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Video-game review: 'Diddy Kong Racing

"DIDDY KONG RACING DS," for Nintendo DS. From: Rare/Nintendo. ESRB Rating: Everyone (Mild Cartoon Violence). Roughly a billion kart racers have come, gone and been forgotten since "Super Mario Kart" invented the genre more than 14 years ago, with...

"DIDDY KONG RACING DS," for Nintendo DS. From: Rare/Nintendo. ESRB Rating: Everyone (Mild Cartoon Violence).

Roughly a billion kart racers have come, gone and been forgotten since "Super Mario Kart" invented the genre more than 14 years ago, with only one - "Diddy Kong Racing" - being good enough and loved enough to endure the tests of both Mario and time.

But that was 10 years ago, and an enhanced port of a game from 3-D gaming's training-wheel days still is a port. Anyone who has played "Mario Kart DS" will realize immediately that, in terms of graphics, framerate and overall gameplay polish, the year-plus-old "MKDS" pretty well smokes "Diddy Kong Racing DS."

What makes "DKRDS" still well worth playing is the same thing that made it worth playing in 1997: variety, and lots of it. Races come in three flavors - via go-cart, unwieldy hovercraft and airplane (which suffers a bit due to the DS' lack of an analog stick) - and are connected by an impressively large and open hub world that's teeming with boss races, treasures and unlockable secrets. The enhanced port piles on more trimmings, with the ability to customize and upgrade vehicles and (finally!) design your own tracks and share them online.

The incorporation of DS hardware features yields mixed results: Some additions (blowing into the mic to jumpstart a hovercraft, random touch screen surprises in the hub area) are great, while others (rubbing the touch screen to jumpstart the cart and plane, a new magic carpet ride mode that's saddled by some bizarrely bad control decisions) are clumsy and actually a needless step backward.

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Perhaps the best news about "DKRDS" also is the least surprising: wireless multiplayer support for up to eight friends and online play (complete with friend list and matchmaker support) for up to six friends and strangers. The best news about the best news? The cheater-friendly control exploit that ruined online play in "MKDS" is nowhere to be found here. It remains to be seen how the online landscape will shape up once more people are logged in, but things look very promising so far.

(Billy O'Keefe writes video game reviews for McClatchy-Tribune News Service.)

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