As anyone who's played it will tell you, Mario Kart 8 is a pretty awesome game, with its addictive mix of same-console multiplayer mayhem, crazy courses and easy-to-get-into races. That said, it does have one, pretty big problem. It's lacklustre selection of characters.
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Coming with a wide range of the Mushroom Kingdom's finest, along with some of its less well known residents, Mario Kart 8 was scraping the barrel. With some Nintendo numpty having the bright idea to include all of Bowser's indentikit minion "koopalings" - characters who appear for all of about thirty seconds in each game, before you and your friends send them away with a plumber-induced headache - the line up of characters left a lot to be desired.
Even if the pink-sunglasses-wearing Roy, in his similarly-coloured Badwagon (with Groovy Monster Truck wheels, naturally) has become a bit of an Everybody Plays 'favourite'. If, by favourite, you mean a cripplingly hard to steer, impossible to drift and just generally horrible to drive car we make each other race in to see how badly things turn out.
As of today, however, Nintendo have announced plans to address their character faux pas with a number of downloadable packs of extra characters, karts and tracks, which promise to bolster the Mario Kart experience - and, better yet, add in the first true cross-over with other Nintendo games. Released in two waves - sadly, an insane six months apart - for £7 each, or together in a bundle for £11, this is one of the coolest looking add ons we've seen - and will hopefully take us that little bit closer to our dream of a fully fledged Nintendo Kart.
Leading the pack this November is 'The Legend of Zelda X Mario Kart 8' bundle, which includes Tanooki Mario, Cat Peach, and of course, Link from The Legend of Zelda series. Besides characters, you'll get 4 new vehicles - including that most fitting of steeds for Link to ride on, the Blue Falcon from high-speed space-racing series, F-Zero - and 8 new courses, split into two new cups. To properly justify the 'The Legend of Zelda pack' moniker, despite only one out of three of the new characters being from the series, there'll also be at least one Legend of Zelda themed course hidden in away in here too. According to the icons found on Nintendo's website, we should expect a Triforce cup, and a Yoshi egg cup - although what exotic locales we'll see in those remains to be seen (although apparently Wii 'favourite' Wario's Gold Mine will make an appearance).
Bringing up the rear in May 2015, is the 'Animal Crossing X Mario Kart 8' pack, letting you play as the Animal Crossing Villager, workaholic mayor's assistant Isabelle, and for some reason, Dry Bowser. Again, we're due an extra 4 vehicles and eight courses, split into two cups - the icons for each are an Animal Crossing leaf and the cat bell power up from the recent Super Mario 3D World game. From the looks of it, there'll be a race through the green and pleasant lands of Animal Crossing, plus a potential revisit to 'Maple Treeway', another course lifted from Mario Kart Wii. As a bonus for purchasing both of the bundles, you'll get an array of different coloured Yoshis and Shy Guys too - eight of each to be precise.
From both an alliteration, and a masochistic perspective, a rainbow of Roys would have been better though...
More pressingly, today also sees the release of the previously announced Mercedes Benz update for Mario Kart 8 - a patch/update which adds three new vehicles to the roster. A look at the various Mercedes Benz cars through the ages, you get a modern Mercedes Benz GLA, a 1950s 300 SL Roadster and the 'legendary' Silver Arrow from the 1930s - all looking as silver, metallic and out of place as you'd imagine. But, they're free, so we can't really complain too much. Downloading the three cars will also let you take part in a limited time online tournament, running until the 23rd September too. To download, wait for your Wii U to perform the Mario Kart 8 software update, launch the game, then scroll down to the new 'Shop' button on the main menu of Mario Kart, and follow the on-screen prompts.
It's not all free cars though - the download also fixes a few bugs, tweaks a few menus and generally improves things. You'll now have the option to display the course map on the TV screen during a race, so there'll be no more arguments over potential GamePad player advantages. The positions of the 'Next Race' and 'Watch Highlight Reel' options post-race have been switched around, and you can also now change the focus of any highlight reels you download through the Mario Kart TV area, letting you focus on a specific character or event. As a final tweak, the game will also now remember your previously-chosen kart customisations too, making it a little bit easier to choose your favourite kart combos, along with keeping a running total of the number of coins accumulated, win/loss records and your most frequently used character stats.
What strikes us as odd - besides the weird Mercedes Benz partnership - is how resistant Nintendo have been in the past to include other non-Mushroom Kingdom characters in their Mario Kart games, yet here they are adding Animal Crossing folks, Link and F-Zero vehicles. Perhaps we're getting ahead of ourselves, and this is just Nintendo milking the cash cow for all it's worth, but we can't help but hope this could be a sign that the next Mario Kart will branch out into other Nintendo games, and become the cross-over crazy, Smash Bros style Nintendo Kart we really want it to be.