I've been waiting to write this article since 1997.
I remember getting both the N64 and Diddy Kong Racing for Christmas that year, investing serious (serious) hours into it over the holiday break (yes, I obsessed over every golden balloon and time trial) and then heading back to school... where everyone was still talking about Mario Kart 64.
It took some years, but I'm finally ready to lay it out for you. Diddy Kong Racing is, and always will be, the superior game.
Timber's parents pull a Home Alone and leave him stranded on his cool racing island. When things start to go south, he reaches out to his good friend Diddy Kong to help him take down the evil Whiz Pig.
While it's not the most intricate tale ever woven, it helps you invest in the characters and sets the stage for the Adventure Lobby. This was a free roam, playable area that the player needed to explore just as much as the courses themselves.
Having something to do outside of the tracks really keeps the player from breaking immersion, and I wish current lobby games would consider keeping Rare's approach to a more fleshed out experience.
I hated the hover-boat as much as anyone else, but you know what? I put the time in until I was good at driving the darn thing.
And you know what else I was great at? Flying the plane. No one would race me unless I picked another vehicle.
The point is this: The variety of vehicles in Diddy Kong Racing were not only a blast, but made the game more engaging and strategic than Mario Kart 64.
Your favorite vehicle also dictated how you played the game's power-ups. Instead of being random, these power-up balloons had permanent locations around each track and collecting several of the same balloon type was rewarded, while making a mistake and picking up the wrong balloon could cost you the race.
My favorite combination, flying the plane and getting 3 red balloons, was rewarded with a stash of 10 rockets. Accidentally picking up a green oil slick balloon when you were aiming for your third red balloon was a terrible mistake to make.
They cheat, they're mean and they add a fun challenge to the end of each zone.
Diddy Kong Racing's five different bosses really gave the game a lot of personality. The second race against each of them was usually pretty difficult and required just enough playthroughs to start to feel like they were your real-life nemeses.
Best (or worst) of all is the dastardly Whiz Pig himself. There are no power-ups to help against the final villain, and he simply flies over the obstacles -- although you still have to navigate them. To add insult to injury, if you do manage to beat him, he breaks up your super fun beach party to head off into space.
Diddy Kong Racing has quite a bit of unlockable content. Beating the time trials will make you the very best racer, while finding all of the golden balloons and keys adds a fun exploration element to the game.
If you want to head to space to chase down Whiz Pig or play as Drumstick, you'll need to collect all of the golden balloons and all the boss amulets. The real test, though, is unlocking T.T., the time trial referee. He has the best stats in the game, though possibly the stupidest avatar.
Sidenote: Whiz Pig's golden pedicure is on point in space!
Go ahead and press play above if you're ready for a kick of nostalgia.
Famous Rare composer David Wise created these masterpieces. Every track is original, fun and heavily addicting.
The music is definitely a close relation to tracks written for other Donkey Kong games, with fun jungle beats. It's the perfect push to get you across the finish line and blends well into cut scenes. I'm pretty sure I've been writing 20 percent faster with this playing in the background.
So there you have it, the points I emphatically bring up every time someone across the bar starts talking about Mario Kart 64.
I will admit that Diddy Kong Racing borrowed heavily from Mario Kart 64 and the latter was a more difficult game.
What do you think? Do you remember this all going down a lot differently? Let us know in the comment section below.