There are so many lame Mario Kart knockoffs these days. They should just band together and form their own bland-vanilla genre and be done with it. You know, just leave the one true kart racer alone and admit they'll never, ever achieve that same level of racing perfection. But Diddy Kong Racing wants so damn hard to be the next Mario Kart that it hurts our eyes to play it for long periods of time. The racing itself is totally fine (if a little slow), but this simple pleasure is smothered in monotonous collecting and mindless wandering.
Wait - collecting and wandering? Yes, Diddy does in fact combine racing with adventure. Just like a typical adventure game (Mario 64, Banjo Kazooie etc) the goal is to visit each world, collect a boatload of cogs, coins, keys, amulets, medallions and blah blah blah to advance. Instead of running from place to place, you drive in kart, plane or hovercraft. Finishing first in every race lets you go against a boss, which, in our eyes, should be the end of that particular world.
But no. After placing first (and you have to place first) and winning against the boss, you "get" to race through the levels again, this time on a magic carpet. The goal now is to tap as many balloons as you can from a first-person perspective as the carpet flies itself around the track. Then, once you beat these levels, you race the boss again, then race all the racks back-to-back circuit style, and then race the boss again using nothing but the stylus. Sweet merciful crap Rare, what's with your raging boner for collecting balloons?
True, you don't absolutely have to collect everything, but there's a choking amount of garbage here bogging down an otherwise competent racer. The courses are somewhat bland but remain serviceable, and the fact you get to putt around in a tiny plane and hovercraft is cool. But, much like any of Rare's other games, Diddy throws so much random collectible nonsense at you that you feel like you're missing out if you don't grab it all, but end up resenting every single minute you play when you inevitably go for it all.
For those who remember the Nintendo 64 version from 1997, this is mostly the same game. Back then it wanted to be the next Mario Kart 64, but obviously wasn't. Now, the only thing that's been done to bump its stature is moderate touch screen silliness. Want to tap a wheel to boost from the starting line? How about blow into the microphone to snuff out torches in the game's enormous hub world? Nah, didn't think so. It's funny to think that the N64 version was meant to expand Diddy's universe and introduce both Banjo and Conker, two other poorly designed animal mascots that have already come and gone. Now those two are missing, replaced with... sigh, Dixie and Tiny Kong.
The only other notable additions are the track editor and Wi-Fi Connection support. It's fun to race online because all the other junk is tossed aside, focusing on the course and its balloon-themed power-ups. Missiles, boosts, oil slicks and all the other mainstays appear in solo and multiplayer, but at least online you can get straight to it.
So in the end you have a fairly decent racer swimming a lake polluted with a metric ton of collectable refuse. If there were more worlds to explore and less (yes, less) to do in each, we might have wanted to stay a little longer. But with all these missing items and a barnyard of uninspired characters running around, we can't help but think how much better Mario Kart DS plays. Go buy it instead.