It was a good Nintendo Direct this week, as an exciting raft of new and old games were lined up for a 2023 release. Pikmin, Metroid, Zelda, Professor Layton – frankly, it was a great time to be a Switch owner and a Nintendo fan. Tucked away in the Direct was a little more info on the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe expansion pack, with the next wave featuring an entirely new Yoshi’s Island course, in the vein of similar courses created just for this game. There was also a surprise announcement – you’ll be able to race around the track as Birdo, a returning character. That, more than the new track, is a sign of good things ahead for the game.
Not counting Birdo, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe currently has 42 characters. Obviously, there are some essential picks – Mario, Luigi, Peach, Bowser, and the other members of the core cast. The game also boasts many of the villains and smaller characters, and a number of racers crossing over from other Nintendo titles – Zelda’s Link, Animal Crossing’s Villager and Isabelle, and the Inklings of Splatoon. Being a Nintendo release originating on a Wii console, there’s also the chance to race as a Mii.
Hopefully, this means the return of noticeably missing characters and fan favourites such as R.O.B., Funky Kong, and Diddy Kong
But, in a roster of 42 for a game in such an expansive universe as Mario’s, there’s a really surprising amount of padding and duds. The Koopalings take up a sixth of the roster, and the bonus characters another sixth. Needing light characters, Nintendo has put five babies into the game, including a bizarre Baby Rosalina who cannot exist based on our knowledge of the character. Then, you’ve the infamous Mario and Peach palette swaps that are distinct characters – there’s a Tanooki Mario and a Cat Peach, then a Metal Mario and the Pink Gold Peach.
Given that, if you eventually unlock the Gold Mario reward, it becomes an alternate costume for Metal Mario, there’s no reason something similar shouldn’t have happened elsewhere. Instead, many big characters saw the chop in order to pad out the character selection with naff copies – it’s a strange choice, and one that makes the character options one of the game’s weakest points. Fortunately, belatedly, Birdo’s return might be the first sign that this issue will be solved.
Birdo first appeared in Mario Kart: Double Dash!! on the GameCube, Yoshi’s partner in a game that required racers to team up in the same vehicle. She was then an unlockable character in Mario Kart Wii, before totally vanishing from the series until now. She’s not the most essential character, but Nintendo has confirmed that Birdo is just the first of the new characters to be coming to the game – hopefully, this means the return of noticeably missing characters and fan favourites such as R.O.B., Funky Kong, and Diddy Kong.
There is more potential here, though, than just returning characters. The booster packs have brought Tour tracks to the main game, and that should open the door for their characters too – racers never seen in a mainline game, such as Kamek, Hammer Bro and Pauline. Of course, the Nintendo statement doesn’t say that the new characters will be returning ones, and although it’s hard to imagine who they would pick, that doesn’t mean we won’t be blindsided by a racer from the depths of Mario history.
People are already speculating about who the new racers will be, building anticipation for a game that continues to find ways to survive. That’s a genius marketing move by Nintendo, and one that helps rectify the game’s biggest issue at the same time.