The first wave of paid DLC for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has arrived, bringing eight remastered tracks from across one of Nintendo’s most beloved franchises. With the promise of 40 more tracks by the end of next year to help soothe fans yearning for the next big console installation, are we off to a strong rocket boost start with our first taste of the Booster Course Pass?
It’s hard to ignore the fact that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is still going down a storm with Switch owners. The formidable kart racer continues to dig its heels in on the weekly charts, it’s sold over a staggering 43 million copies globally (that’s over 51 million copies if you count the original Wii U version), and is often bundled with the Nintendo Switch during the holiday season. Day-one fans are clambering for the next mainline console game, but with the release of the Booster Course Pass, Nintendo hopes to make the wait for the next installation a little easier. It comes at no additional cost for NSO Expansion Pack owners, can be purchased separately for £22.49/$24.99, and those who don’t own it can still enjoy the new content with friends online who do. For the most part, the eight tracks spread across two new cups succeed in delivering the excellent course design we’ve grown accustomed to, but there are a few niggles here and there.
Having played a few hours on and offline with friends, and after grabbing three stars in each of the single-player Grand Prix cups, it’s fair to say that not every course in Wave 1 is consistently impressive. While the likes of Mario Kart Tour’s Paris Promenade gives racers an interesting mix of lap-by-lap changes to cater for its different iterations, Sky Garden from GBA’s Mario Kart: Super Circuit on the other hand isn’t quite as thrilling. Nostalgia will indeed play a large part in enjoying the latter, but it certainly feels like there’s a lost opportunity here; Nintendo opted for a clean, almost like-for-like, copy of each track with no anti-gravity implementation whatsoever. Sure, the argument of “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” could come into play, but it still would have been great to see the courses get a more in-depth and experimental Deluxe respray.
Shroom Ridge also falls victim to this and finds itself lower on the list of tracks that stood out. Originating on DS, it definitely didn’t excite me as much as Ninja Hideaway did, for example, and the same goes for the rather vanilla Toad Circuit from the 3DS era. However, one could argue that Nintendo has stayed faithful to the original track design, and that’s fine, but it wouldn’t have hurt to switch things up a bit, especially for long standing fans of the original versions. Overall, some tracks in Wave 1, while characteristically as vibrant as a bowl of fruit loops under a UV light, look somewhat flat when it comes to texture and details. Whether or not they’re sticking to their roots or are simply ‘lazy ports’ will be a debate we’ll see on social media for a while, as it’s difficult to ignore while drifting round corners in Toad Circuit where it’s noticeably barebones, especially when you jump back to the base game’s more realistically textured tracks that released some 10 years ago.
On the flip side, N64’s Choco Mountain from the new Golden Dash Cup, while staying true to its original design, is presented wonderfully with gorgeous glowing blue crystals housed in its cave, and the HD Rumble of the Joy-Con as the chocolatey boulders smash near your kart is a lovely touch. What was once a fog-filled, sharp-edged track, is now a smooth, delicious-looking arena. And Tokyo Blur, aside from an obvious dull section on the third lap, presents itself nicely, and is a real joy to race around its busy setting and tangled, interchangeable road layout. More of the Tour courses, please.
Unlike the tracks themselves, what is consistent, however, is the music. Every course boasts remastered soundtracks, and each has been composed to an exceptionally high standard; Coconut Mall’s stupidly catchy theme tune is better than ever, and was definitely a personal highlight among the eight tracks in Wave 1. Hearing the unique feel and tone of Mario Kart’s jazzy and uplifting melodies really thrusts new life into these courses.
Folks who haven’t invested much time in Mario Kart Tour for smartphones are in for more of a treat with this first wave of remastered tracks. Admittedly, I dropped off the Tour hype early on, so Tokyo Blur’s changing laps and tight course design, Paris Promenade’s gorgeous setting, and Ninja Hideout’s chaotic Bowser Castle-style hazards proved to be the most intriguing and downright enjoyable. While ‘Tour players may appreciate the upscaled and fine-tuned appearance of these courses, there’s a high chance that the novelty has already waned.
Fan-favourite, Coconut Mall, still provides an excellent time, and even more so than those pesky cars just before the finish line are stationary this time around. The updated course is bursting with colour, the frantic scramble to squeeze onto the forward moving travelators is as hilarious as ever, and the fun shortcuts it provides is a testament to Mario Kart’s impeccable course design. Even without the Mii’s being present in this version – it’s definitely stood the test of time.
Nintendo’s first batch of DLC tracks that join the 48 courses already available do well to add an extra bit of needed spice to a game that’s still being played, and bought, by millions of Switch owners. With 40 more tracks arriving by the end of 2023, it’s worth getting excited about if this first handful is anything to go by. Sure, not every track earns a place in Mario Kart’s prestigious Hall of Fame, and it would have been nice to see design updates to make them truly special, jumping back into what’s already a sublime kart racer was a blast, and being able to share tracks that I have fond memories playing years ago with friends online was a real treat.