It’s not often that we review DLC, but this is arguably Nintendo’s biggest and most considered attempt, bringing them closer in-line to a more modern business model that so many of us are now familiar with. Whilst a lot of companies seem to exploit it (allegedly cutting content to re-sell later), how does the Mario Kart 8 DLC shape up?
I’ll cut right to the chase with this one – Nintendo have just set the new gold standard in downloadable content. For years people (myself included) have bemoaned the Japanese giant’s reluctance to embrace online, their cautious approach to digital distribution and particularly their failure to recognise that a game’s development can continue once it’s out the door. It’s clearly time for those people (again, this includes me) to eat some humble pie in the shape of Mario Kart 8’s first batch of DLC.
In a peculiar way it’s Nintendo’s reluctance to “get with the times” that seems to shape the whole package. Bare with me for a moment and think back to the announcement of the PS2 in 1999 when Ken Kutaragi first gave talks about an always-on network for gamers’ consoles to connect to each other and obtain whole new sections of their favourite games directly from the creators. The image this conjured up was of glorious new offerings of content that would keep a favourite game alive for years after its release. The reality of DLC, seven years later, was horse armour in Oblivion. Thankfully, in Nintendo’s world where the Internet is new and I can only assume horse armour never happened, they’ve decided that DLC should be three things:
- Packed with new toys
- Incredibly polished
Let’s look at those three points then. Firstly; the new toys. You get three new characters in this pack with Link, Tanooki Mario and Cat Peach fleshing out an already hefty roster of Mario Kart favourites. Four new vehicles in the shape the Tanooki Kart, Master Cycle, B Dasher and Blue Falcon and eight glorious new tracks that are the real stars of the show leading us nicely into point two. Every one of these characters, vehicles and tracks is loaded with detail to make you smile. From the carefully hidden tyres on the Blue Falcon so it appears to float to the way coins are replaced by Rupees in the Hyrule Circuit, it’s fan service of the kind that few outside of Nintendo seem capable of. I honestly lost count of the number of times I spotted something that made me grin to myself in my first play through. What really put a smile on my face though, and will no doubt see a resurgence of people clamouring for a sequel, is the love-note to F-Zero that is the Mute City course. Having spent time with all of the “new gen” consoles I can categorically state that it is the most beautiful thing I have seen on any of the new platforms. Nintendo’s art and sound design has always transcended the limitations of their hardware but the shining neon, amazing draw distance and wonderful reworking of the classic F-Zero theme tune on display here feel like a page of my favourite 2000 AD comic has been pulled, kicking and screaming into 3D and then plastered all over my TV at 60 FPS (…or 59 if you’re a fan of digital foundry!). I really can’t convey just how much this track makes me want Nintendo to revive the F Zero franchise.
That’s not to say the other tracks aren’t also lookers, the initial dip in Wario’s Gold Mine that beautifully replicates the initial rush of a roller-coaster and the sparkling technicolour cubes of SNES Rainbow Road are equally stunning. There’s even room for some understated innovation with the Excite Bike Arena featuring a procedurally generated course that alters the placement of the jumps every time you play it. The whole package is Nintendo on top form, adding to a game that was already a strong contender for Game of the Year. Which takes us power-sliding around the final bend into point 3; the price. It’s only £7 for what amounts to nearly half of what was in the original game. If you buy both this and the upcoming Animal Crossing DLC pack together, it’s even cheaper at £11 with a selection of different coloured Yoshi and Shy Guy characters thrown in for good measure. It is simply an enormous package of top quality content at a very reasonable price.
If you own Mario Kart already, there is no reason not to get this and if you don’t, it’s a reason to get both. Nintendo have delivered the DLC my teenage self always dreamed us gamers would get one day.