With over 13 million units sold worldwide between the Wii U and Switch versions, Mario Kart 8 is Nintendo’s most commercially successful console game since the Wii era. And it’s little wonder why. Mario Kart is always a top-seller, but Mario Kart 8 is something special. Its core gameplay is so satisfying and finely-tuned that it flirts with perfection, and its audio and visuals rival Nintendo’s best work. And when the Wii U version’s downloadable content came bundled in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (in addition to a battle mode!), the result was arguably the most critically acclaimed Mario Kart of all time and the greatest racing game of the generation. In this continuing feature, I will be examining Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s courses cup-by-cup, evaluating the ups and downs of each course. In this entry, I will be looking at the Bell Cup.
Like the Crossing Cup, the Bell Cup made its first appearance as half of the Animal Crossing X Mario Kart 8 DLC pack. Also like the Crossing Cup, the Bell Cup is comprised of two retro courses and two new courses, making it neither strictly a Nitro or Retro Cup. However, with a Super Bell emblem from Super Mario 3D World, and no courses taking place in that game, it lacks the clearer theming of the Crossing Cup.
The Bell Cup’s first course is Neo Bowser City, a remake of the third course from Mario Kart 7’s Star Cup. Taking place in a Blade Runner-like, neon, screen-heavy metropolis on a rainy day, Neo Bowser’s setting is distinctly unlike the game’s other Mario courses that exhibit more traditional canonical settings. The track layout is especially twisty, and feels even more so since its heavy rain adds a slippery slickness to the outdoor surfaces. The Mario Kart 8 version of the track is nearly identical to the Mario Kart 7 version, bar some minor aesthetic changes and antigrav sections. On the whole, it is a tough race with a busy layout that does a great job establishing an unusually somber mood despite a lack of memorable set pieces.
Neo Bowser City is followed by Ribbon Road, initially the second track of Mario Kart Super Circuit’s Star Cup. The original version has players race along a windy piece of ribbon that weaves around numerous presents. It’s a decent course, but Mario Kart 8’s version blows it out of the water, creating the largest quality disparity between a course’s original instantiation and its remake. Indeed, the Mario Kart 8 version shrewdly doubles down on the ribbon theme by adding small bumps in the road that provide opportunities for tricks and an antigrav portion that traces the ribbon up into the air before a long glide. Combined with new hazards that call back to classic Mario games and its new Toy Story-like children’s bedroom setting, Ribbon Road is the most improved course in Mario Kart 8, and possibly one of the best courses overall.
Super Bell Subway is the Bell Cup’s third course but its first wholly original one. The course takes place entirely within a subway station, with most of the track having the player race along underground subway lines. More than most courses, Super Bell Subway is absolutely jam-packed with Mario references, and it also creates a sense of unity among Mario Kart 8’s maps by turning them into subway stops (a la Sunshine Airport’s flight board). The layout itself is engaging and tough (especially while dodging subways underground) and its alternate pathways offer varying ways to tackle what initially seems to be a very linear course. However, I find the setting more conceptually inspired than it is in practice, with much of it blending together as a fairly generic subway station. As the only non-crossover Nitro course without an antigrav section, it also feels a bit lacking in Mario Kart 8-specific mechanics as well as set pieces.
Big Blue sends the Bell Cup off on a high note, offering a one-of-a-kind thrill ride that somehow makes the breakneck Mute City seem tame by comparison. As Mario Kart 8’s final final course, Big Blue salutes every element of what makes Mario Kart 8 unique in the series: its fearless ability to crossover and adapt famed Nintendo franchises, its lightning fast speeds (remember, 200CC didn’t exist before Mario Kart 8 added it in an update!), and its typically mediocre but sometimes game-changing antigrav. Similar to Mount Wario, Big Blue has players race from one end to another along an especially lengthy course, without traditional laps. Between tons of dash pads, split paths, and conveyor belts, Big Blue represents the speedy culmination of Mario Kart 8 and ends the game with a fitting tribute to itself and Nintendo’s second most lauded racing series. Here’s to that franchise making a grand return in a full-blown sequel!
As a whole, the Bell Cup lacks a thematic or conceptual identity, but contains a collection of generally strong (and a couple fantastic) courses. It raises the difficulty of the Crossing Cup, and ranks among the most trying cups in the game, but its dramatically different atmospheres and gimmicks make the course feel like an epic voyage that bids a fitting adieu to one of the greatest racing games ever made. Mario Kart 9, what could you possibly have in store for us?
Check out analyses of other Mario Kart 8 Deluxe courses, as well as courses from Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Odyssey, here.