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 ďshortlistĒ 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, Iím 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 Iím not entirely comfortable with that shift. Or maybe I just suck. Iíll 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 Iím frustrated, Iím 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. Letís 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 peopleís copies, including a copy I bought for my girlfriend about 2 years ago, and more recently I played some on the ďfreeĒ Ambassadorís 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 doesnít 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 didnít 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. Itís 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 ďlazyĒ 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.) Thatís 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 isnít 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 donít 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 donít 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 isnít 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 racerís hopes for victory. Itís 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. Thatís nostalgia for you. But itís 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 thatís 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 Iím 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 havenít really seen in the series before. And sometimes the best of these elements are not the flashiest ones, but the simple ones that donít 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.
Bowserís Castle (64, Wii retro)
Man oh man, we are getting into some tough choices here. Truth be told, the Bowserís 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.) Bowserís Castle in Mario Kart 64, on the other hand...
Bowserís Castle on the N64 was the first Mario Kart track I remember that really had a sense of ďplaceĒ. You werenít 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 Bowserís 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 Bowserís 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 wouldnít 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 didnít, 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:
ďMy mother, she's blind in one eye and she can drift better than that.Ē -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.
Why would I be joking? Mario Kart DS was universally praised, in fact it is the highest rated of the 3D Mario Kart games. Super Circuit was probably pretty good at the time (it certainly reviewed well.) 7 is well... I think the main knocks against 7 tend to be related to online functionality and "playing it safe", but the tracks get a lot of praise.
I mean, I'm not totally serious in the sense that obviously some people will just plain not get into specific games for one reason or another, and I understand that. But when someone implies that I "forced" in "handheld garbage" it's kind of funny because the handheld games are generally highly praised by Mario Kart fans. Especially when you're talking about Mario Kart DS. To me that is kind of the equivalent of telling someone they "forced" in "old school garbage" because they put Link to the past and Link's Awakening on a top 10 Zelda game list or something.
(I know Stache wasn't totally serious either... I mean, I hope he wasn't...)
@Zero Ah, that's true, the comment you were responding to was ridiculous as well. I'm sorry, I guess I'm still not used to how familiar you guys are with each other, it's hard to tell if you mean things literally or are exaggerating for effect. It's tough being a n00b. :/
Yeah it was definitely in response to a specific comment, not a view I hold generally.
And I'm like 80% sure Mustache was joking. Although he does hate handhelds. But I think that is due more to him not liking playing games on a tiny screen with tiny buttons and such, not because he actually thinks the games all suck or anything.
The handheld Mario Kart games have been consistently awesome, and at the forefront of innovation. The most creative tracks, canonizing drafting, being the first to go online... what have the console games given us?
Technically, the DS did bikes first too. But yeah, aside from Super Circuit's "meh" selection of tracks, the portable games have had excellent track selections. Waluigi Pinball being one of my all-time favorites.
I didn't imply that YOU forced in handheld garbage, I implied that you'd be forcing ME to put handheld garbage on my list. Are you familiar with "preference?" Just because you like something CERTAINLY doesn't mean that I'll like it, and I'm well aware of of you/everyone not liking most of what I enjoy.
See: views on sports, "ideal" women, videogame choices, favorite genres, platforms of choice, movies, music, clothing, argyle socks yes/no, etc.
Hated bikes. I'm a Classic guy! (in the sense that I prefer Karts, and with the Classic Controller. Zammo!) Also, the DS courses that we have on the Wii always seem so simple. I don't know what is what offhand; I don't even really like the GC tracks too much either, actually. When Louuuuuu comes over, we'll make a rad list. It'll be a scream.
@Mr_Mustache Yeah but you can't genuinely call the tracks garbage if you have never raced them. You can say you don't like handheld gaming, but that isn't really a comment on the track quality.
The thing is, of course you have raced some of the handheld tracks in the Wii game as retro tracks. But I really feel like 7 is where the retro tracks got awesome, and got their own "feel" instead of being shoehorned into games they didn't originate on... which is no surprise as apparently Retro Studios worked on them. Of course retro tracks are generally best on their original platforms, but in 7 they lived up to past versions, not so much in the other games.
To be fair, the Wii representation of the DS tracks wasn't great. Yoshi Falls was the second track of the Mushroom Cup (easy), and Desert Hills was just boring compared to Wii's Dry Dry Ruins. Delfino Square was a fun romp, and Peach Gardens wasn't a bad one either. As a whole, the DS tracks are pretty excellent, so I wouldn't base your view of the 16 tracks on there based on these four (particularly the first two I mentioned). I would have liked to see Waluigi Pinball, Tick Tock Clock, and Airship Fortress on MKWii over some of the retro choices.
You're doing yourself a disservice by not checking out the DS version, but I know how you feel about handhelds (for whatever reason), so...yep.
There are 3 handheld Mario Kart games. Super Circuit (GBA), DS (um... DS), and 7 (3DS). Super Circuit is indeed an Ambassador game, although honestly it is the toughest to go back to at this point, as it is kind of SNES-style but not quite as endearing as the SNES game. DS is one of the best Mario Kart games ever made, although I agree with Ludist that it got weak representation in the Wii game (plus as I stated above, I don't think retro tracks came into their own until 7 anyway.) 7 is a step up from DS in a lot of ways, although pound for pound I think DS had better original tracks.