We suspect that the online multiplayer servers for Mario Kart 8 saw a handsome spike this week, with the launch of DLC Pack 2 and an update that includes the 200cc race class. It's a title that just keeps growing, and as we argued recently the arrival of non-Mario franchises points to a potential future for the racer as a 'platform' in its own right.
As we said in that feature, indications are that the MK8 DLC has performed well for Nintendo, bringing success critically but also commercially. Though the company is unlikely to give figures, we suspect that the attach rate of game owners that have picked up the DLC is rather high, especially considering the excellent value of the 'Season Pass'.
In light of Nintendo's early challenges transitioning to HD development in the Wii U age, the easy win of keeping a team dedicated to updating and broadening Mario Kart 8 must be under consideration. At last count (at the end of 2014) the kart racer was the best-selling Wii U game with 4.77 million sales - from a user base of just 9.2 million Wii U units, that's mighty impressive. It's the ultimate winner on a struggling system, and as close to a sure-thing that Nintendo will find on the platform.
If Nintendo is to keep the Mario Kart 8 DLC hype train going later in 2015 and beyond, though, what content should it deliver? More tracks, clearly, and we've made our daft predictions in the past, but there's more that Nintendo can do to freshen up the experience.
More Tracks and IP Crossovers
This is certainly the most obvious addition in the future, simply a continuation of the content we've seen to date. The Legend of Zelda, F-Zero and Animal Crossing have all been prominent, while other franchise candidate could be those such as Kirby, while a Star Fox-themed outer-space stage - Rainbow Road has already gone to the stars on multiple occasions - would be an ideal tie-in with the Wii U game due this year. All fans will have their favourites, though we'd anticipate that characters and track themes will stick to basics and possibly serve as cross-promotion for other franchises trying to sell units on the console.
The challenge for Nintendo is gauging whether it's hit the sweet spot in terms of track content already, or whether there's still room for more of the same. "We want more" is often the refrain from fans, naturally, but the game designers will surely be thinking about balancing, not to mention the fact that the prospective Mario Kart 9 will need some ideas and exciting features of its own in years to come. It's not always wise to splurge all smart ideas in one project.
A Proper Battle Mode
As this writer wrote our Mario Kart 8 review, it can be said with confidence that the phoned-in Battle Mode of the latest entry dented its chances of a perfect 10 - our 9 also reflected some disappointment in GamePad implementation. A fabulous racer, possibly the best in the series in terms of mechanics and sheer joy of gameplay, still has a Battle Mode that's not good enough to have us roll out of bed. There may be attempts to claim that it was shaking up the formula to have racers go around Grand Prix tracks for battles, but it smacked of a compromise to get the game out in May 2014 rather than delay further.
Battle Mode isn't the main pastime for many, admittedly, but a real set of arenas for old fashioned battles would be a nice nod to series veterans; perhaps throw in some other game options for battles, too, such as Shine Sprite. Even if they're all HD upscales of existing arenas that'd be fine, we'd simply like the option. Due to the niche factor it may be an individual purchase kept out of a future 'season pass', but we'd like it to happen.
Oh, and a Splatoon themed Battle Arena would be swell.
A Return for Challenges / Missions
Considering Nintendo's fondness for stamps, snippets of proper achievements in Hyrule Warriors - admittedly a Koei Tecmo project - and the use of Miiverse in various games, Challenges would be a nice way to tap into those areas.
They made their début as Missions in Mario Kart DS, and provided quirky twists on the core play, either on tracks or in Battle arenas. Though they could be as simple as driving through checkpoints, others would reverse controls or throw up boss encounters, shaking up how we played and testing our range of skills. Above we alluded to Nintendo's potential challenge in keeping DLC fresh, and Challenges are ideal in shaking up the current MK8 structure.
Another perspective could be weekly challenges set by Nintendo itself, an expansion of the 'Mario Kart Channel' on the Wii. This could be part of a broader Challenges mode or, as an easier option, simply bolt into the current Time Trials and Grand Prix modes. Get in the top 10,000 places and receive a new colour variation for a roster character, for example.
Easy Freebies - 200cc Mirror and More amiibo Outfits
Beyond the excellent value of the paid-DLC, Nintendo's also been rather generous with its free updates. Initially we had unlockable amiibo Mii outfits, and the recent addition of the 200cc class has added a lot of legs to existing cups and the latest DLC tracks. The super-fast mode certainly changes how we play, not to mention providing a stiff challenge for those that like three shiny gold stars next to each Cup.
200cc Mirror, then, would be a logical future inclusion, while there are plenty of amiibo figures - out now and on the way - that could also make rather handsome Mii costume outfits. Even if the freebies have ended, though, we'd argue that the big N's been pretty generous already.
Those are some ideas for future Mario Kart 8 DLC, which we hope are on the cards. Let us know what you think of these idea, and indeed anything we've missed, in the poll and comments below.