Diddy Kong Racing had a fairly interesting and ridiculous development process. Almost immediately after the launch of the N64 (and the release of Killer Instinct Gold), Rare started in on their next game and first “original” N64 title (as KI Gold was basically an arcade port). This process started with “Wild Cartoon Kingdom”, which was basically a real-time strategy game (!) based on an executive’s trip to Disney World. Then, for reasons that are no doubt lost to time/whiskey, the RTS became a racing game, and mutated into Pro-Am 64, an RC-car based title. Then, a certain bear and bird got their big debut game delayed, so Rare/Nintendo needed a big mascot title to fill its upcoming holiday season. Pro-Am 64 was modified again, and, this time, “Cartoon Kingdom” returned with a number of furry animal pals in cars, planes, and hovercrafts. After a long and confusing road to creation, a certain monkey got slammed on the marquee, and Diddy Kong Racing was born.
But was it any good?
Wait, belay that question. I don’t mean “was the game any good?” Diddy Kong Racing was an interesting take on racing games (which, thanks to the technology of the late 90’s, was a genre that had seen about 7,000 titles in two years), as it combined the exploratory nature of action games like Mario 64 and the tight racing experience of Mario Kart. It wasn’t a very complicated or nuanced take on either of its two contributing gameplay styles, but it was certainly fun. While Mario Kart 64 might be the most fondly remembered racing title of the generation, there’s nothing wrong with being in second place in that race. Diddy Kong 64 was weird and experimental, but it was certainly good at being an amusing racing game with its own identity.
But it’s that identity that we’re here to investigate. DKR took a long road to production, but, somewhere in there, it was nearly a bunch of anonymous windup cars. Then, in an effort to be a “big name” title, it grabbed a kong, and turned all of its unknowns into what would hopefully be the next Mario Kart. Or do you want to tell me you ever considered the intelligence of your average koopa troopa before he started pelting you with red shells? Diddy Kong Racing was clearly intended as a way for Rare and Nintendo to promote a new stable of remarkable characters, but how did they do? We’ve got a couple of decades of hindsight here, so let’s answer this question once and for all: Are the stars of Diddy Kong racing any good?
Diddy is the one known quantity for Diddy Kong Racing, which is probably why it’s, ya know, Diddy Kong Racing. After appearing in Mario Kart, Smash Bros, and every Donkey Kong title that doesn’t involve tinker toys, it’s hard to believe, but Diddy Kong was still a pretty new quantity back in 1997. Donkey Kong Country was only three years old, and it wasn’t like Diddy ever gained the same kind of traction as the upcoming Pikachu. He wasn’t even playable in Donkey Kong Country 3! However, as legend tells it, Donkey Kong was originally slated for this spot, but Rare suggested Diddy star for a little variety. Donkey already gets to hang out with Mario, why not promote the lil’ chimp with his own franchise? And, hey, DK could still swing by next time, anyway. What have you got to lose?
Well, seems that Rare and Nintendo made the right choice in this one, as Diddy really does fit his eponymous game pretty well. Donkey would have a tendency to overshadow the rest of this cast not only figuratively, but literally as well. DK is a big guy (ape)! Diddy’s presence allows for more “childlike” mascots, like… almost the entire cast, and that gives Diddy Kong Racing a different identity from its Mario-based cousin. Diddy Kong Racing doesn’t have to be for kids, but the “kiddy” characters and visuals give it a more whimsical feeling, and that’s important when you’ve got magical vehicles that change shape at the behest of a genie.
Verdict: Diddy Kong has been an excellent mascot for Nintendo for years, and he fits the game perfectly. Good job, Diddy!
And here’s our first dud.
Mario Kart has always been a pretty interesting title without its cast, but nobody would have ever played the thing if it featured a bunch of anonymous randos. See also: Smash Bros and the confusingly high number of Melee/Brawl clone games that are dropping within the year. Sure, the gameplay is great and fun and whatever, but, dude, I signed up to play as Samus Aran, not generic lady with a gun. But we take for granted that these games have these all-star casts. It’s likely impossible to figure out the chicken and egg of those franchises, but, at some point, somebody in Nintendo had to say, “Hey, let’s actually include all of our best characters. And Captain Falcon! That should get people’s attention!” Mario Kart could easily be Mario racing against seven goombas, but it is so much sweeter when Yoshi is in the mix.
Krunch Kremling is a Kremling, and the sad thing is that he could have been any Kremling. At this point, we’d already seen three Donkey Kong Country titles, and, in all of those games, Kremlings were the main antagonists. This means that there was already an entire army of kritters to choose from, yet Rare decided to go with a generic representation of the species. Sure, he’s got a cool motorcycle jacket, and I guess he gets bonus points for being a Kremling with the wherewithal to follow Diddy to a magical island, but he’s no Kaptain K. Rool. Don’t want your Bowser eclipsing the cast? Klubba would be a fine choice. Or Klobber! Or any Kremling that is at least recognizable, and not “just a crocodile”. Come on, Rare, you’re trying to build a brand here. Use the tools you have.
Verdict: It’s nice to see an established “race” represented in the game, and it’s always good to have an enemy-turned-ally, but Krunch is a disappointment in every other way.
Banjo is a star in waiting. If you’re curious about the timeline here, the entire reason Diddy Kong Racing is Diddy Kong Racing is because Nintendo/Rare needed a mascot game for Christmas, and the original intended title created to fill that slot was Banjo-Kazooie. So, effectively, if it weren’t for Banjo Bear being slow to the starting line, we wouldn’t be looking at Diddy Kong Racing at all, and I might be posting about Uniracers 2 or something. For this reason alone, Banjo should be celebrated as the savior of DKR Island.
And, even if it was Banjo’s lack of haste to be blamed for DKR, it was still a great idea to include Banjo on the roster. This is the proverbial “passing of the torch” from one mascot to another. Donkey begat Diddy, and now Diddy shall beget Banjo. And it worked! Banjo was a success, and, even with a measly three games under his belt, Banjo still holds enough cultural clout to warrant his own Mighty Number 9. And the games weren’t bad, either! Everybody wins! Let’s hear it for Banjo!
Verdict: Way to go, bear! You may have yet to discover your companion bird, but you’re going places.
Now here’s a guy who is such a loser, nobody can even remember his origins.
Tiptup did technically premier in Diddy Kong Racing. And, let’s face it, he’s basically a joke. He’s a turtle in a race. There are entire fables about why that is a terrible idea! But Tiptup didn’t stop at Diddy Kong Racing, he waddled on to appear in Banjo-Kazooie as a support character with his own choir. And then he became (or already was) a dad in Banjo-Tooie. And I’m pretty sure he at least made a cameo in that other Banjo game. And he was originally intended to be a friend of Banjo in the scrapped Project Dream game that would eventually morph into the “real” Banjo franchise. In short, Tiptup is indisputably a part of the Banjo universe.
But, when Diddy Kong Racing was eventually rereleased for the Nintendo DS, Tiptup was still there on the roster. This might seem natural, but Banjo and Conker were both dropped from that title, because Rare had long since abandoned Nintendo for softer pastures, and “their” property wasn’t going to see any extra eyeballs.
But Tiptup was still there, abandoned by his friends.
And considering “The Tiptup Case” isn’t a part of Nintendo legislative history, it doesn’t look like his owners thought he was anyone important either.
Sorry, Tiptup, you’re so forgettable, your own creators don’t give a damn about you.
Verdict: Don’t worry, I won’t forget about you… uh… turtle… guy?
Diddy is the visiting celebrity, Banjo is the next generation in waiting, and poor Timber the Tiger is the intended protagonist of the piece. Diddy Kong Racing does have a plot, and it’s that the nefarious Wizpig swooped in and cursed the inhabitants of this happy little island while Timber’s parents were off, I don’t know, getting high in a van by the river or something. Timber is still home alone, and it’s up to him to de-curse the island with the help of his whacky friends. … No wonder he requested a chimp for assistance. This kid is doomed.
Unfortunately, DKR was built for players that could choose any character for any level at any time. And that’s great! A large adventure like DKR would be terrible if it locked you into one racer for every last challenge. Unfortunately, that means that any focus on Timber is completely lost, and most people only know Timber is the intended protagonist from the instruction manual (and even that was likely forsaken for that piece of cardboard that explains the controls). Combine this with the fact that Timber didn’t even make it to the cover of his own game on the DS rerelease (but there’s Tiptup!), and Timber pretty much fails in his protagonist role. Sorry, Timber, you’re another forgotten casualty of the franchise.
Verdict: Timber didn’t even have the star power to sneak back into a Banjo title. Guess his parents aren’t letting him out of their sight for a good long while.
Now here’s a plot hero! Drumstick is supposedly the Obi Wan Chicken of DKR, and he’s the first to challenge Wizpig to a race for the island. He loses immediately, and is transformed into a frog for his troubles. Whoops. Drumstick spends the majority of the story as a frog with a rooster comb, but, should you rescue the majority of the island anyway, you’ll be able to release the curse on Drumstick, and thus the chicken man will be yours.
And that’s awesome! Unlocking characters started to become a means unto itself at the start of the millennium, but there was still a little mystique to earning a rooster dude through sheer effort back in 1997. And, what’s more, with the “legend” of Drumstick being the greatest racer on the island, you, the player, felt like the greatest racer around when you finally de-frogged the guy. And heroes transforming into frogs was all the rage back in the 90s! Just ask that marshmallow kid!
Verdict: Drumstick winds up being the one racer that actually seems related to the plot, so he’s a bit more memorable than the rest of these nerds. Too bad someone decided his ideal design would be “rejected KFC mascot”, though.
You know it’s a 90’s game when there’s “that one girl”. The lone female of the DKR species is Pipsy the Mouse, and, to her credit, she’s one of the best racers in the game. Sure, that might be a subjective statement in most any kart racing game, but Pipsy is a damn beast, and her handling is second to none. But, other than that, Pipsy has absolutely no defining features beyond her gender. There’s a reason we never saw Pipsy’s Big Adventure.
Verdict: If you’re going to have a cartoon mouse mascot, you have to go big. Pipsy did not.
And here’s Bumper the Badger. As far as anyone can tell, he was intended as the “big and friendly” archetype in this lineup. He’s… big… and… uh… friendly. That’s all we got here. Nothing much to… Wait a minute. Is he wearing goggles? He is! Bumper the Badger is wearing goggles! That should be praised! Bumper knows what’s up! He has his furry paw on the pulse of fashion! Way to go, Bumper! We need more rockin’ Badgers!
Verdict: I assume the great, unwashed masses could not see the inherent value of the goggles, so Bumper wound up another critter in the loser column.
Conker is a squirrel in a t-shirt. Nobody is ever going to toss a game to this nobody.
Verdict: Welp, that’s everybody. We’ve got more losers than anything, so it certainly seems that Diddy Kong Racing irresponsibly squandered its mascot powers, and never went anywhere with these also-rans. Hey, you can’t always win the gold.
FGC #381 Diddy Kong Racing
- System: Nintendo 64 initially, and then a rerelease on Nintendo DS, the system where N64 games went to retire.
- Number of players: It’s four players, right? It’s a N64 game, so that’s my best guess.
- Hey, what about T.T. the Clock? That is an imaginary character, and you clearly just made him up.
- Dirty Cheater: Not unlike Goldeneye, there are a number of cheats “built in” to the game. Some of the cheats impact the random battle items that are earned during races, which is a feature Mario Kart players have been begging for forever. There’s also a cheat that is titled “TOXICOFFENDER”, which turns all balloons green. That is delightful.
- Favorite Boss: Wizpig is the Wizard Pig should win on sheer chutzpah alone (when life gives you pork, become a wizard!), but I’m going to choose Bubble the Octopus as my favorite semi-malevolent opponent. He was an angry octopus boss before Mario and squid kids made it mandatory.
- Did you know? Pipsy is supposedly based on a character from a canceled project named Astro Mouse. The titular Astro Mouse is male, has a space helmet, and seems to have a healthy amount of 90’s ‘tude. He could be the origin of Pipsy, but, seriously, how many different ways can you render a mouse?
- Would I play again: Maybe, once, for the nostalgia. I’m not playing the game “for real” ever again, but trying out a track or two every once in a while wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dragon Ball FighterZ! Or maybe I just want to play another DBZ game. DBS game? Whatever! What’s important is that Goku is coming to town. Please look forward to it!