Wednesday, February 13, 2008

So... How's Life?

So I obviously haven't posted in awhile (i.e. forever) and I probably won't again until I'm really bored, gifted with vast amounts of spare time, and struck by inspiration. We all know that basically never happens, so don't expect much/anything until march and I'm playing video games 'round the clock again.

... *sighs nostalgically*...

What? Oh. Right. My point. Well, I've been meaning to make some crappy excuse for not posting (see above) but I felt that I ought to have a decent post at the same time. So, I'll now give you a paper I actually turned in for english class about video games (I'm not kidding, seriously) and... well... read it yourself.


Many a group of gamers has at least sampled the variety of racing games for the Nintendo 64. Of my two favorites, Mario Kart 64 is by far the better known, and a staple of the N64’s party options. Diddy Kong Racing, while not as widely known, fills much the same niche. When the time comes to put a racing game in one’s Nintendo, the question plaguing both casual and avid gamers alike is this: is Mario Kart 64 or Diddy Kong Racing the better game?

Both games have many elements in common. They are animated, somewhat tacky 3D racing games, using a combination of well-known and relatively obscure characters as the drivers. Each one has a story mode, featuring computer-controlled characters to round out the eight participants in each race, as well as a multiplayer option for up to 4 human players. Both games divide their courses into groups; four “cups” in Mario Kart and five “worlds” in Diddy Kong. Both also have a bonus section of the game featuring mirrored versions of every course. This involves simply flipping the direction of every turn on the course, but even such a seemingly trivial alteration can change the race completely. However, It is in the details where the games diverge.

In the sheer number of courses available for racing, Mario Kart falls rather short. With 16 courses divided among 4 cups, Mario Kart offers a decent selection. All of Kart’s courses are classic, three-lap races with eight players. Diddy Kong Racing has 20 such courses, as well as four unique arena style courses and six boss races where the player dukes it out with a single opponent on an distinctive, one-lap course. Mario Kart’s story mode forces the player into a single cup at a time, with all four races back to back. Points are awarded based on the finishing order of each race, with the player winning bronze, silver, or gold cups depending on their overall point total compared to the other racers. Diddy Kong Racing is a bit more complex. Every standard race is played twice, once at an easy difficulty, and the second time with silver coins scattered about that the player must retrieve. After placing first in every race, the player must defeat a boss on a linear one-lap course, again at two difficulties. Finally, one replays the four standard races back to back, with a scoring system very similar to Mario Kart. Although Diddy Kong has only two options compared to Mario Kart’s three, both games cover a good range of difficulties, from beginner to expert. Overall, Diddy Kong is far more expansive in this regard than Mario Kart.

Both games eventually reward the player with the bonus of being able to play every course in a mirrored mode. For Mario Kart, the “extra” setting can be applied to single player at the maximum difficulty and to multiplayer races. Diddy Kong Racing rewards the player with “adventure two,” which parallels the original story mode exactly, with two changes: all courses are mirrors, and the computer opponent difficulty is greatly increased. Keep in mind that because the silver coin challenge uses all new locations, this means every standard Diddy Kong course can actually be played at four distinct difficulties between the two adventures.

Perhaps one of the more major differences between Mario Kart 64 and Diddy Kong Racing is the choice of vehicles. In Mario Kart, only a car is used. Diddy Kong Racing, however, also allows the use of a hovercraft or plane on most levels. Basic driving skills must be remastered with each new vehicle. Although a few levels, especially water-based ones, restrict the usable vehicles, the extensive implementation of the plane and hovercraft add a new dynamic to traditional racing that Mario Kart lacks.

The most obvious difference between the two games lies in the item systems. Both games allow racers to obtain items that slow down opponents or aid the user. Mario Kart has generic “item boxes” that give the player a random item, ranging from offensive shells, to banana mines, to boosting mushrooms and so much more. Because of this variety of both weak and powerful items, Mario Kart often becomes more about what items one acquires than about how good a racer one is. In Diddy Kong Racing, players grab differently colored balloons for items. These balloons provide either an offensive missile, stationary mine, protective shield, magnetic pull, or simple boost, depending on their color. The same colored balloons always appear in the same places, causing Diddy Kong to be under much less sway from lady luck. There is still a variety of items because grabbing multiple balloons of the same color increases the item’s power. Mario Kart comes out on top for variety of items, but suffers from one major setback. Mario Kart weights the “random” items to be more favorable to those farther back from first place. While helping the underdog is a good idea in theory, often in practice a single good driver will lead the race until the very end, when a lucky item obtained by a player who has been lagging the entire race upsets the status quo and suddenly negates the first two and a half laps. I have been on both sides of this situation, and even when I win because of it, the victory always feels hollow. The consistency of Diddy Kong races is much better at ensuring that the best driver, not the luckiest, wins.

Diddy Kong also caters to the consistent driver with its “zippers.” Zippers are clearly marked arrows scattered across the course that provide any racer that touches them a temporary boost in speed. Reaching more zippers throughout a race can easily give a good driver a big lead over one less skilled at handling their vehicle. The number of zippers is very well balanced: enough to give a significant advantage to skilled drivers, but not so many as to trivialize items and other driving skills. Mario Kart does use boosting arrows, but only a handful of times, and almost exclusively to propel racers across a canyon or river. Nowhere in Mario Kart can one driver get a boost and another not, assuming neither one strays far enough off the course to be automatically rescued and brought back to the road.

Finally, there is the multiplayer mode of each game to consider. Both games support two human players racing against computers, although Diddy Kong requires a “magic code,” which can be easily found online, to do so. They also both support up to four human players in either traditional racing or battle mode. Mario Kart incorporates four new courses into its battle mode, while Diddy Kong has two battles among its arena courses. The items used in Mario Kart make that game better suited for battle mode, while Diddy Kong is more geared towards the traditional racing style. While Mario Kart lets multiplayer races be done on any course or its mirror, Diddy Kong once again has more options. Not only can humans battle each other in any course, they can also play the four race, point system trophy rounds. A pencil and paper allow Kart players the same option, but who really prefers having to record scores themselves?

Although Mario Kart 64 has a better battle system, Diddy Kong Racing takes first place in every other category. In sheer number of courses, single player story mode, consistent items and boosts, new vehicles and multiplayer options, Diddy Kong Racing reigns supreme. Without a doubt, Diddy Kong Racing is a superior game to Mario Kart 64.