I’m sure fans of Rare and Donkey Kong are still very happy that all of the Donkey Kong Country and Donkey Kong Land games have been added to the Virtual Console for the 3DS and Wii U (respectively). However, Donkey Kong Land III was not the last Donkey Kong game made by Rare.
Some people must already be wondering what will become of their next contribution to the series: Diddy Kong Racing. But is there any real chance that we’ll get to see it again, in its original glory? Of course, we were quite lucky to get Diddy Kong Racing DS but this had some changes to the character selection, new voices for all of the characters, touch screen elements were incorporated and it was just generally quite a different experience. I don’t mean to say that Diddy Kong Racing DS is a bad game, in fact I enjoyed it quite a lot, just that the changes were significant enough for me to look at it as a separate entity.
There would be a lot of legal issues with bringing back the original Diddy Kong Racing and this stems mainly from the fact that the game features playable appearances from Banjo the Bear (from Rare’s Banjo-Kazooie series) and Conker the Squirrel (from Rare’s Conker series) who are, of course, solely the creations of Rare. When Rare were sold to Microsoft, things were kind of split in half; Nintendo kept Donkey Kong and all the new additions Rare had made to that series, and Rare kept all of the series that were wholly their own (including Banjo and Conker). But it seems the thing which was split in half was actually Diddy Kong Racing and everybody seems to be confused about it.
The most common understanding is that Rare own every element of that game apart from Diddy Kong (for obvious reasons) and Krunch (who is a Kremling and Nintendo own the Kremlings). Which seems fairly simple, right? But sadly, things aren’t that simple. The character Tricky is quite an anomaly; he’s a boss character who made his debut in this game and was later planned to be reused by Rare in a game called Dinosaur Planet. Nintendo, meanwhile, had other ideas and asked them to rework it as a Star Fox title and so we got Star Fox Adventures. Lots of things were changed in terms of gameplay, design and story, but Tricky is still in the game. Whether or not this is the same Tricky ‘in-universe’ is a matter for debate, but it cannot be argued that they are not the same character. Tricky, however, has continued to appear in Star Fox games since Rare’s departure, so it seems that they, at very least, own him too.
Is that confusing? The closest thing I can think of to make a comparison with is to imagine the 2009 Sherlock Holmes films starring Robert Downey Jr. and the Sherlock Holmes television series featuring Jeremy Brett: they are not intended to have an ‘in-universe’ link (though you could make one) but you couldn’t argue that the actors were playing different characters. Except, it’s more complicated than that because there have been comments from Rare suggesting that the characters are still one and the same from a story perspective, while Nintendo are almost certainly never going to acknowledge that link and, indeed, may even be unaware of it.
So, it seems that Nintendo own more of that game than is commonly believed. In fact, Nintendo have claimed that they own everything in that game aside from Conker and Banjo. But there’s a fair amount of evidence to the contrary: first, you have Tiptup, a playable character in Diddy Kong Racing. Tiptup also appears in Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie as a non-playable character and his appearance remained intact in their rerelease on the Xbox 360, which removed and edited all cameos and mentions of the Mario and Donkey Kong series, so, if Tiptup was owned by Nintendo, he’d probably have been removed or changed. Tiptup also is still a playable character in Diddy Kong Racing DS (while Banjo and Conker were removed) which muddies things a little. But as none of the characters beside Diddy and Tricky have been used again by Nintendo, we can say with a large degree of certainty that they are wrong to say they own them. As a brief aside, Rare don’t actually seem too worried about using their old Nintendo characters without permission because Expresso (from Donkey Kong Country) has a cameo in Banjo-Pilot.
If Nintendo were to rerelease Diddy Kong Racing they would, at very least, have to pay extra for the use of Banjo and Conker. Would that put them off? Well, maybe, but it seems very likely that Nintendo already pay extra for the Donkey Kong Country titles. The Rare logo, of course, is owned by Microsoft and is featured in all of them, but most significantly is the fact there there are a fair few Killer Instinct references in Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest. Cranky mentions the game several times, it is advertised in Krazy Krem Land. there’s a Killer Instinct arcade cabinet in Cranky’s Monkey Museum and he even has a poster on the wall with official artwork of the character Chief Thunder. With some of these references being very overt, there must have been some special arrangement for them (which may have been linked to the mysterious Donkey Kong Country disappearance from the Wii Shop just before the Wii U came out) so we know that Nintendo may be willing to make exceptions.
But, even if the cost wasn’t something important, Nintendo might not actually want to bring the game back into public consciousness. Conker’s characterisation (and the whole tone of his series) changed significantly with Conker’s Bad Fur Day and Nintendo were not very pleased with it, so they did very little to advertise the game and also would not publish it. For those who don’t know, the game featured a very explicit sense of humour and was not made for a child audience, unlike all of his other appearances. It’s possible that Nintendo wouldn’t really like to remind people that there’s any link between the ‘adult’ Conker and their own, pure, Diddy Kong.
On the other hand, Microsoft might not want people to be reminded of the fact that those two series (which they own) actually stem from a Nintendo series. They might prefer to keep them completely distinct rather than to have any overlap with a series owned by their rival. It’s interesting to note that Diddy Kong Racing DS did not feature Banjo or Conker and apparently at Microsoft’s request which would strengthen the idea that they want to distance Banjo from Nintendo (even though he does appear, in statue form, in Viva Piañta: Pocket Paradise for the Nintendo DS and Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts contained numerous references to Diddy Kong Racing).
So, will we see Diddy Kong Racing again, in its original incarnation? Well, I personally do not think so, which is a shame considering that it is both very good and a historically significant game. Microsoft probably aren’t going to like their characters, Banjo and Conker, appearing in a game exclusively for Nintendo download and it’s even harder to imagine it being released only as a download on the Xbox One because Nintendo are known to be rather protective of their IPs. But who knows? Maybe an arrangement will be made allowing for it to be released digitally on the Xbox One and the Wii U. After all, there were negotiations between the two for that to happen with Rare’s classic Goldeneye 007. Failed negotiations, I should add. There have also been rumours flying around about a Diddy Kong Racing U being in development and if Nintendo were to release a new Diddy Kong Racing game and it was very popular, perhaps they’d believe it worth their while to give Microsoft a big pay-off to release the original in their download service. We can but hope.
If you love Diddy Kong Racing then it’s not implausible you would also love Harvest Moon: A New Beginning, which happens to be available in the Rice Digital store here!
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