My dad was something of a luddite.
He kept his crappy old flip-phone as long as he possibly could. When he was forced to get an iPhone for his job I don’t think he understood half of it — he mostly used it to listen to the radio. He was a TV producer, so he liked and understood television, but he seemed most comfortable with the technology of the 80s.
Once when I was a teenager I texted him while he was at work, he left an important meeting and called me in a panic. He didn’t understand the noise his phone had made (the ‘you have a text’ tone) and assumed the worst. When video games became a big part of my life, he mostly watched from a distance, happy I was happy but not understanding anything.
But there was one game that my dad loved, it was Diddy Kong Racing.
My brother and I started gaming on the NES and SNES when we were young and we milked every drop out of each game we had. In my family you didn’t just get a new game because you wanted one, you got it for your birthday or Christmas and that was pretty much it. I remember being over the moon as a child when I got Stunt Race FX for the SNES, which was by all accounts an average game at best. I remember when my brother and I got our Nintendo 64; it was a big day, only slightly smaller reactions than the N64 kid. My mom and dad got us a few cool games like Super Mario 64 and Mario Kart 64. We were in heaven.
Because I had been raised on Donkey Kong Country, when I saw Diddy Kong Racing I had to have it; this was a rare time when we got a new game for no reason.
Diddy Kong Racing was incredible. Sure it was kind of a Mario Kart rip off, but it had hovercrafts and planes and an evil pig wizard! It was also the only game my dad ever played with me, and he loved it more than I ever did.
My dad was Tom Hnatiw. He did a lot in his life; before he found his calling he was a bartender, chef, realtor and guitar player. He loved music, he loved his family and he loved cars. My dad owned a shop for many years; he produced and hosted several automotive TV shows and he spent ~15 years as a semi-professional racecar driver. My dad was an excellent driver. He once commentated on a race he himself was in, though he didn’t win that one. So when we put this silly racing game in front of him he was intrigued enough to give it a shot.
He raced my brother and I sometimes, but we destroyed him. We were kids and we loved video games; he was a 40 year old man who thought using a missile in a race was cheating. Losing to my brother and I lost its charm after a while and my dad discovered the time trials mode. This was something he could wrap his head around, no tigers and badgers shooting missiles — just you, a track and a clock.
You might remember Diddy Kong Racing had two unlockable characters — Drumstick the Rooster and TT the Clock. Drumstick was unlocked via the story, but TT was harder to get. To unlock TT you needed to beat his ghost in time trial mode on every track.
My dad only played one track in time trials mode: Ancient Lake, the very first track. He said he would play the others when he beat the TT ghost but he never could. It wasn’t because he was bad at the game though, it was because he was trying to race like an actual racer. He was taking the proper racing line, apexing turns and braking when you would in real life, he couldn’t understand why that wouldn’t be the fastest way.
He would ignore the boost pads, they weren’t on the proper racing line, how could they be faster? He wouldn’t take shortcuts because it didn’t make sense to him to leave the track. He played the game like a 40 year old father of two would, and it was hilarious.
Later, we left Diddy Kong Racing behind when we got other cool games like Ocarina of Time and Super Smash Brothers. The N64 got put away and gathered dust after a few more years. I would still occasionally bust my dads chops about how stupidly he played that game and he would argue that he was playing the right way and the game was wrong.
Years after that, we sold our N64 and all our games at a garage sale for way less money than we should have. I’ve since bought another one second-hand just to play the old classics again, but it would have been simpler if I just told my mom not to sell it in the first place. I’ve never played Diddy Kong Racing again though, I honestly don’t know if I could.
My dad passed away in the summer of 2012. We have tons of his old stuff to remember him by — great pictures of him with his family, his old racing suits and helmets, trophies he won at races and countless videos of him working. But somewhere out there there’s a copy of Diddy Kong Racing, and a time trial on Ancient Lake my dad could never quite crack. I don’t know if his ghost still has the top time. I hope it does.
Happy Father’s Day dad.