Note: For this list, I'll be excluding the Mario Kart arcade games.
#8: Mario Kart: Super Circuit (GBA, 2001)
Interestingly enough, rumor has it that the game was going to be online compatible, but the idea apparently fell through. According to Did You Know Gaming?, "the game originally had online connectivity. Japanese players could exchange ghost recordings online via a cell phone adapter. The rest of the world could only do this locally via a GBA link cable" [source]. Online play didn't surface until Mario Kart DS, but I think it's interesting that Nintendo saw the potential even back in these days.
If nothing else, Super Circuit marked the first time gamers could play Mario Kart on the go, so while it’s no longer a remarkable title, I’m sure it was well-appreciated in its day.
#7: Super Mario Kart (SNES, 1992)
But nonetheless, Super Mario Kart is an interesting experience. It’s fun to try the unusual character lineup, play with all-2D graphics, and, most of all, see where it all began. Super Mario Kart’s biggest claim to fame is, of course, kicking off one of gaming’s most beloved series, as well as the go-karting sub-genre. While it isn’t as thrilling as newer titles, it is a unique, retro adventure, and I’m glad Nintendo included it on their SNES Classic Edition console.
#6: Mario Kart Wii (Wii, 2008)
But Wii Wheel or no Wii Wheel, Mario Kart Wii’s motion controls are as solid as can be, and they make for a much-appreciated addition to the game’s already perfect mechanics. Sadly though, those controls (along with the selection of motorbikes in addition to karts) were the greatest contributions the game lent to the series. Sure, some of the new tracks are great, and the plethora of characters is impressive, but other than that, there’s nothing new. The game’s graphics are barely better than its predecessor’s (Double Dash), there’s no fresh twist on the racing itself, and the inability to conduct multiplayer Vs. races without computer players is outrageous.
Despite its many faults, Mario Kart Wii will remain a party favorite, thanks to the Wii’s unmatched casual appeal. And of course, the game isn’t all bad; I especially appreciate its multi-controller compatibility along with its jumping mechanic. Overall, it’s imperfect, but still fun. And let’s face it—that’s enough for Mario Kart.
#5: Mario Kart 7 (3DS, 2011)
Thanks to those features, cool new courses, fun retro courses, a great selection of characters and karts, impressive graphics, and a solid, new control scheme, Mario Kart 7 is a great handheld Mario Kart. It’s a must-have for the 3DS, and if you don’t want to carry around your Switch, it makes for a gloriously satisfying experience on handheld.
#4: Mario Kart: Double Dash (GCN, 2003)
And speaking of standards, the game marked many firsts and set countless precedents for the Mario Kart series. It marks the first unlockable characters, the first kart selection feature, the first time where choosing a character makes a visible difference, and the first all-3D graphics in Mario Kart.* Overall, Double Dash distinguished a turning point in the Mario Kart series and still remains one of the franchise’s most fun-to-play titles, thanks to its individuality.
*Mario Kart 64 has true 3D tracks, but the character models, most items, and many other assets use prerendered 3D graphics that are rendered as 2D stamps in-game. Since the game doesn't render all of its 3D graphics in real-time, I don't consider it to be "all-3D."
#3: Mario Kart DS (NDS, 2005)
Mario Kart DS is a game where everything feels just right: there are just enough characters, just enough karts (I especially like their character exclusivity), and just enough tracks. And speaking of tracks, DS was the first game to double the track count from 16 to 32, by introducing the now-standard retro series, where tracks from older Mario Kart games are recreated for an experience both nostalgic and new. DS also introduced the first wireless and online functionality in Mario Kart, which was groundbreaking and satisfying. But even so, while a solid multiplayer function is only necessary in a Mario Kart game, Mario Kart DS is remarkably fun to play alone—a quality that many of the other titles lack. With this entry in the series, Nintendo convinced players that Mario Kart would now be fun anywhere and everywhere, not just at home.
#2: Mario Kart 64 (N64, 1996)
#1: Mario Kart 8 / Deluxe (Wii U, 2014 / Switch, 2017)
And while it seemed like the game couldn’t get any better, Nintendo somehow improved it once again by offering it as a launch title for the Switch, in a new Deluxe form. This upgraded version of the game comes with the DLC already installed, even more characters and karts, Double Dash’s double item mechanic along with some new items, and improved features of its predecessor (such as the Battle mode). And thanks to the Switch’s hybrid functionality, the game now serves as the best portable Mario Kart. As with 64, it’s tough to express the perfection of Mario Kart 8 in words, but those who’ve played it know how flawless it is.
Do you agree with my ranking? What’s your favorite Mario Kart game? Please let me know in a comment or message! Until next time, keeping racing and throwing banana peels.