Nintendo's latest wave features some of the most creative tracks yet...

By Wario’s sweaty undergarments, Nintendo. You guys seriously made us wait for Mario Kart 8’s second wave of DLC. When Mario Kart 8 was released in May last year, the game ended up being so good as to have the fans demanding more content. Thankfully Nintendo had us covered in November with the first batch of DLC, featuring 8 new tracks and a handful of new characters and vehicles to boot. From Ice Ice Outpost to Excitebike Arena, Mute City to Hyrule Circuit, I think it’s safe to say Nintendo blew us away with the amount of effort and creativity that went into these new tracks.

Fast forward to the present day and Nintendo have released their second bastion of downloadable content for Mario Kart 8, earlier than scheduled at that. And with the game now in its complete state (until Nintendo announce two more DLC packs at E3, fingers crossed!), are these new tracks worth the wait? Well considering one of them almost brought me to shedding nostalgic tears, I would say yes, these tracks were absolutely, undoubtedly worth the wait.

Downloadable Loving Care

They did it with Pikmin 3 and Hyrule Warriors, so it’s no surprise Nintendo’s banner racing franchise gave fans an offer they simply couldn’t refuse. Two rather sizeable DLC packs for a total of 4 new cups, 6 characters and 8 vehicles between them, all for the price of a single Call of Duty map pack. Nintendo may not be perfect; hell, they’re downright behind the eight ball in some respects, but when it comes to downloadable content they’re far ahead of the pack. What we have in Mario Kart 8 aren’t mediocre market fodder made solely for a quick cash grab; each track, character and vehicle we’ve received have had very special attention dedicated to them. Arguably more so than the content that came packaged on day one, and that’s truly saying something.

We've been racing with our technicolour Shy Guys for months, and they're as awesome now as they were back then!

We’ve been racing with our multi palette Shy Guys for months, and they’re as awesome now as they were back then!

Real Racing Roots ’15

This time around we have an even split of original and returning courses. Things start off strong with the first course in the Crossing Cup, Baby Park, a fan favourite from the Gamecube’s Double Dash!! The track has been made more hectic than ever, introducing Mario Kart 8’s anti-gravity gimmick, and with more racers and item boxes around it provides a short but healthy burst of adrenaline that puts you on point for the following races. Try this one on Frantic Mode!

For the other three returning tracks, we have Cheese Land and Ribbon Road from Super Circuit on the GBA. Cheese Land is probably the weakest of the bunch, simply because it’s not as visually stimulating as the rest of the package. In terms of the track’s design, however, it’s loaded with shortcuts and mushroom-accessible boost ramps. I was able to skip a trying corner or two using these so I can see it becoming a favourite among time trial fanatics. Ribbon Road is simply gorgeous and loaded with all kinds of nods to other games. What I love most about this track is its difference from the GBA original; the anti-gravity focus on the winding, undulating ribbons and a large hang-glider implementing glide give some eye-opening set pieces to this track, and it’s one of my favourites in the bunch.

Did you know Nintendo created thousands of new colours in the Gamecube era? Probably the reason why Baby Park looks phenomenal in HD.

Nintendo made thousands of new colours in the Gamecube era. Probably the reason why Baby Park looks insane in HD.

Our final “retro” track is the most recent: Neo Bowser City from Mario Kart 7. While I’m not a huge fan of the 3DS tracks in Mario Kart 8, Neo Bowser City separates itself by being drop dead gorgeous. From the rainstorm overlay to the healthy amounts of glowing neon, towering buildings and even a Batman inspired Bowser Signal in the sky. While the track itself does nothing unique in terms of design, it’s a real feast for the eyes and kicks off the Bell Cup with style.

Race to the Finish!

As well as the carefully select retro tracks, we of course have four original tracks unique to Mario Kart 8 in the second pack of DLC, two of which are based on other Nintendo franchises. First up we have Wild Woods in the Crossing Cup, a luscious forest abundant with Toads and no shortage of speed boosts. I’d argue this track is the most similar to something from the base game, but that’s completely fine as it maintains that high level of quality you’d expect.

More interesting however is Super Bell Subway. This track is absolutely intense and one of my new favourites. After zooming through a busy underground station we descend into the train tracks below, where you’ll be avoiding large trains and making use of the numerous winding paths to the finish line. Keep an eye on the graffiti adorning the walls down here that pays homage to Super Mario Bros.’s World 1-2!

Animal Crossing is one of the more special courses in Mario Kart 8.

Finally we have the two finale tracks of each new cup. Animal Crossing concludes the cup of its namesake, and it’s a lovely piece of fan service for Nintendo’s most/least stressful franchise. Be prepared to spot your favourite anthropomorphic resident, as well as passing by all the expected locales such as Nook’s Cranny and the Able Sisters clothing shop. As an extra (and rather hefty) piece of attention to detail, the track loads with a random season from a selection of four, altering the track’s appearance significantly. It’s a lovely touch that makes Animal Crossing one of the more special courses in Mario Kart 8.

YOU GOT BOOST POWER!!

I mentioned earlier that one track in the package almost made me shed a tear at just how incredible it was. Now, I’d gone blind into this DLC, carefully making sure I didn’t expose myself to any info on the courses prior to release. Imagine my surprise when the concluding track of the Bell Cup turned out to be F-Zero’s Big Blue. Mute City was already awesome enough, but in my opinion, the Big Blue course blows it clean out of the water.

While this does look like a 3D Sonic stage, Big Blue serves as a great homage to one of Nintendo's best series.

While this does look like a 3D Sonic stage, Big Blue serves as a great homage to one of Nintendo’s best series.

Accompanied by one of the most astounding renditions of Big Blue’s iconic theme, the track remembers its legacy of winding corners and incorporates them seamlessly into Mario Kart 8. It’s a rather short course that follows the rally structure of Mount Wario and the updated Rainbow Road 64, which was an admittedly odd decision, but it’s a remarkably fun reminder of Nintendo’s long neglected F-Zero franchise. On a final note, hearing the F-Zero X announcer scream “YEAH! THE FINAL LAP!” never gets old. Beyond that, I really can’t put into words how this track makes me feel. Tugging at my F-Zero loving heartstrings, Big Blue might just be my favourite track in Mario Kart 8.

Beyond Anti-Gravity

With Mario Kart 8 being the most unique game in the franchise since Double Dash!!, I find myself pondering at where the series can go from here. There will undoubtedly be a ninth installment in the series, but after such a strong showing from the Wii U kart racer, what can we expect in the future? Will we be seeing an amalgamation of past gimmicks, or will Nintendo dial it back to something more grounded?

One thing I’m certain of is that Mario Kart has never been stronger than it is now, with a bounty of amazing race courses and a solid online community, I believe the series will stay strong for years to come. Though I’d be interested to hear your thoughts! What do you think is the next step for the Mario Kart franchise? Do we need any more gimmicks like anti-gravity to mix things up? Or would you be content with more of the same? Sound off in the comments below!