DLC Review: Mario Kart 8 Pack 2 for Wii U
Animal Crossing × Mario Kart 8
With the recent release of Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer on the Nintendo 3DS, I figured “what better time to review the Animal Crossing-themed downloadable content for Mario Kart 8? (“Back when it was released, perhaps?” Alright, I’ll give you that, though to be fair, I didn’t have it back then — it’s actually a fairly recent acquisition.) In any case, as before, here’s a quick look at what this pack brings to the fold; if you want the review of the full game (sans DLC), then click here.
Similar to the first pack, Animal Crossing × Mario Kart 8 delivers eight new tracks spread across two new cups, as well as four new vehicle bodies, a new set of Leaf tires, and a new Paper glider to choose from, the majority of which are themed after Animal Crossing. The Streetle car is inspired by the series’ bug-collecting aspect, while the City Tripper scooter seems inspired by the Limited Edition Nintendo 3DS XL that was once available. The remaining two bodies, the P-Wing race car and Bone Rattler three-wheel ATV, are cool additions to the already robust roster of vehicle bodies you have to choose from.
Where the ante is really upped is in the character department. Three new characters await, as before, with Isabelle and Villager from the Animal Crossing series joining Mario‘s Dry Bowser for the races. But wait, there’s more! Villager is actually two racers in one, with both a male and female variant.
Furthermore, if you’ve also got the first DLC pack, then you’ll now have access to eight new colors each of Yoshi and Shy Guy, effectively adding 20 new racers to the roster. While I’m generally not a fan of clones (the prospect of so many different incarnations of Mario being on the track at the same time is kind of weird), at least these are more justifiable. As for Dry Bowser, Nintendo has treated him as a separate character (Bowser’s “cousin”) half the time anyway, so that’s less an issue.
While the Animal Crossing characters and vehicles are welcome additions, I don’t personally see myself using them too often. I do rather like the sleek, almost futuristic style of the P-Wing, however, and the Bone Rattler is a fun match for the more ferocious and mean characters to ride — it’s inspired by Dry Bowser himself, and the shiny, skeletal dragon look is pretty metal.
As for the tracks themselves, here they are, course by course, cup by cup.
Returning from the GameCube’s Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, it’s the ever-popular Baby Park! Generally speaking, it’s the same as it ever was, and it’s up to you whether that’s good or not. Most of the refinement has gone into the background details, but the seven-lap race now takes place entirely on a slanted anti-gravity track. What’s more, with each passing lap, the music now gets faster and faster as you race towards the finish. It’s pure, fun, and simple.
I never gave the Game Boy Advance’s Mario Kart: Super Circuit much attention, in part due to the way the weird way backgrounds would move with the courses. With that in mind, I’m glad to have a new opportunity to experience some of these through being remade for Mario Kart 8, but… Cheese Land isn’t a favorite, and part of that is due to how they remade it. A crater-filled course, it seems like it would make a cool moon or asteroid-based track in space — and in Super Circuit, that seemed to be what it was, with the starry sky and planet hanging overhead. I’d love that!
Unfortunately, details such as those are replaced by blue skies and clouds here, leaving it feeling less like space and more like a forgotten element from Super Mario World‘s buffet of food-themed lands (there was a Cheese Bridge there, for the record). The Little Mousers have also been removed, and the resulting course here just leaves me a little cold.
It’s a decent track overall, with plenty of twists and opportunities for speed boosts, I just pine for what might have been from what once was.
Wild Woods is the first original course in this pack, and one that fits with the Mario theme fairly well in a fascinating way. While treetop villages might be more closely associated with Donkey Kong and his eponymous island, this one is occupied by Shy Guys. What’s more, this really comes out in the details, including the way the facade of the huts themselves look like Shy Guy masks. Maybe it’s meant to reference the more tribal variety found in the Yoshi’s Island games?
You start in anti-gravity mode and the track splits and bends as you race down a tree towards the pond at the end below. This is kind of an odd inclusion, but certainly a fun one, and I dig the woods-based theme.
And here we are, the track for which the pack is named: Animal Crossing. Much like the Excitebike course from the last pack, this one changes each time you play it, though not quite so radically. Each new race begets a new season and a new song to go with it, and little changes about the race itself except in winter, when the course becomes more slippery.
This is the one to play for fans of Animal Crossing games, of course, as characters and familiar landmarks are scattered throughout. Bells replace the Mushroom Kingdom standard Coin currency, item boxes are suspended from balloons, and Mr. Resetti even pops up out of the ground as a hazard, among other neat touches and details to make you think you’re playing a new Animal Crossing spin-off rather than Mario Kart. If you love Animal Crossing, then it’s a blast.
Okay, I’m admittedly a little biased here, but I do rather enjoy the high definition upgrade to what was already a favorite course from the Nintendo 3DS game. The rain-soaked streets, the neon lights shining brightly through the haze, and all sorts of new little details and additions scattered throughout, such as the minions who now act as spectators for the race.
I think I’m going to put this into my desktop background rotation, actually. One I’m done writing this.
Another return from the Game Boy Advance, Ribbon Road is one of those “odd” courses that wouldn’t seem related to Mario at all were it not for the details. And really, it’s the details that make it work this time around.
Originally a toy race track surrounded by wrapped present boxes, the new Ribbon Road appears to be in a child’s room. Not just any child, however, but a huge Mario fan to boot. A Mario Kart 8 poster hangs on the wall, you can see Yarn Yoshis from the upcoming Yoshi’s Woolly World in the background, and lots of other fun references throughout.
The track is divided into themed sections, referencing castles for Peach, Bowser, and Rosalina, and featuring different decorations throughout. Unlike Cheese Land, this overhaul is for the better, and though a bit abstract, definitely brings the course more closely in line with what I want out of the series.
Before Mario Kart 8 came along, my favorite racers were the Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing titles, and the first game had some neat courses taking place in the world of Jet Set Radio, such as Rokkaku Hill, which featured a bit of underground city driving.
That’s what the Super Bell Subway reminds me of, even if the resemblance is only skin-deep. Unlike that course, the entirety of this race (more or less) is in the subway, from the station down to the tunnels, complete with trains rushing by. There is also a lot of enjoyable detail to see (as is par for the course in this game), provided you stop long enough to see it, including visual references to Super Mario Bros. and all sorts of graffiti.
The script is flipped here somewhat, as an F-Zero course marked the last track of the first cup in the initial DLC, while here it’s the last of the second cup. This time, Nintendo ince again teases us/throws us a bone regarding the prospect of a high definition F-Zero game with this course, right down to the starting and ending themes, as well as the use of the “healing” pads from that series being used to acquire coins. This isn’t a retread of Mute City, however; this is one long course divided into three segments, rather than laps, and features water along the course as well.
Overall, none of the new content here is really bad — I found Cheese Land a little underwhelming, but that’s about the worst I can say. Much like the first pack, Animal Crossing × Mario Kart 8 delivers a great value — especially if you’ve got the previous pack as well, and definitely extends the already considerable playability of Mario Kart 8.
I’ve often thought that some of Nintendo’s “one per generation” policies were a shame, especially when new games would come along and we’d have to wait until the following generation to see them implemented into a new game, but their downloadable content has hit that sweet spot that helps relieve the craving for a sequel sooner than later. Plus, the addition of other franchises is a decent compromise between the “Mario Kart” they want to make and the “Super Smash Kart” fans have been asking for.
The worst part is knowing that, unless something changes, this is pretty much it for new Mario Kart 8 content. They’ve given (well, sold) us so much already, but when it’s this good, you can’t help but want more.
Additional images courtesy of Super Mario Wiki.