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.
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!
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 really aren’t much of an improvement over the GameCube, music is fairly generic, and worst, the item balancing is WAY off. Playing last night, there were 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.
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.
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!
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).
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.
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!
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!
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. 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!