Nintendo’s promise to double the size of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe by the end of 2023 is well on track, with the fourth wave of eight new circuits out now for owners of the Nintendo Online Membership Expansion Pass.
This update brings two new cups (thankfully nothing as unfortunately-named as last wave’s ‘Moon Cup’ – yikes), as well as a new addition to the racing roster in the shape of Birdo, who is everyone’s favourite… well, second-favouri… uh, everyone’s dinosaur. Alright, some people’s dinosaur.
OK, look, it’s just Birdo, and we’re just gonna have to deal with it.
Yoshi’s Island – a 16-bit throwback
More happily, the new cups both feel like they’ve had a great deal of care and attention lavished upon them. The ‘Fruit Cup’ and ‘Boomerang Cup’ together comprise three circuits from Mario Kart Tour on iOS/Android, one reworked track each from Wii, Gamecube, DS and GBA, plus one all-new circuit themed around 16-bit classic Yoshi’s Island.
Let’s start with this new one first, as it’s the most interesting.
Based on the SuperFX-powered SNES title, the Yoshi’s Island track features some wonderful nostalgic throwbacks, like a Gargantua Blargg swimming about in the ocean, as well as a little secret route near the end of the lap, which is accessible by flying your gliding kart into the little cloud with a question mark on it.
This spawns a red beam boardwalk in the air, which lets you jump through a hoop of purple dots and flowers. OK, it’s not quite as magical as the Master Sword Easter Egg in the Zelda course, but still lovely.
The music is strong if predictably twee, and the visual quality is high, though the art has been homogenised into Mario Kart 8’s more universally palatable art style instead of going all-out to recreate the hand-drawn look of the original. It’s nonetheless very pretty.
Game Boy Advance feels, kind of
The GBA Riverside Park track is barely recognisable as the 32-bit source material (even the mid-course corner layout is a bit suspect), but it does now feel like you’re driving through the jungle instead of merely towards it, which is always welcome.
Those in the know, of course, will notice this is essentially the reworked, 3D-ified version from Mario Kart Tour, complete with its tunnel and waterfall jump at the end of the lap.
There are still some elements held over from the GBA track, like ramps and wooden bridges, but basically, it feels like a different venue. A very good one, mind, channelling N64’s colour palette and feeling like a true Nintendo offering, much like the Snow Land course from the previously-released Propeller Cup with its 64-bit vibes. Really cool.
The three ‘Tour’ tracks are all based on real-world locations, and they still feel a bit out of place here.
Bangkok Rush is arguably the most Mario Kart-feeling of the three, with some colourful markets to race through (and over) and interweaving routes that change from lap to lap.
Singapore Speedway looks like it’s been taken straight out of fellow Switch racer Cruis’n Blast, with some seriously bright colours and lights adorning a cityscape circuit. You get to race through a rooftop pool past Goombas in rubber rings, splash through ornamental fountains and race along parallel conveyors, and the track has plenty of corners to get your teeth into while you keep a look out for fun details.
As for Amsterdam Drift, this race also changes track layout each lap, taking you underwater into the canals of the Dutch capital.
The final lap takes you through a field full of tulips (with added piranha plants), which looks lovely, and lap three also takes you back against the flow of the race, so kart-flattening oncoming traffic is a brief but fun, chaotic twist.
It’s even better at 200cc, though some of the wall-lined corners are very challenging when played at that speed.
The weakest track in this update is arguably DK’s Snowboard Cross from Mario Kart Wii. The stunt ramps make for a little fun here, and drifting around huge banked turns is always fun, despite the camera getting freaky.
The best part is the short sequence of bumpy mounds of snow, which test your jump boost reactions. It looks reasonably nice, but without changing from lap to lap, it does feel like filler.
Another track that’s pretty dull – at least at low speeds – is Mario Circuit from the DS, though the sunshiney, blue sky aesthetic is welcome enough.
There are fireballs to avoid and some Goombas on the track, and Peach’s castle looks lovely in the distance. It seems otherwise uneventful at first glance, but at higher speed tiers, it becomes an absolutely frantic dash around a very playable circuit.
The sunlight filtering through the trees looks great and there’s so much opportunity for skilful drift boosting. A real grower, no question.
Finally, there’s Waluigi Stadium from Gamecube’s Mario Kart Double Dash. This was always great and still feels like a big hitter here.
The surface looks muddier than ever thanks to some lovely reflective puddles, and there’s always something fun to do, whether that’s drift through a turn, bounce through rings of fire or slalom your way across the course using the stunt pipe lips at the side of the track.
It gets very chaotic at higher-speed classes but will be one you always look forward to during multiplayer sessions. Great stuff.
And that’s it for the tracks. There does also appear to have been some balancing tweaks too, as being in the lead definitely grants you more bombs to throw than it did at launch.
As for Birdo, she’s pretty forgettable, with a few oddly Wario-esque soundbites and little else to endear her to you, barring some joyful celebration animations.
But overall this is another fine collection of high-quality tracks making this now almost decade-old racer still relevant and eminently playable all these years down the line. We look forward to the final two waves, and – hopefully – Diddy Kong. We’re telling ya, that guy doesn’t deserve all the hate.
|Release date||9th March 2023|
|Available platforms||Nintendo Switch (for owners of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe with a Nintendo Online Expansion Pass Membership)|
|Version tested||Nintendo Switch|
|Best played with||Pro Controller|
Full disclosure: A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Here is our review policy.