Nintendo We Volume 5: Donkey Kong Racing
This volume of the Nintendo We series will be very different to the first four volumes, and indeed, the next three, since it centres round a game that was in fact scheduled for release many years ago, but much to my personal dismay, it never happened. Diddy Kong Racing was released for the Nintendo 64 in 1997, and was met with overwhelmingly positive critical and commercial response. Providing a very different take on the kart racing genre, even at this point prominently popularised by Nintendo and their Mario Kart series, Diddy Kong Racing contained features seen as unusual for a racing game, but at the same time, exemplary, such as an open world and a narrative attached to it. It also introduced a select few characters, who would go on to have their own series of games dedicated to them by the game’s developers Rareware; Banjo would have the Banjo-Kazooie series, and the character Conker would go on to star in the late Nintendo 64 game Conker’s Bad Fur Day; both games also finding a huge amount of success.
To me, Diddy Kong Racing, although an obvious Mario Kart clone, was revolutionary and enjoyable enough for me to call it one of my favourite video games of all time, even surpassing Mario Kart 64 in quality in my own personal opinion. Both Nintendo and Rare initially did have plans to continue the franchise past the first game, as Rare were working on a sequel, which Lee Musgrave of Rare described the gameplay of which as being much more heavily based on real-life car racing physics. There was also even a mechanic discussed involving players having to jump between different animals to ride them across tracks. It was soon revealed, that Rare actually had two sequels to the game planned for release; one entitled Diddy Kong Pilot, and the other entitled Donkey Kong Racing. However, after Rare were bought out by Microsoft back in 2003, Diddy Kong Pilot was eventually re-worked into a game called Banjo-Pilot on the Game Boy Advance, and Donkey Kong Racing never saw the light of day, having been last planned as a launch title for the Nintendo GameCube, alongside another Rare game, which would eventually be released on the Xbox 360; Kameo: Elements of Power.
The only thing fans of the original game have had since is a remake of Diddy Kong Racing for the DS, and a poorly received Donkey Kong racing game called Donkey Kong Barrel Blast for the Wii. I personally think that it’s a shame that Nintendo have let a potentially great franchise languish in obscurity. I’ve always thought all they would have to do is develop an official sequel, and in the typical manner of which a sequel should be developed; bigger and better. It could feature improvements made such as more characters, more items, a bigger open world, a more complicated extension to the original story, more diversity in level design and more bosses. Even after almost twenty years, it a game like that would still work especially well in this day and age, since very few developers have tried to either mimic or build upon the same concept within that time. The only racing game I’ve personally since Diddy Kong Racing made in the same vein has been Modnation Racers, and whilst I thought that was an excellent game, it was still nothing compared to what I believe could be done with a sequel to Diddy Kong Racing. It personally serves as a constant reminder to me of how different things could have been for Nintendo of Rare had stayed with them.
I personally think that now would be a very good time for the two companies to start opening talks again about developing games together for a good number of reasons. Both companies would benefit greatly from the rekindling of their partnership, and both companies would be no worse of than they both are now. From the point of view of Nintendo, although there looks to be a great deal of excellent games coming to the Wii U this year, the fact of the matter remains that they are running short of third-party developers to adequately support the system, and despite the fact that Rare only seem to have one vaguely popular franchise at the moment in the form of the newly re-vamped Killer Instinct (their latest game Kinect Sports Rivals suffering from extremely underwhelming sales figures last year), they still have a proven track record of doing incredible things with some Nintendo franchises, and with both of them working together, I see no reason why that couldn’t happen again.
From the point of view of Rare, the situation seems to be even direr. Following the release of the aforementioned Kinect Sports Rivals, and it’s failure to meet sales expectations, Microsoft subsequently announced that Kinect-exclusive games would no longer be a priority during the shelf life of the Xbox One, forcing several employees at the waning development company to leave. Since Rare have mostly been making Kinect games since the peripheral was released in 2010, and there is now less than 150 staff at the company, from their standpoint, this is catastrophic, and I think they need to break away from Microsoft just to survive at this point; especially since they seem to have no other games in the pipeline at this moment in time. Anyone who visits Rare’s Twitter page can plainly see how much they like to dwell on past successes. That also suggest to me that there certainly no hard feelings between them and Nintendo, which gives me hope for the two companies working together again in the future.
During the development of the original Donkey Kong Racing planned for release on the Nintendo 64, it was obvious that both parties had a lot of plans as to how they could develop the sequel differently from it’s predecessor, and many ideas of how to possibly improve on the original game. Rare always seemed to work best with Nintendo’s input, and in my opinion, now that both companies have quite a lot that they can offer each other to ultimately deliver new gaming experiences (with Rare having some insight into how Microsoft approach the gaming market), I believe that for the mutual benefit of both companies, Nintendo and Rare should team back up, and their first priority should be to get Donkey Kong Racing back on track, and simply make a game like Diddy Kong Racing was, but just bigger and better; if not for the Wii U, then for Nintendo’s next console. Rare were instrumental in shaping Nintendo’s successes during both the fourth and fifth generations of gaming, and it would be exciting to see a repeat of that success as a result of the two collaborating with each other once again.