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Ranking all 8 Mario Kart Games
There are few game series that have been consistently fun and well crafted as Mario Kart. With a whopping eight titles released for various Nintendo consoles over the years, it can be difficult for newcomers to get an idea of where to begin.
None of the Mario Kart titles are particularly bad, but there are definitely certain titles that stand out from the pack. As an avid Mario Kart fan who has grown up with the series since its origin back on the SNES in the early 90s, I will attempt to provide my karting expertise to bring you an informative and comprehensive list that ranks all 8 games.
Ready? Let’s a-go!
#8. Mario Kart Super Circuit (Gameboy Advance)
Definitely the least interesting of the family, Super Circuit is a decent game in its own right, but can’t compare to the preceding breakout entry on the SNES.
Aside from being forced to play on a tiny GBA screen and using the awkward d-pad controls and small buttons, there is just little reason to play this one unless you are desperate for a handheld racing game. To Super Circuit’s credit, it does implement the coin system (which, when collected, progressively speeds you up), an aspect that I’ve always liked about Mario Kart games. The game also uses a somewhat more elaborate ranking system than the predecessor, where “points” are earned throughout a grand prix event.
It essentially feels like a stripped down Mario Kart experience, with a lack of exciting items, few characters to choose from, and somewhat bland and flat levels throughout.
#7 Mario Kart: Double Dash (Gamecube)
Double Dash has always seemed to be a “love it or hate it” title, and as you’ve probably gathered, I lean more towards the latter. I don’t hate this game, but it just has never felt right to me.
For one, the tracks and music always felt a bit uninspired, and a little too cutsey. While there were a few interesting levels thrown in, such as the abnormally tiny Baby Park, and the aesthetically pleasing and frantic Mushroom City, most just seemed bland. This struck me odd considering this game came after the classic Mario Kart 64, complete with more three-dimensional stages that almost felt like roller-coaster rides.
The added feature of racing with two characters, while a fun novelty for a bit, just came across as more of a gimmick in the end. Aside from the use of special items which are exclusive to certain character combinations, the unique additions to the series seemed tacked on. I could also never shake the feeling that I was driving on ice, as the control scheme just felt slippery and more unresponsive than other Mario Kart games.
#6. Super Mario Kart (SNES)
You might be surprised to find this classic so low on my list. After all, it remains a solid racing game on the SNES and still a blast to play. While this was certainly a groundbreaking game for the time, the simple fact is that the Mario Kart series has since evolved and greatly improved– and not just graphically.
With that said, this is still a fantastic multiplayer game on the SNES, and could hold its own against many modern day arcade-style racers. It’s simply a case of being knocked down the list by default from even better games. The courses have a certain colorful Mario World-style charm to them that I enjoy, and the controls are tight and easy to handle. If you’ve enjoyed Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U and find yourself still craving more, this would be a great choice to pick up for the virtual console.
#5. Mario Kart Wii (Wii)
This game is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, you have the fun and intuitive addition of the Wii accelerometers that simulated the action of turning a wheel, but on the other hand, the controls felt a little loose and wonky (unless you used the more slick and responsive bikes). Mario Kart Wii also had a pretty solid online mode (at least for Wii’s online standards), but it was still pretty simplified and completely outdone by Mario Kart 7, 8, and even Mario Kart DS.
I also felt many of the stages and soundtrack, much like in Double Dash, seemed a tad dumbed down and two-dimensional, though it did also bring in plenty of unique and enjoyable tracks like the chaotic Toad’s Factory and Mushroom Gorge. The nice selection of retro tracks for us old-timers was a surprising treat, too.
Overall, it’s hard to deny the pure simplified fun that this game offered. More so than any other Mario Kart game, this one really felt like a simulated arcade experience for the home– especially when racing with 3 friends, all twisting and turning their controllers like crazy.
#4. Mario Kart DS (Nintendo DS)
It was a difficult choice whether to put this, or the 3DS iteration of Mario Kart, in the #4 spot, as they have plenty of similarities and their own strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately I opted to knock the DS game down a spot because of a few key aspects: the lack of joystick functionality, the more simplified online features compared to Mario Kart 7, and the lack of coins. There was also the issue with online players abusing the “snaking” exploit, which was essentially a method of skidding left and right, whilst constantly getting boosts. This was thankfully rectified in Mario Kart 7. If we’re talking strictly single player, then this game probably edges out the 3DS game.
Just like most entries in this list, the overall game is still superb, and a blast to play to this day. This game is the perfect balance of simplicity and depth, as it provided a plethora of great stages, a solid online mode (considering it was a 2005 handheld release), and overall great gameplay mechanics. It also even had an interesting and in depth single player mode to boot, as well as a solid battle mode that gave a nod to the definitive balloon battles found in Mario Kart 64.
Taking the snaking exploit out of the equation, this game seemed to minimize the cheap weapons that could instantly send you from first to last and vice versa, while rewarding racers that actually raced the best.
#3. Mario Kart 7 (Nintendo 3DS)
This game was like the DS version on steroids – prettier graphics, a more robust online mode complete with rankings, and more features like customizable karts. While I always saw Mario Kart DS as the start of a new era for the series and a much needed leap, Mario Kart 7 took that formula and refined it further, turning it into an even greater racing experience for your handheld.
It also upped the ante of the stages, in terms of variety and overall quality, bringing back some of my favorites like the SNES version of Rainbow Road and N64’s Kalamari Desert, while adding its own classics like Music Park. Adding the 3D and the circle pad into the experience was just icing on the cake.
While the single player experience was a bit stripped down compared to its handheld predecessor, Mario Kart 7 more than made up for this with a bundle of new features, better visuals, a much improved online mode (largely thanks to the removal of snaking), and a more intuitive experience overall. The circle pad was a welcome addition for smoother driving, too. Despite being a bit gimmicky and excessive at times with the hang-gliders and underwater racing, Mario Kart 7 is the best handheld Mario Kart experience.
#2. Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)
There is just so much that I love about this game, that it very nearly made my top spot, but there are a few minor blemishes that bump it down to #2. For one, what happened to the battle mode? Gone are the closed in, battle specific tracks like the classic block fort, replaced instead with recycled tracks used in normal races that simply don’t mesh with the fast-paced style of battle mode.
Second, the fact that Nintendo removed the ability to hold one item (a green shell, for instance) behind you like a shield from incoming projectiles, while gathering and holding another item in the meantime, is a bit of an inconvenience and annoyance, though a minor one. With those few gripes out of the way, this gem excels in almost every other facet, from the depth in kart customization and plentiful unlockables, to the sharp controls, to the glorious vibrant HD tracks.
As you’ve probably gathered, I place a lot of stock in the online modes of these games, as they are a large part of where the replay value comes from– and Mario Kart 8 does not disappoint. This game boasts a whopping 12-player online mode that flows smoothly with very few hiccups.
The tacked-on and somewhat gimmicky features that were very apparent in Mario Kart 7, are now whittled down in 8. More enjoyable new features like F-zero style semi-corkscrew tracks are now included, adding an element of excitement to the already fun and intense tracks. The amount of characters and kart customizations are absolutely vast, almost to the point of becoming a bit excessive. There are plenty of fun and satisfying unlockables throughout, as well. Seeing the awesome Koopa Kids as playable characters sold me instantly. Nintendo very nearly perfected the art of Mario Kart with this one, both aesthetically and in terms of gameplay.
You can find a more in-depth analysis with the Leviathyn review of Mario Kart 8 here.
#1 Mario Kart 64 (Nintendo 64)
This is the game changer- Mario Kart 64 broke so much new ground while managing to retain the key ingredients of what made the original on SNES so enjoyable. It’s fast-paced, and the levels were some of the best ever created in the series, with three-dimensional tracks that leave you breathless as you plummet down steep paths of the still-pretty Rainbow Road, or attempt to leap the walls of Wario Stadium. The controls are the sharpest in the series, and only made better by the intuitive joystick of the N64. The “rubber banding” aspects of losing your hard-earned first place position by sheer luck of items is mostly minimized as well, at least when playing against real players.
Mario Kart 64 was also among the first to implement four-player functionality, adding a further element of fun and excitement that simply never gets old, as my friends/family and I still play this game when we’re looking for instant entertainment. While I normally prefer versus mode, this game has perhaps the greatest rendition of battle mode ever: featuring four unique levels that all offer their own unique flavor to the intense balloon battle experience. Everything about this game, even that serenading music, is nearly flawless, with the only minor blemish being how poorly the graphics have aged. What matters is that the pure fun of this game has not aged, and probably never will. That’s why it remains the greatest entry in the Mario Kart franchise.