To say I was pumped for the new Mario Kart Booster Course Pass — the game’s first DLC since 2014, when Nintendo was still telling itself the Wii U could be a success — would be an understatement.
Well, the first installment is now live and while I wouldn’t put any of the eight new tracks in the top ten, it’s still utterly delightful to see the game get expanded, long after I assumed Nintendo had lost interest.
As a quick recap, while there are only eight tracks in this first bit of DLC, if you order it today, you’re actually paying for 48, doubling Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s already generous offering to 96. The remaining 40 tracks will arrive in further packs throughout the year, and if you’re in the U.K., you can still bag the lot for £15.95.
The first batch contains two new cups — Golden Dash and Lucky Cup — comprising four tracks each.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Booter Course Wave 1 review: How are the new tracks?
I wasn’t intending to play the tracks right away, as they came out at 11 p.m. UK time and my general rule is that’s too late to be fiddling with downloads. But thanks to a smoke alarm beeping for attention at 10:30, me and my other half were suitably buzzed to give it a try right away.
The game had silently updated beforehand, and all that was required was to press the right bumper to move the track selection screen onto a new second page, where you’re presented with the grid of Booster tracks. Notably, most of these are currently blank spaces waiting to be filled throughout 2022.
Of the new tracks, it’s not hard to pick out the weakest ones: those that have made the leap straight from Mario Kart Tour for Android and iOS.
Unfortunately, this is the bulk of them, with Paris Promenade, Tokyo Blur and Ninja Hideaway all included. The real-world locations not only feel a little out of keeping with the cartoony fun of Mario Kart (that’s the Eiffel Tower in the screenshot below), but they’re just a bit bland: flat and unimaginative, with railings in place to keep you going too far off route for the most part.
To be entirely fair, Ninja Hideaway has a lot more going for it, both visually and with traps and shortcuts aplenty. All the same, you can’t escape the feeling that courses built with the limitations of mobile play in mind just aren’t as inventive as classic console Mario Kart.
Fortunately, the remaining five are all revivals of courses from dedicated games consoles: one each from the halcyon days of the Game Boy Advance, N64, DS, 3DS and Wii iterations.
Choco Mountain isn’t half as unforgiving as I remember it in the N64 days: the hairpin bend used to give me endless grief as luckless koopers fell off one by one. Of course, even if you do fall off nowadays, you’re pretty much instantly returned to the course: it’s no longer the sentence to last place that it used to be.
The highlight, however, is Coconut Mall from the Wii — and not just because it has the kind of earworm soundtrack that will burrow into your skull for weeks at a time. It’s the kind of chaotic, multi-level wonderment that Mario Kart does so well: a sugar rush of commotion and bright colors that’s great to see again.
The remaining tracks are all comfortably mid tier. Toad Circuit from the 3DS is just a straightforward race track in the vein of Mario Circuit, while Shroom Ridge from the DS is similar traffic-weaving fun to Toad’s Turnpike. Sky Garden will likely split opinion thanks to its reliance on springy bounce pads, but it’s a change if nothing else.
So, my early impressions are that the first wave of Mario Kart DLC offers one top-tier course, five middling ones and two weaker numbers. Is that a good return? It is when we’re expecting 40 more and Nintendo is charging just $24.99 for the lot. With that kind of generosity, I for one will accept a few misfires.