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Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s new expansion is good so far—but is it worth $25?


Coconut Mall, it's good to have you back in modern <em>Mario Kart</em>. But how about the rest of this week's new racetracks? Do they bode well for the total, $25, 48-track DLC pack?
Enlarge / Coconut Mall, it’s good to have you back in modern Mario Kart. But how about the rest of this week’s new racetracks? Do they bode well for the total, $25, 48-track DLC pack?

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 game 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 dividing the expansion into six dumps of eight tracks each, and the first installment 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) uses 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 now, and the company 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 heavily from the series’ past. All but one of today’s classics had previously been remade for the smartphone game.

A preview of what to expect from the rich blues and purples of Ninja Hideaway on <em>MK8D</em>.
Enlarge / A preview of what to expect from the rich blues and purples of Ninja Hideaway on MK8D.

Nintendo

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—the track is 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 partially obscured rafters, then careen over their narrow beams to expose a handy new racing line.

Ninja Hideaway is arguably the best retort for any expansion pack skeptics who doubt 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. Meanwhile, 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 memorable, slappa-da-bass funk music.

New tracks with routing gimmicks, and the glory that is Coconut Mall

Paris Promenade, as driven through by Luigi.
Enlarge / Paris Promenade, as driven through by Luigi.

Nintendo

The other two MKT tracks in this set, Tokyo Blur and Paris Promenade, feel unremarkable in comparison. They run on boilerplate racetrack roads. Yet, these tracks 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. Meanwhile, the latter does something unique in the series: its final lap makes racers U-turn, reverse course, and drive through oncoming 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. These are 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 opulent. 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. 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, multistory paths, and indoor-to-outdoor battling zones have me wondering why Nintendo took 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. (With regard to geometry, Choco Mountain remains nearly identical to its Mario Kart DS revision.)

Sky Garden is a lot less flat in <em>Mario Kart 8 Deluxe</em>.
Enlarge / Sky Garden is a lot less flat in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

Nintendo

Sky Garden was massively revised on MKT compared to its original, flat Game Boy Advance version. 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 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.



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