DLC Review: Mario Kart 8 Pack 1 for Wii U
The Legend of Zelda × Mario Kart 8
It wasn’t too long ago that Nintendo released the first pack of its planned downloadable content for Mario Kart 8, and I fortunately have the opportunity to review it. If you’re curious about the main game, you can find the review here. So for this review, we’re just taking a quick look at what this pack brings to the fold.
The first pack, also known as “The Legend of Zelda × Mario Kart 8,” provides those who download it with eight new courses spread across two new cups. While that’s the meat of the package, the side dishes aren’t too bad, either. Those come in the form of a whopping six new kart vehicle parts and three “new” racers.
Going in reverse order, the three new racers include Tanooki Mario and Cat Peach, both alternate versions of the characters as seen in Super Mario 3D World. While I think it might have been a little more interesting to have Cat Mario and Tanooki Peach (as the latter is more interesting visually), the end result is the same. What’s more, you probably already know how you feel about these additions going by the inclusion of three other versions of Mario and Peach (Regular, Baby, and Metal/Pink Gold) in the core game.
Even if you’d rather see some characters return to the fold, at least Tanooki Mario has something going for him in one of his tricks as he turns into Statue Mario for a brief moment. This, plus the classic tail-fluttering sound for his horn, add a greater degree of novelty to his inclusion for longtime fans.
The third character, however, is all new as Link from The Legend of Zelda joins the race. Specifically, he seems to be the version from Skyward Sword, which is interesting for any number of reasons, not the least of which being that one might think that Link from A Link Between Worlds might form a closer aesthetic match with the Mario world.
Not that it matters that much; Link is still a welcome sight to behold in any incarnation, and the chance to race as the Hero of Hyrule will no doubt be reason enough for many to download this pack. His taller stature in this form lands him in the heavyweight class, while some of his tricks involve brandishing the Master Sword, and his horn makes the sound of a successful sword strike from Skyward Sword.
On the vehicle front, two of the new options are the Blue Falcon from F-Zero and Mario Kart Wii, and the B Dasher from Mario Kart DS and Mario Kart 7, both making their returns in this DLC package. The third is the Tanooki Kart, a Jeep-like vehicle fashioned after the Tanooki Suit with an orange-brown color scheme, striped spare tire case, Tanooki “face” on the front, and a metallic Super Leaf deco to round out the package. Personally, I rather enjoy this one, but I do like offroad-style vehicles.
The other three parts essentially make up a whole new vehicle for Link to ride. For starters, there is the Master Cycle, a motorcycle body with an inside-leaning drift that is somewhat modeled after the Zelda series fan-favorite mode of transportation, the horse Epona. As noted before, this makes Skyward Sword Link a bit of an odd choice, as his ride was a red Loftwing bird. The sides of the Master Cycle sport a cool decoration as well in the form of the Hylian Shield the hero carries.
Completing the vehicle are a set of “Triforce Tires,” which can be equipped on any vehicle in the game. Likewise, the Hylian Kite is a glider which bears the crest of Hyrule, and can be added to any other vehicle.
As a complete package, the Master Cycle is an awesome looking vehicle, and if I rode motorcycles in real life, this is one I’d love to have. That said, your appreciation for it is going to come down to whether or not you like using motorcycles, and if an inside drift (where your cycle veers inwards while drifting) suits your style.
Finally, we have the eight new tracks themselves.
The first track in the Egg Cup is the Yoshi Circuit, which makes its return from Mario Kart: Double Dash!! for the GameCube. Despite being a returning course, however, several changes have been made to both the layout and some of the aesthetics, such as a town near the starting line. At first, I wasn’t too crazy about racing on this twisty, turny island course that’s shaped like– what else? –a Yoshi, but it grew on me with subsequent races.
The Excitebike Arena, however, is one that I was very– pardon the expression– excited to try out. Based on the Nintendo Entertainment System and WiiWare Excitebike games, the course shape is a simple oval but contains numerous ramps, jumps, and mud spots. What’s more, the obstacles are randomized, changing to one of over 200 different course layouts each time you race on it (though a standard layout is used for time trials). Of the new courses, this one stands out to me as a favorite.
Dragon Driftway is another all-new course, but unlike Exciteboke Arena, it’s theme follows the Mario Kart norm. In this case, it’s a Chinese-styled course which takes place along the long and winding body and tail of the dragon, Gobblegut, from Super Mario Galaxy 2. Well, a close facsimile, anyway. Lakitu puts in an extra appearance here as a course decoration, including some which resemble the lead character from Journey to the West, upon which other famous fiction such as Dragon Ball was based. A fun course overall.
The final course in the Egg Cup is Mute City from F-Zero. As befits the series’ theme, it takes place entirely in anti-gravity mode, and is the only course in the game to do this. What’s more, there are no coins to pick up here; rather, the energy recharging zones are now used to load up your stock of coins. Some of the music and sounds have also been shifted to represent Nintendo’s futuristic racing series, and while this might have been meant to placate its fans, the result may simply end up leaving you wanting more F-Zero in high definition. Not the worst problem, truthfully.
I approached this returning course from Mario Kart Wii with a certain sense of dread. While I enjoyed the theme, it was often too easy to get caught up on the roaming mine carts or be thrown from the rails. This time, however, the course has been refined and feels a bit easier to race on– thanks in no small part to the mine carts now being adapted to anti-gravity, and as a result, providing speed boosts upon hitting them instead of wrecking you. Plus, the singing Shy Guys from Shy Guy Falls make an encore appearance here.
While I wasn’t especially fond of racing on this border-less track in the original Super Mario Kart, I have become more fond of it over time. Part of this is because the track seems like it’s a bit wider, perhaps to accommodate 12 racers. But moreover, it’s because it is simply gorgeous. I’m a sucker for nighttime scenery, including/especially in the Mario world, and this one is a real treat for my eyes, with the moon shining in the background and a terrific view of hills and Toad houses all lit up in the valley below the neon-lit racetrack. The remix of the Super NES Rainbow Road theme is great, too.
The challenge may not be as biting now, but I don’t even care– I just love being here.
Then we have Ice Ice Outpost. There’s nothing particularly wrong or annoying about this track, but it’s not my favorite. Set across a pair of icebergs upon which Toads appear to be performing construction or drilling for oil, the main hook is a pair of double helix-like roads which stretch across portions of the course. It’s fun enough, but compared to most of the tracks in this pack, it’s not the most memorable.
Finally, we have the main event. We have Link, we have his cycle, and now we have his course. Ironic again is that despite using Skyward Sword‘s Link, the track doesn’t seem to borrow from either his home of Skyloft nor the world below in that game, instead taking inspiration from other versions of the land of Hyrule. This includes Hyrule Field, Hyrule Castle, and you can even see Death Mountain in the background.
That said, they did go all out in making this course suitably Zelda-themed. Beyond the setting and theme song, coins have been replaced with Rupees, while Piranha Plants and Swoopers have been replaced with Deku Babas and Keese, their Hyrulean counterparts. Even the item boxes get in on the act; while they look the same, the roulette sound is now a variation of the buildup tune you hear in Zelda games before obtaining an item from a large chest, with a shortened version of the “Item Obtained” theme playing accordingly once it stops.
The course also plays less to the elements of exploration from some entries in the series and more to its puzzle-solving, with a set of three crystals which grant speed boosts. Hitting all three will play the “secret unlocked” tune from the Zelda games and open up a ramp in Hyrule Castle to allow access to a shortcut through the Master Sword shrine.
Overall, this course isn’t bad at all. Much of what makes it great are all the Zelda references, basically turning this portion of the game into “Zelda Kart.” I’m not sure how well it would hold up on its own, but the heavy Zelda influence makes up for it.
Some other items of note are that getting this and the upcoming Animal Crossing × Mario Kart 8 pack, whether together as a bundle or individually, will grant access to eight new colors of Yoshi and eight new colors of Shy Guy, in essence expanding the roster by 16 characters. Personally, I can’t say no to a red Yoshi, so that’s a cool bonus– plus it allows eight players to race on equal footing, if they so desire.
An added– and unexpected– perk is that completing the new cups on any difficulty will still unlock characters you might not have gotten in the core game. Much to my surprise/delight, Metal Mario and one of the Koopalings were unlocked as I completed the Egg Cup and Triforce Cup each for the first time. So if you’re lousy at the higher-speed races, this grants you a chance to unlock two more characters in addition to those that already come with the pack.
Overall, I’d say that the first Mario Kart 8 downloadable content pack is a hit. It extends the value of an already great game, and is a must-have for any serious Mario Kart 8 player. Plus, it brings us a few steps closer to that ideal “Super Smash Kart” so many Nintendo fans want so badly.
The only question now is whether they can match– or top– this effort with the next one. We’ve seen very little of what it will contain so far, but six months has never felt so very, very far away.
Mario Kart 8 DLC Pack 1 was released for the Wii U on November 13th, 2014 at a price of $7.99, or together with May 2015’s Pack 2 for $11.99.
A review code was provided by Nintendo of Canada.
Additional images courtesy of Super Mario Wiki.