Nintendo Finally Pulls Through: a Deluxe Booster Course Pass Ranking


Pom Babbitt

I know, I’m shocked too. The second round of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s DLC is certainly a step above the previous release. Look, even Luigi is giving the DLC a big, toothy grin.

Pom Babbitt, Reporter

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is back… again. With another eight retro courses added to the mix, it’s high time that I get overly-cynical about a children’s game. I am a Nintendo fan, after all. Before we get to all these fresh-ish new tracks, let’s recap the last Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Booster Course Pass release, shall we?

The last DLC release for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe gave us the Golden Dash Cup and Lucky Cat Cup, including tracks such as Tour Paris Promenade, 3DS Toad Circuit, N64 Choco Mountain, Wii Coconut Mall, Tour Tokyo Blur, DS Shroom Ridge, GBA Sky Garden, and Tour Ninja Hideaway respectively. The community criticized these tracks for their downgraded visuals, but ultimately fell in love with the DLC due to its mere concept of bringing back some fan favorite courses.

I do want to clear up some discourse that I’ve discovered in between these releases, starting with the visuals. I think it’s unfair and frankly surface-level to say that the “graphics” are bad. Super Mario as a franchise isn’t necessarily about pushing console capabilities to their limits as a performance and technical showcase, but rather pushing innovation and creativity from developers.

Does this mean that “them good graphics” are obsolete? Well, no. It’s totally fair to critique the Nintendo Switch’s lower performance compared to other consoles on the market. The Graphics, while not as important as gameplay, are a good indicator of the budget for a game. In my opinion, they’re a good starting point when prices for these kinds of games are announced. It isn’t fair to come after a Super Mario spin-off only for graphics. Not because Nintendo has a reputation for not performing as well as Sony or Microsoft, but because that just isn’t the focus.

Either way, the Mario Kart 8 engine is something I would consider “them good graphics,” and if the Booster Course Pass DLC is obviously using that engine, what am I so disgruntled about? It’s art direction. “Graphics are temporary, art direction is eternal” is a sentiment you’ve probably heard echoed throughout the gaming community for a while. This essentially means that a good direction for a game’s art has been a universal concept for video games since their inception. While some specific aesthetics may come and go from the public eye, the art itself almost never ages. Graphics considered groundbreaking in the 90’s are now considered dated, and even the top of the line graphics of today may end up looking phony years from now.

Mario Kart 8’s art direction focused on the aesthetics, tropes, and general ethos of the Super Mario brand in gorgeous, semi-realistic environments that don’t feel uncannily real or unimaginative. This is often due to magnificent and creative setpieces, which are aspects in any Mario Kart (or game for that matter) from the track you race on, background elements, and course layouts that are memorable based purely on spectacle.

The visuals of the first line of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Booster Course Pass DLC have the wonderful Mario Kart 8 engine, amazing setpieces that originate from previous games, and… a less-than-stellar art direction. Those eight tracks added virtually no new or interesting set pieces that weren’t already there, and infamously had a plastic-looking art style. Fans criticized Nintendo for this, but in a shocking turn of events, they forgave this practice all together.

Quantity over quality is the name of the game here. While many fans of virtually anything would choose quality- especially Nintendo fans, you’ll find that many are completely ok with the lesser art direction if it means we get to double the amount of in-game tracks. The issue here is that it’s not just the quality of the visuals being affected, it’s also the tracks themselves.

Compared to Mario Kart 8, Mario Kart Tour didn’t mix up these retro courses with new setpieces or fresh elements. When that’s the primary source of your DLC, that can spell big trouble. So, was I right about the Booster Course Pass DLC? Was I right that people only liked the DLC based on the memories of the tracks being chosen, even if those fond memories weren’t being done justice by Nintendo? No, I was wrong about the Turnip Cup and Propeller Cup. Dead wrong.

Tour New York Minute:
Now this is how you do a city-based track. While this city isn’t as visually rich as say New Donk City from Super Mario Odyssey, Tour New York Minute makes up for it with its nighttime aesthetic, bombastic changing layout, jazzy music, and distinctly-New York setpieces. It’s giving what Paris Promenade could never.

SNES Mario Circuit 2:
What a mouthful! I was worried that this course was going to look terrible. This track had every opportunity to be SNES Donut Plains 3 from the original Mario Kart 8, giving an old Super Mario Kart track some extreme polish or adding crazy anti-gravity setpieces. To fully embrace how old this track is and give it a noticeably pixelated look that purposely clashes with the nice character models of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe would’ve been phenomenal. It could be as if the racers are entering a time capsule of Mario Kart’s past but… did this happen? No. I will give the track this, it feels like I’m playing Super Mario Kart, but that’s no compliment.

N64 Kalimari Desert:
“One of the most overrated Mario Kart tracks ever. I have no idea why people like this one as much as they do.” These were my thoughts as I cynically loaded into this track, but I was blown away by the fact that they actually mixed up the way this course plays. Setpieces are added on different laps, and at one point you travel through a tunnel alongside the iconic train, or “the only reason people like this course” as I like to call it. This is a Mario Kart 8-tier upgrade.

DS Waluigi Pinball:
It’s good, but you already knew that. Going into it, I was scared that DS Waluigi Pinball would make the same mistakes as all of these other retro courses. Regardless it would still get a pass for being, you know, DS Waluigi Pinball. I’m happy to report that it was perfect, none of those retro-course-flops were on this track. The synthy sound design, the neon visuals, and bopping tune, it all makes a real upgrade and masks some imperfections that otherwise would have been there. What a slam dunk! Or whatever they say for pinball.

Tour Sydney Sprint:
I like this one and I hope I don’t get tired of it. This track feels like a genuine tour of Sydney, whereas all the other city tracks from Mario Kart Tour felt like the same aesthetic plastered onto a bunch of different layouts, but Tour Sydney Sprint has genuinely impactful changes during each lap. Man, it makes me wish Sydney was real.

GBA Snow Land:
Compared to the Mario Kart Super Circuit tracks in the original Mario Kart 8, this is pitiful. Other than that though, it’s honestly pretty nice. I like how bite-sized this course feels, almost as if you can see at least some of the track in the distance no matter where you are. Also, who can’t get enough of those penguins?

Wii Mushroom Gorge:
Eek! Another good upgrade! The added mushrooms in the background are really appealing to the eyes, and this track is just fun in general. I think the highlight of the track that takes place in the underground cave, should’ve been a little more memorable. As iconic as that section felt on the Nintendo Wii and Nintendo 3DS, it seems really dated now. That’s really my only issue with the track.

Tour Sky-High Sundae:
The prospect of getting newly-designed tracks (albeit ones from Mario Kart Tour) is exciting. When I saw that this course had the anti-gravity mechanic, I got my hopes up for the fact that modern mechanics from Mario Kart 8, would be retroactively added into these retro courses. Well, color me unimpressed. Tour Sky-High Sundae does not feel polished. At best, it feels like a modded course. It’s genuinely hard to see the upcoming track with how steep this course is, there’s just too much fluff in the way to see what’s coming next. A good proof of concept, at least.

Overall, these tracks were a real improvement. The art direction felt a lot more natural than the previous DLC release. Maybe it was a fluke. Maybe the selection of these tracks and their setpieces were fitting for this downgrade of an art direction. I’m going to try to stay optimistic, but one thing that worries me is that none of the upcoming tracks are going to feel like true upgrades, or at least the really old retro courses from Super Mario Kart, Mario Kart 64, or Mario Kart Super Circuit.

Mario Kart 8 did a great job of adding in setpieces and modern mechanics to old SNES or GBA courses, and these courses from the DLC feel like simple upscales. Just look and compare tracks such as SNES Donut Plains 3. It’s new coat of paint from Mario Kart 8 to SNES Mario Circuit 2 from the DLC, or the refinements to N64 Toad’s Turnpike to N64 Choco Mountain, or GBA Mario Circuit and its extreme setpieces to GBA Snow Land’s simple upscale. The list goes on.

We can accept that the visuals received a downgrade, but knowing what these tracks could’ve been by simply comparing them to retro tracks from the same game may raise some concerns. We’ll just have to wait and see. The lineup for the remaining tracks was leaked, and while the inclusions are exciting, the pattern I’ve begun to notice is frightening. Nintendo proved me wrong, but they also brought possible issues to my eye, which means this won’t be the end.