Despite Mario Kart 8 Deluxe launching as a retread of its original Wii U version, we still strongly recommended its second coming on Switch—and so far, over 40 million Switch owners have agreed with us. Hence, we weren’t surprised to see the game get a massive expansion pack announcement last month. Why would Nintendo launch a sequel when millions of people are still buying the latest one at close to full price?
The expansion pack will eventually add 48 more racetracks to MK8D, thus doubling the game’s total selection. Nintendo is breaking this down into six dumps of eight tracks each, and the first wave lands on Nintendo Switch consoles today. Based on what we’re seeing so far, the DLC initiative meets our medium-high expectations. These perfectly fine tracks come with karting ideas both old and new, and they’re a great perk as part of the $50/year Switch Online Expansion Pack tier, but they don’t make us confident about the whole package as a $25 standalone purchase.
Ninja Hideaway might be reason enough to buy
As previously announced, the Booster Course Pass (timely word choice, Nintendo) will revolve around the existing Mario Kart pantheon, as opposed to brand-new tracks. That could mean anything from the Super Nintendo original to the 2018 rollout of Mario Kart Tour on smartphones. (Also, we don’t know if any of these will turn out to be exclusive to, say, the series’ battle mode; so far, that’s not the case.) Outside of this week’s content update, Nintendo is keeping the rest of the racetrack selection hidden for the time being, and Nintendo says the remaining packs will finish launching by the end of 2023.
Will your favorite missing track eventually appear as part of the MK8DBCP? Maybe! One good way to gauge a track’s possible inclusion is to peek at Mario Kart Tour‘s available tracks, which also crib loudly from the series’ past. All but one of today’s classics had previously been remade for the smartphone game.
The same goes for the three new tracks that had previously been MKT exclusives. The best of these, Ninja Hideaway, is arguably reason enough for Mario Kart addicts to buy the entire BCP outright—it’s honestly that inventive. Despite launching as part of a smartphone-exclusive game, Ninja Hideaway is rich with shortcuts, alternate paths, windy drift corridors, angled end-of-track rooftops, and clever gusts of wind to activate the series’ hang glider mechanic. I’m a big fan of how the track’s design nudges you to fly toward its mildly hidden rafters, then careen over their narrow beams to expose a handy new racing line.
It’s also arguably the best indicator for any expansion pack doubters that Nintendo has gone to noticeable lengths to upgrade these tracks’ visuals for Switch’s specs. Textures are far more detailed, particularly in the form of broken-apart stones on some of the main racing lines, while lighting coverage and effects inside the larger, window-lined buildings give each of these scenes more weight. Ninja Hideaway’s colorful-temple constructions are unlike any other Mario Kart track ever made, and they’re met with a memorable, slappa-da-bass funk-music foundation.
New tracks with routing gimmicks, and the glory that is Coconut Mall
The other two MKT tracks in this set, Tokyo Blur and Paris Promenade, feel unremarkable in comparison, since they run on boilerplate racetrack roads. Yet, they share a gimmick: remixed road paths on a lap-by-lap basis. The former opens and closes various gates after each lap, thus changing the layout on the fly, while the latter does something wholly unique in the series: its final lap makes racers U-turn, reverse course, and drive through incoming traffic. As in, you have to drive past other MK8D competitors (either player- or computer-controlled) to win.
This tweak pumps more drama into an average race, and it lets back-of-the-pack racers more directly attack anyone in first place. Ultimately, since both gimmicks aren’t otherwise found in existing MK8D courses, I am glad to see Nintendo drop them into the BCP in its first wave as exciting versus-race options for friends and online lobbies alike.
The remaining remixed tracks, meanwhile, range from nostalgia-worthy to ho-hum. The best of these, Coconut Mall, is a beautiful recreation of the Mario Kart Wii original, and its visual touch-ups are absolutely rich. These include a tile-laid mural dedicated to Super Mario Bros. 1, a handsomely reflective window exterior on the track’s opening building, and a sweeping beachside view exposed after taking the course’s biggest hang-glider jump. (Sadly, the old “HAVE A NICE DAY!” sign has been removed for some reason, but the food court remains, and the updated textures and touch-ups on Switch make the Wii original look ancient in comparison.) The track itself is in ain’t-broke-don’t-fix territory, and its mix of escalators, multi-story paths, and indoor-to-outdoor battling zones have me wondering why it took Nintendo nine years to get this game into the MK8 ecosystem.
While Choco Mountain from Mario Kart 64 tugs at the nostalgia heartstrings, its course redesign is identical to the one found on MKT, albeit with a few visual touch-ups here and there compared to the phone version. (Geometry-wise, meanwhile, Choco Mountain remains nearly identical to its Mario Kart Wii revision.)
Sky Garden was massively revised on MKT compared to its original, flat Game Boy Advance version, and its MKT version appears here, as well. But so far, Switch’s new expansion pack only includes one default version of Sky Garden, even though MKT has a few pumped-up alternate track versions with even wackier fly-through-the-sky gusts and sharper drift-friendly turns. Perhaps Nintendo will eventually add similar “R” and “T” variants to this expansion pack’s full roster as a cheaper way to get up to a whopping 48 tracks.