Nintendo finally brought Mario Kart to the Wii U on May 30, 2014. Mario Kart 8 released and was an impressive entry in the series on day one, despite some minor grievances that held it back from being the best entry in the series. Aside from a few tracks, some missing characters, and an awful Battle Mode, Mario Kart 8 was and is incredibly fun and one of the best looking games this generation.
It’s been a year since its initial release, and since then, Nintendo has added 50% more to the game than what was available at launch. Just a few months after release, Nintendo announced plans for an expansion to the game that would roll out roughly six months apart in two installments. Each installment would add 3 new characters, 4 karts, and 8 tracks between 2 cups. To make the expansion more intriguing, it would mark the first time that the series included playable Nintendo characters outside of the Mario franchises.
The first pack featured Link as a playable character, and included a track based on The Legend of Zelda. The second would allow players to race as Villager or Isabelle from Animal Crossing, and also included a track from the series. Both packs included brand new stages, as well as retro tracks, and each brought a track from F-Zero to the world of Mario Kart. Pack 1 released in November with the second this year in April. buying each pack individually cost $7.99 but buying both together cost $11.99 and provided 8 new colors for both Yoshi and Shy Guy.
In addition to the paid expansion packs, Nintendo has continued to support the title with regular game patches that adjust minor bugs or make changes to the game’s functionality. A notable complaint at launch was that after a race, the default menu option was to view the replay rather than jump to the next race. An update quickly addressed this and swapped the location of these options.
Further, Nintendo surprised players when the second expansion launched with a free update that provided a 200cc mode, where the races are much more intense and fast-paced.
After a year, the core of the game remains largely unchanged, but any addition or change has only improved the game. For me, gameplay is first- always. Fortunately, Mario Kart 8 nailed gameplay and this still feels and controls exactly how you would want it to. Everything else that has been added only enhances the experience and adds a bit of flavor for fans of not only Mario Kart, but Nintendo in general.
Being able to play as Link, Villager, and Isabelle, as well as the addition of the Blue Falcon and F-Zero tracks in the game brings a new freshness to the franchise. Instead of the game recycling the traditional characters and track ideas, it is able to do what Super Smash Bros. does and bring together characters from the expansive Nintendo properties.
I think that it’s great that it gives us as players a new option to play, and I think it opens up new possibilities for the future of the series. My hope is that the next game in the franchise includes even more crossover than what we already see. I would love to see a kart version of Samus’ ship with Pikachu driving it. I’d love to glide through a Splatoon stage in Fox’s Arwing. Turning Mario Kart into Nintendo Kart makes so much sense that it’s surprising that this is the first time the series has stepped in that direction.
The addition of amiibo support has been welcomed, however frustrating. I love that scanning in a compatible amiibo will grant the access to a costume for the Mii character, a character I’d never usually opt for during play. However, the limited availability of certain figurines makes it incredibly aggravating to see empty silhouettes of costumes that I cannot access unless I pay a reseller 6 times the price for one of the unavailable figurines.
Ultimately, I think that Mario Kart 8 one year later has shown us not only that Nintendo can do DLC, but how every company should approach DLC. The prices are incredibly affordable and worth it for the amount of content that each expansion has offered. The way that each expansion has changed the game is doing something different and bold. The game is fundamentally the same, but as illustrated above, the potential for these ideas in the future is enormous.
The term “DLC” has increasingly become associated with negativity and frustration due to some tendencies that seem anti-consumer. Nintendo has thwarted all expectations when it comes to the phrase, and has delivered fantastic content to players. Everything that has been added to the game has been delivered at a natural pace. There isn’t content that was unlocked by preordering at a specific retailer. There’s no sign that any of the content was within the game since day one and just waiting to be unlocked by a post-purchase cost. Aside from the absurdity of locking Mii costumes behind figures that aren’t easily available (or released yet), what you pay for in each expansion is totally fair and sets a standard for how companies should treat post-release content.
As it stands, one year later, Mario Kart 8 is a wonderful game. Just purchasing the game at retail will provide hours of challenge and replayability, and for less than $15 you can increase the amount of stages and character choices in the game. Hopefully, we’ll see more Nintendo games supported like Mario Kart 8 in the future and if hope reigns supreme then we will play another Mario Kart in the future that features many more of Nintendo’s lovable characters.