Welcome, and thank you for checking out my list of the top 10 Mario Kart tracks of all-time (at least, up until this moment.) I want to start off by saying it was difficult, incredibly difficult, to pare this list down to just 10 tracks. My “shortlist” was over 20 tracks, and I had to cut many excellent tracks to make it to 10, including a few that I was certain were going to be shoe-ins before I really started trimming down. So if one of your favorites is missing, rest assured, it probably pained me to leave it out as much as it pains you to not see it on here.
My experience with Mario Kart goes way back to the Super Nintendo, the home of the original Super Mario Kart. It is no exaggeration to say that Super Mario Kart was one of my favorite games for many, many years, and it definitely remains one of my most played games of all time. I used to play the ever-living heck out of it, and I prided myself on my skills, which, looking back on it, I’m sure were probably pretty mediocre... but hey, I could beat everyone I knew (which was all of like 5 people) so I was the best. No one can take that away from me.
And I have played every single Mario Kart ever since. Of course, members of Negative World, especially those who happen to be in the chat room on Mario Kart 7 tournament nights, know that I have a love / hate relationship with some of the more recent Mario Kart games, and have been known to express the hate side of that relationship in somewhat venomous terms, especially when, much like in a recent contest, I am finally in a comfortable 1st place lead and then get hit with a blue shell, slide off the edge of the track, and get set back on to immediately get knocked right off again, ending up in a not-so-comfortable 8th place. I feel like the racing / item balance in Mario Kart has shifted strongly to the item side over the years, and I’m not entirely comfortable with that shift. Or maybe I just suck. I’ll get off of my soapbox now.
And whatever the case, there is the love side of the equation as well, where every new release of a Mario Kart game is a reason for me to get excited, and even when I’m frustrated, I’m still pouring hours into them. I could write about the greatness of Mario Kart until your eyes bleed, but that would be an entirely different article. Let’s just get to the list, shall we?
Admittedly, I have not spent much time with Super Circuit. I got into handheld gaming late into the life of the GBA and never got around to purchasing it at the time. I played a bit of Super Circuit here and there on other people’s copies, including a copy I bought for my girlfriend about 2 years ago, and more recently I played some on the “free” Ambassador’s copy I downloaded onto my 3DS. However, my experience with the game remains fairly limited.
With that said, Sky Garden stands out for me in a couple of ways. First, it has an awesome setting... who doesn’t want to race way up in the clouds? Secondly it has just enough turns in just the right places to keep you on your toes without being ridiculous. You can really get into a nice groove on Sky Garden. Finally, it has some pretty sweet shortcuts, including one that requires a couple of well timed hops onto the clouds themselves. Throw in a great retro version of the track on the DS, and it makes my list.
Music Park (7)
When I first fired up Mario Kart 7, I didn’t know quite what to expect, and admittedly a few of the early tracks were a bit underwhelming. Then I came to Music Park. Music Park is one of the first tracks that stood out for me in Mario Kart 7, and it is still... well, you will have to read the rest of the list to find out if it is my favorite track from Mario Kart 7, or just one of my many favorite tracks. Suspenseful, huh?
As a musician I really enjoy the musical theme, and the little touches like the piano notes sounding off as you slide across them or the drums smashing as you bounce off of them are very, very neat. The track itself is short but varied, and includes a couple of shortcuts, both obvious and not-so-obvious, as well as a big (optional) flight corridor near the end with huge bouncing notes to avoid. It’s the perfect kind of simple, yet fun track that will get me every time.
Baby Park (Double Dash, DS retro)
The Gamecube era was a tough time to be a Nintendo fan especially on a certain forums. Nintendo had just lost a ton of market share and 3rd party support in a short amount of time, and many former fans turned into haters and hung out on Nintendo forums trolling and inciting and who knows what else. One of the big complaints of that era was that Nintendo was getting “lazy” with their major IP games, a complaint that I often argued vehemently against. There was a moment though, a brief moment when I fired up Double Dash and saw Baby Park for the first time, that I had to question what the heck Nintendo was doing.
Baby Park is a tiny loop that you race around for 7 laps (5 in the DS retro track.) That’s it. For a short period of time, I thought it was the laziest, most ridiculously stupid Mario Kart track that Nintendo had ever invented. And then I saw the light. You see, Baby Park isn’t about the track design so much as the sheer lunacy that comes about by cramming 8 racers into such a tiny space and giving them plenty of items to throw around. Baby Park races often always involve banana peels and fake item boxes littering the track while turtle shells are bouncing all over the place and every other item imaginable is in play. And there is really nowhere to hide from attacks, as 90% of the time you are on the same straightaway everyone else is on. Although, as stated in my introduction, I do have some complaints about the racing / item balance in newer Mario Kart games, I don’t mind some item insanity in a track built specifically for item insanity, and Baby Park is just that.
DK Mountain (Double Dash, Wii retro)
There are a lot of awesome DK tracks in the Mario Kart games, a fact that was brought to my attention while creating the shortlist for this top 10. I don’t want to spoil which other DK tracks may or may not appear in the rest of this list, but suffice to say, DK Mountain is one of the best. And hey look Anand, two Double Dash entries in a row! Double Dash isn’t one of my favorite Mario Kart games, but credit must be given where credit is due. It definitely had some great tracks.
Near the start of DK Mountain you race up into a huge barrel and are blasted through the sky, way, way up to the top of a mountain, an idea that has popped up in various forms in other Mario Kart tracks since, but was very novel at the time. The rest of the track is a twisting, turning race down the mountain, complete with huge rolling boulders to avoid, and ending with a long, skinny, and very shaky bridge to traverse, which has killed many racer’s hopes for victory. It’s intense.
Tick Tock Clock (DS)
Tick Tock Clock is unique to my list as it is the only track I chose from a past Mario Kart game that has not had a retro remake in any fashion (I guess that spoils the rest of my list a bit?) Furthermore, it is one of the 12 tracks from the DS game that was not playable online. So, as awesome as Tick Tock Clock was, it kind of came and went without much fanfare, and I think that it deserves a bit more attention than it has gotten.
I love this track for a lot of reasons, the first one being that it is from one of my favorite areas in one of my favorite Mario games, Super Mario 64. That’s nostalgia for you. But it’s also a very creative, well designed track. Tick Tock Clock has you riding on gears (both horizontally and vertically), and dodging clock hands and a giant swinging pendulum. I think that it is about timesee what I did there? to bring this track back. Get on it, Nintendo!
Rock Rock Mountain (7)
Diddy Kong Racing debuted back on the Nintendo 64, a Mario Kart clone with the catch being that, in addition to ground racing, it also involved flying and hoverboarding mechanics. It was a neat combination, and in some respects it was a precursor to the gliding and underwater mechanics of Mario Kart 7. However, I found the full freedom of the flying in DKR a bit too awkward for a racing game, whereas the gliding in Mario Kart 7 is the perfect compromise.
And Rock Rock Mountain is one of the best tracks for gliding in Mario Kart 7, with a mid-track section where you glide above and down into the trees. But that’s not all, Rock Rock Mountain is also one of the most breathtaking tracks in a Mario Kart game yet, seamlessly integrating intense racing on the edge of a mountain / through caves and the aforementioned gliding, with Super Mario World-esque blue skies and colorful mountains painting the background. And the ending sequence, a series of turbo strips up the face of a very steep cliffside with huge boulders crashing down around you, holds the kind of last second game-changing intensity that excellent Mario Kart tracks thrive upon.
Airship Fortress (DS, 7 retro)
I may be a bit biased when it comes to Airship Fortress, because I basically decided that I loved this track back when it was first announced, knowing absolutely nothing about it other than the fact that it was a track based off of the airships from Super Mario Bros. 3. Honestly, can you blame me? What more do you really need?
But my blind love was justified, and once I got to race on this excellent track, I knew that it would always be one of my favorites. It starts you off weaving back and forth between huge bullet bills, and proceeds to sections including wrench throwing (and aptly named) Rocky Wrenches, huge columns of flame and a wicked jump to a more wicked corkscrew that, incidentally, no one but me seems to know how to approach, and always helps me make up lost ground. Super Mario Bros. 3 nostalgia aside, Airship Fortress is a darn fine track, and I’m glad that we finally get to race it online in Mario Kart 7.
Koopa Cape (Wii, 7 retro)
One of the ways that a new Mario Kart track can really grab me is by introducing an element that we haven’t really seen in the series before. And sometimes the best of these elements are not the flashiest ones, but the simple ones that don’t necessarily sound amazing on paper, yet really change the feel of a track.
In the case of Koopa Cape, racing down a flowing river, while letting the momentum of the water push you to faster speeds than you are capable of alone, is one such element. I loved it. And then you dive underwater inside of an F-Zero-like pipe, battling with others to stay on that small thread of water in the middle to keep up your speeds until you burst out of the other side. Classic. Oh, and the retro track in Mario Kart 7 added some neat gliding stuff that you can exploit as a big shortcut. And I also love turtles, so it has that going for it.
Bowser’s Castle (64, Wii retro)
Man oh man, we are getting into some tough choices here. Truth be told, the Bowser’s Castle tracks are consistently some of the best tracks in Mario Kart games, and I had to think long and hard about which one was my favorite. When it came down to it, I had to go with the Nintendo 64 track. Admittedly, Mario Kart 64 is, from a racing standpoint, one of my least favorite Mario Kart games (though battle mode was amazing.) Bowser’s Castle in Mario Kart 64, on the other hand...
Bowser’s Castle on the N64 was the first Mario Kart track I remember that really had a sense of “place”. You weren’t just racing on some track in the middle of nowhere, you were racing through a freaking castle. You started off outside on the walls, went across a bridge and through a courtyard and into the castle itself, raced through various rooms and hallways, across more bridges, down stairs, etc. all while avoiding Thwomps and other perils. It was an adventure wrapped up in a race track, and it was unlike anything that Mario Kart had ever done before. The Bowser’s Castle tracks since have all been excellent as well, but I feel like they got a bit cluttered over time. The original N64 track is not only the best Bowser’s Castle track, but one of the best Mario Kart tracks period, in my humble opinion.
Rainbow Road (Super, Super Circuit retro, 7 retro)
You had to know this was coming, right? For all that I talked about the original Super Mario Kart, it wouldn’t have made sense to close out my list without a single track from that game. And nothing defines Mario Kart more than Rainbow Road, the final track of the Special Cup in every single Mario Kart game to date. Rainbow Road tracks are often some of the most challenging (unless you are playing Mario Kart 64, where the only challenge is to stay awake), due to the tight and twisty nature of the tracks (unless you are playing Mario Kart 64) and the almost complete lack of any guard rails (unless... forget it, god, I hate Rainbow Road in Mario Kart 64) to keep you from flying off of the track.
The SNES track, however, holds a special place in my heart. As stated above, I used to play the heck out of Super Mario Kart on the SNES, and Rainbow Road was easily the standout track. Rainbow Road SNES is made up of deadly 90 degree turns (180 when you powerslide), tight strips without rails, heart-pounding thwomp dodges, a daring late-track shortcut, and it makes me feel alive. Eventually I got to the point where I could speed through the track without letting off the gas at all, weaving in between falling Thwomps, other racers, and stray banana peels, taking every tight turn with near-perfection, without ever fine, rarely falling off of the edge. Rainbow Road on the SNES is extreme, and it only got better in Mario Kart 7, with tighter controls, more shortcuts, and online play. Sometimes everything comes full circle, and the best track in Super Mario Kart is now the best track in Mario Kart 7.
I was going to list my runner-ups here, but I think it would be more fun to leave them off for now, and see what you guys and girls come up with. With that said, what do you think of my list? Any tracks that I should have added and didn’t, or should not have added yet did? Better yet, why not just use this Mario Kart track list to create and post your top 10 for us? Do it!
I guess that is about all that I have to say. Before I go, I will leave you with these words of wisdom:
“My mother, she's blind in one eye and she can drift better than that.” -Some lame movie that I never saw
Mario Kart is awesome, and as much as I complain endlessly, I will keep coming back for more. When all is said and done, I need my fix.
Ugh, what the heck! Including Bowser's Castle and Rainbow Road at #2 and #1 doesn't make up for the lack of N64/SNES representation throughout! C'mon!!
And I've said it before, anyone who loves Baby Park would LOVE NASCAR at Martinsville. And what do you know, they're racing there THIS WEEK! Turn ESPN on around 3pmEST/2PMCST on Sunday, and they'll be deep in bumper-to-bumper, conveyor belt action. Happy watching!
NASCAR is basically Baby Park without items. Which would indeed make Baby Park the worst Mario Kart course ever.
As for SNES and N64 representation, I struggled a bit with that.
To be honest, I struggled more with the SNES representation, because I loved that game to death, but except for Rainbow Road few tracks stood out for me (I suppose in some part because there were so many that repeated the theme with different numbers), they were all just sort of generally "great". Mario Circuit 1 from SNES barely missed my top 10... it's such a short and simple track, but that is why I loved it, I used to play it over and over and over perfecting my time trials on it, getting it down "perfect", and I loved playing it as a retro track in Mario Kart DS as well (also I tended to kill in that track online.) Ghost Valley 1 was also somewhere on my (20+ entries long) shortlist.
On the N64 side of things well... I honestly just didn't think that Mario Kart 64 was that great of a racing game. The only other N64 track on my shortlist was Choco Mountain, which is ok, but not really top 10 material.
But who cares about ME, what is YOUR top 10 'Stache? It also just occured to me that you haven't really played two of the best entries, DS and 7, so naturally you would gravitate more towards wanting to see more console tracks on there...
I love how it probably took Nintendo's designers about half an afternoon to make Baby Park, and it's one of the most beloved courses in the whole series. It totally deserves it too!
One thing that I realized about Mario Kart not too long ago is that it's kind of like Smash Bros. with momentum, at least when you've only got three or four players. When you've got a really great race going and a few people neck-and-neck trading blows with shells and bananas, dodging left and right, power sliding around corners, it's seriously like you're fighting as opposed to racing. Who needs battle mode when you've already got the same thing but better?
Maybe all kart racers are like this; Double Dash is really the only one I've put a ton of time into. You definitely got the two best tracks from that game on here.
I'm not a huge fan of Mario Kart Wii, but come on, no Maple Treeway!? Whenever I need a cheap victory to even the standings, I choose that track. No one can beat me on it.
@Secret_Tunnel I think Maple Treeway was my #2 choice for a Wii game. It feels a little gimped in 7 though, to be honest. No big wall ramp on the big turn, for one.
@Abdooooo Delfino was an almost for me too! Man, choosing from the DS game is tough, honestly if I did a top 20 there would be at least 4 more DS tracks in there. Luigi's Mansion, Delfino Square, DK Pass, and Waluigi Pinball would probably all make it in. I vaguely recall really liking the Bowser's Castle and Rainbow Road in that game too, although those kind of blend together in my mind with the Gamecube and Wii versions.
Man, this would be a tough list to make .... perhaps I'll revisit this thread some day and make my own top 10. I was, overall, quite pleased with Zero's list, though. N64 Bowser's Castle has got to be my #1 favorite, but there are so many great ones!!
Hmm, I have an incredibly bad memory for this stuff, so I can mostly only comment on what's been mentioned so far.
I'm partial to all of the tracks in the OP, with the exception of DK Mountain. That level and the snow tricking one are kind of annoying.
My #1 would be Baby Park, natch, but ONLY in Double Dash, with the crazy weapons. SO Chicago. And such a perfect distillation of Mario Kart's chaotic charm. Rainbow Road SNES is also a personal favorite.
I like the lack of representation of MK64. Choco Mountain would also be the closest runner-up to Bowser's Castle (N64) for me. It has a decent framerate and isn't endless!
Extra tracks that I would add: Mario Circuit 1 (SNES), Bowser's Castle (SNES), Ghost Valley 1 (SNES), Toad's Factory (Wii), and... I'll probably update this list as people post more tracks.
@nate38 Hell yes. I'd always pick Baby Bowser and DK Jr., so that I could shoot giant spiky shells and block then with giant banana peels. So good.
I also used to Time Trial the hell out of Mario Circuit 1. Actually, that's a good question: Which tracks have hosted your main Time Trial rivalries? For me, it would be Mario Circuit (SNES), Ghost House (SNES), Baby Park (GCN), that raceway from Double Dash, Toad's Factory, Mushroom Gorge, and that Middle Eastern track from MK7. Online competition is cool for Ghost races, but I think that being able to see the ghosts of the top players has kind of ruined them a little.
@Secret_Tunnel Hey, now. Local multiplayer Baby Park may be a perfectly acceptable alternative to Battle Mode, but N64 Battle Mode was godly (on two of the four courses).
@anon_mastermind I know I've already said a few others almost made it, but Yoshi Circuit was honestly like #11 for me. In fact, the drifting quote I threw into my conclusion was actually meant for a Yoshi Circuit entry, and it was one of the tracks I was specifically thinking of when I said I had to cut "a few that I was certain were going to be shoe-ins before I really started trimming down".
@Anand Mario Circuit 1 SNES is easily my most time trialed track, although Rainbow Road SNES is probably up there. Hmm, what else? Mario Raceway on N64, although that wasn't because I liked it that much, but more because Nintendo Power had some time trial competition I entered (and won a gold controller from back before gold controllers could be purchased!) I got my time by jumping the wall in all 3 laps, which took me FOREVER to do. I think there is a point where I just stopped doing time trials as much, although I do recall doing them a fair in the DS game, and some in the Wii game which had a leaderboard system of sorts. If Nintendo ever gets their act together and gets up a real leaderboard system (and more importantly, a friend leaderboard system) for Mario Kart again, then I will probably start doing time trials hardcore again.
Hm, there aren't any specific tracks that are jumping out at me as being particularly amazing, so I don't think I could create an ordered list of ten. All my picks would come from Mario Kart Wii and Double Dash!! though, both games have good track designs. I particularly liked the dynamic courses like Grumble Volcano and Dry Dry Ruins, having the track change each lap is a great idea that I hope is explored more in the next game.
I was never into Super Mario Kart or Super Circuit, and I liked Mario Kart 64 at the time but it's aged poorly. Mario Kart DS is decent and has some good tracks, but they didn't stick out to me like MKWii and DD. I haven't played Mario Kart VII or the arcade games.
@Zero "of sorts"? What more did you want from MKWii's leaderboards? To see more than the top 10?
@Mop it up Off the top of my head I'd want to see an absolute ranking for my times (Wii's only showed the top 10 and then just a sort of random mass of people) and I'd want to be able to set up communities (I guess Mario Kart 7 was a good start there?) so that we could have an official "Negative World" leaderboard and such. There is probably more I'd like to see from leaderboards, but that would be a good start.