Without a doubt, one of my favorite franchises ever is the Mario Kart franchise. I spent hundreds (quite literally dozens of hundreds) of hours on Mario Kart Wii alone, and was lucky enough to have Super Mario Kart for the Super Nintendo in the early 90s. I’ve basically been playing this game for over two decades, and it keeps getting better.
So, since a few weeks ago, it was its 22nd Anniversary, I figure I’d share my thoughts on the series, in convenient list form (because lists are the only worthwhile content on the internet, right Buzzfeed?) I’ve also ranked them in ascending order by personal preference; My favorite one being last.
The thing to keep in mind with these rankings… well, all Mario Kart titles are great games, period. That being said, let’s explore the good and bad of each title.
8. Mario Kart Super Circuit
Ah, Mario Kart Super Circuit. Almost the black sheep of the Mario Kart family. Really, while the graphics weren’t great, they were good enough for the time, but this title tried too hard to be both like Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart 64. On top of that, the controls were unfortunately a bit sloppy compared to those two. And.. well, the course design was really not all that good – and if the frequency Nintendo chooses to include them as retro courses is any indication, I’m guessing they agree. Even when chosen as retro courses, they seem to fall flat most of the time (pun intended, actually, since this title’s courses are all flat). Even the Rainbow Road theme is, well, not particularly Rainbow Road like.
The good thing? This started the retro track trend (though why it wasn’t used in its immediate successor, I don’t know…) by including all the courses from Super Mario Kart. I love retro tracks, particularly seeing how new mechanics alter them, whether slightly or dramatically. Despite that, this game has quite a few flaws for a Mario Kart title.
7. Double Dash
I know this one is actually really highly regarded by a lot of players (a lot of GameCube titles are, often by the competitive crowd). The two-character team up system used is actually pretty novel, and I’m not opposed at all to it – I just simply highly prefer a simpler, one character per kart system. The item selection was a bit skewed in certain character’s favors, and the drift curve was, well, awkward. And then there’s the overpowered parade kart…
…oh, and this title sold me on Princess Daisy basically forever. But the game had a steep difficulty curve for a Mario Kart Title… and while the game is novel, and novelty doesn’t always work with such a solid formula already in place.
6. Mario Kart 64
Wait, this one isn’t much higher, either? Are you insane, Adam?
…No, no. I’m not insane. I think this game is actually a bit more well liked than it should be simply due to the nostalgia factor. This being the second Mario Kart title, and pitted against it’s predecessor, it’s – albeit barely – the inferior of the two. Why? Track design, honestly. The controls weren’t much different, but did take somewhat longer in getting used to.
Still, the tracks. Mario Kart with a 3rd dimension! Awesome! …but needed some work. Landing felt a bit clunky to me, and the tracks were, well, long. Especially since I basically don’t have a half hour to spend on one track… *cough, rainbow road, cough*
Still, the items were actually pretty well done. As much as I loathe to admit it… Mario Kart just wouldn’t be the same without the blue spiny shell. But good riddance to that fake item box! It was actually best done in this game, hardest to tell, and used well, could be pretty frustrating for the opponent!
5. Super Mario Kart
Ah, the game that started this all for me. I cant tell you how many hours my friends and I spent playing this game. Magical. Battle mode, racing… Future games are missing that certain something when playing online, not being able to talk to each other (though I get perfectly well why.)
For the time, the track design was perfect and very well done. The controls took some getting used to, but the game could still be enjoyed (more easily than Mario Kart 64) as you were still getting used to them. It was simple, succinct, and enjoyable.. and the music was amazing. I wish each character still had their own victory music!
The title hasn’t aged as well as I wish it would, but mostly this is because starting with the next entry, the mechanics became more streamlined and easier to adapt to. I still have this cartridge, and I’m proud to declare that!
4. Mario Kart DS
As I mentioned, this is where the mechanics started to streamline. The game was intense, as well – the items were aggressive. Nothing really noteworthy from the previously released entry (Double Dash) changed, except the return to the one character system, the curve for the drift was better but still needed a tiny bit of work, as well. Oh, and then there was snaking…
This title did introduce online play, however! A very welcome addition, even if only certain tracks could be chosen, and it was a totally abusable, hackable, and trollable online play arena. Still, this title reintroduced me to playing with other people, which was amazing in and of itself.
One great note was course design, too – very innovative, unique courses that have stood the test of time very well – so well, almost the entire new course catalog has been reused in new installments. This also brought the return and streamlined the retro cups, which has come around in all Mario Karts since. All in all, this title might be the most noteworthy because of these two factors!
3. Mario Kart 7
Ah, Mario Kart 7. My Kart could go underwater or into the air without needing Lakitu to rescue me. Seemed great! The top three titles on this list are all streamlined, well-controlled, and always fun to play. But why is Mario Kart 7 number three out of these?
A few things hold this one back. Namely, the overly aggressive item balance. I’ve seen four blue shell races, and been volleyed endlessly in rapid-fire shells. There was also the poor playtesting- the cheating that could occur from the outset (The two Wuhu courses and GBA Bowsers Castle), and in spite of me wanting to see the super leaf for many years in a Mario Kart game, it was a tad overpowered, even if it did keep another item out of your box.
And really, the fact that hidden stats even exist is unfortunate. Why not show us these things? The selection of Retro tracks is also either hit or miss, too. Kalimari desert was boring in the 90s and is still boring today.
And while this doesn’t affect how the fun the game is much, if at all, some of the characters were, well, kind of bland. Honey Queen, Metal Mario, and Lakitu were all kind of dumb. Why not Fawful, or the Hammer Bros.? (Still waiting on this one, Nintendo!
2. Mario Kart 8
Part me actually wants to say this is number one, but it ended up in a close second. I loved the return of bikes, and so many elements from previous courses. Oh, and the just soon to be released DLC? About time we saw this in a Mario Kart game! They did a very good job of balancing out the aggressive nature of items, too… except the one thing that if you’re in the pack, being comboed on is actually easier now.
Still, I’m immensely happy with it so far. The new characters – especially the Koopalings, finally made me switch from Princess Daisy! The course design is some of the best in the series, even the updates to the retro tracks (though they still couldn’t seem to make Toad’s Turnpike very interesting…)
Quite good, and nearly a tie for first place. Mainly because light characters seem too disadvantaged to me in this one. Hope to see that balanced in a patch, Nintendo!
1. Mario Kart Wii
Number one, as you’ve seen by now, is the inimitable Mario Kart Wii. Highly maligned by a lot of players because of, well, bikes. Of course bikes are overpowered. That’s part of the game mechanics. It’s like saying “Flying is overpowered in Mario Kart 7”, or “Charing your shots in Mega Man X was overpowered.” It was new. Of course they built the game to focus on it. That’s why they added flight to retro tracks in Mario Karts 7 and 8.
But the drifting is what really makes this the top-notch Mario Kart in my opinion. They fixed the snaking, and added the double boost for karts. The curve for the kart drifting was much, much more manageable than in previous titles, as well. And inward drift was intuitive and extremely easy to grasp. The character selection was great, and the only one I didn’t feel belonged was Funky Kong. Each character was a wee bit different, as well, with the small stat boosts they gave. (I realize how I lucked out with Daisy on this one!) People could exceed if they used the strengths of a given class well, and there were a couple choices with minor differences in each class.
Still, Nintendo doing nothing to fix the hacker issue online is hugely lamentable. And now it’s not available to play online at all anymore. It’s missed, but I’m having a lot of fun with 8. And on the next console, I’m sure I’ll love that one, too.