“Mario Kart 64” was the video game that defined the kart racing genre, inspiring a legion of knock-offs in its wake. The kart fad, though short-lived, produced a few stellar games.

While “Mario Kart 64” still had the best multiplayer, its single-player modes were shamed by the Story Mode in “Diddy Kong Racing,” a game that has been sorely overlooked. “Diddy Kong” offered more than just a vanilla racing package — the extra plane and hovercraft vehicles, item-collecting challenges and boss battles brought new life to the format. Best of all, the wicked track designs and devilish difficulty ensured the game’s longevity.

At first glance, “Diddy Kong Racing” appears infantile and its cast of colorful cartoon animals with squeaky, child-like voices can grate on the nerves. The plot is also woefully vapid, meaning Story Mode fails to live up to its name. Taj, a thickly Indian-accented blue elephant wearing a turban (really) summons Diddy Kong and his friends (some of whom later star in their own games, like Banjo and Conker) to save their island paradise from Wizpig, an evil porcine wizard. The plot is really just a silly contrivance to provide grounds for the platforming and adventure elements interspersed into the racing gameplay.

Another distinctive quirk is the game’s focus on collecting objects, from golden balloons to silver coins and amulet pieces. The golden balloons are garnered through racing victories and found while exploring the game’s island overworld. Silver coins are snagged during special races, and amulet pieces are collected after besting each world’s boss in two races.

The collecting aspect works because the sense of incremental accomplishment is addicting, as countless other games have proven. Rare, the game’s developer, is a master of the collect-a-thon (“Donkey Kong Country” was its breakout title), so this idea was a natural fit. In the end, Rare should’ve made more racers.

As an oddball racer, “Diddy Kong Racing” shines when it comes time to put the joystick to the plastic. Courses are filled with daunting hairpin turns, steep drops, speed-boosting strips and shortcuts. By crafting clever alternate paths, Rare endowed the game with surprising depth.

During the Silver Coin Challenges, the player must collect eight hidden coins throughout the track within three laps and still manage to finish first. To ensure victory, the player has to learn the intricacies of courses like the pirate-themed Treasure Cove, which has at least three shortcuts. This brings a strategic element to the racer, as the player needs to plot out fast and safe routes to the coins. If this demand for precision sounds masochistic, well, maybe it is. “Diddy Kong Racing” is not for the faint of heart, and the bosses are proof of that as well.

The boss races appear simple enough in theory: The goal is to finish first against the boss while he attempts to squash or otherwise sabotage the player. But as the game progresses, the difficulty skyrockets. Most notorious among the bosses is the third level’s octopus, which veteran players unofficially refer to as “that fucking octopus.”

In the race, the player must control the hovercraft (which has the most fickle handling of any vehicle) while dodging errant logs and giant bubbles, which the octopus lays as traps — one mistake and the race is effectively over. But as with any well-designed video game, the profanity-spewing player will still want to give it “just one more go.”

Despite its cheery, candy-coated exterior, “Diddy Kong Racing” delivers a challenging single-player mode with considerable depth. The “Mario Kart” series is a blast with friends, but none of those titles can provide such a lengthy, rewarding solo quest. Any fans of unrealistic racers should pick up “Diddy Kong Racing” and experience the controller-chucking magic that has endeared gamers to “that fucking octopus” since the Clinton administration.

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