Rare's Diddy Kong Racing for the Nintendo 64 came out of nowhere in the holiday season of 1997 to sell more than a million copies in a few short months. Featuring an eclectic mix of kart, hovercraft, and airplane racing, it established a new standard for its genre that some would argue has yet to be topped. Looking to compound the success of the franchise, the development studio based in Twycross, England, is currently working on a similar title for the Game Boy Advance that concentrates solely on the airborne aspects of its N64 game--appropriately dubbed Diddy Kong Pilot.
The playable version of Diddy Kong Pilot on display at Space World is probably the most impressive racing game for the Game Boy Advance at the show. Many of the popular characters from previous Kong-related games are found in Diddy Kong Pilot, including Cranky Kong, Donkey Kong, K. Rool, and of course, Diddy Kong. Currently, the characters used for each track are chosen for you, but eventually you'll be able to choose your own pilot and tweak aircraft attributes. There are five playable tracks in the latest version, including a haunted track with ghosts that rise from the ground, a lava-filled track, a seashore course lined with palm trees, a barnyard filled with chickens, and the atypical snowy area. The tracks themselves are relatively short, and the races are sometimes over far too early. To remedy things a bit, there are shortcuts on each track that take skill to maneuver but can cut deeply into your lap times.
The final version of Diddy Kong Pilot will have the option to control it with tilt technology, but the Space World demo controls solely with the GBA's directional pad and buttons. The A button is the gas, the B button fires weapons, and the shoulder buttons let you take turns at a sharper angle. Aircraft pitch and steering are manipulated via the directional pad, and Rare stated that it will eventually be possible to perform looping maneuvers to quickly turn the tables on tailing competitors. No self-respecting game in the kart-racing genre would be complete without weapons and power-ups, and Diddy Kong Pilot comes correct with a healthy arsenal of artillery. Watermelons can be used to stop other racers in their tracks, peanuts and homing missiles can be fired to swat competitors out of the air, and magnets can be used to expedite catching up with the pack. As in Diddy Kong Racing, power-ups are obtained by flying through color-coded balloons scattered throughout the tracks. Zip tubes are placed in hard-to-reach areas, but they can send you to the front of the pack rather quickly when flown through. There are also zips located on the ground, but using them is risky because your plane can accidentally touch down, costing you precious seconds.
Diddy Kong pilot is a step up from the majority of GBA games on the market from a graphical perspective. The pseudo 3D graphics powered by Mode-7 scrolling are some of the best ever seen on a handheld. The camera will pan around your plane before each race with fluidity yet to be matched on the GBA, and the themed tracks are quite a step up from those found in Mario Kart Super Circuit. Weapon effects are equally impressive, though there are some clipping problems that occur when downed near track objects. This will likely be fixed long before the game ever ships to stores, but it's worthy of mention.
Diddy Kong Pilot is a visually stunning handheld game--so much so that it's easy to mistake it for its parent game on the N64 at first glance. The control is already tight, and the weapons in the game are nicely balanced to make sure that for every offensive action there's a defensive action to thwart it. Nintendo has Diddy Kong Pilot scheduled for release sometime next year, but Rare has stated on its Web site that it will be completed by the end of the year.