Though gaming in the 21st century has its share of icons, they never got the treatment that video game characters from the 90's did. If Nathan Drake, Master Chief, and the Weighted Companion Cube had been around a decade ago, surely they would be strapping on their driving gloves and getting ready to go for the gold in a wacky kart-racing game.
Bomberman had one, Crash Bandicoot had one, and even poor Chocobo had one. And no two kart racing games in the 32/64 bit era were more prominent than Mario Kart 64 and Diddy Kong Racing, creating a sibling rivalry among Nintendo fans, one that lasts to this very day. While comparisons between the two games are about as common as used copies of N64 wrestling games, this comparison aims to do something different; cutting through the crap of terms like "level design," "play mechanics," and "graphics," to weigh the games on issues that really matter.
Both games are published by Nintendo, so a sense of childlike wonder is a must. As fun and varied as Mario Kart 64's visuals could be, with its Chocolate Mountains and its Kalimari Desserts, Diddy Kong blows Mario out of the water on this one (probably whilst on his hovercraft). The racing in DKR is adequate, but the atmosphere was the real reason we looked so fondly upon the game in the first place. Who doesn't remember thinking "holy crap" when they first saw that you could race with a plane in this game? A PLANE! Just seeing that world map and hearing the sound of Tiptup's throaty yell makes me go all nostalgic.
This one is tricky. Diddy Kong Racing is blatantly ripping off Mario Kart 64, but let's not forget that Mario Kart 64 itself came out after Super Mario Kart on the SNES. To which I ask, who is truly ripping off whom here? Aren't they both ripping off Super Mario Kart? At least Diddy Kong Racing has the Adventure mode where you go through collecting items that you use to unlock levels. Which sounds... exactly like Mario 64. Hm. Come to think of it, I guess that makes Diddy Kong Racing a DOUBLE rip-off.
It would be easy to just mention boot screens of both games and stop there. While Mario Kart 64 opens with the sound of an engine revving, Diddy Kong Racing literally starts with the sound of children laughing. I can't imagine anyone who's not a child is really going to feel comfortable playing the game after that. But beyond that, there is another crucial factor that affects game play as an adult. "Beerio Kart" is a Mario-Kart-based drinking game where players have to be the first to finish their beer as well as finish the race. The only caveat is that you can't drink while your hands are on the controller. While this works great for Mario Kart 64, where you can fall behind and catch up with cheap, cheap items because you're in last, Diddy Kong Racing doesn't work like this. Instead of rainbow boxes, there are colored balloons that are always in the same place, and each color has one item. Though you can get multiple balloons of the same color and combine them into a more powerful item, you don't get anything better if you're doing poorly. So if you're behind because you were, say, imbibing responsibly, you have almost no chance of catching up.
Completing Mario Kart 64 in its entirely gets you little more than the same tracks from the game, except reversed. Yawn. Oh, you also get a new title screen. They're in the desert. I guess that's cool. So it wouldn't be hard for Diddy Kong to beat Mario in this category, even if the only unlockable was a private serenade from Taj the Genie. Fortunately, DKR is filled with a lot of good unlockables like a space world, as well as more characters, like a chicken and a clock. (I really wonder what someone who knows nothing about videogames thought that this paragraph meant.)
Diddy Kong Racing: Timber the Tiger is left alone on his home island by his parents, who are on vacation. While free to race and have fun, the island eventually gets taken over by an evil pig named Wizpig. Timber sends a letter to his friend Diddy, who comes to the island and brings his friends Banjo and Conker to help save the day and stop Wizpig. Mario Kart 64: Mario and his friends want to race. They race.
Though Diddy Kong Racing does have planes and a hovercraft, which is an awesome touch, it doesn't quite have the same class that Mario Kart 64 has, both in the gameplay and in the design.