Nintendo has finally delivered its second dollop of downloadable tracks for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and it’s a doozy. Some of Mario Kart’s finest moments are included here, alongside a few other enjoyable additions, throwbacks, and a brand-new entry.
As with the first wave, Nintendo has added eight courses divided into two cups. (Sadly, there’s still no sign of extra kart pieces or characters, including Birdo.) And if you’re not up to speed (sorry), players have already worked out what many other upcoming DLC courses will likely be.
Up first is New York Minute, a lively track from mobile game Mario Kart Tour’s roster featuring a checklist of city landmarks. I’ll get this out the way now – I am not enamoured with Mario Kart Tour, and the Mushroom Kingdom purist in me bristles at the inclusion of real-world cities.
That said, it would take a cold heart not to be warmed by this enthusiastic take on New York nightlife, its swinging jazz soundtrack and well-designed map split between neon streets and the darkness of Central Park. As usual, there’s some lovely little touches: water gushing upwards from manholes, stationary yellow taxis. And as with all Tour tracks, the layout here shifts each lap – leading to a finale with a claustrophobic descent into and out of an underground parking garage. This is more or less as good as Tour gets.
From Tour’s newly-designed neon of New York we next turn to the primary colours of SNES course Mario Circuit 3. There’s not much to say about this one – it’s a straightforward track from Mario Kart’s origins, presented here with few tweaks.
It’s still entirely flat, with a sulphuric yellow sky and only the most basic of elements – oil slicks, a final boost pad – to spice things up. If you’re looking for a simple track to run some time trials on, maybe this is for you. Otherwise, there’s little to recomend.
Onto the good stuff. Mario Kart 64’s Kalimari Desert was already a classic, but this version of it surely improves on the original. Not only has Nintendo done a wonderful job on how the level looks – saturated in lens flare from the low sun, the landscape stretching off to dusty mesas in the distance – but it has also smartly tweaked the map’s layout thanks to its more recent inclusion in Mario Kart Tour. (Ok, I admit, Tour isn’t all bad.)
Here, the original N64 route is followed until the second lap, where a ramp takes you onto the tracks of the level’s infamous train. From here it’s a bumpy ride into the train tunnel and another encounter with the locomotive itself which you must swerve to avoid, before a final victory lap out on the sand. This is peak Mario Kart.
And then there’s Waluigi Pinball. The last course in this cup really needs no further introduction – it is one of the most adored Mario Kart tracks of all time, and it simply looks stunning here. The swirling colours of this lightspeed-paced level leave no room for some of the criticism aimed – pretty fairly, I have to say – at a few of Wave 1’s additions, which frequently showed their mobile development roots. It helps that this is all shiny surfaces, big colours, and one big blur of balls and ballroom glitz.
Nintendo has very wisely kept this course as close as possible to the DS original, with further polish to the visuals of its Tour incarnation. Every section of this track is thrilling, from its dazzling entry lift to its rollercoaster-like slalom and manic dash across the pinball table’s main surface, strewn with bumpers and flippers. Mario Kart does not get any better than this.
Onto the second of this wave’s cups, which kicks off with another Tour entry, Sydney Sprint. Set around the city’s iconic harbour area, this offers an enjoyably different experience each lap – so much so it almost feels like one of the game’s rare point-to-point races.
There’s nothing here you haven’t seen in a Mario Kart track before – it’s like a slightly off-brand Toad Harbor from the main game – but there’s a few nice touches such as the ramps along Sydney’s harbour bridge and the ending sprint which sees you soar through the windows of the opera house. Also, its music sounds a little like the theme from Neighbours. All-in-all, it’s alright.
Snow Land from the Game Boy Advance is not a track I’m overly familiar with, though I’m aware it’s had a few changes here from its rather basic original. These seem to have been well-received – and it now stands as another solid entry in Mario Kart’s long history of ice tracks. Expect slippery terrain, a frozen lake to race around, and penguins.
Intriguingly, this track is yet to appear in Mario Kart Tour (though now seems likely to in future) and returns in this DLC for the first time since its original incarnation 21 years ago. It’s fine.
Mushroom Gorge was one of the Wii’s better tracks, or at least one of its most memorable. Playing it again last night, I was instantly reminded of the seemingly random nature of its bouncy toadstools, and of the perils that come from thinking you can try and make it over two in one bounce. You can’t. Even when you have a mushroom.
As before, this remains a fast and deceptively unforgiving course if you can’t guide your kart properly while bouncing around atop toadstools. It also looks the part, with classic Mushroom Kingdom vibes intersperced by trips through its glowing crystal-laden cavern. A very worthy addition.
Rounding out this wave is Sky-High Sundae, an all-new track – until it also arrives in Tour. This level continues the Mario Kart fascination with riding through giant desserts, and while it’s not as good as Mario Kart 8’s Sweet Sweet Canyon, it does have its moments.
The track’s opening glide through a hole in an ice cream cone offers a suitably dramatic start, and I love the long curve over neon cake frosting next to a street of little houses. Also, the ice cream helicopter you can spot at one stage. The latter half of the level feels a little disjointed, and oddly reminded me a bit of Fall Guys. Overall, though, it’s enjoyable stuff.
And that’s it! Until later this year, at any rate. It’s a strong selection, all-in-all, and likely to be a highlight of the overall DLC timetable – though there’s plenty more to come, if the expected roster of additions put together by fans is anything to go by. What are you enjoying, and what do you hope to see added next?