It’s a place in which we have all have been: You’ve hauled out your old Nintendo 64 for a bi-or-tri-annual evening of classic gaming with four of your friends. Naturally, an adventure racing game is in order; you reach for Diddy Kong Racing, beautiful, pure, a nigh-forgotten masterpiece of 64-bit kart racing, then, before you can blow the dust out of the cartridge, the least experienced and skilled player, we’ll call him “Kevin”, speaks up:
“Let’s play Mario Kart.” The group agrees. Fearing reprisal you consent to play Mario Kart 64 instead of Diddy Kong. That’s fine, you’re still the most skilled player, you’ve put in the hours, you haven’t let your skills slip in the years between now and when you first got the 64. Mario Kart 64 is a good game, everybody loves Mario Kart 64: It’s fun.
The rules are laid out, 4th place will sit out the next race, as there are five players present, 1st place gets to pick the next track. The familiar menu screen music fills the room, the group chooses their respective characters; you select Bowser for his speed and his power, you’ve got the skills to cope with his slow acceleration and difficult handling. As-per-usual, Wario Stadium is selected for the evening’s first race: a good track, a favorite. Soon, the cloud riding Lakitu is dangling his traffic light before the line of kart racers. You hit “A” the exact right time to get the blistering rocket boost, launching you immediately into first place.
You hold first easily, the other players are no match for you. You’re increasing your lead, skillfully using the “B” and “R” buttons for precision turns. Then: The Ramp. There’s danger here, you know this, but there’s nothing to do but press on, you deploy the single banana that you were awarded by the last item box you hit, holding “Z” to drag the protective fruit behind your cart, an effective defense against red shells, but not the blue spiky ones. You’re halfway up the ramp, things are looking good, then, once you’re three-quarters of the way up, CRASH! A lightening bolt shrinks your Bowser to a fraction of his original size, decimating his speed, you no longer have the velocity to carry you over the gap at the top of the ramp and you fall pathetically over the edge, onto a point much further back on the track. Kevin, who was until just now in 4th place, laughs triumphantly as he surges past the other shrunken players. The race is shot, you will not be able to recover, and Kevin will win easily.
So why is Kevin so fortunate? Why does he get to beat you? He doesn’t come close to your skill level; he has none of your finely honed instincts. What did he do to deserve the super-weapon that is the shrinky-lightening? The answer is simple: Kevin was in last place in a game that rewards underachievement.
Anyone who has played more than a couple of Mario Kart 64 races knows that it is only possible to get the best items if you are in third or fourth place, undoubtedly meant to “level the playing field” between those players who have put in the time and effort in to becoming skilled racers and those who are too lazy to help themselves. It does not matter if the fourth place player is less than a few kart lengths behind the first place player, they are still eligible for aid in the form of a lighting bolt or spiky shell, and the loser in third place will have no problem getting three red shells while the achievers are lucky to get one.
It is Diddy Kong Racing that has the moral fortitude allow its best and brightest players to succeed. All items have the same availability to all players; the game doesn’t coddle the incompetent plebs, allowing them to drag down the winners. If a player cannot get ten missiles for himself, he does not get ten missiles and will have to make due with a single missile; which would be more than enough for a skilled player.
There are those who would argue that Diddy Kong Racing gives too great an advantage to those players whose parents bought them a Nintendo 64. Well, unfortunately, life’s not fair; you don’t get to blame your parents because you can’t beat a hovercraft with a plane. Adapt or die, it’s the law of the jungle; in Diddy Kong Racing winners win and losers lose.
Sadly, in the years since DKR was released, the 64-bit “welfare queens”, like Kevin, have triumphed. Mario Kart 64 is the more popular game, probably because it is “more fun”. Sure, if you want to play Nintendo 64 games for fun, play Mario Kart 64 with your children. To quote 1 Corinthians 13:
“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things, and started playing Diddy Kong Racing”.