Fans of Mario Kart know Nintendo's racer exists as a once-per-platform event, which can lead to some disappointing scenarios.
Love the newest one? Great! Too bad you'll never see more content out of that specific take on Mario Karting. Hate the newest one? Sorry! Looks like you'll have to wait three years to see if things pick up in the sequel. And honestly, from a business standpoint, it's hard to blame Nintendo for being so stingy with the karting. Every game in the series ends up a top-seller on its particular platform--even years after release--so Nintendo has no real incentive to immediately start development on a new one. At this point, it's safe to say breaking this tradition would definitely make each Mario Kart feel less special.
The past few years have seen Nintendo experimenting with content in ways that would have been unconscionable just a console generation ago, and Mario Kart 8 amounts to their biggest experiment to date. While they've offered DLC in the past, nothing feels quite as substantial as what their kart racer offers: For just $7.00, you get eight new tracks (essentially, one-fourth of the game's original content), with a few that offer new twists on the Mario Kart formula, as well as three new characters (and their unique vehicles), some from other popular Nintendo franchises. This additional content has done much to prolong the life of the latest Mario Kart; instead of just digging it out whenever friends or family come to visit, there's a much more exciting reason to boot up the game most of us blazed through last summer.
Mario Kart 8's newest round of DLC, due out April 23th, continues the trend of unexpectedly great add-on content for this Wii U racer. This offering brings Animal Crossing's Villager and Isabelle into the mix, along with New Super Mario Bros.' Dry Bowser (a skeletal version of Nintendo's famous villain), who I'm guessing is in demand by someone out there.Of course, the biggest draw this time around once again comes in the form of eight new tracks, and in Mario Kart tradition, half are completely new, and the rest revamp courses from past titles.
It goes without saying that your favorite tracks most likely come from the Mario Karts you grew up with, but even so, some of the choices seem a little odd; two of these additions, Cheese Land and Ribbon Road, come from the middling, Intelligent Systems-developed Super Circuit, which doesn't seem to have a place in anyone'sheart. To be fair, Mario Kart 8 has always done a great job of remaking the flatter tracks from the SNES and GBA games, and the same is true for this second DLC pack: I played Ribbon Road, and it's basically unrecognizable from its Super Circuit origins.
Koopa City from Mario Kart 7 also makes a return, but Double Dash's Baby Park definitely feels like the most welcome addition. Its simple, tight oval design might not look too inspired, but it's a course that's always led to some chaotic races, and that aspect's amped up even more in Mario Kart 8's new 200cc mode. This supercharged version of MK8 doesn't just make the standard racing a lot faster; it also necessitates the use of braking, an aspect of Mario Kart that goes mostly unused. I experimented with this mode on a few tracks, and it definitely feels designed to give experts a new challenge--judging the exact moment to go into those power slides proves even trickier than what you'll find in 150cc. And you don't necessarily need to buy the DLC to take advantage of this new feature; it'll arrive via a free patch on April 23, along with support for nine new Amiibo figures.
The DLCs new tracks offer some new surprises as well, even if they aren't quite as varied as the last round. The Animal Crossing course dresses up Mario Kart in that series' sleepy, quaint atmosphere, and brings one interesting twist: the surrounding environment will change to one of four seasons each time you race. Big Blue remixes that famous F-Zero level of the same name, and brings the same gimmick as the last DLC's F-Zero-themed course: Instead of picking up coins on the road, they're earned through driving over special zones--the ones that would repair your racer in the original game.
I didn't have a chance to see the other two tracks in action, but their premises at least sound perfect for Mario Kart: Super Bell Subway feels like another take on the traffic-dodging action of classic course Toad's Turnpike, and Wild Woods has players driving up and down a giant tree inhabited by wild shy guys. Again, there's a lot to dig into, and each track contains plenty of great, little details you're not going to notice until you start scanning through instant replays. Ribbon Road, for instance, trades the nondescript "gift box" theme from the original with a playroom setting that feels ripped straight from Toy Story--and with plenty of Nintendo cameos and references lurking in the background.
Writing as someone who took a break from Mario Kart during the Wii and 3DS sequels, 8 has done a lot to restore my interest in the series. Not only does the racing feel better than it ever has before; now, we're absolutely swimming in content, with 48 tracks to choose from, and one of the biggest rosters to date. And, now that the series has more than 20 years of history to rest on, I get the feeling that this new approach will definitely be the future for Mario Kart. Simply put, I'm not sure why DLC necessarily has to stop coming for Mario Kart 8--barring the eventual death of the Wii U, of course. While I'm sure its team of developers would eventually like to start working on something new, there's still plenty of life left in Mario Kart 8, even if future DLC brought nothing but remixed tracks. As someone who spent way too much time with the N64 version, I'd gladly pay to see all of those familiar tracks make it into this new Mario Kart--especially with those ultra-cheesy saxaphone solos giving their old soundtracks some new pizazz. (Hey, it even worked for F-Zero.)
Call it groundless speculation, but these last two rounds of DLC have done an excellent job of showing me Mario Kart could easily be a platform in and of itself. Imagine the inevitable Mario Kart 9 delivering the standard 32 courses, but also a built-in store offering new tracks to buy a la carte, in the manner of Rock Band and Guitar Hero. Sure, putting together a Mario Kart level must take a lot more work than massaging pop hits to function with plastic instruments, but even if Nintendo only offered one or two tracks a month, this approach would interest in Mario Kart alive--I'm sure their current DLC plans have succeeded at this task, but waiting six months for a shotgun-blast of new content can be a complete bummer.
Ultimately, I just want more Mario Kart, and even if this second dose of DLC closes the curtain on part 8, I at least hope Nintendo looks at the possibilities of upping the amount of expanded content in the next game. If they can keep up the high standard established by Mario Kart 8, there's definitely an interest out there.