Kart racers were a strange fad in the ‘90s and went out of style after that. Nintendo today is keeping the genre alive with Mario Kart 8, and Sega made a contribution in 2010 with Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. But otherwise, the scene a wasteland.
If you played more than one kart racer in it’s heyday, you probably have a favorite. This one is mine.
Even when I played this game at age ten, It becomes apparent by the character select screen that Rare is trying to develop a roster of characters. As in, characters Rare could put in other games. Ultimately, that did not happen.
Of course, Diddy Kong dates back to Donkey Kong Country, and there’s an alligator, Krunch, who I think is also part of Donkey Kong Country. Banjo from Banjo-Kazooie is here, and most interesting is that the “clean” version of Conker is here, before the “Mature” rated Conker’s Bad Fur Day, in which you start the game hungover, talk to poop, and more. The rest of the characters are throw-away, like the one I used to race as, Tip-Tup the turtle.
In this game, you collect balloons, which open doors that lead to new races. The first balloon is free, and you go from there. If you win first in a race, you receive a balloon very triumphantly from the magical elephant Taj, who is your ally. When you race, you can pick up bananas, which increase speed. This is a hold over from Mario Kart for SNES in which coins increase speed. There are power-ups, which is typically a choice between a speed boost and a missile, both of which can be upgraded if you keep selecting the same power-up.
There are also less frequent power-ups. For example, there is a magnet that pulls you closer to the characters ahead of you (that can be upgraded). Though mostly derived from Mario Kart, the power-ups in DKR are neat because they can be upgraded. I personally like that you know what power-up your getting because of the color of it’s box, unlike Mario Kart, which is a game of chance.
Beating the four levels in a world results in racing its boss. Almost all boss fights are a challenge, and that’s how I like it. Despite the kid-friendly exterior there are challenges in the game. The boss will send you back after the first race, and asks that you collect eight silver coins in each level before racing him again. It’s padding the length of the game, but it could have been worse. Facing the boss a second time (which remains difficult) results in winning a piece of the amulet. There are four pieces. Receive them all, and face the final boss.
Finally, there is a key in (almost) every world that unlocks a mini-game. The mini-games are kind of lame, but you can finish without playing them. It’s still padding for the game. It’s also systems on top of systems, like having to face the boss twice, under different conditions. Still, the game has a flow, and races can be speedy.
There are cars, hovercrafts, and planes. You use the most appropriate vehicle for the job. Unlike in Mario Kart 64, the characters and karts are 3D models, not 2D sprites. The sky box is depressingly close to you, a bit like Chicken Little (“The sky is falling!”). Also, there are “Nintendo” logos everywhere. There’s a secret / final world in outer space, and you see things Rare would do in later games like Jet Force Gemeni and Perfect Dark. The list of credits is short, which is always nice. They made a great game with a small-team. It’s just a little childish for me to still be into.