Ranking the Mario Kart series

6 mins read

Of all Mario’s diversions when not saving Princess Peach, Karting around has been his favourite hobby. We’ve had seven Mario Karts now, and the series has changed dramatically over time.

Have all the changes been for the good though? I would argue no, as my ranking list of Mario Kart games below would show. Be sure to let us know what your personal Mario Kart preference is in the comments!

From least to greatest:

Mario Kart: Double Dash

This is by far the weakest Mario Kart. It uses a two racer per kart gimmick that doesn’t do much for the gameplay aside from giving players access to two different overly powerful powerups. It then sticks those racers on a fairly bland bunch of tracks and lets them have at it.

But those items are the game’s greatest failing. Double Dash is the first time in the series that items took over from racing as the focus of the game. I didn’t appreciate losing a race at the dying stages because I got hit by a Blue Shell and got sent to last place then, and I don’t appreciate it now.

Mario Kart Wii

Mario Kart Wii’s greatest mistake was in making the karts pretty much useless. Bikes were the way to go for any competitive racer. Couple that with a steering wheel attachment that Nintendo tried to encourage people to use, but was stupidly uncomfortable in practice and you’ve got a game that feels more gimmicky than genuine. It’s like Nintendo wanted to prove that motion controls could be used to enhance gameplay. I just went back to the classic controller which of course meant I never got to be considered an elite racer by the game.

Still, the online was fun and functional and the choice of classic tracks was unparalleled. With the exception of Double Dash none of these games are bad, per se, but Mario Kart Wii is the least of the ones I would consider worth playing.

Mario Kart 7

Mario Kart 7 took item spamming and made an absolute art form of it. There’s no point even trying to race well because if you’re in the lead you’re going to get torn to shreds right before the finish line.

Beyond those balancing issues, Mario Kart 7 also suffered for being the worst bunch of tracks in the series history. Case in point: I remember some glider sections and some water sections, but I don’t remember a single original track in this game from the last time I played it in December. Meanwhile I remember the good tracks of Double Dash years after I put that game down. Nintendo made these tracks too busy to be memorable.

Mario Kart Super Circuit

Now we’re talking about some great games. Supreme track design rules here: Nintendo really is at its best when it’s limited in what it can do, and Super Circuit does a beautiful job of using twists and turns to create interesting driving experiences. Items were a rarity meaning driving well can lead to victory, too. The only thing that lets this game down is the controls are a bit wonky compared to every other game in the series.

Mario Kart DS

The best of the modern Mario Karts by far, Mario Kart DS has the distinction of being the first online Mario Kart, and that was a beautiful thing back in the day. Sure it was hard to get a match finished because the losers would disconnect, but that’s what friend codes were for.

Track design was superb, too, taking full advantage of the DS hardware advancements over the GBA to insert geographic variety into the game. The controls were also especially tight and accurate, although it could get tiring pulling out those powerslide boosters on the D-pad.

Super Mario Kart

The classic and still very nearly the best. There’s a simple charm to Super Mario Kart that has never really been bettered. The super-bright, super cheerful visuals, the basic tracks that were perfectly balanced to allow everyone of every skill level to get into and enjoy, the happy music.

It’s just a touch unfortunate that it was only ever a two player game, because Mario Kart is best enjoyed with friends. Still, it’s outrageous fun even by modern standards.

Mario Kart 64

Mario Kart 64 introduced four player racing to the series, was supremely well balanced with regards to items vs. Rewarding skilled driving, and had some of the best track design ever seen in racing games. As dated as it looks today, MK64 was an unbelievably well designed racing game and it was this game that cemented the series’ reputation for quality. In no small way we owe the success of this game for the reason Mario Kart still exists now. Forget Mario Kart Wii, just go download this game from the Virtual Console and you’re in for a great time.

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  • Your least, is my favorite…a story I should blog about!
    I own two of them, DS and Wii, but RARELY play them. Total play-time on the Wii version is probably less than 2 hours, if more than an hour.

    DS version played a decent amount with the online, but stopped that probably 4+ years ago.

    I think it was Mario Kart 64 that got me through a week of sickness in Junior High, but it might have been the SNES version…I'm going to have to think about it now.

  • Good list. I mostly agree with the entries, but I would swap Double Dash with Mario Kart 7. It's probably the memories talking since I haven't played it in eight years or what have you, but I seem to recall it having a few really good tracks. It was also the first to break the typical three lap format for a few stages (correct me if I'm wrong).
    Would also put 64 a bit lower due to some personal quibbles, but it does get points for being so balanced and introducing four player multiplayer as you said. 

  • Super or DS depending on how many people are in the room. Super lacks four player support, but is otherwise a thrill. DS could use some balancing, but has a ton of single player content and it's much easier to get a game going with friends. 

  • I largely agree with this list.  Your least favorite on it is mine, and the #1 is my favorite as well.  Mario Kart 64 succeeded in bringing my friends and I together to play games almost every weekend, even if just for short bursts of time.  Some of those same friends came over not too long ago, and we played some Mario Kart Wii – but they, my wife and myself spent more time on 64.

  • Yeah, the virtual console thing is great. I have more play time racked up on my 3DS with Super Circuit as the ambassador game than Mario Kart 7, lol.

    Personally the MK series is really starting to lose its way. I had more fun with Modnation Racers than any of the last few Mario Karts. It's sad, because Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart 64 were near obsessions :O

  • I've only played Wii and 7, but generally agree with the sentiment.  For me both of those games are pretty much tied and I really dislike the heavy item spamming.  Though I do appreciate MK7's online features where the communities can be somewhat customized such as bombs only, shells only, etc..  I'd like to see more fine tuning of that, but it's better than nothing.  (eg: all shells but blue, leave out lightening and other items that are a joke)

    In Wii I enjoyed using the bikes, but it basically made me always want to use them instead of the carts.  I also liked the mote/chuck control scheme as it was much more comfortable than 7 on 3DS (I get cramps in my right hand) or the classic controller.  4-player split screen on the Wii was pretty awesome as well.

    (and for reference I think I have 20 something hours on Wii and 7-10 on MK7)

    Though with that said I'm looking forward to checking out Super MK and MK64 on VC at some point along with snagging DS when the price drops low enough. 😉  All three seem very solid.

  • Make sure you do, Robert! Words cannot express just how retro awesome the SNES and N64 Mario Karts are. 

    I just don't understand why Nintendo won't let us turn items off entirely for every racing mode. Sometimes people just want to race. 

  • If only they released those on 3DS eShop I would get them today..

    I really don't understand their unwillingness to provide more options and flexibility either.  From various interview quotes they seem to hide behind the mantra of "the races must be 100% balanced by use of powerful items where anyone has a chance to win at any time".  Then the common theme of "if you want to flat out race there are plenty of other games for that, this is mario kart" also creeps in.

    I get the idea and would gladly use all items when racing against certain people.  While I'm no pro I would much rather lose against someone who flat out maneuvered me or used appropriate items at the right time to move ahead.  eg:  A green shell that they lined up and hit me with..

    Not sure if I'm up for the Wii U Kart if it's going to be the same.  

  • "
    Not sure if I'm up for the Wii U Kart if it's going to be the same.  "

    I'm the same. I'm fairly certain I won't be unless the next Mario Kart takes significant steps to modernise it – track creation is another thing that really should have been in 7. Modnation Racers managed it. 

  • How come the Mario Kart Wii picture actually shows Mario Kart Arcade GP? It's a good list, but that error kind of bugs me a bit.

    Because I'm pretty sure Pac Man wasn't in Mario Kart Wii…

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