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 Shell Cup.
Comprised of four courses from past games, the Shell Cup was first introduced in Mario Kart DS from 2005. It is the first of Mario Kart 8’s four Retro Cups, with difficulty roughly on par with the Mushroom Cup. Of its four courses, two were initially in past games’ Mushroom Cups and two were in Flower Cups.
The Shell Cup’s first course is Moo Moo Meadows. Moo Moo Meadows was originally the second race in Mario Kart Wii’s Mushroom Cup, itself a spiritual successor to Mario Kart 64’s Moo Moo Farm. It featured a wide, simple path ambling through a pasture filled with Moo Moos and Monty Moles. Mario Kart 8’s version of the track is nearly identical, bar small changes in setting (it is now sunrise instead of midday; there are more farms and windmills) and the addition of an optional gliding portion. As a whole, the course is a solid start to the Shell Cup, offering a pristine and unthreatening space of innocence as a well-chosen jumping off point for the game’s retro courses. The wide pathway and visual clarity make Moo Moo Meadows an accessible course for beginners while moving hazards and split paths vary the lap-by-lap experience for more seasoned players.
Second up to bat is an updated version of the Game Boy Advance’s Mario Circuit. As the first race of the Flower Cup in Mario Kart: Super Circuit, it was the only GBA retro course in Mario Kart 8 before the DLC was added. The original track was a flat, bland course primarily notable for its single hairpin turn. The modern version of the track features the same basic layout, but that hairpin turn is angled vertically as the track’s sole antigrav portion. Oil slicks a la the original Super Mario Kart and a gliding shortcut have also been added to diversify and update the experience, though it remains a simple race well-suited for the Shell Cup that is sometimes difficult to differentiate from SNES courses like the Banana Cup’s Donut Plains 3.
Third on the list is Cheep Cheep Beach, a course borrowed from the Mario Kart DS’ Mushroom Cup that was a spiritual successor to Mario Kart: Super Circuit’s Cheep Cheep Island. While the course’s skeleton remains nearly identical (a sizable turn under a rock near the start, a straightaway across a beach, and some smaller turns in a jungle portion near the end), there are a couple noteworthy changes. In particular, the original’s trademark changing tide has been scrapped, making the course more uniform lap-by-lap. A gliding portion at the start and some mud puddles near the ending turns have also been added. Although the changing tide is missed, Cheep Cheep Beach feels like the most fully-featured Retro course so far, featuring more hazards and changes in setting than the past two courses. Devotees may notice it lacks a central gimmick, but it remains a strong course that slightly wrenches up the difficulty and diversifies the play experience via underwater portions and tricky turns.
The Shell Cup concludes with Toad’s Turnpike, a divisive Mario Kart 64 course that pits players alongside cars and trucks on a figure-8 freeway. Although the Mario Kart 8 version is still configured in the same basic shape, the course has been significantly shortened and a new antigrav route effectively broadens the road. This keeps the course from growing stale while also allowing for a wider variety of play styles and difficulties depending on how willing the player is to brave the traffic. Furthermore, randomized traffic patterns mean the difficulty of the course is slightly altered each time, injecting subtle hazard variation into a course defined by those hazards. These changes make Toad’s Turnpike the most improved of any course in the Shell Cup, and a more invigorating track than players might remember from the Nintendo 64.
Taken together, the courses of the Shell Cup generally mirror those in the Mushroom Cup. They might be slightly thematically bland or stale on their own (perhaps slightly more so because many players may have played similar versions of these courses before), but they gradually ratchet up the difficulty while strategically introducing the player to an increasing variety of mechanics and hazards. By the end, this solid set of tracks sets the stage for the increased difficulty and variety of the next cup, while providing a series of friendly and forgiving environments to learn and practice the game’s central mechanics.
Check out analyses of other Mario Kart 8 Deluxe courses, as well as courses from Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Odyssey, here.