Back in its day, Diddy Kong Racing was arguably the best kart racer yet. Even though great titles from Mario Kart and other mascots have surpassed Diddy in the two decades since its release, that game was unique enough within its genre that its absence remains sorely felt. Now, in a console generation where Mario, Sonic, and Crash all have fantastic racing titles, the genre is more wide open than ever. The timing is right, and the game’s design is still good enough for Diddy Kong Racing to return to prominence on Switch.
Diddy Kong’s classic
Compared to Mario Kart 64, Diddy Kong Racing is a more challenging and strategic kart racer with a larger focus on single-player. Its closest comparison today would be Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled, but Diddy’s game has a lot to separate it from Crash as well. Aside from the obvious fun of multiple vehicle types, so many other facets of Diddy Kong Racing would still make for a fantastic kart racer today, such as the strategic war that comes from the lack of random items. You always know if you are picking up a boost, a trap, or a weapon, and you can upgrade items by holding onto them and picking up multiple of the same type in a row.
Furthermore, the game’s smaller courses – all significantly shorter than those of its contemporaries – make for blistering races where no one can easily run away with a victory. As many three-lap races take fewer than 100 seconds to finish, there is almost no room for error. Victors must successfully make one split-second decision after another in perpetually-tight races. Should you keep chaining boosts together, for example, or should you pick up that missile while you still have what might be your last clean shot at your first-place friend?
Of course, the in-depth single-player mode would also be a welcome return. In that, Diddy Kong Racing has players try their hand at dozens of races, hidden item hunts, boss races, and other challenges, not unlike Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled.
What a time to be a racer
Kart racers have been in the midst of a resurgence over the last two console generations. They have arguably entered a new golden age. Look no further than the Switch’s current catalog for proof: just over two years into the system’s life, it is home to three heavily-varied, high-quality kart racers. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a content goldmine with incredibly fun and accessible racing. Team Sonic Racing, the most recent entry in what has become a solid series of racers for Sega’s mascot, has well-implemented team racing unlike anything the genre has seen in a long time. And Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled is a kart racer for kart-racing fanatics, with deeper mechanics, tougher racing, and a much more fleshed out single-player mode.
This is a wide-open genre. Diddy Kong Racing stood alongside Mario Kart 64 over twenty years ago, just as Banjo-Kazooie did Super Mario 64, and that can still be true today. Outside of simply resurrecting its old game design with a dedicated single-player campaign, short courses, and nonrandom, stackable items, a Diddy Kong Racing sequel could go in a lot of different directions to properly enter the modern age. It could and should learn from today’s great kart racers.
Decades of games to draw from
For courses, we would want a ton of them, especially now that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled both drive laps around the old standard of 16 or 20 tracks per kart-racing game. A new Diddy Kong Racing would need close to 40 courses to hold its own. The easiest way to achieve this would probably be to make a couple dozen new stages and then remake all of the first game’s tracks.
Multiple vehicle types would also remain a necessity – but instead of karts, hovercrafts, and planes, the game could go the same route as the canceled Donkey Kong Racing and use different animals as vehicles. To spice things up further, a new game could borrow from Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed and have ways to switch animals or vehicles mid-race. Customizable kart parts have become a bit of a standard among kart racers, too, so maybe it could let us slap some rocket boosters on Rambi.
For the roster, Nintendo could add a ton of Donkey Kong characters. They could also give us a host of fun, colorful animals like the first game did. Or, they could lean hard on that new buddy-buddy relationship with Microsoft to try and bring back Banjo and Conker. They could even do a mix of all three – I would love to see Conker and Cranky Kong yelling and launching missiles at each other.
Kong racer reboot when?
The potential for an amazing Diddy Kong Racing follow-up has always existed, but it has not been capitalized on yet. And, if I’m being honest, it probably never will be. Short of a critically-panned DS remake, Diddy’s racing adventures never returned after the cancellation of planned follow-up Donkey Kong Racing. The series is one of the most unfortunate casualties of Rare’s acquisition by Microsoft, and the kart racing genre at large has suffered without its presence.
Diddy Kong Racing should have meaningfully survived past the N64. Yet it seems more likely to remain spun out alongside other Nintendo racing series like Kirby Air Ride, F-Zero, and Wave Race. And that’s a real shame. Kart racers might be enjoying a new day in the sun, but it just is not complete without Diddy up there alongside Mario, Sonic, and Crash.