Mario Kart has always been about having fun. From its humble beginnings as a spin-off on the SNES – the series has gone on to become a titan of its own, dominating the karting genre of games and offering up one of video games best multiplayer experiences. We decided to celebrate the series and take a look back across the outings that led to the establishment of this fine franchise – ranking them from worst to best along the way.
9. Mario Kart Super Circuit (GBA, 2001) – Arriving early in the Gameboy Advance’s lifespan – Super Circuit was a hugely ambitious title that showcased the Gameboy Advances ambitions of being the portable powerhouse gamers wanted. Sadly its fairly clear from the word go that sacrifices have been made to squeeze it all into the Gameboy’s frame. The result is a bizarre mashup of the N64 outing and original Mario Kart proving to deliver an underwhelming experience that lacks the enjoyment of either. The tracks are incredibly dull (Something that subsequent games have highlighted whenever GBA tracks turn up in the retro cups) the reliance on the D-Pad horrible while the sense of excitement never really occurs. Super Circuit was an incredibly ambitious title but in terms of Mario Kart enjoyment – it’s easily the weakest of the series.
8. Mario Kart Wii (Wii, 2008) – Something just didn’t work with the Wii version of the game. I’m not sure if it was floaty controls that hung over proceedings. The introduction of bikes made the karts feel exceptionally light through corners, reducing tight turning to a fine art. I’m not sure if it was the so-so tracks introduced, a number of which I felt just weren’t as good as the offerings from previous games and lacked a lot of the charm and quirkiness that the better tracks had going for them. Even the online side of things felt slightly underwhelming, the game offering a barely adequate list of options for gamers to dig into. Mario Kart Wii has some great moments – the introduction of bikes and the sheer amount of customization on offer – but overall it lacks a sense of excitement that other 3D outings in the series managed to capture.
7. Mario Kart Double Dash (GC, 2003) – When Mario Kart Double Dash arrived on the Gamecube, it did so with a huge amount of controversy. Nintendo’s decision to update their popular karting franchise with the inclusion of two drivers per kart was a game changer – and not one everyone was happy to see. The arrival of special items locked to certain characters and a shift in focus away from hairpin turning was enough of a reason for many to give this game a wide berth. It’s all a bit of a shame really as Double Dash features some of the best track designs in any Mario Kart – designs that have gone on to make repeated appearances in future outings of the franchise. On top of this the actual game play is well thought out – the balance is there and the multiplayer carnage is up there with the best of the series. But if you can’t get over the tank-like controls and the dual racer system (something that requires gamers to consider weight combinations) then you’ll probably not enjoy this one.
6. Super Mario Kart (SNES, 1992) – The original Mario Kart laid down the template for all that followed and manages to shame a number of its sequels in terms of fun. The tracks may be simplistic by current standards but the game has a huge sense of excitement as the tracks fill up quickly with eager racers and the chaos that follows. The use of coins to offer a small boost was an idea the series would return too down the line – showing how ahead of its time the game was. Honestly if you’re looking for the most pure Mario Kart experience – you couldn’t go wrong with a quick visit back to this gem of a classic.
5. Mario Kart 64 (N64, 1997) – Arguably the most beloved of all the Mario Karts – there’s no denying that the entire package here is crafted for the pure enjoyment of the gamer. With some of the series most memorable tracks and music on hand, as well as the introduction of four player races, its easy to see why this game is so well revered. It’s also probably the game that suffers most from nostalgia, which aids slightly in overlooking a few of the games limitations. The limited selection of racers (Only 8 on offer here) as well as a controls that are awkward at points holding the game back from being higher on this list. This doesn’t steal from the greatness of this game however – and underlines just how strong the games above it are.
4. Mario Kart DS (DS, 2005) – Incredibly ambitious handheld title that makes a strong play for being the best entry in the series. Mario Kart DS was the first handheld title to go fully 3D – a feat that makes the game stand out compared to the GBA offering. It was also the first Mario Kart to re-introduce older tracks into the mix; offering a huge amount of nostalgia for long-time fans of the games. Add in that this was the first Mario Kart to offer customisation for karts, logos as well as a battle mode that wasn’t ruined on arrival. The overall package is staggering for a 2005 handheld title and all this is without discussing the ability for one game kart to allow up to 8 gamers to play locally – a true party gaming feature. Perhaps most importantly – this was the first Nintendo game to offer officially supported online game play – with the Nintendo WiFi service rolling out alongside this game While primitive by today’s standards – the offerings were huge back in the day and finally broke down the limitations that the series had been held back with for so long. The big issues with this game come from the awkward inclusion of snaking – a feature that divides opinion heavily and saw many online races reduced to snake-fests.
3. Mario Kart 3DS (3DS, 2011) – Taking the framework offered up by Mario Kart DS – 3DS’s Mario Kart turns it up to 11 with gorgeous visuals married with pin point controls. The ability to make use of the circle pad allowed for more accurate karting while the inclusion of so many fan favourite tracks means that it felt more like a celebration of the series than Mario Kart 8. The online mode was refined, arguably delivering a more rounded experience than the Wii or DS outings – while retaining a large amount of the customisation found before. While the inclusion of the glider and underwater segments felt slightly too gimmicky – it didn’t diminish from the games overall enjoyability. For sheer fun factor – Mario Kart 3DS is one of the series most established outings and well worth a look.
2. Mario Kart 8 (Wii U, 2014) – Mario Kart 8 manages to take all that came before and cram it into an overly satisfying package. From a tight control scheme through to a great selection of weapons – there’s little to hate in terms of game mechanics. But Mario Kart 8 goes further, introducing the zero gravity aspect into the series that completely shakes up the dynamic of the game. While Mario Kart has a habit of introducing mechanics for the sake of it, here the zero gravity aspect opens up new possibilities and changes the tactics of races. It also allows the developers to go back and re-create much-loved tracks in the new style; offering a fresh lease of life to some of the series less desirable outings. On top of this there’s a robust online network that manages to capture the spirit of local multiplayer – creating a much more compelling suite of tools for gamers to customise their experience. If it weren’t for the terrible Battle Mode, this would be the best videogames.
1. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Switch, 2017) – Arriving a month after Nintendo Switch hit the market, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe provided the best showcase for that consoles multiplayer capabilities. On the surface, the offering seems little more than a re-release of the Wii U title, but this would be downplaying the improvements. The improved Battle Mode offerings make that mode a viable candidate for multiplayer, while the slight improvement to frame rate means the game runs at a silky smooth 60fps. It’s a game that shows off the Nintendo Switch at its absolute best. On top of this, all the DLC content from the Wii U version has been put in form the off – giving gamers the definitive edition of the game. It’s the best of the series; portable and hugely flexible in terms of ways to play. It’s the ultimate love letter to the series, and one of the Nintendo Switch’s best games – period. One of the best Mario Kart experiences.