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 Triforce Cup.
Like the Egg Cup, the Triforce Cup was initially included as part of the The Legend of Zelda X Mario Kart 8 DLC pack for Mario Kart 8 on Wii U. And also like that cup, its emblem points toward the theme of one of the cup’s four courses, this time the iconic Triforce from the Zelda series. Featuring two interpretations of past courses and two entirely new courses, all taking place in disparate locations, it is difficult to summarize what the Triforce Cup represents in the grander scheme of themes. However, it is more difficult than the Egg Cup and features the climactic Zelda crossover course that headlined the DLC package.
The Triforce Cup kicks off with Wario’s Gold Mine, a remake of a Mario Kart Wii course that sends players through a gold mine filled with bats, mine carts, and sudden drops. While all of these establish a sense of place (though the mine carts are surprisingly similar to Water Park’s roller coaster), the course is notably lacking in references to gold and Wario. Because of this, it feels less like a gold mine owned by Wario and more like a generic industrial mine, coming up short of what its name promises. Despite this, the track features a solid layout defined by vertical drops (which are enjoyable but don’t contribute much to gameplay) and planks of wood sticking out of the interior of many turns that allow the player to boost across turns like a mini-shortcut. This is the course’s biggest potential contribution to the franchise, as it is basically a new type of turn that balances risk and reward more effectively than many normal shortcuts.
Wario’s Gold Mine is followed by Rainbow Road SNES, a revamped version of the last course from the first Mario Kart game. After initially appearing in the original Super Mario Kart, this version of Rainbow Road was also featured in Mario Kart: Super Circuit and Mario Kart 7 before Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Given its four incarnations, it is surprising how little the course has changed over time. Outside of different art and Thwomp size, number, and placement, the course remains nearly identical in each iteration. Although Mario Kart 8’s interpretation is especially gorgeous, devout fans of the series might be disappointed to discover the same course yet again. And even though the course layout is passable (if incredibly simplistic), it is one of only two courses in the game to not feature dash panels, antigrav, an underwater portion, or gliding, making it feel like a decent but questionable selection.
The Triforce Cup’s third course is Ice Ice Outpost, a bobsled-like run through a Toad-led iceberg drilling expedition. Though conceptually inventive (and kind of hilarious), neither the art nor the design lives up to the clever premise. Regarding aesthetics, the intricate conceit behind the course could allow for several humorous set pieces but instead feels like a generic ice world devoid of life and character. On the design front, the split roads that act as the course’s defining feature feel superficially implemented, offering very similar experiences with little interaction between each other and a lack of obstacles and hazards. The bland atmosphere and unremarkable track design combine for a lackluster course marking the Triforce Cup’s nadir.
Finally, the Triforce Cup caps off with Hyrule Circuit, the quintessential The Legend of Zelda X Mario Kart 8 DLC course that places players in Hyrule and pits them against classic Zelda baddies. Specifically, the track leads through Hyrule field, Hyrule castle, a small village, and a valley with references to several Zelda games, from coins turned to rupees, Swoopers turned to Keese, music that combines Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess, soldiers in the audience from Spirit Tracks, and item shop text from A Link Between Worlds. Despite sublime fan service, I have mixed feelings about the course itself. For the most part, I find the outdoor components blur together, all feeling like a vacant version of Hyrule Field, with the actual Hyrule Field severely dwarfed. This might be because of the Twilight Princess-esque art style that generally makes outdoor regions less distinct from each other than Breath of the Wild’s or The Wind Waker’s, but the track layout in these regions is also dull. Fortunately, the castle feels slightly more considered, especially the shortcut that requires players touch three pylons to unlock a ramp that gives access to a Master Sword-induced boost. It’s a clever concept that makes access to the Master Sword feel earned and is by far the most nuanced portion of the course in terms of the shortcut design and the track layout generally. This is all to say that as a Zelda fan, I always enjoy Hyrule Circuit because of the world it allows me to temporarily inhabit, but I think the F-Zero courses and the Animal Crossing course offer a deeper sense of their respective universes by more thoroughly Mario Kart-ifying their worlds and design philosophies.
On the whole, the Triforce Cup is a decent cup bookended by fairly strong courses with a weaker middle section. Although the Zelda-centric theme differentiates one course from the rest, it otherwise lacks an identity, feeling a bit like a hodgepodge primarily present to preface the finale. And while that finale might be a Nintendo fan’s dream, it stumbles a bit compared to the other cross-franchise courses in Mario Kart 8, despite being the most heavily marketed and anticipated. In this regard, the Triforce Cup is a bit of a letdown, even though it’s a passable collection of courses. The good news is that it leaves ample room for improvement for a more engrossing Breath of the Wild track in the inevitable Mario Kart 9.
Check out analyses of other Mario Kart 8 Deluxe courses, as well as courses from Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Odyssey, here.