Video Games

Mario Kart 8 – DLC #1

The first piece of DLC has arrived for Mario Kart 8. Nintendo is asking $7.99 for the package which adds four new vehicles – plus Zelda themed tires and a parachute – three characters, and eight tracks – five new and three retro. Most of those reading this are probably already aware of what a great game Mario Kart 8 is – if not, check out my review here – so is this add-on worth your money? In a word, yes. It’s a solid package with good value because of the quality content it brings to the table.

tanooki

The new characters are fine. Tanooki Mario and Cat Suit Peach are plucked right out of Super Mario 3D World and placed into karts. They’re just alternate costumes though, and of course the real new addition to the roster is Link. The hero of Hyrule breaks down the franchise barrier to become the first non-Mario character to hit the track, and it makes you wonder why it didn’t happen sooner. Does he look ridiculous sitting in a tiny kart? Absolutely, but years of seeing him toss bombs and boomerangs at Nintendo’s other sacred cows in Smash Bros. makes the transition a bit more believable. He carries the Master Sword with him, swinging it in celebration when he connects with a shell or executes an aerial trick.

master cycle

The highlight of the new vehicles also hails from Hyrule. The Master Cycle is a cool bike that’s fashioned to look like a horse. It looks great, sporting a blue body with gold trim, and a Hylian shield on each side. The B Dasher returns from Mario Kart DS and Tanooki Mario gets a Tanooki-patterned off-road style jeep. The second best new ride is the Blue Falcon from the F-Zero series. It’s been faithfully recreated as a kart body and it’s a great, nostalgia-inducing addition to the selection of vehicles.

Mario Kart 8 Yoshi Circuit

New characters and karts are all well and good, but they’re clearly not the reason anyone is going to buy this DLC. The new tracks are the stars of the show, and they’re what make this package worth the price tag. There are two new cups, Egg and Triforce, and I was quite happy with the courses contained therein. The three new retro tracks are solid. Yoshi’s Circuit returns from Double Dash!! and looks great but doesn’t benefit much from the MK8 treatment other than getting a face lift. It’s a fine course with lots of very tight turns and power sliding opportunities but it’s not the most exciting inclusion. The very first Rainbow Road from Super Mario Kart is pretty cool. It too is a faithful recreation, but there is some added flair. The Thwomps now cause the track to bend and ripple with each impact, adding some fun chaos – not to mention trick opportunities. Even though this is a simple course, it’s fun to see an old track looking new and gorgeous, and I enjoyed the nostalgia factor.

gold mine

Rounding out the retro courses is Wario’s Gold Mine from Mario Kart Wii. This is my favorite new remade track, as it benefits the most from Mario Kart 8‘s new features. A good chunk of the middle portion is now an anti-gravity segment. Where before racers needed to avoid the mine carts on the track at all costs, they now give a boost when contacted, changing the whole dynamic of that section. The quarter-pipe ramps have been removed and an extra speed boost has been added to one of the early turns. The level is so much more visually interesting now as well. There’s way more detail, such as the hulking mining equipment just off the track, and the many houses built into the cliffs with yellow glows emanating from their windows. The course is beautiful, and a prime example of how to give an old track a face lift.

excitebike

The retro tracks are welcome additions, but naturally the most exciting part of this DLC comes from the five brand new courses. Excitebike Arena is exactly what it sounds like. It’s precisely what one would imagine a 3D version of an Excitebike track to be. It of course features plenty of jumps to do tricks of off, and – faithfully – boosts and mud patches too.The cool thing about Excitebike Arena is that the ramps, mud, and boosts are randomly generated each time, with apparently over 200 different possible combinations, which is impressive, and it should give the track a much longer life than it would have otherwise. It’s just a simple oval, but it succeeds on nostalgia and presentation. It’s got great atmosphere, with a huge crowd of Mushroom Kingdom denizens cheering you on, and a jumbotron flashing NES-style Excitebike graphics. Elsewhere Dragon Driftway looks awesome, sporting a cool oriental look. Right from the start you enter a dragon’s mouth for some twisty anti-gravity racing. The theming is great, with Japanese lanterns and ornate woodwork along the the track. There are grassy patches that allow for some nice Mushroom-assisted shortcuts too.

mute city

The Blue Falcon isn’t the only thing from F-Zero to crash the party. Perhaps the coolest new course here is Mute City. Appropriately it’s entirely anti-gravity – the only course to do this – and it features a ton of speed boosts too, making it one of the fastest, most exciting courses in the game. It features nice touches from its native franchise, like the green crackle of energy caused when a kart hits the railing. There are no coins on the track, instead they are collected by driving over the glowing strips used to repair vehicles in the F-Zero games. It’s a nice re-appropriation, and the strips’ placement next to boosts will occasionally force racers to decide between getting the speed boosts or collecting coins. There’s a rather cleverly hidden shortcut that I appreciated too. Aesthetically this is a beautiful track, featuring the futuristic metropolis look gamers have come to know over the years. Mute City has never looked this pretty, and this fast and fun track is instantly one of my favorites in the entire game. Taking the Blue Falcon for a spin here is probably the closest thing we’ll get to a new F-Zero game on the Wii U, at least for a while.

ice ice

Ice Ice Outpost is, as its name suggests, a frigid track set over water and among glaciers. The track distinguishes itself from past snow based entries like Shebert Land and Frappe Snow Land by featuring a man-made track. There is almost no racing on ice or snow here. Instead there is a track that often splits in two, with the two segments then twisting and crisscrossing. The oil-rig/arctic expedition vibe is kind of cool, and I especially liked the shortcuts. They’re arranged at sharp angles to the track, and as such they take real skill to access and traverse. The payoff for successfully using them is nice, and I like that good players will be rewarded here.

hyrule

Last but not least is Hyrule Circuit. Like Mute City, this is a great use of another franchise to create an awesome Mario Kart track. While Mute City came from another racing series, Hyrule Circuit still manages to bring elements from The Legend of Zelda to the table to make a course that feels natural within that world. Coins are replaced with green rupees and the piranha plants that sit alongside some courses and attack racers are swapped out for Deku Babas. These are great touches that will make any fan of the Zelda series smile. Design wise it’s a solid track, featuring a portion inside Hyrule castle and a short flight segment. The highlight comes during the anti-gravity indoor section. As racers round a turn they’ll find three speed boost bumpers that look like the familiar diamond switches from the Zelda games. Hitting all three will activate a ramp with a speed boost on it that sends racers right through a giant Master Sword in the middle of the room, which will give them another boost as they pass by. Not only is this a nice shortcut, but pulling it off is punctuated by the iconic Zelda “success jingle.” It’s a brilliant touch that rewards skilled players, and it put a huge smile on my face. The reworking of the classic Zelda theme that plays over the action is the icing on the cake.

dragon

This initial piece of DLC represents the first of what could be many great additions to Mario Kart 8. The new characters and vehicles are fine, and they’re welcome, but the great new tracks are truly what makes this content shine. The inclusion of content from Zelda and F-Zero opens things up for all kinds of new characters and tracks from outside franchises, and that’s really exciting. I’d love to see Nintendo do even more with future packs, specifically adding additional modes – Mission Mode please! – and I know I’m not the only one who is dying to see some traditional battle mode arenas added.

       As I said in my original review of the game, this might be the best Mario Kart ever made. It plays so well but it needs more content to be truly amazing. This first pack is a step in the right direction, and I’m looking forward to the next one in May, but I hope Nintendo pushes things even further. For now though, anyone who enjoys Mario Kart should plunk down $8 without hesitation.