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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Game Review:Diddy Kong Racing DS

After experiencing the goodness of Mario Kart DS last year, I wanted very much to play a similar game again. When Diddy Kong Racing DS was first announced and as more details gradually became available, I had no doubt that the game would be one that would bring back the feel of Mario Kart DS. The question is: Is Diddy Kong Racing DS as wacky, addictive and exciting as Mario Kart DS or perhaps even surpass the benchmark set by Mario Kart DS for racing games on the DS? Diddy Kong Racing DS is basically a port of the N64 game, Diddy Kong Racing, with some new DS-specific features added in. Of course, I have not even started gaming back in those days, so I do not know much before playing the game. Anyway, here is the review.

The first thing you should be informed about is that upon popping the DS game card into the slot, what you will be getting from the entire game is just the tip of the iceberg – most of Diddy Kong Racing DS’s contents are stored away as unlockables, which may be viewed as a boon or bane depending on your opinions. Out of the sheer amount of unlockables, some can be easily unlocked by redeeming them with coins that can be found throughout the game, while others may require more effort, but all in all, you should manage to unlock all of the hidden content eventually.

In an age where it is difficult to make a character racing game on the DS without players drawing comparisons from Mario Kart DS, Diddy Kong Racing DS does well to distinguish itself from Mario Kart DS. For one, there are three classes of playable vehicles, namely kart, aircraft and hovercraft. Each class of vehicle handles uniquely and you need time to get used to each of them. However, I find that the controls for the hovercraft need some extra tweaking from the developers as they feel loose. Second, Diddy Kong Racing DS employs a different formula with its career mode (known as Grand Prix in Mario Kart DS and Adventure in Diddy Kong Racing DS). Diddy Kong Racing DS uses the open-world approach where players need to enter doors to proceed to a race instead of jumping straight into races as seen in Mario Kart DS. Apart from the multi-vehicle system and adventure mode that Diddy Kong Racing DS implements, a handful of mini-games and puzzles have also been added into the mix to further differentiate the game from Mario Kart DS. These are scattered throughout the world and make use of the DS’s touch-screen function. Although I must agree that mini-games and puzzles do indeed add value to a game, they are largely uninteresting and together with somewhat unresponsive touch-screen controls, it is hard to ignore that the game does have flaws. Take, for example, the balloon touch-screen challenge that you are required to do for every track you race on in every world. The game sometimes misinterprets your action, so when you are actually intending to pop a balloon, the game rotates your view instead.

Like Mario Kart DS, Diddy Kong Racing DS has a ton of power-ups for you to use during races. There are 5 types of balloons for you to collect and to upgrade your current power-up, just gather another balloon of the same color so that your power-up becomes more powerful. There are lots of variety in the power-ups, including homing missiles and bubbles that will trap opponents inside for a few seconds. However, if you find yourself lagging behind in the last lap of the race, it would take a miracle for you to gain pole position and that problem lies partly with the power-ups available. Unlike in Mario Kart DS where the devastating spiny blue shells and the bullet bill power-ups are enough to change the fate of the player in the last position at the eleventh hour, Diddy Kong Racing DS does not have power-ups of such effects, contributing to the fact that races in Diddy Kong Racing DS are not tight or in other words, challenging. If you are in the first place in the final lap, you will finish first, no doubt; no power-up will ruin your chances, but if you are in the last place, you will probably finish last as well.

For a character racer, I was pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of vehicle customization options, although none of the options dwell too deep. Unfortunately, differences in vehicle performances are hardly noticeable even after you have outfitted them with better gears. As an N64 port, Diddy Kong Racing DS does not push the DS to its limits as well. The visuals look outdated, as compared to the more graphically impressive Mario Kart DS. Images are more pixellated and the game runs at 30 frames per second, as opposed to 60 frames per second for Mario Kart DS.

Diddy Kong Racing DS, nonetheless, renews its hope to become a great character racer on the DS by introducing an innovative way to earn an instant turbo boost when you dash off the starting line. For example, to get a turbo boost for your kart at launch, you are required to spin a wheel vertically on the touch-screen as quickly as possible. Diddy Kong Racing DS is also properly designed around the DS theme of pick-me-up style, where any player, casual or hardcore alike, can pick up the game easily and just put it down just as easily (think Brain Age). The game saves your progress after every race and that is a nice touch. For most of the times, I play Diddy Kong Racing DS for around 15 minutes before bedtime or when waiting for my PC to boot up.

While single-player disappoints with its dumb mini-games and puzzles, multiplayer fared much better. Over Nintendo Wi-Fi connection, multiplayer races support up to 6 players while local wireless play take the full load of 8 players. Go through the unlockables and you can see a new single-player and a new multiplayer mode that can be obtained using coins. Overall, the multiplayer options in Diddy Kong Racing DS are wonderful.

Final Comments
Diddy Kong Racing DS, to be honest, is one fun game – well, if you exclude the mini-game and puzzle sections. The multiplayer increases the game’s replayability after you have completed the adventure mode, which I feel is a little short even though there are 5 worlds. However, the game has a lot of flaws that mar an otherwise good game. If Diddy Kong Racing DS does away with all those mini-games and puzzles, adds better power-ups, enhances its graphics, and improves on all its other minor shortcomings, it would be as good as Mario Kart DS, if not better.

Overall score: 8.5/10

What’s good: Tons of unlockables, three playable classes of vehicles, open-world approach, innovative method for turbo boost at launch, game saves your progress after every race (suitable for playing on short trips), great multiplayer options

What’s not: Unfun mini-games and puzzles with somewhat unresponsive controls, races are not tight, increases in performances of vehicles are hardly noticeable after customization, dated visuals


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