We take to the road and test-drive the latest Mario Kart 8 DLC.
Last week saw the arrival of the second Mario Kart 8 ‘Add-on content’ pack. Included are eight new tracks, three new drivers and four new vehicles. Priced at £7.00 (or £11.00 if bought along with Pack 1) it’s a pretty generous package.
The first thing you’ll see are the new characters. They include Dry Bowser and Animal Crossing’s Isabelle and Villager (male and female variants). Each one is imbued with impressive little touches, such as Dry Bowser’s glowing shell or Villager’s animated expressions upon pulling off a successful jump. The new vehicles are less distinctive but still nicely designed, the P-Wing in particular is a very cool set of wheels.
It’s the new tracks that we are really here for however, and they don’t disappoint. First on the starting line is…
Baby Park (GCN)
The famed Mario Kart: Double Dash track returns and is just as brutal as ever. It’s a very short loop taking place over seven laps rather than the usual three. It might sound rather dull but it’s probably the most chaotic, congested and riotous Mario Kart track of them all. As you lap and overtake other racers you are constantly vulnerable to their attacks, and by the the time you reach the last few laps the road is strewn with bananas skins, stray shells and explosions. Nerves of steel are required and each win feels ground out and deserved.
Cheese Land (GBA)
Cheese Land is by no means a bad track, but perhaps the most disappointing in this pack. Visually it’s a little bland, being made of, well, cheese. It’s reminiscent of Sweet Sweet Canyon, another food-based course which failed to impress in the main game. A DairyLea triangle rather than a Roquefort.
Luckily things get much better with…
Wild Woods is a vertiginous trip into a sun dappled treetop canopy. The subtle lighting and particle effects create a ’magic hour’ atmosphere evoking the worlds of Pikmin and Return of the Jedi’s Forest moon of Endor. This track features plenty of heart in the mouth moments as you sail through the branches of a giant tree.
The track everyone was waiting for doesn’t disappoint. It’s a jaunty trip round an Animal Crossing village with the likes of Tom Nook and KK Slider in attendance. The track has four variants, based on the four seasons, each bringing subtle environmental changes. It’s also worth muting the glorious score for a moment and to take a slow drive round the course to look for some wonderful easter eggs. It’s a lovely touch for fans of the series. Once again, it’s beautiful piece of work, inspiring dreams of an HD Wii U Animal Crossing title.
Koopa City (3DS)
Koopa City was never one of my favourite tracks in Mario Kart 7. Maybe it was the 3DS’s slider being over-sensitive or, more likely, my heavy-handedness. Whatever my previous misgivings, this rain-soaked race through a neon metropolis has found a new lease of life in the move to Mario Kart 8. It’s a drift heavy track requiring some nifty manoeuvres to negotiate the winding roads and perilous drops.
Ribbon Road (GBA)
Who would have predicted that a GBA remake might be the best track in Mario Kart 8? Set in a room reminiscent of Andy’s bedroom in Toy Story, this race is set against a background of bricks, castles and board games. There’s even a guest appearance by a couple of yarn Yoshis, here to promote Yoshi’s Wooly World, no doubt. The Wii U often punches above its weight when it comes to graphics, but it outdoes itself on this course. Every element in this feels tangible and solid with genuine sense of scale. The track design is also delightful with some tricky but satisfying shortcuts and an undulating section of road that requires concentration and skill to master.
Super Bell Subway
This American subway inspired track has an intricate layout and a multitude of ramps, jumps and moving trains to negotiate. There are a couple of places where it can be tricky to identify the best route – I occasionally found myself snagged on some scenery – but it was nothing a few races didn’t fix. It’s also another treat for keen eyes with some great background detail, particularly the scrawled tunnel graffiti based on the original Super Mario Bros. Squees all round.
Like Mount Wario this is one long downhill course spread over three distinct sections. It doesn’t quite best its snowbound predecessor, nor truly feel like an F-Zero track. If anything it’s a little over fussy, featuring a few too many obstacles to overcome. Its best moments come during a thrilling water slalom which is all about controlling your momentum and racing line. Big Blue is not as successful as last year’s Mute City track but is still fine way to close this DLC pack.
Also available as free update to the game is the new 200cc class.
In short, it’s flipping fast. Racing on tracks with long straights, such as Big Blue, is as intense as any F-Zero game. Let’s hope Nintendo hears the response from players and gets to work on a new title in that series soon. On tighter courses the new class requires judicious use of the brake, completely changing how you approach the game and making all the techniques you have mastered redundant. It breaths new life into the game and makes each track worth replaying.
Add in the two DLC packs and you pretty much have a whole new game.
And one final note of praise should go to the wonderful score. Composed by Shiho Fujii, Atsuko Asahi, Ryo Nagamatsu, Yasuaki Iwata and performed by the Mario Kart Band, it’s another eclectic mixture of jazz, skiffle, and electric guitar.
Make it the soundtrack to your summer.