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 Banana Cup.
Like the Shell Cup, the Banana Cup first appeared in Mario Kart DS as a collection of four retro courses. From that instantiation onward, it has been comprised of four tracks usually taken from the past games’ Mushroom and Flower Cups, with an occasional Star Cup track sprinkled in. On average, the Banana Cup most closely resembles the Flower Cup in difficulty. In Mario Kart 8 specifically, the Banana Cup is made up of one Mushroom Cup track, one Star Cup track, and two Special Cup tracks, making it a higher average difficulty than the typical Banana Cup.
The Banana Cup’s first track is Dry Dry Desert, a reimagining of the fourth course of Mario Kart: Double Dash!!’s Mushroom Cup. Dry Dry Desert can be roughly divided into three regions — a series of swerves populated by Pokeys near the start, a giant pit of quicksand bookended by tornados, and a broad plateau featuring more Pokeys and a couple small hills. The Mario Kart 8 version mostly sticks with this layout, although it removes the tornados and the Pokeys near the end, filling the plateau with water to create an oasis. Eliminating the tornados and Pokeys make the course slightly easier than the Double Dash version, but the oasis adds a much-needed change of scenery in a course that can feel aesthetically bland. It’s a stronger track than Bone-Dry Dunes because of its changes in scenery and set pieces, but it still feels like a fairly generic desert course in need of an inspiring antigrav section or a more memorable set piece.
Dry Dry Desert is followed by Donut Plains 3, the only track in Mario Kart 8’s base game taken from the original Super Mario Kart. As one of the most nuanced track layouts in Super Mario Kart, the course’s skeleton matches the intricacy of Mario Kart 8’s track design surprisingly well. That skeleton remains largely untouched from a top-down view, though some parts of the road have been widened or narrowed, perhaps to account for the wider turning radius in Mario Kart 8. Meanwhile, many of the course’s hazards have undergone significant change, including the deletion of some bridge portions mandating brief underwater sections and the replacement of the course’s original nineteen Monty Moles with two Monty Moles exhibiting more complex behavior. On the whole, these changes successfully update Donut Plains 3, though it still lacks in Mario Kart 8-specific features like antigrav, and feels aesthetically very similar to a couple other old-school tracks.
Now the third race in the Banana Cup, Mario Kart 64’s Royal Raceway was originally the third course in the Star Cup, and one of that game’s tougher courses. Outside of a beatific facelift that adds homey background detail (including Toads in swan boats and several hot air balloons), the course features the same core set pieces as before, primarily the massive jump by Peach’s Castle. However, the addition of the glide mechanic makes said jump much less threatening than before, and looser turns near the start and end of the race ensure players are more likely to stay on track. By modifying and modernizing these course components, the course’s difficulty is significantly decreased, making it a much better fit for the Banana Cup than players of Mario Kart 64 might anticipate. Though it is yet another course set within the Mushroom Kingdom, its blissful blooming atmosphere set it apart from the rest of the pack.
The Banana Cup fittingly finishes with DK Jungle, a remake of the first track from Mario Kart 7’s Special Cup. Based off the Wii’s Donkey Kong Country Returns, DK Jungle has players drive through a jungle, bounce off a flower, dodge Tiki Goons and Frogoons under a canopy, swing a massive U-turn in the Golden Temple, and fly over a lake populated by Screaming Pillars. The Mario Kart 8 version of the track makes several small adjustments to item and enemy placement, but the only significant changes to the track layout are the U-turn’s upward tilt and the gap in the split path shortcut by the end. Fortunately, both of these changes improve the track, which I find generally underappreciated by fans. That said, the Screaming Pillars have little impact on the player’s speed when they could have demanded some gliding skill (a mechanic the game unfortunately demands little mastery of).
On the whole, the Banana Cup does a strong job updating a fairly contentious and divisive set of tracks so they mostly feel modern and relevant. In particular, I appreciate the higher-than-average difficulty of this Banana Cup, and how past courses were modified in ways that made them feel like a perfect fit regardless of the cup they were taken from. Though none of the tracks stand out as highlights, most are fairly solid, improving in atmosphere, design nuance, and overall quality as the cup progresses. The Banana Cup is a series of overlooked and underappreciated courses that combine for a more memorable and polished experience than fans of the series might initially expect.
Check out analyses of other Mario Kart 8 Deluxe courses, as well as courses from Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Odyssey, here.