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 perfect, 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 game’s second set of courses, the Flower Cup.
Like the Mushroom Cup, the first Flower Cup was featured in original Super Mario Kart for Super Nintendo. Compared to the Mushroom Cup, it featured intricate course layouts with tighter turns and narrower paths, and threw in some additional hazards to boot. As the franchise’s gameplay has become more layered and fine-tuned, so have the challenges presented in Flower Cups, from dodging vehicles along a busy highway in Toad’s Turnpike from Mart Kart 64, to outrunning pinballs in Waluigi Pinball from Mario Kart DS. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe upholds this tradition of upping the ante through layout and hazards while also sending the player to different corners of the Mushroom Kingdom.
The Flower Cup’s first course is Mario Circuit, an enjoyable but generic course that feels a bit like an alternate first course to Mario Kart Stadium. In fact, its layout is arguably even simpler than Stadium’s, as Circuit is basically just a figure-8 with a couple of frills, and its theme borrows a musical slice from Stadium’s. Circuit remains slightly more difficult, however, because of its classic hazards. Piranha Plants line the sides of turns making some parts of the roadway unviable, while avoiding stacks of Goombas demands basic proficiency with the glider. Still, the mobius strip figure-8 layout feels like the quintessential expression of the game’s antigrav and eighth entry themes. Unfortunately its aesthetic theme is less unique than its layout, as it does little to differentiate itself from past Peach’s Castles. And even though the mobius strip layout is quite clever, it is impossible to see the course’s layout during actual gameplay, as there is no vantage point from which the player can see just how chic it is. As a whole, Mario Circuit is an innocuous warm-up track that isn’t particularly flawed or memorable.
Mario Circuit is followed by Toad Harbor, a lengthy seaside track that boasts several similarities to famous American coastal cities, San Francisco in particular. This track is perhaps most notable for its length, as it is among the longest of the traditional three-lap tracks. But outside of a couple pesky right turns in near the starting marina, the track is mostly smooth sailing, with a fairly broad and straight main road and a handful of more difficult shortcut options. The long downhill at the end is a particular highlight, as it grants a satisfying view of the city below while plentiful dash panels deliver a strong sense of propulsion. The trolleys are a particularly nice San Franciscan touch, though having the option to boost off some of them, or perhaps off certain parts of each trolley, could have added another layer of depth to the course’s most straightforward section while playing further into the speediness of the downhill portion. Also, no Lombard Street feels like a glaring omission.
The Flower Cup’s third course is Twisted Mansion, a partially flooded haunted mansion reminiscent of the Luigi’s Mansion series. Twisted Mansion is fittingly the most twisted course thus far, as its mansion is chock full of turns and architecturally askew, with floors that flow more like ribbon than brick and mortar. The course’s starting portion, a straightaway that splits into two equidistant antigrav carpets that pit players literally head-to-head, is easy to overlook but arguably the most tangible use of antigrav thus far. The mansion doors opening during the starting countdown is a nice touch, as are the particularly thoughtful coin placements throughout the course. Unfortunately, the brief gliding portion over a broad courtyard seems a little vacant, and the left turn immediately after a bit of an awkward difficulty spike. However, its placement at the end brilliantly gives the course’s “tough portion” more weight than Toad Harbor’s because there is little time left for recovery afterward.
Shy Guy Falls caps off the Flower Cup with a pair of waterfalls and Seven-Dwarfsy charm. Between its punishing turns and finicky shortcuts, it might be the toughest course so far. But ample speed boosts on the waterfall straightaways, along with an especially tight final right turn that ends the course on a crescendo, ensure it is also the most thrilling. The empowering manner in which both upstream and downstream waterfalls are integrated into gameplay along with the freeing sense of enthrall they provide make this course a personal favorite. It’s as if you can feel the wind in your hair (or head/hat thing if you’re Toad). The only downside is the awkward glide shortcut, which feels less natural than Twisted Mansion’s, as it seems to demand artificially slowing down when it feels most necessary to blast ahead.
The combination of these four tracks evidences a deepening concern with not only ramping up the challenge but also switching it up. These courses feel more diverse than the four courses constituting the Mushroom Cup, even if Mario Kart Circuit starts them off on a fairly conventional note. But here, with a greater emphasis on hazards and gameplay fluctuation, themes are generally more thoroughly expressed. Whether in Haunted Mansion’s shimmying walkways, Shy Guy Falls’ waterfalls, or Toad Harbor’s trolleys, each course conveys some sense of what each world looks and feels like. Though most of these tracks could have benefitted from slightly more integration of their themes into gameplay, these courses represent the half-step in between the Mushroom Cup’s accessibility and the ever-shifting set pieces soon to come.
Check out analyses of other Mario Kart 8 Deluxe courses, as well as courses from Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Odyssey, here.