Animal Crossing is in the house
Nintendo is back with more crossover content for Mario Kart 8 and even as an on-again, off-again fan of the series, today feels reminiscent of waking up on Christmas morning confident that the present you most wanted this year is nestled safely under the tree.
The last batch of DLC introduced The Legend of Zelda‘s Link to the world of kart racing and even managed to slip in a vehicle and track inspired by Nintendo’s other racing series, F-Zero, which regrettably remains dormant. (For now! Maybe!) It did nothing to address the game’s lacking Battle Mode — and, surprise, today’s DLC doesn’t either — but it was a great effort overall.
With DLC Pack 2, Nintendo has borrowed from the enchanting Animal Crossing series, a move that feels natural given that universe’s all-around good vibes and colorful backdrops.
Alongside the paid content, Mario Kart 8 also got a free update today that adds the crazy-fast 200cc class. If you’ve never really used your brakes before, prepare to put them to good use.
Mario Kart 8 DLC Pack 2 (Wii U)
Released: April 23, 2015
MSRP: $7.99 ($11.99 bundled with DLC Pack 1)
First up, let’s run through exactly what’s included in DLC Pack 2:
- Characters: Villager (male and female), Isabelle, and Dry Bowser
- Vehicles: Streetle, City Tripper, P-Wing, and Bone Rattler
- Vehicle Parts: Paper Glider and Leaf Tires
- Crossing Cup tracks: Baby Park, Cheese Land, Wild Woods, and Animal Crossing
- Bell Cup tracks: Neo Bowser City, Ribbon Road, Super Bell Subway, and Big Blue
Whereas last time we got two characters who looked like retreads of the existing lineup (Tanooki Mario and Cat Peach), here there’s Dry Bowser as the lone offender — but he’s so awesome on his badass, metallic, skeletal bike that I’m not even going to complain.
Isabelle is a cute addition to the roster and, hey, cute is fine. But the Villager duo is where it’s at for my money ($7.99). The boy’s patterned pants are the best. Like, I went so far as to jot down a note about them between races. That might sound silly. It is. But for a game packed so full of little flourishes, you’ve got to appreciate the attention to detail. I particularly dig how Animal Crossing‘s iconic “Oh shit!” piano sound plays when you fall off course as one of these characters.
I don’t have much to say about the three other new vehicles, but admittedly I’m not one to dissect stats and stick to certain builds because they are technically superior. Aesthetics matter, too! With that in mind: the Streetle has a chubby beetle-esque frame; the City Tripper reminds me of a Vespa; and the P-Wing has got a cool sort of Speed Racer thing going for it. It wasn’t long at all before I returned to old favorites like the Sport Bike, though.
“The tracks,” you might be thinking. “Get to the tracks already! That’s what we care about.”
Yes, yes, I agree. No more stalling. (And thanks for the segue!)
First up is Baby Park, a short and sweet oval-shaped course modeled after a bustling theme park. During its seven micro laps, you will probably be hit with a bunch of items and hit back just as hard. It’s equal parts chaos and joy. Whether in first place or last, everyone’s so bunched together that it feels like you’re in the middle of the pack, always. I somehow took first place in an online match and it was as if I had cheated death himself.
Cheese Land, a desert area with edible-looking rock formations, makes terrific use of the game’s depth-of-field effects for its sprawling vistas. This track has come a long way since its debut in Mario Kart: Super Circuit for the Game Boy Advance, that’s for sure. Unquestionably pretty, but not necessarily a standout track in my mind.
Wild Woods, however, stands out. It might even be the standout. It’s this oasis hidden deep within a lush forest and there’s a little village of Shy Guys and Toads and they’ve got a waterslide which you of course get to race across. Someone at Nintendo finally figured out that driving down waterslides in Mario Kart is what rainbows must taste like: magic.
Next is Animal Crossing, which closes out the Crossing Cup. It’s a relatively simple area that shifts seasons to dramatic and delightful effect. Northern lights glimmer during winter in one playthrough, while cherry blossoms flow in another. Seeing this world and these characters rendered so beautifully has me giddy at the possibility of a new Animal Crossing on Wii U. Just, wow.
Neo Bowser City kicks off the Bell Cup with a rain-soaked neon cityscape. It’s a nice change of scenery from the usual castles and lava we associate with Bowser, but the layout didn’t feel all that unique. Still, I have to commend the designers for coming up with these places that feel seem like tracks in a racing videogame and more like cross sections of living worlds. Hundreds of races later, we might still be picking out fresh details in the environment.
Ribbon Road, another upgrade of an old Game Boy Advance track, might be my favorite. It’s miniature Mario Kart in a child’s bedroom, complete with those wind-up dudes from the end of Super Mario World, swaying jack-in-the-boxes that you’ll need to glide around, and a monstrously large movie poster for “Kung-Fu Lakitu” plastered on a wall. It’s a pitch-perfect theme and the course itself is continuously exciting to navigate. What a keeper.
Super Bell Subway isn’t as visually arresting as its predecessors but speeding through an underground subway makes for a good time all the same. This can be one of the more rewarding courses depending on if you’re (un)lucky enough to get sandwiched between two trains.
Finally, there’s Big Blue, a track that translates well from F-Zero (and I’m not just saying that because of the fist-pumping theme song). It’s another one of those long, one-lap tracks people either love or loathe. I adore ’em. Between the competing conveyer belts, the waterslide-like pathways and, yes, that amazing song, I thought to myself “So this is what it feels like to truly be alive.” Is this all working up toward a future F-Zero game or are DLC cameos in Mario Kart 8 as good as it gets for fans? Ignorance might be bliss.
The free new 200cc option isn’t a part of DLC Pack 2 (and as such I’m not factoring it into this review), but since it’s out on the same day, I figured you’d want to know at least a little about it. As expected, it is exhilarating. Also as expected, it takes some getting used to. I’m not even sure the AI is fully ready for it. The action moves at such a rapid pace that you need to rethink your routes and strategies (and possibly your vehicle of choice) or risk crashing into walls or falling over the edge frequently. Repeat after me: “there is a brake button.”
The free update also adds more costumes for Mario Kart 8‘s Mii character which you can unlock by scanning supported amiibo. I saw someone online with a Kirby sitting on their head and that was neat for a second before I got shot to hell with shells. Your results may vary.
As with DLC Pack 1, Nintendo has shown what great downloadable content can look like and that it doesn’t need to arrive on day one or even month one. While not every new track is memorable, there is a consistent quality here and a few of them represent Mario Kart at its best. It was a treat to see other Nintendo properties dip into the game last year and that novelty hasn’t worn off yet. This is the future of the series. It has to be.
[This review is based on a final build of the DLC purchased by the reviewer.]