Sunday, November 12, 2023

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe: Booster Course Pass (Review)

Booster Course Pass artwork

Mario Kart 8 is quite the extraordinary Nintendo game. In six months it will become ten years old, as it originally was released on the Wii U in May 2014. In its first year it saw several additions of DLC, both paid and free, which is where The Legend of Zelda became part of the fun with the Hyrule Circuit, Link as a driver, and the introduction of the Master Cycle. Including all that, the DLC added 16 new courses at the time, bringing the total to 48, seven new drivers, and 16 kart parts.

In 2017 the game then got ported onto Nintendo's brandnew console, the Nintendo Switch, as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. This version featured a reworked Battle Mode with eight courses, but also three returning characters (Bowser Jr., Dry Bones, and King Boo), three new characters (the Inklings and Gold Mario), and three new vehicles. The next year then saw the free addition of Link and the Master Cycle Zero from Breath of the Wild, but this looked to be the end of things...

So, it was quite surprising when Nintendo announced the Booster Course Pass in early 2022, offering 48 courses from past Mario Kart games, doubling the total number of cups and courses in the game. In its second half it then also added eight more drivers and 17 Mii racing suits, giving you even more value than what was initially advertised.

start of Wii Mushroom Gorge, promotional screenshot

To say that the Booster Course Pass isn't worth its money would be totally ridiculous. For what's less than half of the base game's price you're effectively getting a whole new Mario Kart game, which uses Mario Kart 8 Deluxe as its foundation. You can also acquire access to all its content via the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack, but that access will be revoked once your subscription runs out. And you can even play the courses without any of this online or in wireless play, as long as one of the other players has the Booster Course Pass or the NSO Expansion Pack. So, it's overall quite generous.

The Booster Course Pass really has turned Mario Kart 8 Deluxe into "Mario Kart 9" at this point, but there is a catch to this: a ninth Mario Kart game already exists with Mario Kart Tour for mobile devices. And it quickly became clear that this is where everything was coming from. With the Booster Course Pass Nintendo has ported over a big chunk of the contents from Mario Kart Tour into Mario Kart 8 Deluxe to create the Mario Kart game of this generation.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. First of all, the Booster Course Pass wouldn't exist without this particular effort. It's a project that probably co-exists with the development of the next Mario Kart game for the next Nintendo system, where Nintendo is cleverly putting together what they have, in order to offer the fans something "new". And many people don't play Mario Kart Tour, where for them these contents really will be new.

Everything also got fully remastered and this is a great way of preserving what was done for the mobile game, because service games are not forever and there will be a time where you won't be able to play Mario Kart Tour any longer. And even if you play it on a regular basis, the game doesn't let you freely pick courses, since you're bound to the current "tour". So, the ability to play many of these tracks any time you want, on a proper Nintendo console with much prettier graphics, may also be very appealing in any case.

Here's what made it from Mario Kart Tour into Mario Kart 8 Deluxe at the end:

It's quite the list and there should be something in there for every generation of Mario Kart fans, though some get treated better than others. Fans of Mario Kart Wii will find HALF of the game's original courses in here, bringing the total up to 11, where this was clearly favored over everything else. Each wave came with at least one Wii course and four of the other retro courses were also present in the Wii title. It was the big console Mario Kart before Mario Kart 8 and also very popular, so it's understandable to a degree, but they could have swapped one or two of its courses in favor of the something else for a better balance.

The biggest losers are Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart 64 with only two courses each. At least SNES Bowser Castle 3 and N64 Kalimari Desert are very impressive with their changes, but it can't make up for the fact that they didn't really care too much about the originals, which isn't true for Mario Kart Tour. It had a lot more to offer from these games and even a variety of remixed courses of the SNES classic, but it wasn't meant to be.

DS Waluigi Pinball promotional screenshot

Mario Kart: Double Dash!! and Mario Kart DS both got a bit more with three courses each, where GCN DK Mountain, GCN Waluigi Stadium and DS Waluigi Pinball are the highlights. The biggest surprise is probably that DS Airship Fortress didn't make the cut, however, which certainly is a huge fan favorite. But they also had other good options, like GCN Mushroom Bridge, GCN Dino Dino Jungle, or DS Luigi's Mansion...

Mario Kart: Super Circuit was the secret star with five courses to its name, where each wave came with one except for the last. A lot of love was put into remaking these courses in Mario Kart Tour, making them more three-dimensional by adding some height. It's not entirely on par with GBA Cheese Land and GBA Ribbon Road from the original Wii U DLC, but it's still quite nice for some enjoyable short courses. Though, it's a shame that they couldn't preserve the sunset in GBA Sunset Wilds for some reason (it's there in Tour), where this course probably should have been swapped with something else.

Next in the ranking is Mario Kart 7. Now, while there are only four of its original courses present, seven of its retro courses can be found in the Booster Course Pass as well, where it has profited from the Wii hype quite a lot. In fact, all four of its retro Wii courses are there. Mario Kart 7 was seemingly used as a basis for Mario Kart Tour, so many of the new versions of the courses feature elements from that game, like the added underwater section in GCN Daisy Cruiser or the blue glider mushroom in Wii Mushroom Gorge. With this in mind, it's actually surprising that the Nintendo 3DS title didn't even see more additions, e.g. 3DS Shy Guy Bazaar, 3DS Wario Shipyard, or more of its fantastic retro courses, like the aforementioned DS Airship Fortress.

But the biggest chunk of the Booster Course Pass comes from Mario Kart Tour itself. 20 of the 48 courses are from that game, whether they are labeled as "Tour" or as completely new. The "Tour" label was reserved exclusively for the city tour tracks, where each cup starts with one and two also end on one, for a total of 14.

Berlin Byways promotional screenshot

This features cities from all over the real world, where Europe is the Mario Kart Wii of continents, meaning that half of the cities are from there. Curiously, they didn't add anything from Africa or South America, where Cairo and Rio de Janeiro seem like the most obvious candidates. But the development of Mario Kart Tour came to an end, so we will most likely never see these cities in Mario Kart, unless the game gets a successor in the future.

With the city courses also comes the big new mechanic of the Booster Course Pass: re-routing. Each city has at least three different variants in Mario Kart Tour, where they share the same map, but take different routes through that map. For Mario Kart 8 Deluxe these variants were all merged into one course, where for each lap it directs you onto a different route with the help of the new arrow fields. It's a cheap solution and makes it easy to get out-of-bounds on certain ends, but it enables an experience that is entirely unique to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

It's technically similar to the sectioned courses, like Mount Wario or the N64 Rainbow Road, but you may drive through certain roads twice or even in reverse, which then lets you potentially run into incoming traffic of other racers. As a result, every lap is entirely unique, where you get a lot more out of these courses from the Booster Course Pass. But it can also make them confusing and very hard to learn, where going into them for the first time can be a mess.

Piranha Plant Cove, which is one of the remaining new courses, also makes use of this mechanic, but the rest are more straight-forward. It's questionable why these six courses are labeled as "new", since most of them originated from Mario Kart Tour as well. Well, two got into Mario Kart 8 Deluxe first, briefly before they also appeared in Tour, but in the end everything was first and foremost made for the mobile game. There are some very simple seasonal courses here, with Sky-High Sundae and Merry Mountain, but also some absolute highlights, like Yoshi's Island, which was based on the beloved SNES game...

Baby Mario, Birdo and Yoshi at the start of Yoshi's Island, promotional screenshot

However, one of the original courses from Mario Kart Tour went missing, which is Piranha Plant Pipeline. We can only speculate why it didn't make the cut, but it's rather odd that they left out a single course in the end, out of 21. It's the most glaring omission in all of this and it only has been playable in Mario Kart Tour once so far, making this a rarity.

Overall, the selection of courses is a mixed bag. There is a lot from Mario Kart Tour and Mario Kart Wii in there, whether you want it or not. We got two more Rainbow Roads for a total of five and four more circuit tracks, where there is now a circuit from every Mario Kart game in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Meanwhile there are only two Bowser Castles in the game, but at least there is one more now and an excellent one at that.

Waluigi and Daisy saw quite some love in the course selection to make up for the fact that they didn't have anything to their names in the base game. And meanwhile Luigi still hasn't gotten a single race course in the entire game... At least he was one of the few battle courses with GCN Luigi's Mansion, where there have been no additions to that mode, sadly, even though Mario Kart Tour offers a few battle courses of its own. It may not be the greatest selection, but considering that the new Battle Mode was the big selling point of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe initially, it's a shame that we didn't even get one of them.

Quality-wise the courses are also a mixed bag. The visual difference between the base game and the DLC courses was absolutely jarring in the beginning, where courses like DS Shroom Ridge looked like the were directly ripped from Mario Kart Tour and recycled old course elements, like the ever-same vehicles from N64 Toad's Turnpike. There was also an apparent lack of anti-gravity and underwater sections.

But by now the Booster Course Pass offers some of the best-looking courses in the entire game, like the 3DS and Wii Rainbow Roads, and introduced many new track elements, like the half-pipes from Mario Mart Wii, the Bob-omb cars, giant Wigglers, penguins, and more. And there are some courses that make excellent usage of the underwater and anti-gravity driving modes in the DLC. You can really see how the team behind the Booster Course Pass has learned and evolved over the past two years, potentially even taking the early feedback into the heart.

Drivers and Mii Racing Suits

Part of that early feedback could also have been the lack of any other additions, where Mario Kart Tour has a lot more to offer than just courses. We don't know whether this was planned from the beginning or not, but they certainly didn't advertise that they were also going to add more characters before the fourth wave in 2023. And in the end we got eight in total:

  • Birdo
  • Petey Piranha
  • Wiggler
  • Kamek
  • Peachette
  • Diddy Kong
  • Funky Kong
  • Pauline

Out of the many, many characters present in Mario Kart Tour, they have prioritized the ones from past Mario Kart games. We finally got Diddy Kong and Birdo back, who had appeared in both Mario Kart: Double Dash!! and Mario Kart Wii, but got left out in Mario Kart 8 for some reason, until now. Then there's Petey Piranha from Double Dash!!, Funky Kong from Mario Kart Wii, and Wiggler from Mario Kart 7. And with these additions the roster finally feels very much complete (unless you really are a big fan of R.O.B. or the Honey Queen, but they are not even in Tour).

Funky Kong promotional art on Los Angeles Laps

They've also included some of the new characters in Mario Kart Tour, where Kamek and Pauline were without a doubt the most popular choices... And then there's Peachette, who got in over characters like Dixie Kong, Nabbit, or King Bob-omb.

It's hard to complain about something that is essentially a bonus, but in the end it would have been better if Nintendo had planned this from the start and maybe charged a little more for the Booster Course Pass. With more time and money we could have potentially gotten more of the characters, leaving little to desire. But for the most part they went with the best possible choices.

The new Mii racing suits leave a similar picture. It was a big surprise addition coming with the last wave and they've added a total of 17, all from Mario Kart Tour. These costumes are quite creative, have their own trick animations, and really make the Mii racers a lot more fun to use, where it's fantastic that Nintendo has added these on top as well. But there is a lot more left where they came from and this could have been distributed evenly over all waves right from the start.

And one area that the Booster Course Pass didn't touch at all are the karts and gliders. There are over 700 vehicle parts in Mario Kart Tour, lots of them from past Mario Kart games, and they didn't add a single one to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe during all this effort. It may have to do with the fact that karts and tires aren't separate any longer in Mario Kart Tour, but it's still so similar to Mario Kart 7 that there could have been a way around this...


If you enjoy Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, then the Booster Course Pass is without a must-have, adding a whole Mario Kart game's worth of content on top of what is already there. For this they have ported and remastered the contents from Mario Kart Tour, leaving a mixed bag, both in variety and quality. But overall it's all nice to have in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, adding a ton of value to the game.

The biggest complaint about the Booster Course Pass is that they didn't go all-in with this, because there are lot of good courses, drivers, Mii suits, and other contents left in Mario Kart Tour, which feels like a waste. But these complaints would become void if Nintendo were to announce more of this DLC in the (near) future.

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