The N64 game holds up well despite some questionable DS touch screen usage.
I've played quite a bit of Diddy Kong Racing DS lately. I'm happy to report that for the most part, the charm and allure that made the N64 original so popular back then is still in the game. However, Rare put in a bunch of new stuff that makes DKR DS different enough from Mario Kart DS to make it stand out...though not all of the additions are good.
One of the new things you can do is upgrade your car, plane, or hovercraft with different parts that affect its performance. This is done by spending coins collected during the course of a race. Coins can also unlock other stuff, like new tracks, special features, and game modes. There's a lot of neat stuff to buy, so there's a big incentive to keep racing and collecting the coins to get everything the game has to offer.
Another addition to the DS version of Diddy Kong Racing is a very lackluster one. The touch screen is used a little too much in the game, most notably during the starting sequence to a race. To get an optimum turbo boost off of the start line, you need to interact with the touch screen to spin a car wheel or propeller and fill up a meter. The problem here is that many tracks have obstacles or sharp turns right after the start line. With one hand on the gas and the other on the touch screen, you can't get back to the D-pad quickly enough to steer where you want. It works fine most of the time, but I feel that using the touch screen is not a good idea for something like this.
Disappointingly, the Silver Coin Challenge races from the N64 version have been replaced by something completely different. In the DS game, the second time through a set of tracks in adventure mode has you hop on Taj's magic carpet, fly around the tracks on a fixed path, and pop up to 50 golden balloons with your stylus. If you get most of them, you win. At first I found this mode to be an insult, but I have since grown to like it a little. However, I would much rather be racing in a game called Diddy Kong Racing, not playing touch screen mini-games. Gimme back my Silver Coin Challenges, Rare.
The one thing I'm liking above all else so far is playing DKR online. Answering the prayers of many gamers, you can now see if your friends are online when logging on to Nintendo WFC through your DS. (You still need to punch in friend codes, of course.) Not only that, you can see exactly what they are doing (racing, matchmaking, hosting, etc.). The friend list screen will automatically update as you view it, so you can join a friend the moment you see him or her create a room.
Up to six people can play in a race, which is very nice. During my online playtime with the game, there weren't any issues with lag or any other weirdness, but I did notice a lot of post-game cut-outs. Since the lobby timer counted down to zero every time this happened, I assumed it was due to people on the other end not making a selection or dropping out inadvertently. However, the games themselves were smooth as butter. There were also options to play trophy races (championship series) for six players, and online battle modes for four, though I haven't got a chance to play those yet.
Check back to Nintendo World Report for the full review of Diddy Kong Racing DS later this week.