What the hell? I went to update the Diddy Kong Pilot preview only to find that we don't even have one! Pah, time to fix that travesty.
The original Diddy Kong Racing for N64 is an altogether odd game. The game originally started off as RC Pro-Am 64...no joke. It was announced as DKR out of nowhere in the wake of a disappointing Banjo-Kazooie delay back in 1997, and after a short three months or so of public existence, became the fastest-selling video game of all time. Even Guinness said so.
The game itself combined fairly traditional Mario Kart-style racing with loads of new twists, including water and air races and a fantastic, Mario 64-ish adventure quest tying all the different races together. Diddy Kong Racing featured, of course, Diddy Kong, plus upcoming stars Banjo and Conker, and a wide range of original supporting characters.
At E3 2001, Rare unveiled not one, but TWO sequels to DKR. The GameCube got Donkey Kong Racing, featuring Donkey and other characters (including Taj the Genie...hmmm...) riding various animals across 3D landscapes. Game Boy Advance got (arguably) the true spiritual sequel though: Diddy Kong Pilot. Diddy is back, this time with some of his relatives and even a Kremling, ready to take to the skies for one of the most exciting and visually arresting GBA games yet.
The gameplay is somewhat a departure from Diddy's last adventure; every race employs airplanes (as opposed to less than a third of the original DKR's tracks). Rare has also added an interesting buoy system to the racing action, which provides some structure to the very open Mode-7 levels. Otherwise, many of the old features seem to be returning. Rare promises that the game will have adventure elements, including different plotlines for each character in the single-player mode.
The races themselves will of course be against other furry friends. Weapons are a major part of winning, but unfortunately none of them were available in the E3 demo. There are also boost-rings to help you get ahead. DKR was somewhat infamous for adding strategy to the old idea of "zip strips"...to get the full effect, you had to completely let off the gas while riding over the boost. Whether Diddy Kong Pilot will adopt that technique or develop a new one remains to be seen.
DKP was easily one of the best-looking GBA games to be shown at E3 2001. It features intricately detailed Mode-7 graphics, complete with some great sprite scaling/rotation effects for the racers. This game has a somewhat different implementation of 3D than the usual GBA racing title, since the gameplay involves moving up and down as well as side-to-side. The result is a very liberated look and feel to the "tracks"...you can really fly anywhere you want, although the buoy system eventually shoves you in the right direction. Also, the race intro sequence has to be mentioned; your chosen character flies directly into the camera, and just before your view is totally blacked out by the incoming primate, the camera swoops out to the side and then swings around to its normal position behind the character. It's quite a snazzy little display.
The most surprising feature in DK Pilot? Tilt technology! This will one of the very first GBA games to use Nintendo's tilt sensor, and if the E3 demo was any indication, the application of this technology has come a long way since Kirby's Tilt 'N Tumble for Game Boy Color. The sensor is pretty sensitive, which is actually desirable so that you don't have to tilt the screen out of your light source. Tilting the GBA around also lends itself very well to the flying sensation...moreso than it does for making Kirby roll about. The translation of your movements to the plane is very smooth and natural...Diddy isn't going to dive and crash into the ground if you sneeze. Finally, and most importantly, you can turn off the tilt sensor and play just fine with the D-pad. The only downside is that you're not going to have the same analog precision.
If you're a fan of multiplayer in your "kart" games, DKP has you covered there as well. Rare says that "several" tracks will be playable over just one cartridge, and all the rest will be unlocked if you can convince your three cheap friends to get the game as well. With multiple cartridges, you can also unlock the battle mode...and the famous developer supposedly has something extra-special brewing up for its more violent Diddy fans.