Nintendo's Diddy Kong Racing developed by Rare in 1997 was a monster hit for the Nintendo 64 at a time when both companies needed a monster hit. Releasing in time for the holiday shopping season with no other real blockbuster competition on a console needing some big hits more often, N64 owners flocked to the fun racer that aimed to advance the formula set down by the likes of Mario Kart 64. What is the true story behind the game's quick development and amazing success? Martin Watts explores the issue over at Nintendo Life.
Despite releasing shortly after Mario Kart 64, Diddy Kong Racing’s development wasn't influenced by the latter to any real degree. “I suppose the only thing — the struggle — was trying to make it run as fast as Mario Kart 64”, states Musgrave. The speed in Nintendo’s 64-bit kart racer was partly achieved through the use of sprites for the characters, whereas Diddy Kong Racing featured almost fully-3D models. “The wheels in Diddy Kong Racing are in fact sprites”, Musgrave admits, “Rob Harrison, one of our software engineers, created this tech which worked out where the camera would be looking in relation to sprite. It resulted in this really nice effect: 3D cars with sprite wheels that looked solid and real”.
What I found most interesting is that the game actually began as a spiritual sequel to the classic R.C. Pro-Am franchise under the name Pro-Am 64, but was eventually branded with Diddy Kong and other characters set to debut in future Rare titles such as Banjo and Conker in order to bring some star power to the experience. Diddy Kong Racing has aged well (the Nintendo DS port released in 2007 has some issues, sadly) and is still fondly remembered today, but it really represented the idea of catching lightning in a bottle. The unfinished sequel Donkey Kong Racing for the Nintendo GameCube fell apart once Microsoft purchased Rare, the Game Boy Advance sequel Diddy Kong Pilot was rebranded with Banjo-Kazooie characters to become Banjo Pilot, and Nintendo is satisfied with relying on the Mario Kart brand for its racing needs these days (even F-Zero has been put out to pasture).