Just to recap…we still don’t have a Mario Kart 9.
The first wave of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s new Booster Course Pass tracks arrived on Switch on March 18. The first wave of eight courses shows a small taste of what Nintendo has in store for players across the massive expansion. The new tracks are organized into two Grand Prix challenges, the Golden Dash Cup and Lucky Cat Cup.
Some players have questioned why Nintendo decided to make 48 new tracks for a five-year-old port of an eight-year-old game. Where is Mario Kart 9? What’s the point of creating so much content for a game that came out on the Wii U almost a decade ago?
There are many answers to these questions, but the first one is obvious when you think about Nintendo’s logistics. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the best-selling Switch game by a wide margin. It’s sold an eye-opening 43.35 million copies, making it the best-selling Mario Kart game and the best-selling racing game in history. It’s the seventh-highest-selling game of all time, and it has an attach rate of 40%. Nintendo has sold just over 103 million Nintendo Switch consoles, which means almost half of all Switch owners have a copy of Mario Kart 8.
This is a very different picture from the original launch of the Wii U version of Mario Kart 8. That game struggled to move units, as it was attached to one of Nintendo’s worst-selling consoles. Now, the game is strapped to a rocket and selling better than anyone at Nintendo could have hoped. Is it surprising that the company would want to double down on MK8D’s success?
Bouncing Back from Failure
The Wii U was a failure by any metric. The system only moved 13.56 million units in its short five-year lifespan, an embarrassing figure for Nintendo. It was doubly disappointing for the company to see the Wii U’s sales after the Wii broke sales records and revitalized the company’s struggling image.
Mario Kart 8 still managed to move a surprising number of copies, despite the Wii U’s poor performance, posting 8.46 million sales. That attach rate was even higher than the Switch version’s, so Nintendo capitalized on the situation by releasing several waves of downloadable content.
The company later rolled these DLC packs into the enhanced Switch port of the game, hence its “Deluxe” subtitle. At the time, gamers didn’t read much into the port of a three-year-old game bridging the series to a new console. After all, Wii U ports made up most of the Switch’s early library.
Nintendo was convinced that the Wii U’s library was rock-solid and that its games only underperformed because of the hardware. The Switch’s unique design made it an instant hit after its 2017 launch, pushing it to surprising sales numbers and convincing Nintendo it needed more AAA support on the system. The company has since ported nearly every major Wii U title to the new hybrid console. Bayonetta 2, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Pikim 3, and Super Mario 3D World, are just a handful of countless titles Nintendo ported to the Switch for more exposure.
Some fans expected Nintendo to unveil its plans for a sequel to Mario Kart 8 by now, though. Nearly every other first-party Wii U title has either received a sequel or had one announced. Nintendo swiftly released Splatoon 2 and Super Mario Maker 2 on Switch, following up two of its most critically-acclaimed Wii U titles. Xenoblade Chronicles 3, the follow-up to the best Switch game Nintendo has released yet, will land later this year. The company announced Bayonetta 2 back in 2017. That leaves Mario Kart as the odd franchise out–Nintendo hasn’t said a word about a possible sequel.
Does ‘Mario Kart’ Need a Sequel?
From Nintendo’s standpoint, it might be hard to justify releasing a brand-new game in the Mario Kart series. As we noted, MK8D is the best-selling game on the Switch, and its performance hasn’t slowed down as the console has aged. If anything, Nintendo would only eat into the sales of its existing cash cow by releasing a sequel right now.
From the publisher’s point of view, it might seem as though audiences are finally catching up to how good the Wii U’s library was. Why go through all the effort of making brand-new titles when you could just sell people games they missed out on that are still excellent today?
There’s another question that some Mario Kart fans have also brought up that can illustrate why Nintendo opted for DLC over a sequel. What could the company add to a new entry that Mario Kart 8 doesn’t have? The latest game has gorgeous HD graphics, underwater levels, antigravity levels, time trials, minigames, local and online multiplayer modes, and a robust replay function.
From a sheer quality-of-life standpoint, there isn’t anywhere for Nintendo to go with another entry in the long-running racing franchise. The only thing players could reasonably ask for in a follow-up would be more tracks.
Keeping It All Together
By introducing new stages through the Booster Course Pass, Nintendo achieves quite a few goals. The first and most obvious is that it continues to support its best-selling Switch game with a steady stream of new content. This gets people talking about the aging racing game and could drive sales even higher as fans flock to check out the new tracks. It also could draw lapsed players back into the Nintendo Switch Online ecosystem so they can play against other racers online.
This also keeps the online community for Mario Kart together on a single platform. If Nintendo simply rolled these 48 new tracks together into a hypothetical Mario Kart 9 and released it in late 2023, it would split its active player base among two mega-popular racing titles. This could result in emptier lobbies and eat into the company’s online subscriber numbers.
From a player’s perspective, it’s also nice to access brand-new content for a game you’re already familiar with. These new courses are the best of both worlds for racers who have already unlocked their favorite cart components and posted blisteringly-fast time trials.
Season passes aren’t a new concept for game developers, either. Companies have been doling out drip-feed DLC for over a decade. However, Nintendo has experienced a unique amount of success with the tactic recently.
The Fighter’s Pass for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was a smashing success, doling out a dozen new fighters for the beloved game over multiple years. Players embraced the idea of paying for an expansion ahead of time and being delighted by reveals down the line.
This “surprise reveal” model kept players interested in Smash Bros. long after its release window, drove more sales for the game, and, naturally, kept money flowing into Nintendo’s pocket.
Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Nintendo wants in on the annual subscription revenue stream that companies like Netflix and Apple make consistently. The Booster Course Pass probably exists to get people to subscribe to Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack. This expansion of Nintendo’s base Online program includes access to Nintendo 64 games and Sega Genesis emulation, as well as some DLC for first-party Nintendo games.
The premium online subscription got off to a rocky start. Many players took issue with the service’s high cost and spotty Nintendo 64 emulation and suggested it wasn’t worth the money.
The Expansion Pack only included one DLC package at launch: the Animal Crossing Happy Home Paradise expansion. Some players loved this addition, and game critics noted that Animal Crossing is the second-best-selling Switch title. It’s not surprising that Nintendo followed this by releasing an expansion for its best-selling game on the same subscription a few months later.
If Nintendo keeps releasing new N64 titles for the Expansion Pack and layering DLC for its most popular games into the service, it could become hard for most players to say no to the upgrade. After all, by the time you buy Happy Home Paradise and the Booster Course pack separately, you could have just paid for the Expansion Pack for a year and also gained access to the N64 emulation library.
Golden Dash Cup and Lucky Cat Cup
As for the new tracks themselves, they’re wonderful. There’s a mix of courses from Mario Kart Tour, Mario Kart Wii, and Mario Kart Super Circuit, as well as a standout reworked track named Ninja Hideaway. Some returning favorites, like Coconut Mall and Shroom Ridge, are perfect fits for Mario Kart 8’s high-speed action.
Two of the tracks from Mario Kart Tour, Paris Promenade, and Tokyo Blur, are interesting departures from the rest of the game’s designs. The courses were originally made for the mobile version of Mario Kart, so they’re relatively short and somewhat bland. Thankfully, the new renditions of classic courses and the remixed Ninja Hideaway are exciting enough to gloss over the more forgettable tracks.
In either case, it’s bizarre to play brand-new Mario Kart 8 Grand Prix cups in 2022. At this rate, it seems unlikely that Nintendo will release another Mario Kart title on the Switch. The odds are good that they’ll just bundle all of the Booster Course Pack tracks together and release Mario Kart 8 Deluxe 2 for their next system!
That’s a joke. We hope.