It is sadly no secret that Nintendo have not been the greatest when it comes to downloadable content, so when Mario Kart 8 was hacked and picked through, and another four cup logos were found, hopes were still kept realistically quite low. Surely Nintendo had considered another sixteen tracks, before changing their minds and abandoning the idea, and not bothering to remove the hinting files. Nintendo’s own safe-for-work Hot Coffee situation if you like.
However, when Nintendo revealed that another four cups were on the way, it appeared that not only had they jumped sufficiently on the bandwagon, but possibly (and pun-tinglingly fittingly) became the driver.
So, with today’s release of the first two cups, were they churned out in desperation, or are these tracks worthy of being in the games to begin with? I decided to explore.
THE NEW TRACKS
Of the new tracks, only two are new and firmly Mario universe related.
The Mario Galaxy games, with their (literally) outlandish designs, and inevitable love affair with anti-gravity, are just waiting to have tracks based around them. Finally there is one, but with an unusual inspiration. Dragon Driftway takes players inside a construction of the belly of Gobblegut, a long and twisting dragon boss found in Super Mario Galaxy 2. Taking Gobblegut out of space, the music is oriental, as are the surroundings, as players fire through pagodas. The map itself looks outrageous, but being mostly enclosed, it isn’t quite as sickening and confusing as it looks, but no less destined to be a future favourite. 8/10
Ice Ice Outpost however, is an even bigger entanglement, despite fewer anti-gravity sections, as two tracks intertwine throughout each lap. As good as it is, it will forever be lamented if only for drilling ‘Ice Ice Baby’ into any player’s head as a race begins. This is great on multiplayer as in a Yoshi Valley-style conundrum, there isn’t a clue what position you and your opponents are in. Some might hate that, but I think it adds to the tension, and justifies cursing just that little bit louder. 7/10
THE RETRO TRACKS
Yoshi Circuit (GC) is still a great and challenging course with its unpredictable corners. It’s always been a favourite as a track that is clearly the shape of Yoshi from above, yet none of the design seems to be forced. Without a map, nobody would notice the shape, aided by the caves and beach scenery. Mario Kart 8’s own Toad Harbor might have a run for its money as the best seaside track. 8/10
Wario’s Gold Mine (Wii) is just as before, but as a very recent retro track with little change to it, it probably won’t blow players away quite as much as the redesign of Mario Kart Wii’s Grumble Volcano, or nostalgia fests such as Mario Kart 64’s Toad’s Turnpike and Rainbow Road. Still, Wario’s Gold Mine is a great track, and the graphics (especially the sunset glaring through the canyon) are beautifully up to scratch. However, as there is a Triforce Cup, this could have been an amazing setting for a Gerudo Valley track (but more on that conundrum in a moment). 7/10
Speaking of heavy nostalgia and graphic enhancement, the SNES version of Rainbow Road makes an appearance in the Triforce Cup. As with the redesign of the N64 version, to give it more obstacles, this Rainbow Road features a few ramps and bigger, neon Thwomps that make the track wobble – a potential nightmare considering how there are NO barriers at all. Yet there is only so exciting a SNES track can be made, making it perhaps the least interesting. 6/10
Not that it’s bad. Just that there are a few that upstage it. This Rainbow Road marks the first time that Rainbow Road hasn’t been a cup closer, in the entire series. This is understandable as the following tracks are some of the most spectacular that the series has ever offered.
THE ‘SUPER SMASH’ TRACKS
‘Super Smash’ Tracks? OK, that isn’t their official title, but that is how they will become known, as Nintendo unite Mario Kart with other franchises not only with characters, but their sets. Not only up these particular tracks good, but possibly the very best of this DLC.
Excitebike Arena is the first of the new tracks to venture away from the Mario universe, setting about creating Super Smash Kart. Being based upon a game from a franchise untouched since the N64, a simplistic track should be expected. And to be fair, it’s true. It’s a massive, pencil-shaped oval.
However, don’t panic. This is by no means a disappointment. What has been created is not a cop-out lack of imagination, but a chaotic slalom battlefield of mud patches and ramps, making it possibly the ultimate Baby Park. Anybody disappointed with the lack of unique tracks for Battle Mode will find this to be the next best thing. 9/10
Anybody after the polar opposite, with sickening speed and entanglement, should look no further than Mute City, based around the home of F-Zero’s Captain Falcon (PAAAWNCH!). When the anti-gravity element of MK8 was announced, I instantly thought of F-Zero, and was a little concerned that having played F-Zero GX to death, this would be a slower version. It’s only fitting that F-Zero’s own Mute City is the grand finale of Egg Cup to prove that Mario Kart is up to speed. While Excitebike Arena has an audience of thousands of Toads (“Yeeeeeeeaaaahh! Yahoo!” – Toad 1, Toad 2, Toad 3 etc.), players here abandon the Mushroom Kingdom and be dropped right into F-Zero. The outlandishness of tracks is often rated by the amount of anti-gravity content. How about 100% of the track?
The surroundings are beautifully intricate, developing a very complex setting for something so unique within the game. Where some games may replace a costume, Mute City is an extraordinary piece of work, reviving the F-Zero universe in style. 10/10
And I’m not done bigging up this track either. The appearance of the track is not the only great element. Not only does the game enter new territories, but new rules, altering systems. Coins are instead replenished by pit lanes, as health is in the F-Zero games, and even the usual music at the beginning of the race is altered to an updated version from F-Zero. The new Mute City music is amazing too, fusing the original electric rock guitars with the brass of the Mario Kart orchestra. It feels like the foundations of a new game, and that new tracks in this world are on their world.
Unless a new F-Zero is on its way (sigh), this is an infuriating tease as we await more from its world. This brings us to the most sought after track of all: Hyrule Circuit. If there is one little bone to pick with this DLC, it is the existence of a ‘Triforce Cup’, and Nintendo promoting this first DLC pack as a Zelda pack. Many were hoping for a four-track cup containing Zelda tracks. The lack of a blitzing through a Gerudo Desert sandstorm, and diving from the waterfalls of Zora’s Domain would have been great.
It feels like a missed opportunity considering just how great Hyrule Circuit is, pushing rules even further than Mute City. All coins are now rupees. As the items are collected, the famous chest open jingle plays. The Piranha Plants are now Deku Babas. Players race through a Hyrule setting, through the Hyrule Castle courtyard, going on a short tour of various Zelda artifacts. The track’s light appearance (aided by a few out of place Toads) is very reminiscent of the teaser videos of Zelda Wii U. 9/10
Cameos from across the full Nintendo roster is a favourite way for games to end. Even Picross DS closes with puzzles based on Nintendo characters, and Nintendo game themes and characters appear in the later levels of Tetris DS. It is great to see that Nintendo is pushing that to its limit.
To know that these few tracks can be so great, even though they were suspected to be an afterthought, considering how little faith many had in Nintendo’s DLC, says that a Smash Kart game is an amazing opportunity that mustn’t be ignored.
Which VG locations do you want to be MK tracks?