with friends.
Verdict: This game is flawed. Like most early games for the DS/Wii, they added gimicky sections just for the sake of adding them. This fad has died off now, but it could return at any time… If you want to play Diddy Kong Racing at its best, avoid the DS version and hunt down the N64 copy, it has all of the gameplay we love with none of the tacked-on touchscreen hoop-jumping.