Ranking the Mario Kart games

Is there a more approachable and whimsical series than Mario Kart? I’ve long found it’s an easy one to get non-gamers to jump into and try. With our recent move into the house we just bought my entire family has been playing a few MK games since they’re really the equivalent of gaming “comfort food”. Just a few minutes with any Mario Kart is a pleasant blast of joy and silliness! And more seriously, many of the entries still stand solid as defining games for their consoles. So let’s look at the entire history of the series and attempt ranking the Mario Kart games.

Mario Kart 8 for Wii U and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe with Wii U and Switch Pro controllers

As per usual with top 10 lists of classic games, I rank primarily on how well each entry holds up today. Nostalgia always plays a part, but I use replays as my determining factor! I’ll also be skipping Mario Kart Tour and Home Circuit as I don’t have much experience with either. Alright, 3, 2, 1…

8. Mario Kart: Super Circuit (GBA)

There’s nothing particularly bad about Mario Kart: Super Circuit. But compared to other entries in the series, it’s not very memorable or interesting to play today. Released after Mario Kart 64, it offered gameplay more akin to its SNES predecessor and didn’t do much that was new or exciting. The same roster of characters as MK 64, bland track design, and slippery controls that didn’t allow for a power slide make it tough to go back to do today. I’ll occasionally pop in the cart to play for a few minutes in my GBA, but always end up turning it off after only a handful of races. A nice game to look at and fairly impressive for the time, but nowhere close to being one of my favorite Game Boy Advance games!

Mario Kart Super Circuit box, manual, cart, and Glacier White Game Boy Advance

7. Mario Kart Wii (Wii)

Mario Kart Wii sold just an absurd amount of copies, so you’d think it would be one of the best, right? Well, though it’s still a solid and pretty enjoyable game, it doesn’t do much to stand out. Most of the track design seems to be designed around the motion controls, which are serviceable but never provide the precision of using an actual controller. Graphics are pretty similar to the GameCube but still nice, and the music is alright despite not standing out much. The thing that gets me is that the item balancing is WAY off. There have been times in a single race where I got hit by FIVE blue shells. FIVE. I always prefer my racers to be primarily skill rather than luck based, and this is Mario Kart Wii’s biggest flaw.

Mario kart Wii case, manual, Wii remote, and WaveBird GC controller
I’m going to strongly recommend the GameCube controller here.

But hey, at least the game came with the steering wheel you can lock a Wii remote into! And it was fun to use (don’t act like it wasn’t). Despite all my complaining, Mario Kart Wii is still a great party game and one of the most enjoyable Wii titles. It’s just not the best.

6. Mario Kart (SNES)

As a 90s kid, I think most folks would expect me to put this higher. I do have a lot of nostalgia for the original, and it still puts a smile on face today! A friend that lived next door had a sister that bought this on her SNES, and we were blown away by those sweet, sweet Mode 7 graphics back in 1992. The character roster was creative (I’m so glad Koopa was a racer!), the music was insanely catchy, and the whole experience was just so zany and whimsically Nintendo.

Mario Kart SNES box, cart, manual, and SNES controller

Was it revolutionary and is it still fun today? Sure, but if I’m being honest, I don’t enjoy SNES Mario Kart quite as much as the more contemporary entries. I just really appreciate the innovations and upgrades the newer games bring. It’s still worth checking out on SNES classic if you’ve never played it, though!

5. Mario Kart DS (DS)

I got this game for Christmas 2005 just after it released, and I couldn’t stop playing it. Not only was the character roster a ton of fun (Dry Bones!) and track design creative, but the single player “Missions” mode was just a blast. You were given a host of innovative (and often downright crazy sounding) objectives to complete within a certain time frame, and it was ludicrously fun! I’d really like to see a return of that mode in future Mario Kart entries (if that ever happens, since Mario Kart 8 just won’t stop selling). The DS’ wireless capabilities also allowed some online multiplayer for the first time. There were shortcomings, for sure, but it generally worked well and was a lot of fun to play with friends!

Mario Kart DS box, manual, and Nintendo DS Lite

The game has largely been eclipsed by Mario Kart 7 and 8 at this point, but it’s still an enjoyable ride-especially that Missions mode!

4. Mario Kart 64 (N64)

Just missing the top 3 when ranking the Mario Kart games is the classic Mario Kart 64! Now I’ll fully admit that nostalgia gets the best of me here. There’s a lot to criticize when playing it today, like muddy graphics, slippery controls, brutal framerates and missing music in 4-player races. But I still find the tracks a lot of fun, the item balancing to be fair, and winning races to be largely based on skill. The shortcuts are numerous and creative too! (I think everyone remembers the Wario Stadium jump early in track, flying over that brick wall in Mario Raceway and rail in Rainbow Road).

Mario Kart 64 box, cart, manual, operation card, and Nintendo Power player's guide

Then of course, there’s the superb Battle Mode. If you were lucky enough to play this game in its heyday, you spent countless (countless) hours playing on Block Fort, and it did not get old. Ever. One of my favorite Nintendo 64 games to this day!

3. Mario Kart 7 (3DS)

The 3DS is a gem of a console packed full of stellar games! (I’m already nostalgic for it as it might have been Nintendo’s last dedicated handheld). And I got a ton of mileage out of Mario Kart 7 before I picked up Mario Kart 8! Controls feel great, graphics are gorgeous, the 3D effect is used to excellent effect, the new flying and underwater mechanics were a delight, and course design is lovely all the way around. I mean, Rosalina’s Ice World alone is magical enough that you need to pick and up play the game if you haven’t! It’s really quite a fun entry that’s perfect to race a few tracks for a few minutes every now and then.

Mario Kart 7 box, fold out manual, and Red Nintendo 3DS XL
Love that big operations card that came with it. One of the last!

2. Mario Kart: Double Dash!! (GameCube)

First off, extra points for the double exclamation points! There’s a lot to love about Double Dash, a game that still frequents my GameCube. Being able to choose two racers added a lot of variety to which items you could use, as each character had a specific “special” they were more likely to get. Course design was concise, tight, varied, and creative! My only real complaint here is about imbalance in items. Certainly not as bad as Mario Kart Wii, but I feel item distribution can still turn the tide of a race too quickly (I’ve gotten blue shelled in the home stretch of a race more times than I’d like to admit). But that barely diminishes an otherwise glorious experience. If you’ve never played the game, you can jump in today and still have an amazing time. I hope we see a re-release!

Mario Kart Double Dash!! case, manual, disc, Nintendo Power insert, and Wavebird controller
Anyone else still use their WaveBird controllers all the time?

1. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Switch/Wii U)

Mario Kart 8 was already one of my favorite games on the Wii U (those of us that owned the console were enjoying it for years before the Switch version!). And with the Deluxe release, Mario Kart 8 is truly the quintessential Mario Kart experience. The racing roster is enormous and varied. Graphics are absolutely in beautiful HD. All the music is whimsical and catchy. And there are an obscene amount of tracks, nearly all of which are genuinely fun and creative! They’re just the right length and each have their own distinctive feel. The “throwback tracks” are an all-star diverse selection from Mario Kart’s history too!

Mario Kart 8 for Wii U case and disc, and Deluxe case for Switch

Battle Mode also makes a glorious resurgence in the Deluxe edition, a feature largely missing from the original form. And with several new modes, to boot! As much as I want to see Mario Kart 9, I understand why Nintendo is in no rush and chose to go with a ludicrously DLC plan instead. Mario Kart 8 is simply the best Mario Kart game thus far, and sits at the top in ranking the Mario Kart games!

Are you a Mario Kart fan? (if not you may need to re-think your life a bit). How would go about ranking the Mario Kart games, for at least your top 3 or so? Let me know in the comments below!

10 thoughts on “Ranking the Mario Kart games”

  1. I’d bump MK7 and the original up a spot each, but this is a fair list. I have to say though, the vertical split screen for MK8D really annoys me, and is the reason my wife and I have gone back to MK7.

  2. Hi I’m back! I got busy with my own collection, I’m starting with Wii/U , and 3ds games. The first time I ever played MK, was on my friends Wii U, Mk8, and I remember getting trashed over and over and over, but I still had a good time. And now on my Wii U, I have Mario kart 64, and me and my brothers will kill each other over, whether I used a shortcut, or a glitch. But I will be getting Mk 8 for my Wii U. But its kinda weird remembering playing a Wii at 6, and then your 15, and it’s a classic. But time passes. Soon or later the Nintendo Switch will be a classic.

    1. Hey there! Welcome back, and that’s a great place to start a collection! I have so many fun memories of playing Mario Kart 8 with friends during the Wii U era, and it’s now funny to see how surprised people are that it released for the Wii U at all, since most folks didn’t own one. It is indeed so crazy to think about the systems that become “classics” over time and how strange it is. Early high definition games are going to be “retro” soon and that’s insane!

  3. I don’t understand your views on Mario Kart Wii. I played every major Mario Kart game extensively, and I find Mario Kart Wii to be the best one by far. I’m a very competitive gamer. Back in 2008 when the game was released, I was aiming to be one of the best players at the game. In time trial mode, I was 4 seconds away from the world record times on most courses. On some courses, I was only 1 or 2 seconds away. I found the tracks in that game to be the most fun. The motorcycles were also very cool and fun to control. The music was also awesome in Mario Kart Wii. The only category that I think Mario Kart 8 wins in is the graphics, which it’s supposed to – but the gameplay is not as fun. You can’t ride on motorcycles and pop willies like you can in Mario Kart Wii for speed boosts. I never had the issue mention of getting hit by too many blue shells. In my races online and offline, I almost ALWAYS got 1st place regardless of the items. That’s how good I was. Very rarely did I get 2nd or 3rd place. There are all kinds of tricks in that game to get speed boosts. For example, when knocked off a track, when Lakitu picks you up and places you back on the track, you can hit accelerate at the same time you touch the track and a speed burst. To my knowledge, you can’t do that kind of stuff in MK8D. MK8D is a downgrade in terms of gameplay. I believe that MK Wii sold by far the most copies of any Mario Kart game, so apparently a lot of other people feel the same way.

    1. My bad. I just looked up the sales figures for MK8D. It did sell more copies than MK Wii. I still don’t see the same thing in it that other people see. The racing gameplay is a downgrade. It’s not as fast and fun.

      1. No worries! I appreciate the fact checking. I think it’s only just *barely* outsold Mario Kart Wii. I really appreciate Mario Kart 8 because it feels the most balanced to me personally and has (again, in my personal opinion) the overall most diverse and creative set of tracks of the series, even if the racing itself doesn’t have as many intricacies to it. But then again I’m not a super competitive gamer!

    2. That’s great to hear you had, and continue to have, such a wonderful time playing Mario Kart Wii. I’ve also extensively played each Mario Kart (well, except Super Circuit-that’s the only one that never hooked me!) and consider myself a pretty solid player, albeit never as good as you within seconds of world records. I really do enjoy playing Mario Kart Wii, but in my own personal experience I don’t believe it’s one of the best, and that’s okay! Some of our difference of opinion is subjective (music quality, track design) and some is probably a result of skill difference (it seems I could better learn to avoid items or utilize more speed boosts and shortcuts!). Having played each entry for countless hours both in their heyday and quite a bit in the past few weeks with my family since we’ve moved into our house, I just don’t find Mario Kart Wii to be as much overall fun as other entries, and that’s really what playing games is all about to me. It’s awesome that you enjoy it so much!

  4. Mario Kart SNES will always be my #1. I’ll never get over its charm and those sweet, sweet mode 7 graphics. What a revelation to have a kart racing game with one company’s characters racing each other with silly power ups. I’m not aware of anything like this prior in the medium.

    I’m not sure it’s possible to convey how Mario Kart (snes) seemingly flew under the radar at the release (or at least felt like it did) and it slowly built momentum, showing up at get togethers and sleepovers. Then it just seemed like blockbuster never had any spare copies to rent on the _entire shelf_ which only had Mario Kart copies (maybe like 10 copies or so).

    Anyway, it was a big deal and I still love playing it to this day!

    Mario Kart 64 is second for me.

    I’m also hear to mention “Diddy Kong Racing” since Mario Kart 64 is featured in this article 🙂

    1. I feel like I missed the build up of momentum of the original game! I was mostly gaming on the Genesis then and didn’t actually own the SNES and my copy of Mario Kart until well into the N64 era. I certainly enjoy it but largely experiencing it later took a bit of the glory out of it, I think!

      Mario Kart 64 was a true revolution in its 4 player battle mode. I will forever remember the frenzy over that game early in the N64 lifespan, and it’s honestly still a blast today!

      And yes, Diddy Kong Racing is amazing and has a better single player than MK 64! 😀

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