Nintendo has released the first eight of 48 new tracks coming to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe as part of its Booster Course Pass DLC. It’s an ambitious release strategy that will eventually see it double the number of courses in the game to an impressive 96 in total by the end of next year. Nintendo might not be referring to these new releases as Mario Kart 9, but five years after the release of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe — and almost eight years after Mario Kart 8 originally debuted on the Wii U — it’s hard not to hope that they might effectively serve as a sequel.
While new to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, none of these tracks are brand new. Much like roughly half of the game’s original 48 courses, they’re remasters from previous Mario Kart games. There’s one each from its entries on the Nintendo 64, Wii, GBA, DS, and 3DS, and three from Mario Kart Tour, the free-to-play smartphone entry in the series developed by DeNA.
Although there are a lot of new tracks on the way, the fundamentals of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe remain unchanged since 2017. The new courses are neatly integrated into the existing interface, allowing you to scroll up from the selection screen to reveal what will eventually be 12 new cups to race through, each with four locations apiece. For now, only the first two cups are available — the Golden Dash Cup and Lucky Cat Cup. But beyond the new courses, Nintendo hasn’t announced any other new additions to the game that are on the way. There are no new characters, karts, or faster racing speeds like we saw with Mario Kart 8’s downloadable content on the Wii U.
If you approach this new DLC expecting it to act as a stand-in for a new numbered entry in the series, I think you’ll be disappointed, and given the entire 48-track collection costs just $24.99 compared to the $59.99 Nintendo continues to charge for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, you probably shouldn’t expect it to. But still, it’s hard not to play these initial eight courses and notice they don’t hit the same highs as the original game. There’s nothing that matches the scale of Shy Guy Falls or Mario Kart 8’s Rainbow Road, the variety of Mount Wario, the spectacle of Electrodome, or the sheer brain-melting three-dimensionality of Mario Circuit.
Moreso than the remastered tracks found in the original Mario Kart 8 — which augmented their original designs with elements like anti-gravity and underwater driving from newer entries — these eight new additions feel very faithful to the courses they’re based on. You won’t find yourself suddenly racing up 90-degree angle thanks to anti-gravity pads on the Nintendo 64’s Choco Mountain or plunged underwater in the Wii’s Coconut Mall.
This faithfulness extends to the look of these new areas, which aren’t as detailed as the remasters Nintendo shipped in the original game. For example, Ribbon Road and Sky Garden are both courses that originally appeared on the Game Boy Advance, but the former shipped as one of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s stock tracks, while the latter was released last week as part of this new DLC. Neither of them looks like they date back to a two-decade-old handheld system, but the newly released Sky Garden just isn’t teeming with detail like Ribbon Road was. It’s almost as though one has been completely remade, while the other has gone through a more simple remastering.
That’s not to say there aren’t more subtle delights to be found here. Paris Promenade (a track originally released for Mario Kart Tour) has quickly turned into a new favorite of mine, serenading you with an accordion as you slide around the course. And on its third lap, it sends you back on yourself to race the course in reverse, leading to an inevitably frantic couple of seconds where other racers suddenly become oncoming traffic.
Ninja Hideaway (also from Tour) is another highlight, with a dual-layered design that gives you the choice of racing through the building’s ground floor or rafters. The ground floor is simpler, but the rafters have the potential to offer a respite from the chaos erupting down below, as well as the risk of unceremoniously plummeting down as you lose your footing around one of its many precarious right-angled turns. I love the energetic soundtrack, not to mention the Shy Guys that disappear halfway round the track and leave slick bananas in their wake.
My favorite of the new tracks is Shroom Ridge, a dense, tightly winding mountaintop circuit filled with traffic to avoid. Not hitting its cars feels like threading a fast-moving needle, but the reward is an endless drift, which sometimes feels more Ridge Racer than Mario Kart. Another, Tokyo Blur, also feels infused with a little of that Namco racing magic, although to me, it feels a bit too wide and open to encourage the kind of chaos where Mario Kart thrives.
Elsewhere, some of the new courses feel more basic, and I can’t see them becoming part of many people’s regular roster. Much as I love the giant Toads floating above Toad Circuit (originally found on the 3DS), the track itself is basically a flat, boring figure-eight circuit. And Game Boy Advance location Sky Garden feels too much like a retread of Cloudtop Cruise to really offer anything new.
Coconut Mall and Choco Mountain are solid additions but can feel like they’re repeating elements that have already been done better in Mario Kart 8’s existing courses. Despite debuting in an earlier game, the N64’s Choco Mountain feels like a simplified take on Grumble Volcano, while Coconut Mall feels like a mix of Sunshine Airport and Super Bell Subway. The mall’s reversing escalators are a fun, tricky addition, but the overall track is on the simpler side.
Given reports that this year may have seen the release of a full-on Mario Kart 9, it was initially tempting to see Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s 48 new courses as exactly that; a brand new Mario Kart game disguised as DLC. But these first eight additions are more limited in scope than what you’d expect to see from a new numbered entry in the series. They’re fun, and I suspect a few of them will become popular with some of the 40 million-plus Switch owners who have bought Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, but their quality can’t match the game’s original content.
But at a cost of just $24.99 — or free if you’re a subscriber to Nintendo’s premium Switch Online + Expansion Pack tier — these new DLC courses don’t have to match the quality of the game’s original tracks to be a good deal. Buying them is a no-brainer if you’re still playing the occasional round of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. But in 2022, half a decade on from the last substantial addition to Mario Kart’s roster, it’s hard not to hunger for something more substantial.