Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Booster Course Pass
Mario and mushrooms equal fast food! Photo copyright Nintendo.

Riding the Waves: Mario Kart 8 DLC

Author’s Note
This post will be updated as new DLC waves are released.

The Booster Course Pass for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (MK8D) is live! Wave 1 brings two new cups and eight “new” tracks to the roster. Why the quotes? Well, each “new” track has appeared in an earlier Mario Kart game. This is a standard practice for the franchise. Many classic tracks have carried over from version to version. Some have been reimagined (those that debuted in 2D) and all of them have received a fresh lick of HD paint.

So, are they any good? I’ll cut to the finish line. They’re not bad. They’re actually decent, and at least one of them is great. The only question is whether the price of admission is worth it. If you don’t care about that, jump ahead to the track reviews.

For $24.99, you’ll receive permanent access to six waves of DLC rolling out between March 2022 to December 2023. Each wave will feature eight tracks for a total of 48 additional tracks. Yes, 48! That effectively doubles the game’s existing track count for a whopping total of 96. Anyone looking to get more mileage out of an old game will be hard-pressed to say no.

However, if you don’t already own MK8D, the entrance fee is a bit hefty. The base game is $60; add in $25 for the DLC and you’re looking at $85. Clearly, I’m crazy because I’ve purchased this game three times. The first was for the Wii U years ago; that got its own DLC in the form of the Triforce Cup and the Bell Cup. The second time was the Switch edition, which included said cups as part of its “deluxe” moniker. The third time was after giving my physical copy to a friend (you’re welcome, Andrew). That’s when I bought a digital copy so that we could race together.

If you want to race, my Switch friend code is SW-6145-9248-3511.

Now then, let’s review the tracks!


Golden Dash Cup

Paris Promenade (Mario Kart Tour)
At first glance, this course seems perfunctory. Its biggest claim to fame is a jaunty Parisian tune that belies the chaos inherent to Mario Kart. I became disorientated on the final lap when it appeared I was going the wrong way. But no, that’s part of the design. Certain routes open and close depending on the lap. The last lap routes you through oncoming racers, which is pretty wild, so watch out. Several forks in the road incentivize players to replay the track and find the shortest route. After racing through Paris Promenade with folks online, I’ve warmed up to it.

Toad Circuit (Mario Kart 7)
Here’s an example of a competent track with speed boosts, a ramp, and several opportunities for drifting. It’s not flashy, but that’s OK. I recognized this track from Mario Kart 7 on 3DS. Very little has changed. Not much to report here. It’s competent if unimpressive, feeling a little empty due to wide roads and spartan visuals.

Choco Mountain (Mario Kart 64)
Except for some tumbling boulders and a nice spiral drift area, Choco Mountain is average. Based on its name, I expected geysers of chocolate milk and oversized cereal bowls. Sadly, there’s no tie-in with either chocolate or breakfast. I did enjoy getting shot from the cannon, and hopping over those three small hills before the finish line is fun. Otherwise, it feels empty in the same way that Toad Circuit feels empty. Perhaps it will rate better among longtime fans of Mario Kart 64. The music is a jaunty mix between Moo Moo Meadows and Yoshi Valley.

Coconut Mall (Mario Kart Wii)
The music in Coconut Mall is super fun. I have memories of playing this track against my roommate. In the Wii version, several cars would obnoxiously move to block your path before the finish line. Here, those cars are stationary, diminishing the track’s unpredictability. I miss that element. Coconut Mall has several routes, allowing you to literally take the high road or the low road. Lots of speedups and several jumps provide opportunities to make up lost ground. I especially like how you can nab a trick boost by driving over the fountains.


Lucky Cat Cup

Tokyo Blur (Mario Kart Tour)
I’ll come out and say it—this track reminds me of a melted crayon. It’s short and dull. Like Paris Promenade, Tokyo Blur hails from Mario Kart Tour. It lacks any real excitement until the last lap, which features a lengthy spiral culminating in a ramp. The Whomp Blocks on the second lap add some visual interest, but they feel out of place thematically and are easily avoided. Overall, I’m surprised that the track is so popular online. The pace is weirdly slow, but paradoxically, it’s over quickly because it’s so short. Tokyo Blur? More like Tokyo Bore.

Shroom Ridge (Mario Kart DS)
Oh boy! You’ll either love this one or hate it. I love it because you can drift through almost all of it, weaving through traffic and snagging coins. There’s a shortcut ramp on the hill, but it’s not worth the risk unless you have a mushroom boost. The windy roads make for some hairy situations, leaving little room for green shells. The slow-moving traffic is your biggest obstacle. I own a copy of Mario Kart DS but haven’t actually played it yet. Now I’m curious to see how this version compares to the original.

Sky Garden (Mario Kart: Super Circuit)
On the Game Boy Advance, Sky Garden got under my skin. Not only was I terrible at it, but I didn’t know how to drift. Yup, I misunderstood the core mechanic of Mario Kart. In its newly remastered form, Sky Garden is remarkably easy and short, shorter even than Tokyo Blur. I understand that it comes from the 2D days of the series, but so does Ribbon Road. That track is amazing! There’s sadly not enough in Sky Garden to make it memorable. It feels incomplete thematically and underdeveloped structurally. How about adding a gnarly stretch where Lakitu drops Spinys all over the road?

Ninja Hideaway (Mario Kart Tour)
Ninja Hideaway is bursting with creative twists and turns, often literally. The opportunities for speed boosts and shortcuts are numerous. I have yet to determine the most efficient route because each segment is so much fun. I don’t want to skip anything. The dojo theme evokes comparisons to Dragon Driftway despite playing nothing like that track. Indoors, giant spikes drop from the ceiling; you can race under them on the ground floor or over them in the rafters. Near the end, an aerial section deposits you on bumpy rooftops where you can do tricks as you drift around 90-degree corners. It’s exhilarating stuff and plays like a true MK8D track.

Summary

Graphics
Here’s where the DLC stumbles a bit. The geometry (polygons) and textures of the Wave 1 tracks are simpler compared to their on-the-cartridge brethren. Nothing looks outright bad, but the differences are noticeable. A few tracks feel relatively empty (Toad Circuit, Choco Mountain). In my initial play-through at 50cc, which was painfully slow, I had time to scrutinize everything. Seven out of eight tracks in Wave 1 don’t earn the prestigious “deluxe” part of the game’s title. Even so, they all benefit from the bump to HD. They’re brighter and sharper than ever before.

Audio
Musical tastes will vary, but the quality of the tracks’ soundtracks is sublime. MK8D already has plenty of bangers (that’s what the cool kids call hit tunes), so a few more can’t hurt. Several were new to me because I didn’t engage much with Mario Kart before the Wii era. The soundtrack for Coconut Mall is a particular favorite. I’m growing fonder of the leisurely tune for Paris Promenade. Ultimately, each soundtrack is well-matched to its track.

The Finish Line
So there you go! That’s Wave 1 of the Booster Course Pass for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. I’m grateful to have more tracks, and I’m excited for the upcoming waves. The lack of visual polish is a minor point; it’s largely inconsequential once you’re racing at 100cc or above.

Start your engines, folks! I’ll see you on the tracks.