Mario Kart 8's Animal Crossing DLC is not only better than the previous track pack, it contains some of the best courses in the series.
Almost a year after it first launched, Mario Kart 8 has been expanded once again. This is the second slice of add-on content from a new kind of Nintendo - a company not ashamed to double down on its successes. The idea of add-ons for a Mario Kart game may still seem odd to some, but Mario Kart 8's Animal Crossing pack is the perfect example of how to do DLC right.
For those who previously bought into the discounted double DLC offer for this and the earlier Legend of Zelda pack, rest assured that these latest additions are more than worthy of the exquisite main experience. The add-on once again broadens Mario Kart 8's course roster with eight extra tracks, three new characters plus a sprinkling of new vehicles and vehicle parts.
The pack's centrepiece is its four-flavour Animal Crossing course, randomly themed each time you race in either spring, summer, autumn or winter variants - just as Animal Crossing's towns change with the seasons. Spring sees you race through showers of blossom, while fruit hangs from the track's trees during summer. Nab an orange or apple that has been knocked onto the track and you'll get a sneaky mushroom boost. Autumn adds falling leaves and piles of leaf litter hiding more power-ups, while winter's variant adorns the town with snowmen obstacles to avoid.
Each season has its own selection of familiar villager faces dotted around the track, while summer has permanently-grumpy mole Mr. Resetti pop up from beneath the road as an added obstacle. And it is easy to be distracted: here, and indeed in pretty much all of the new courses, Nintendo's eye for detail decorates each course almost to an unnecessary degree.
Take Ribbon Road, for example. The track originally appeared in Mario Kart: Super Circuit on Game Boy Advance, although it's now almost unrecognisable thanks to a painstaking facelift. It snakes along a length of gently undulating ribbon laid out on the floor of a child's bedroom, while its walls and bookshelves tower over you Toy Story-style. Careering around the track it is difficult not to be distracted by the Nintendo memorabilia littered around the room - the Yarn Yoshi dolls dotted around the track, wind-up Koopa toys chattering in your path, jack-in-the-box Bowser cars springing to and fro.
The return of the GameCube's Baby Park is another masterstroke. This basic oval track is the simplest and shortest course in the entire Mario Kart series - but therein lies its attraction. It can become a complete wildcard when playing online or with friends - its lightning fast laps quickly blurring into one giant mess of racers and weapons as those lagging behind are lapped and torn apart by shells from all around. Nintendo returned to the course before in Mario Kart DS, but this new version reinstates the longer seven-lap limit of Double Dash and completely overhauls the track's surroundings into an intricate Nintendo theme park. It provides, by far, Mario Kart 8's most frantic moments (don't even mention it on 200cc), with a new tilt to its track for anti-gravity racing throughout and an increasingly manic soundtrack that ratchets up its tempo at every turn.
Mario Kart: Super Circuit's Cheese Land is almost unrecognisable in its new Mario Kart 8 guise, its lactose-covered landscape pockmarked by Swiss cheese holes and cheddar gorges. It mixes tight turns and lunging Chain Chomps with open areas perfect for boosting across to slip past opponents and an aerial shortcut I have still yet to work out how to reach. Koopa City is another welcome returnee, its rain-slicked roads and dark corners just as dangerous here as back on the 3DS.
All-new track Wild Woods is a classic-in-the-making, with its narrow tree trunk roadways and wooden Shy Guy homes. Set amongst the branches of a giant tree, its curved paths and rushing water-soaked section are reminiscent of tracks such as Wii and 3DS favourite Koopa Cape. It also has one of the best new soundtracks among the DLC's selection of excellent, live-recorded new tunes - a playful clarinet and flute tune that I am unable to stop looping inside my head.
There are no duds amongst the whole track selection - the new Super Bell Subway is an enjoyable underground course and one of the better traffic-laden tracks in recent entries. This time you're dodging subway trains, or rattling along above them on high-up gantries. And for those who still prickle at the ongoing absence of F-Zero, Nintendo returns to its speedy sci-fi racing franchise for Big Blue, the DLC's grand finale - a lengthy point-to-point race with a track layout worthy of any Rainbow Road.
It's worth making a quick note about Mario Kart 8's new 200cc mode, which is not part of this DLC but launched alongside it via a free update, as it is likely that many players will be experiencing both together for the first time. Whether you have the new tracks or not, this new speed adds a fresh challenge to the whole game, requiring you to use the brake button for perhaps the first time. It is a great reason to revisit some of Mario Kart 8's earlier courses again with a fresh eye, and levels up the more difficult tracks to an eye-watering degree.
Players with the Animal Crossing add-on will also be able to play as the town simulation's Villager, plus secretary dog Isabelle and the Mario series' Dry Bowser. Again, Nintendo has gone the extra mile in the detail of these characters, by letting you choose either a male or female Villager variant and by including some of the Animal Crossing series' emotes and sound effects for extra immersion. Both Villager and Isabelle will celebrate as you trick over jumps or successfully fire weapons at foes, their cheeks flush with pink and their faces surrounded by anime-style flowers. Dry Bowser is similarly detailed - his cracked, spiny shell will glow with lava as he clears jumps successfully.
Almost a year after its launch and Mario Kart 8 still earns its spot in your Wii U disc drive. Nintendo's racer remains one of the finest games on the company's home console, and this second helping of extras has cemented the game further among the very best of the series. If this pack is the work of the new Nintendo, long may such expansions continue.