I love the Mario Kart series more than most people and even most animals. They’re all nearly perfect. Minus the occasional contrarian who wants to grab headlines for a week or two, reviewers regularly lavish 9s and 10s on the latest Kart installment. A new Mario Kart is usually among the top three reasons to buy a new Nintendo console. So I thought I’d express my love for the series by semi-arbitrarily ranking them. Here is every Mario Kart, ranked:
Unranked: All the Arcade Ones
If you live outside of Japan, there’s a good chance you didn’t even know there have been three Mario Kart installments in the arcades. They’re pretty rare, and I only had so much time to write this article that I didn’t get the chance to track them down. The two closest arcades to me are 1) a really smelly bar with some ‘80s cabinets, and 2) an outdoor homeless shelter that also happens to have an arcade behind it. So sorry Mario Kart Arcade GP 1, 2, and DX. I’m sure you’re great. But I may never know.
8. Super Mario Kart (SNES)
It’s really telling that a game I played all the time as a kid and have tons of fond memories of comes in dead last. For its time, the original Mario Kart was pretty badass. Those Mode 7 graphics showed us how big a technical leap the Super Nintendo was from the original NES. And while I still play this game from time to time, compared to later installments of the franchise, it’s pretty primitive — the question blocks don’t respawn, the tracks are really short, and there are only four cups. It’s still a great game, but it’s also the one I’m least likely to pick up today.
7. Mario Kart Wii (Wii)
Most of my memories of Mario Kart Wii involve fighting with my then-girlfriend over who got the Gamecube controller, because neither of us managed to make this thing playable with the Wiimote. I’m sure there are people who are great at turning the Wiimote side to side to steer, but I’m not one of them. The control was always hypersensitive and occasionally unpredictable. Plus, the selection of karts and characters is a little dizzying. All that said, plug a GameCube controller into this game and it’s pretty fantastic — a great combination of old and new tracks, good difficulty balance, and, as always, awesome music. There just happen to be six better ones.
6. Mario Kart: Double Dash!! (GameCube)
This is sometimes considered the “black sheep” of the franchise because it’s “gimmicky”, and I say to hell with that, because the gimmick works. For those of you who haven’t played it, the distinguishing feature of Double Dash is that you play as a team of two drivers who can switch off and wield signature items. I would always play as Baby Mario and Baby Luigi, because the Chain Chomp ability was crazy overpowered. Does that mean the game is imbalanced? Sure. Does it also have kinda bland track designs and annoying voice acting? Also sure. But there are three battle modes, the ability to link up to eight Gamecubes together, and a bunch of cool new characters. If Double Dash ever comes out on Virtual Console, it’s worth picking up.
5. Mario Kart: Super Circuit (GBA)
I played Mario Kart: Super Circuit for the first time in over ten years last weekend. I remembered it being like the original Super Mario Kart but better, and man is it so much better. There are five cups, plus you can unlock all of the Super Mario Kart tracks if you get enough coins. The only real drawback is multiplayer — if you want to play it today, you’d better have friends with GBAs sitting around. But the developers even thought of that — you only need one copy of the cartridge and you can play with up to four people at a time. Good Guy Nintendo, amirite?
4. Mario Kart 7 (3DS)
Other than the arcade games, Mario Kart 7 is the Mario Kart I’ve played the least, so my rating here might not be perfect. All I can really say about it is that I liked it enough to rank it over Super Circuit because it introduced so many new features that were later perfected in Mario Kart 8. And let’s face it, Mario Kart works better in 3D. There’s only so much course variety you can introduce on flat tracks. But I can’t in good conscience put it in the top three without playing it more. Sorry if I’m offending any die-hard Mario Kart 7 fanboys out there.
3. Mario Kart DS (DS)
Now we’re getting into the REAL HOT FIRE. Mario Kart DS is one of the very best games on a system loaded with classics. It outsold freaking Pokemon. I’m not saying that automatically makes it good, but its popularity is one indicator of just how fun this game is. There are eight cups, the difficulty is perfectly balanced, and the tracks are some of the best the series has to offer — Wario Pinball alone still rips over ten years later.
If I have to nitpick, I’ll say that while including the Missions feature was a good sign of the developers’ ambition to freshen up the gameplay, the feature itself is kinda lame. There are only so many times you can collect coins and drive through gates before it gets boring. And multiple reviewers criticized the online multiplayer, but I only ever played the single-player campaign, so I can’t speak to that. All in all, this one has definitely earned its place near the top.
2. Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)
Mario Kart 8 is so close to perfect it’s unfair. Nintendo took all the feedback they’d gotten about the series so far (“it’s getting stale”, “we want better online play”, “I’m a big baby and nothing is ever good enough for me”) and used it to make a game that knocks it out of the park. The thing that makes Mario Kart games so good is that anyone can play and enjoy them, but there’s plenty of depth for gamers of all skill and experience levels to dig into. Mario Kart 8 gets that, perhaps better than any other game in the series. The only problem I can pick out is that they screwed up Battle Mode — you play the familiar balloon-popping battles on the regular tracks instead of on special battle maps, like in the other games. Other than that, Mario Kart 8 is damn good.
1. Mario Kart 64 (N64)
I’d be lying to myself if I put anything else at number one. I tried to be as objective as possible in my rankings, but there’s no way I can be objective about Mario Kart 64. Look, maybe you can say it hasn’t aged all that well, or that the course designs are a little simplistic, or that there are too many exploitable glitches. I get it. If you didn’t grow up with this game, it might not be your favorite in the series. But the measure of a game’s quality isn’t some list by some jagoff on the internet. It’s how much fun you have playing it. And I’ve had more fun playing Mario Kart 64 than almost any other game in my life. For that reason, I’ve got to put it at number one.
What Mario Kart game is your favorite?