Nintendo is now a third of its ambitious DLC plans for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, the ultra-popular kart racer released for the then-new Nintendo Switch over five years ago. In March, it announced that it would be releasing a total of 48 new songs for the game in six “waves,” each consisting of eight songs.
But the first wave, which was released in March, felt a bit basic compared to the highlights of the base game, and it was often all too obvious which courses were based on content from handheld consoles or smartphone games. This was not the case in the original Mario Kart 8 Deluxewhose courses were so revised in comparison to their source material that it would be difficult to distinguish the Game Boy Advance tracks from the tracks that originally appeared on a home console like the Wii.
Last week saw the release of the second wave of content, and after spending a weekend playing the eight new additions, I think they are a solid step forward for Mario Kart 8 Deluxethe DLC. No, I still don’t think the new content reaches the heights of what was available in the original Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, but for just $25 for all 48 tracks (or as a pack-in with a Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack subscription), you don’t really have to. You get the same number of courses as a new game for less than half the price of a new game. No wonder the polishing level is not that high.
Five of the eight courses are based on the mainline Mario Kart titles, two are based on the smartphone listing and one is a brand new track. There’s Mario Circuit 3, which first appeared on the original Super Mario Kart on the SNES, Kalimari Desert from the Nintendo 64 title, Snow Land from the Game Boy Advance, Waluigi Pinball from the Nintendo DS and Mushroom Gorge from the Wii. These are joined by New York Minute and Sydney Sprint, two courses that debuted in Mario Kart‘s less-loved smartphone title, Mario Kart tour. Finally, Sky-High Sundae is new, although it will also be added to Tour in an upcoming update.
Wave 2 feels like it offers a small but substantial improvement over the eight courses that made up the first wave. It’s hard to say whether it’s because Nintendo picked a better roster this time around to remaster or because the team spent a bit longer on it. But either way, there is a noticeable increase in quality this time around. Of course, they may not achieve the sheer gravity-defying verticality seen in Mario Kart 8‘s originals – the endless transitions from hang gliding and underwater riding to anti-gravity wall-riding. But there’s a lot more detail here, more variety and more energy. It’s enough that I can see them becoming a regular part of the future Mario Kart sessions.
Waluigi Pinball is the clear favorite of this latest wave. Set in a pinball machine branded after everyone’s favorite bastard, the course fires you to the top of the board before being tasked with drifting down bumpers and flippers while trying not to get hit by the oversized metal balls of the machine. At the top of the machine, the words “Walugi No. 1” circle endlessly across an LED display. I can’t help but agree.
As a brand new track, you get the impression that the developers of Wave 2 were able to push the boat a little further with Sky-High Sundae. It is currently the only one Mario Kart 8 Deluxe DLC addition that takes advantage of the game’s anti-gravity pads, resulting in a bouncy-heavy course where your kart falters and floats over endless giant confectionery. Sure, it’s a shame the overall shape is a simple oval loop, and the whole thing feels slightly distracted from Mario Kart 8‘s separate Sweet Sweet Canyon, but I hope this isn’t the last brand new content to be released as part of these DLC waves.
Mushroom Gorge and Kalimari Desert are two more solid additions. Play your cards right on the first one, and it feels like you’re spending more time bouncing between mushrooms than with your kart’s wheels planted firmly in its paths. It has the best music of all locations in this second wave of content, a delicious mix of techno and…pan flute? (I think.) Kalimari desert has less verticality, but includes a wandering steam train that often threatens to disrupt your race by crushing you or blocking your path, and things only get more intense in later laps when you’re in charge of direct race over his tracks. It is very nice.
That’s not to say filler isn’t included in addition to the second-wave killer. Mario Circuit 3 is a track about as bland as the name suggests, an almost completely flat circuit that feels way too faithful to its SNES source material. Snow Land is a little more interesting, with toboggan penguins to avoid around the frozen lake. But compared to Sherbet Land, the snowy track in the original Mario Kart 8 selection, Snow Land feels a bit flat. It’s too short to offer anything too substantial, and there’s none of the fun underwater sections that added such variety to Sherbet Land. In general, it is forgettable.
Finally, there are two tracks that are lifted directly from Mario Kart tour, the so-so mobile entry in the series. Despite its humble origins, Sydney Sprint is a surprising delight, weaving through the city’s famous harbor and in and out of the opera house. Trains run in the background of the track, which varies enough from lap to lap to take in the scenery from every angle during a single race.
New York Minute, on the other hand, is a snooze — a flat, lifeless pastiche of the city with little to break the monotony of its road layout. None of the vehicles in the streets move, and races here feel like they’re taking place in a movie set rather than a living city. Since Nintendo went to the trouble of patching Coconut Mall last week to make its static cars move, there’s some hope that this may change in a future update, but I’m not holding my breath. This isn’t New Donk City, guys.
When reports emerged earlier this year that a new main line Mario Kart was in development that could offer a “new spin” to the series, it was hard not to see the announcement of 48 new DLC tracks as just that: a “new spin” on the traditional Mario Kart continuation. (It’s still unclear whether those reports related to this DLC or a separate main game.)
Given Luxury was actually a port of the Wii U’s Mario Kart 8 in fact, as of 2014, we’ve gone eight years and nearly an entire console generation with no substantial new main content for the series — especially odd given the game’s continued strong sales. It is now the seventh best-selling video game of all time.
This DLC is still far from the Mario Kart sequel stand-in that some would have hoped it would be, but from the second wave of songs it turns into a usable alternative. It may not have the gloss or obvious extravagance of an all-new game, but with an affordable price tag, not to mention tracks as creative as Waluigi Pinball and Kalimari Desert, it doesn’t really need it.