If there’s one company that knows how to make DLC that’s worth buying, it’s Nintendo. Mario Kart 8‘s first DLC pack is certainly no exception to this rule; for 7 dollars you get 8 tracks, 3 characters, and 4 vehicles. This is, in essence, half of a classic Mario Kart game. Of course, all of the content in the world wouldn’t matter at all if it wasn’t actually good content, so how does the first DLC pack fare? Let’s take a look.
The real meat of the pack, and likely the reason you’re buying it, is the brand new tracks. Included are 8 tracks spread across 2 cups, 3 of which are classic tracks from past games while the remaining 5 are brand new. These uneven split of brand new and classic tracks breaks a bit from the usual mould of having a cup composed entirely of either new or classic tracks. Instead, the classic and new tracks are mixed together, and neither of the cups follows any particular theme.
Of the 3 tracks that Nintendo has chosen to bring back for DLC Pack 1, two of them have appeared in classic cups before (making their addition to MK8 their third appearance in the franchise). Yoshi Circuit (originally from Double Dash!!) and Rainbow Road (SNES) have both been featured in past classic cups, while Wario’s Gold Mine is a new (okay, not so new) addition.
Yoshi Circuit was a personal favourite track of mine, so I’m glad it’s returned. Lacking in gimmicks, Yoshi Circuit is a course that follows the contours of a Yoshi-shaped island. This gives it lots of turns and is a track that rewards pure racing skill while also providing a visual treat as your race through the tunnels and look out onto the ocean. Wario’s Gold Mine, from Mario Kart Wii, is another gimmick free track that features less turns and winding paths than Yoshi Circuit, but makes up for that with more verticality. The beginning of the track feels a lot like a roller coaster as the road snakes up and down, and this is a track that really benefits from the power of the Wii U to give the drops a little extra visual oomph.
The weakest of these tracks is definitely the SNES version of Rainbow Road. Unlike the other SNES and GBA tracks included in Mario Kart 8, there was very little work done to reimagine the track. This means that it’s still perfectly flat, and other than some fabulous looking Thwomps that cause ripples in the road and everything being wider so as to account for more racers, is essentially exactly the same as the original. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but the perfectly flat terrain with 90 degree turns makes it the least exciting of all the tracks across MK8.
Of the 5 new tracks, 2 are wholly original while the remaining are based off of other Nintendo franchises. Excitebike Arena is simply a large oval, but is filled with jumps and mud pits to get stuck in. This track actually changes each time – the jumps and mud pits are randomized and every time you play the track will be different. It’s also a fun track to race on, and with so many jumps you’ll find yourself spending a considerable amount of time in the air.
Hyrule Circuit, obviously inspired by The Legend of Zelda, runs through Hyrule field and castle. This is also a fun track to race on with the sharp turns of the town and split path of the castle, and the changing scenery as you travel through different parts of Hyrule is a sight to behold. A neat touch in this track is that it’s fully Zelda themed: item boxes play the classic Zelda chest opening sound, the course is littered with traditional Zelda enemies, and, perhaps best of all, coins have been replaced with rupees.
Finally, my personal favourite of the themed tracks is the legendary Mute City. This track, much like the game from which is hails, is very fast and features plenty of straightaways to get up to full speed. It’s also liberally sprinkled with boost pads to shoot you forward even faster, and much like the Hyrule Circuit it’s heavily themed based on its parent franchise. Mute City takes place entirely in anti-gravity, and the only way to pick up coins is by driving over the recovery zones just like in F-Zero.
The most visually stunning track, and probably the best of the whole pack, is Dragon Driftway. This course takes place mostly in anti-gravity on the back of a giant, twisting dragon and features wide roads and long, smooth curves that allow you to drift for long periods of time. It has an ancient Japanese theme and looks like something that would be featured in traditional east-Asian artwork. it’s great to look at, and even better to play on, especially with a full complement of players who know their way around a drift.
The last track is Ice Ice outpost, an Arctic themed track. For the most part, this track is split into two: A green road and a yellow road split off near the beginning and come together at various points to allow you to switch between them. This track features several shortcuts and is an interesting idea, but with the track being split for most of its run the racers are split up a little too much.
3 new characters are included in DLC Pack 1 – Tanooki Mario, Cat Peach, and Link. The first two characters are rather underwhelming, being just another costume set for existing characters – but Link more than makes up for it. Seeing Link in Mario Kart is a little weird at first, but Nintendo has done a good job modelling him and getting his aesthetic just right to make him fit in with the rest of the cast.
For good measure, 4 new cars and 2 parts are included with DLC Pack 1. The most noticeable (and coolest) addition is the Blue Falcon from F-Zero, and is a fun nod to Nintendo’s other racing franchise. Also included is the Master Cycle, a Legend of Zelda themed bike that looks cool, as well as the Boulder Dasher (the kart from the cover of Mario Kart DS) and the Tanooki Kart, a small brown jeep. The two parts are Triforce Tires, a set of wheels with an emblazoned Triforce, and the Hylian glider, a blue glider with patterned with the Hyrule insignia. To be perfectly frank, none of these vehicles or parts are the reason you’ll buy the DLC – the main attractions are the tracks and characters, but these new vehicles are a nice addition since, after all, a little more variety never hurt anyone.
If you are in any way a fan of Mario Kart 8, you can’t go wrong with the first pack of DLC. It’s so good that I hope other publishers will take note. The first batch of DLC is remarkable not only in how it’s quality is on par or better than the content included on the disc, but just how great a value it is. Working out to less than $1 per track (and that’s not even including the characters) makes this an absolutely fantastic deal and just what Mario Kart needed to keep you playing after all these months.