Mario Kart 8 is without question one of the greatest kart racing games of all time: a masterful sequel that took everything that’s ever been great about the Mario Kart series and polishing it to near perfection. Pretty much the only thing you can complain about, the only chink in its armour that allows other games to compete with it, it’s that it’s old. It’s a game that everyone is now intimately familiar with. There’s no surprises left to throw, you know all of the circuits like the back of your hand, and even 200cc has been mastered by millions.
It’s high time that Nintendo rectified that, and while there have recently been reports of Mario Kart 9 being in development, those rumours have been put to bed for the foreseeable future by the Booster Course Pass, a huge influx of DLC tracks that will double the size of Mario Kart 8’s tracklist over the next two years.
Wave 1 has landed today, adding eight tracks across two cups. There’s no bespoke new tracks here, unlike with the DLC packs that came after the Wii U release, but there’s still plenty that most people are going to be completely unfamiliar with. That’s thanks in part to three of the eight tracks having been made for Mario Kart Tour, the 2019 mobile game.
Mario Kart Tour took a step outside of the Mushroom Kingdom to feature tracks set within the real world and with multiple layouts. The first track of Wave 1 is Paris Promenade, a circuit that runs through the streets of Paris, around the Arc de Triomphe and under the Eiffel Tower. It’s fun window dressing to a rather interesting new style of track, the layout changing for the third lap, sending you down a side road and then back through the track in reverse. It’s a new twist that’s certainly nice and invigorating the first couple times you play it, and a nice way of incorporating the multiple track layouts that Mario Kart Tour offered.
You also have Tokyo Blur, another street track that shifts layout for each lap, again merging the multiple layouts from Mario Kart Tour. Meanwhile Ninja Hideaway has a much more traditional style to it without major changes from lap to lap. It could easily be a part of a regular Mario Kart game, as you bounce across the rooftops of a Japanese manor.
As Nintendo delve into the back catalogue, they’ve picked from the 3DS’ Mario Kart 7 for Toad Circuit and Shroom City, Mario Kart 64 for Choco Mountain, Mario Kart Wii for Coconut Mall and plucked Sky Garden from Mario Kart Advance.
They’re all solid updates to these historic tracks, with Sky Garden naturally needing the most work to transition from the flat race circuits of the Game Boy Advance to having full 3D environments that feel much more like they’re twisting up, down and around in the sky. They’ve all been given a visual overhaul, but layout updates are generally more subtle, removing ramps from Choco Mountain, replacing the Mii spectators in Coconut Mall and leaving Shy Guys in motionless cars in the final turns instead of having Mii driving around.
These nips and tucks to update and modify the tracks to make use of Mario Kart 8’s various quirks all work quite nicely, but I have to say that the visual updates aren’t quite as successful. Compared to the tracks from the original Mario Kart 8, these have a much more cartoony style. Mario Kart 8 tracks have a glistening texture to the grassy banks, they have trees with discernible leaves, the painted lines on the road look weathered and cracked, and the game has a whole generally took a step toward a realistic tone. You lose so much of that in these remade tracks, so while there’s often a good amount of geometric and thematic detail – Paris’ buildings looks fantastic – you also have flat textureless green grass around Toad Circuit, palm trees that look like inflatable toys in Coconut Mall instead of the realistic palm trees in Sunshine Airport, and the colour palette has a brighter, more vibrant tone in general. It’s cartoony.
This was something picked up on from the announcement trailer, but there have been some changes since then. Choco Mountain has impact cracks in the floor where boulders regularly drop down and generally looks more defined, Coconut Mall’s interior has been recoloured, and the clouds that border Sky Garden’s path now have a nice mottled look to them instead of seeming more like moulded shapes.
As you play more, I’m sure it’s a tonal difference that will fade as you get used to it, but it does slightly undercut what Nintendo are selling and makes it feel like these were intended for another game – Mario Kart Tour, if this suspicion holds true. Then again, it’s hard to complain when there is such a huge wealth of circuits coming to the game through the Booster Pass’ six waves. It’s the gameplay that matters most, and the sheer variety of circuits that Nintendo are throwing into the mix is huge. They’re doubling the amount of tracks in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and it means that I and millions of others are sure to come back to the game and enjoy what it offers all over again.
It also gives Nintendo an even bigger problem for the future. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe already felt like the definitive karting game. Now that it’s becoming even more… definitive-ier, how do you possibly create a sequel to surpass it?