With Mario Kart 8 set to save the Wii U from certain death in just a few weeks, I figured now would be a good time to release a personal list of my favourite Mario Kart games. Mario Kart is Nintendo’s most valuable property, with Mario Kart Wii alone outselling every single Halo game combined, but it still fails to generate as much excitement as Zelda or Smash Bros. That’s unfortunate because Mario Kart is one of the greatest video game franchises of all time and the slew of excellent titles featured on this list proves it. I’m sure many of you won’t agree with my rankings and you’re more than welcome to egg my house or sound off in the comments, but until then, let’s a go…
10-8: Mario Kart Arcade GP/GP 2/GP DX
It’s hard to respect a Mario Kart game that features Pac-Man ghosts and Tamagotchis as playable characters but that’s not the reason why the Mario Kart arcade series is at the bottom of this list. These Namco developed racers just don’t feel like Mario Kart games. The imprecise controls and generic track designs go against everything that the series stands for. Mario Kart Arcade GP isn’t the black sheep of the family. It’s the bald sheep that ran away from home but no one cared enough to notice. Also the game features an item called Cream Pie, which is just… wrong.
7: Mario Kart 7
Mario Kart 7 is a great game, but it’s a game that I bought, played for a week and then never played again. Every other Mario Kart game (sans GP) engulfed me in a loving relationship which kept me committed for years but MK7 felt more like a meaningless fling with a hot co-worker and now things are awkward between us. The game featured new gliding and underwater mechanics, a commendable online offering, Spotpass functionality, stereoscopic 3D effects, tilt controls, a first person camera toggle and a magical item that rewards players with 7 other items. All in all, the game felt like it was doing too much and lacked a clear focus or direction. I imagine Nintendo and Retro had a brainstorm meeting when they first began developing this game and not a single idea was rejected. Instead of doing one thing “great” and basing the game around that core mechanic, MK7 did 11 things “ok” in an attempt to provide something for everyone.
6: Mario Kart: Super Circuit
Mario Kart Advance was revered for being the first Kart game to appear on a handheld device. I remember bringing my GBA to school and linking four devices together with a deadly contraption of cables so me and my friends could play multiplayer. Sure we looked stupid, but these are precious moments that I’ll cherish forever. My only gripe with Super Circuit is that it brought nothing new to the series. Intelligent Systems simply made Mario Kart 64 on the Super Mario Kart engine and shrunk it down to fit on a handheld. In 2001 this may seemed revolutionary but the novelty of playing console-like games on handhelds wore off years ago.
5: Mario Kart 64
Mario Kart 64 is probably the Mario Kart game that I’ve put the most hours into. Yes it’s glitchy, ugly, had severe rubber-banding issues and reduced Toad to a whiny six year old but it was also one of the few games available on the Nintendo 64 so if you wasn’t playing this, you’d probably have to do something stupid like play outside. Following games such as Goldeneye, Mario Kart was designed with multiplayer mayhem in mind and it did not disappoint. You haven’t truly lived until you’ve experienced a 4-player deathmatch on Block Fort. Mario Kart 64 set a foundation that upcoming Mario Kart games still follow. It introduced series staples such as drifting, a hatred from Rainbow Road and swearing at Blue Shells. It might not be much to look at now but this OG deserves nothing but respect.
4: Mario Kart Wii
From a pure gameplay standpoint, Mario Kart Wii is probably the best game in the series. Hook up a Gamecube controller to the Wii and you’ll be hard pressed to find an arcade racer that controls better than this marvellous follow up to Mario Kart DS. The problem is… the Wii was a terrible console. There’s a reason why I said, “Hook up a Gamecube controller” as playing this game with the Wii-Remote is like ice skating with skates made from banana peels. The Wii-Wheel which came bundled with every copy of the game only made things worse and not even the Wii Remote + Nun-Chuk combo could save the day. The online experience was also tarnished by the Wii’s laughably bad network infrastructure. I remember spending an hour trying to set up an online race with my brother. I remember how relieved we were when we finally managed to establish a connection and I also remember how the intolerable lag forced us back to playing Street Fighter V on the PS3. However if you prefer to keep your Karting offline and have some spare Gamecube controllers in the closet, Mario Kart Wii is almost the perfect video game.
3: Super Mario Kart
It’s probably considering a bad thing that the original Mario Kart game is so high on this list but I guess when you start off at such an insane high the only place left to go is down. Released in 1992, Super Mario Kart is one of the most influential games of all time. Clever use of the Super Nintendo’s Mode 7 processor allowed Nintendo to create a sprite-based racer that felt truly three-dimensional years before any of us knew what polygons were. Impressive visuals aside, Super Mario Kart received instant attention for being the first non-platformer set in the Mushroom Kingdom. As a 6 year old, this blew my tiny mind. Mario and Bowser go-karting together! Luigi attacking the Princess with a Koopa shell! Yoshi can drive! I found all of this incredibly hard to process. Super Mario Kart did a lot more than just place familiar faces in to a racing game. Also every aspect of the game incorporated elements found in previous Mario titles. Even if all the characters were replaced with the cast of Pitfighter this would still feel like a Mario game.
2: Mario Kart: Double Dash!!
It’s been over a decade since Fran Mirabella gave Mario Kart: Double Dash a 7.9 and the Internet still hasn’t forgiven him. That’s because this game is absolutely incredible. Tag team racing not only sounds like a brilliant idea, Double Dash proved that it is one! Now instead of choosing either Koopa Troopa or Toad, you can choose them both and cycle between the pair with a single button tap! The introduction of character specific items encouraged players to try out different character combinations in an effort to find the ultimate dream team. If you’re often in first position, choose Donkey Kong and take advantage of his Big Banana (pause). However if you have trouble keeping up with the pack, choose Baby Mario and unleash a Chain Chomp to take out everyone who’s ahead of you. Beautiful graphics, exciting new characters, inventive track designs, excellent music and a unique gameplay twist all help to make this the best Mario Kart game ever to grace a console.
1: Mario Kart DS
If content is King, Mario Kart DS should be viewed as a God. This tiny DS cartridge features 32 courses, 12 characters, 36 karts, 18 items, a revamped battle mode, an emblem creation tool and 63 objectives to complete (including 7 boss battles) courtesy of the game’s all-new Mission mode. Mario Kart DS was also the first Nintendo game to feature online multiplayer and although the awful Friend Code system made it ironically difficult to play with your friends, it was still a blast to compete with strangers across the globe (until fun-killers learnt how to snake). At the time of its release, Mario Kart DS felt like a true return to form for the series. It brought back the twitch controls that Mario 64 was missing and the whiplash speed that Double Dash did so well without. There’s a reason why this game has sold 25 million copies to-date and can still be found on store shelves almost 9 later.