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Mario Kart 64 vs. Diddy Kong Racing – The Ultimate Retro Racing Game Debate

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The two notoriously addictive and challenging 3D racing games produced for the Nintendo 64 were Mario Kart 64, developed by Nintendo and released on February 10th 1997, and Diddy Kong Racing, developed by Rareware and released on the 21st of November 1997. Both games skyrocketed in sales and popularity, with Diddy Kong selling over 4.5 million copies and Mario Kart selling over 9 million copies. The outrageous sales of Mario Kart 64 was arguably due to the fact that the characters were previously known and established by Nintendo in previous games, whilst the characters featured on Diddy Kong Racing were generally new installments.

In fact, Nintendo used Diddy Kong Racing as a platform to set up new characters to be released in other Nintendo games; these were characters such as Banjo the bear (the Banjo Kazooie series following) and Conker the Squirrel (the infamous Conkers Bad Fur Day followed). But the age old debate between old school and retro gamers remains: which was better? There are hardcore advocates and arguments on both sides, some of which we will take a look at.


dkrac_1Typically racing games do not have or need a strong storyline. It is arguable that if people have bought a racing game, they want to race vehicles around a track, not play an action adventure. There are certain disadvantages including a storyline, such as once you have taken all of the available cars for a spin around every track, where is there to go from there?

Mario Kart 64 has no discernible storyline – effectively, Mario and his friends have all gathered together and decided to race – that is simply it.  On the other hand, Diddy Kong Racing has a developed, all be it mental, storyline. It involves Wizpig, an alien pig from space, trying to take over an island that a tiger has been put in charge of… and there’s a flying elephant at some stage… it’s crazy. However, this injects a huge element of fun into the gameplay. When you have a known adversary to eventually race against, it spurs you on and gives you the drive to race again and again.

This is what Mario Kart 64 is missing.  The argument is that a single player mode that involves racing against the other characters again and again with minimal dimensions to the story don’t give you a drive to continue playing for hours and hours on end.



toad_turnpikeWithin Mario Kart 64, every track has been extremely well thought out and detailed, complete with the music reflecting the mood and feel of each track. You always know which track is your favourite and which one is your worst because they are all extremely distinct from each other.

When looking at the racing courses on Diddy Kong Racing, so many tracks evoke a feeling of unremarkability. Having played both, I couldn’t tell you which is my favourite Diddy Kong course, but I can instantly recall my favourite Mario Kart track (it’s Toad’s Turnpike).



The controls in Mario Kart 64 are, unfortunately for Diddy Kong Racing, unparalleled. Both the responsiveness and the terrain interaction match perfectly to give an accurate representation of each player’s ability at the game itself.  Diddy Kong Racing, on the other hand, struggles to match up to the same level of responsiveness, and the terrain can make the game almost unplayable on some of the (ice) levels.

Vehicle Diversity


The vehicle selection in Diddy Kong gives you access to a selection of cars, planes, and hovercrafts.  This, whilst giving more of a variety of gameplay to a gamer, has upsides and downsides. The hovercraft is extremely hard to control, cornering like a golf buggy on ice. The planes, although fun, have issues with certain tracks as it is seemingly impossible to turn a corner without crashing into a wall. Even with these detrimental aspects, the vehicle diversity keeps the tracks interesting and challenging.

In Mario Kart, you can develop your technique with each character, but after playing the game for a long time you get so used to the tracks and vehicles behaviour that the game becomes less challenging.  This can lead to getting bored with playing the game, which is obviously the opposite effect that the developers wanted.



There is no discernible winner in this category; both games have a great multiplayer component to them. Mario Kart has been supported as being the better of the two for group racing and battle rounds, but I think this is more a matter of personal preference.


The Verdict


Although both games have great attributes to them, I believe that Mario Kart 64 is the winner. This is purely down to reflective talent in the controls and weapon base that the game possess. Although Diddy Kong Racing has a great free roaming edge to the gamer platform, Mario Kart‘s developed tracks and notable characters are unforgettable. In the debate about what’s a better video game, sometimes the effort into developing and making them is forgotten. Product design consultants and software design companies work hard to achieve the best gaming experience for their audience base, and I think that they should be commended with both titles in creating two fantastic and distinct racing games.


Written by Drew Rapley

May 12, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Posted in Blog, Head to Head, N64

Head to Head: Super Mario Bros. 2

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Ask anyone who grew up playing NES games and they will tell you that Super Mario Bros. 2 was somewhat of an anomaly.  It is completely unlike the other games in the series, complete with an Arabian theme, veggie-pulling, the option to select one of four protagonists, and Bowser (King Koopa) is nowhere to be seen.  Fortunately for Nintendo it blended right in with sequels to various other popular franchises in the console, including the radically different Zelda II: Adventures of Link and Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest.  As a seven-year-old gamer back then I shrugged it off and said, “why not?”  It may shock you to discover that the American version of Super Mario Bros. 2 is not actually the intended sequel to the original Super Mario Bros., nor is it in Japan.  The true Super Mario Bros. 2 is better known as Lost Levels in America and our Super Mario Bros. 2 began life as the game Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic! and based on a Saturday morning cartoon in Japan and was later re-worked, improved, and re-released as Super Mario Bros. USA.  Both versions of Super Mario Bros. 2 are as different as two games can get and thus warrant a head to head.

The “Real” Super Mario Bros. 2

In Japan the Famicom (NES) was released in 1983 as opposed to holiday 1985 here (and only to a select few near FAO Schwartz stores or in New York City).  This is why many of the launch games on the NES didn’t seem quite as consistent as Super Mario Bros., which came out in 1985 for both regions.  In Japan the Famicom had a more established market whereas Nintendo was still testing the waters in America, so when Super Mario Bros. 2 hit Japan in 1986, there was some hesitation to port it over to our market.  First of all the game was solely a Famicom Disk System (FDS) title, so to bring it to the US required re-working and conversion to cartridge form, something titles like Metroid and Legend of Zelda would later do but required more money and work.  Additionally the game had an aggressively ramped up difficulty that still challenges longtime platforming fans today and I can personally attest has a brutal difficulty.  While Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka, creators of the original, were in charge of this game it still feels like a rushed sequel that re-uses assets from the original and creates the ultimate obstacle course.  In many circles, the Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2 is considered a rom hack, which is a term used when an individual creates new levels using original assets by hacking an original game’s rom (basically the program).  Technically that is exactly what this game is and in screen shots it almost looks like a fake game.  When it was tested in America, gamers slammed it for being so difficult it wasn’t fun and Nintendo quickly scrapped all plans to convert Super Mario Bros. 2 for the NES, opting instead for an alternative version.  In the US we finally got to see what all the fuss was about when the game was renamed to Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels and included in the Super Mario All-Stars collection on SNES.  Not surprisingly, it was criticized even then as a frustrating and pointless addition by the general game-playing public.  Still, it looks and feels much more like a Mario game than the version we got here.

Super Mario Bros. 2 (USA)

Since we were already a few years behind Japan, it became necessary to either skip Super Mario Bros. 2 altogether, which was pretty much not an option, or to create an alternative version.  Fortunately this was in 1987 just as a licensed Japanese game from Yume Kojo, a popular cartoon series, was releasing on the FDS.  Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic! was originally to be a game about two cooperative players throwing each other around a world in order to overcome enemies and platforming puzzles.  Early conceptual gameplay proved to be unpopular and eventually Miyamoto’s EAD team (Entertainment and Development) received the project and created an action platformer where four different protagonists traversed an Arabian world (as seen in the cartoon) with the ability to pick up and throw everything from projectiles to enemies.  As for NOA (Nintendo of America), the fact that the game was created by the same team as Super Mario Bros., complete with composer Koji Kondo, it seemed like an easy translation to America for Super Mario Bros. 2, especially because we wouldn’t recognize the popularized enemies from Yume Kojo

It’s important to note that Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic! is not just a palette swap for Super Mario Bros. 2 (USA). Since it only released on FDS in Japan, both Super Mario Bros. 2 and Doki Doki Panic! are difficult games to emulate because they never released on Famicom and thus require special files and emulators.  Additionally the sound design and graphics of Doki Doki Panic! are much lower in quality to that of the revamped Super Mario Bros. 2.  Since the FDS had built-in memory for saving games, Doki Doki Panic! required that you beat each level with each of the four protagonists in order to complete the game.  As each character beats a level, it would get checked off on the main menu until all levels were complete.  Imagine trying to tackle some of the more complex levels in Super Mario Bros. 2 with each of the characters, quite a chore. 

For the American release Mario, Luigi, Princess Toadstool, and Toad replaced the four selectable characters.  When you first start playing the fact that jumping on enemies no longer kills them is odd, but once you’re a few levels in it becomes second nature.  There are still 8 main worlds, warp zones, and touches like the invincibility star (which was originally in Doki Doki Panic! as well) kept it close enough to a Mario game to sell the transition.  Nintendo Power also launched its first issue with coverage on Super Mario Bros. 2 to explain the differences, which were consistent with the drastic changes to most of Nintendo’s sequels.  It released in holiday 1988, nearly two years after Nintendo’s initial boom in America so most of us were itching for a Mario sequel.  Despite some people claiming the game was too easy, I loved it.  It was just different enough and with the four selectable characters had plenty of replay value to keep me happy.  It was so popular in the US that it was eventually ported back over to the Famicom, with the now defunct FDS system making Doki Doki Panic! harder to find and play, and released in Japan as Super Mario Bros. USA.  Technically if you don’t have an FDS in Japan, this is the only version of Super Mario Bros. 2 to release in a cartridge, so its possible that it’s the only Mario 2 you have. 

Imagine if we had only received the original Super Mario Bros. 2 in the US and never even saw Doki Doki Panic! – I’d bet that few gamers would find it to be as essential to a retro collection as the US version is today.  Not only that, but the themes and concepts that began in our version continued over into other side story Mario games and even on the portable front.  Either way, the story of how Super Mario Bros. 2 was so drastically different is one that every gamer should know about, even if you’re only hearing about it for the first time here.  Super Mario Bros. 2 (Lost Levels) and Super Mario Bros. 2 (USA) can be found together in any version of Super Mario All-Stars as well as on the Virtual Console so don’t hesitate to pick them both up if you’re curious.  Only five minutes with the Japanese version will prove to you that sometimes the import version isn’t always best.

Written by Fred Rojas

August 13, 2012 at 1:10 pm

Head to Head: Double Dragon

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In many cases, games with the same name – and even the same game ported to various consoles – can be drastically different.  This was especially true in the 8-bit era where plenty of popular arcade games were deemed too limited for a boxed release on consoles like the NES. Head to Head takes two particular games and explains the drastic difference between the two that often keep fans of each camp drastically divided.  Aside from ports, you can also expect several other types of comparisons such as localization.

Double Dragon Arcade


In 1987 Technos released a spiritual successor to its popular brawler Renegade (Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun) known as Double Dragon.  It told the story of two brothers, Billy Lee and Jimmy Lee (Hammer and Spike in US arcades), who are fighting the mean streets of the Black Warriors turf to get back Billy’s girlfriend.  It released first to arcades and eventually saw a port over to the NES, which drastically changed the game.  Chances are if you are an American that played the game in your past, then you remember the NES version.  Now that arcade ports of many games we loved on the NES are releasing on services like Xbox Live and Playstation Network, it’s important to know the drastic differences between the two because they are different games.  Love ‘em or hate ‘em, here’s the Head to Head on Double Dragon.

 Arcade Version 

 NES Version 


 Head to Head Conclusion Depending on what you’re looking for, you could be a fan of either version.  It was very cool to finally play an arcade game with someone and truly began the trend of playing with your friend instead of against them.  On the other hand, the NES version is purely for a single player, despite what the developers had in mind.  It takes time, memorization, and you will be tempted to throw your controller a couple of times, but once you get past all that it’s a super fun brawler from a time when this genre was young and rare.  Personally I’m going to side with the NES version, but I fully admit that nostalgia adds a heavy bias despite my playing both versions for a few hours just recently.

Written by Fred Rojas

July 12, 2012 at 1:49 pm


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