Rareware had released a lot of truly marvelous games for the Nintendo 64. These games often dazzled with impressive graphics, incredible sound, addictive game play, and clever surprises. Therefore, it came as little surprise that Rare was gearing up to provide more of the same excellent quality for the Nintendo Gamecube. One of the games that they revealed at the 2001 Electronics Entertainment Expo was Donkey Kong Racing, designed as one of two follow ups to Diddy Kong Racing for the Nintendo 64 (an article for the other game, Diddy Kong Pilot for the Game Boy Advance, can be found elsewhere on this site). What should have been a major Gamecube release would end up in limbo and, finally, become canceled, because of Rare’s move to Microsoft in 2002. What was Donkey Kong Racing, and would it have lived up to Rare’s legendary quality? Let me tell you more about another Rare game that I would have loved to play.
Whereas Diddy Kong Racing placed the characters in vehicles, Donkey Kong Racing would have you riding on animals. From the screen shots and trailer, animals would have included such familiar characters as Rambi the Rhinoceros, Enguarde the Swordfish, Expresso the Ostrich and Zinger the Wasp. Rather than merely riding on the animals to try and finish first, Rare was to have implemented a feature in which you would eat food and accumulate items that would make the creatures stronger. Presumably, with enough upgrades, the animals would become practically unbeatable. Riding on these animals would be familiar Kong characters such as Donkey, Diddy, Tiny (from Donkey Kong 64), and Kiddy (from Donkey Kong Country 3). Even Taj the Genie, from Diddy Kong Racing, was set to be a playable character according to the trailer.
The game was designed to not be merely a racing game with one main path to follow and the potential for using shortcuts to gain an advantage over one’s opponents. Instead, Rare intended to create tracks featuring multiple paths that could only be traveled by certain creatures. Animals could run, fly, or swim their way to victory, and having to learn which animals worked best on which courses could have given the game a huge amount of depth. It would have been similar to Diddy Kong Racing’s tracks, where in most cases you could choose which vehicle you wanted to use, and each one had their benefits and disadvantages.
Of course, it would not have been a Rare game if the company was not willing to offer the very best graphics and sound for the console, and Rare was willing to pull it off. From the trailer, there were signs of nice looking character models and neat lighting effects, with the promise that even better looking visuals would have materialized for the final product. Rare would pull off wonderful graphics for Star Fox Adventures, so imagine what they could have done to spice up the graphics even more for Donkey Kong Racing. Also planned was realistic animals sounds to make one feel that he or she was really racing through the jungle, and even orchestrated music that would have undoubtedly lived up to Rare’s legacy of providing wonderful soundtracks.
Unfortunately, there is not much more information about the game that exists aside from the fact that it would support up to four players. What modes might have been present? The game could have featured an adventure mode like its predecessor along with several other modes (grand prix, battle, etc) for multiple players. Would there have been a story, and if so, what would it be? It could have been as minimal as merely raising your animal to become a champion or as deep as trying to rid the jungle of Wizpig or some other villain. What other types of environments might have appeared? What other playable characters might have shown up? I could see such characters as Funky, Dixie, and even Cranky show up, and maybe other characters from Diddy Kong Racing, as well.
Alas, we can only speculate what else Rare was planning to include in this game. When it was first unveiled, it was planned for a release sometime in 2002. Unfortunately, a long time passed without any further details. It seemed that it and many other Rare games were in limbo, while Star Fox Adventures was being finished and getting the most media attention. I remember checking Rare’s website for information regarding Donkey Kong Racing, and one day, shortly before the release of Star Fox Adventures, I went to the site and noticed that the game was no longer present. Had it been quietly canceled? The answer, it turned out, was yes, because shortly thereafter, Rare moved to Microsoft, meaning that no new Donkey Kong games would be made by the British game developers. Consequently, Donkey Kong Racing will never be released in its original form, nor has it been retooled for the Xbox or Xbox 360 to feature Rare characters.
Having loved many of Rare’s games, I was looking forward to Donkey Kong Racing to see how it might have been a strong follow up to Diddy Kong Racing. Naturally, I would have been impressed by the graphics and sound, if what they did for the otherwise mediocre Star Fox Adventures was any indication. I also would have appreciated the possibility of using the right animals on various courses as well as the return of such lesser known characters as Kiddy Kong and Taj. Would it have been one of Rare’s best games yet? It was certainly shaping up to be like that, and I am certain that it would have been a game that I would really enjoy. If only Rare had stayed with Nintendo, then Donkey Kong Racing could have been a reality.
Donkey Kong Racing is another example of a game that was designed to impress players everywhere and seemed poised to become a masterpiece, only to lay in limbo and finally become canceled. It is a shame, because first impressions of the game were strong among many people. Rare was doing its best to make it, and Diddy Kong Pilot, unique among racing games. Sadly, one was retooled as a more generic racer (Banjo Pilot), and the other one failed to see the light of day in any form. That is two racing games that would have been brilliant had they been released as they were intended to be, but they will languish in the world of canceled games forever.