2014 was a huge year for the WiiU. While Sony and Microsoft struggled to justify the existence of their new consoles Nintendo delivered hit after hit of 1080p, 60 fps (for the most part) glory. And even in a year that saw the release of heavy hitters like Hyrule Warriors, DKC Tropical Freeze, Smash Bros and Bayonetta 2, Mario Kart 8 was the star that shone brightest.
Mario Kart 8 is the best selling WiiU title, having sold over 5 million copies to date, and with good reason. Building off of the 3DS’ brilliant Mario Kart 7, Nintendo never fixes what isn’t broken, giving a stunning presentation overall. Graphics are some of the best ever on console, period, even compared to the best that XboxOne and PS4 have to offer, and the gameplay is typically responsive and satisfying. MK 8 came jam packed with courses, characters, vehicles and options but Nintendo has chosen to go above and beyond the call of duty with extra downloadable content which is some of the most robust and reasonable the industry has ever seen.
Two DLC packs are available, one themed around Legend of Zelda that was released in November, and another based on Animal Crossing that dropped just last week. A “season pass” was offered for the content at the absolutely ridiculous price of just $11.99 for the 16 tracks and 6 characters that make up the bulk of the content. Compared to something like the new Mortal Kombat that wants you to pay $30 for just 4 measley characters (even if one of them is the Predator) I think that’s a hell of a steal. And this is Nintendo we’re talking about, so you know that everything is polished to perfection.
Pack 1 offers Link, Cat Peach and Tanooki Mario as playable characters, and the 8 new tracks encompass fresh designs, old favorites and tracks based on Excitebike and F-Zero’s Mute City (seriously Nintendo, we need a new F-Zero like, now). Hyrule Castle is the highlight of this pack though, a sprawling love letter to Zelda fans featuring new sound effects and pre/post race music tailored just for the series. It makes you want a whole Zelda themed racing game. Early adopters of the DLC also received the bonus of several multicolored Yoshis and Shy Guys to race with.
Pack 2 follows suit, featuring Isabelle, both male and female villagers from Animal Crossing, and New Super Mario Bros boss Dry Bowser. Remade tracks include the hilariously simple Baby Park and GBA’s Cheese Land. Ribbon Road is another favorite, with the giant Yarn Yoshis in the background (Nintendo is never one to shy away from cross promotion) and Big Blue returns from F-Zero (seriously Nintendo, we REALLY need a new F-Zero). Both packs featured several different vehicle options as well. We especially liked Link’s Epona-esque motorcycle and the P Wing, a dead ringer for Speed Racer’s Mach 5.
The new tracks aren’t just homages and updates, several are brand new and rank among the best the series have ever seen. Super Bell Subway is particularly interesting, taking racers from the station through to the underground track, dodging trains all the way, reminiscent of the traffic on Toad’s Highway. Asian themed course Dragon Driftway is also impressive, driving up, into, through and around giant dragon statues similar to Super Mario Galaxy’s Gobblegut boss. Nintendo has also added a new 200cc difficulty mode for the truly masochistic. While the ramped up speed is cool for multiplayer matches I can’t imagine ever wanting to go up against the computer in this mode. 150cc is ruthless enough.
These DLC packs have been like getting almost a brand new game and not having to wait until the next console cycle for it. Kudos to Nintendo for taking their time releasing this stuff as well. The initial MK8 release was almost a year ago and it’s nice to have new life breathed into it like this. Rumor has it they’ll be doing the same for Smash Bros as well and I couldn’t be happier. It took Nintendo a long time to adopt online functionality into their business practices but now they’re showing everyone how it’s done, as usual.