OKLAHOMA CITY – With Mario Kart 8 dropping this Friday, it only seems appropriate to run back the previous seven titles and rank them from worst to best. I’m extremely excited about this. Here we goooooo!
7. Mario Kart 64
Mario Kart 64 isn’t a bad game, but I rank it my least favorite for two reasons: crummy mechanics and the blue shell.
While its predecessor (Super Mario Kart) featured tight digital controls that rewarded superior starting, turning and other basic driving skills, MK64 mechanics were based on boosting more than anything else.*
If you’re unfamiliar, boosting is performed like so: while turning, rapidly move the thumbstick away from and into the turn until your kart’s exhaust becomes yellow and then red. If red, you’ll be rewarded with a boost of speed upon exiting the turn.
Some folks are able to boost extremely well, so I quickly realized that, if I wanted to compete, I’d better figure it out. I eventually became pretty good at it, but I still missed the days where pure driving skills (steering, starting etc) were the only requirement for success.
NOTE: Please understand, I believe MK64 requires skill, but it’s not pure driving skill. Check out this video and see how boosting and executing shortcuts allows this guy to set a World Record.
In the end, MK64’s boosting didn’t feel like Mario Kart, and that was crushing to a boy who loooooved the original. It was especially crushing since I sold ALL my games/systems (except my SNES) just to acquire what I thought would be a surefire childhood classic. You’ve heard the phrase “epic fail”? This was whatever is worse than that. Would that I could do that over.
If boosting weren’t bad enough, MK64 also introduced the obnoxious/maddening/joy-killing bane of Mario Karters’ existences, the blue shell. The blue shell does nothing less than punish people for good performance. Whereas one could, through good driving, lap the competition on SMK, one had to be wary of getting too far ahead in MK64 lest a blue shell attack and teach you that equality is better than excellence.
Boosting and blue shells have been a feature of nearly every title since MK64, but I won’t penalize those titles nearly as harshly as this one, the instigator. So, there you go – Mario Kart 64 is the worst Mario Kart game of all time.
Mario Kart Wii was supposed to be amazing because of the inclusion of bikes and a giant roster of drivers. Unfortunately, all that was wrecked when Nintendo decided to burden MKW with all the issues of MK64 except to an even more maddening degree. This especially applies to blue shells.
If you’re not familiar, hidden drivers and karts are unlocked as you progress through the Grand Prix on different difficulty levels. While I’m proficient enough to take down the computer even at 150cc, I was not proficient enough to overcome multiple blue shells every race.
You see, in MKW, Nintendo made blue shells more abundant than ever before. So, any time I found myself cruising along in first, I was sure to find a blue shell tracking me down before too long. This made for the most frustrating Grand Prix ever.
Still, I paid for the game, so I wanted to get as much out of it possible. I determined to win all the Grand Prix and unlock every character, so I began to drive more tactically, letting one driver stay ahead of me to take the shells. Even then, I was more often than not accosted by red shells or other mayhem and finished regularly in 4th or 5th place.
While I mostly play Mario Kart games for the time trials, the Grand Prix in MKW ruined the whole experience for me, and I rarely play the game to this day.
The first portable title on the list! Mario Kart DS is a fine Nintendo DS game that has all the annoying boosting of MK64 except on the go!
Honestly, I feel rather “meh” about MKDS. It is a good game with a nice selection of tracks, but it is little more than a minute improvement on the formula.
However, there are a couple of elements that make this game neither the worst nor second worst game in the series.
First of all, this is the first game in the series to have a selection of retro tracks taken from preceding games. NOTE: Mario Kart Super Circuit is the first game in the series to feature retro tracks, but they are all from SMK. MKDS includes various tracks from every preceding game.
This feature makes for a lovely walk down memory lane. No longer are tracks simply there to be raced. Instead, I often play old tracks in Time Trial mode just to revisit the music and curves and to relive my formative years. This is a huge plus, and thankfully Nintendo has kept this trend around ever since.
The second element of note is quite minor yet infinitely valuable. Namely, MKDS is the first game of the series to reveal opponents’ items during Grand Prix.
Remember how obnoxious blue shells are in MKW? And, remember how I had to let drivers take first just so blue shells would hit them instead of me? I could only achieve that by knowing when an opponent had a blue shell, and I only knew that from the realtime driver position and item display.
The realtime driver/item display came into its current form in MKDS. While I still hate blue shells, this display makes them slightly more manageable.
So, despite its being largely a rehash of old ideas, the sampling of retro tracks and the implementation of realtime driver/item info puts MKDS at #5.
Oh, I guess I should point out that MKDS is the first Mario Kart game to allow for internet multiplayer. Sadly, Nintendo has taken down the servers, so MKDS online is no more. Rest in pieces.
I’ll be back to the list in just a moment. Right now, I just want to pause and recognize three Mario Kart games that most of us have never played and probably never will.
Nintendo developed Mario Kart Arcade GP, Mario Kart Arcade GP 2 and Mario Kart Arcade GP DX2 in conjunction with Namco specifically for arcade play. They all have beautiful graphics and an interesting assortment of tracks.
Due to the affiliation with Namco, several tracks are based on Namco properties, and you can even race as Pac-Man or Blinky (as well as a couple other Namco characters).
Pretty cool stuff. I wish these would get ported to the Wii U, but I’m not holding out hope. Okay, back to the list….
Mario Kart 7 is where this list starts to get good. Released in 2011 for the 3DS, MK7 is the most up-to-date entry in the series until Friday. It has the same lame boosting, but it also has lots of great new tracks, a nice selection of retro tracks, new kart mechanics (including hang-gliding) and 3D presentation. It also has great graphics, a smooth framerate and nice music. It is a pretty cool game; very well put together.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how much I enjoy experimenting with the hang-gliding. It’s tremendously enjoyable to see how much of a track I can fly over rather than drive, and the physics of gracefully gliding to the track work very nicely.
Of course, one might say “But Grant, hang-gliding is just a gimmick like boosting!!! LOL. Idk why you give that a free pass but not boosting??? LOL.”
In my mind, the difference between boosting and gliding is that gliding is an element that tests one’s ability to control one’s kart whereas boosting is just a devs gimmick to spice up the experience of controlling one’s kart. There is a big difference there.
I play racing games (including Mario Kart) largely for the basic experience of guiding my vehicle through a tough track. That alone is exciting enough for me. I don’t need boosting mechanics to make it more enjoyable or thrilling.
So, having said that, I really like the hang-gliding, and I like the variety of tracks and overall production quality. As a modern Mario Kart game, MK7 works very well.
The last portable title on the list is also my favorite portable title. Mario Kart: Super Circuit came out when I was in college, and while the critics loved it (it received critical acclaim upon release, garnering a 93% on Metacritic), I definitely loved it more.
The first thing I loved about it is that it features SMK mechanics (no silly boosting), so I was finally able to cut loose and just drive again. Love love loved that!!
I also love the incredible selection of tracks. MKSC has forty total tracks, giving it the series’ most extensive collection to date. The first twenty courses are new while the other twenty are, get ready for it, the ENTIRE collection of tracks from SMK. For someone who loves the original, MKSC is a dream come true.
Quick note: one difference between SMK and MKSC is driver size. On average, the driver-size-to-track-width ratio is much larger in the second game, making even the most familiar track seem smaller and less forgiving.
This isn’t really meant to be a complaint, as the end result is that races in MKSC are FAST. In fact, I have to admit that I never fully learned to handle some courses at full speed with DK/Bowser. Ahem, Ribbon Road anyone? Ugh that track is tough.
The final thing I loved (and still love) is the fact that I can actually play this portable game on my TV using the GBA Player for the GameCube. I don’t do this too much, but it is a very fun feature if I don’t feel like hunkering down in a corner and removing myself from the world to play on my GBA/DS.
Overall, I love MKSC because it is so reminiscent of my first love, SMK. I wish Nintendo would make another title like it with updated graphics. Alas, I fear the best days are indeed behind us. That doesn’t matter, though, because MKSC is still awesome.
Even as I write this, I realize this is a controversial choice. Players generally didn’t like Mario Kart: Double Dash as much as other games in the series, so for me to place it this high will undoubtedly generate indecorous consternation.
Nevertheless, MKDD is #2 on my list. Of all the “boosting” games, I like this one the best, primarily because of the speed factor.
Heretofore I haven’t mentioned much about speed in the MK series other than to point out that MKSC feels fast. Indeed, as MK64 took the series into the third dimension and brought us boosting, the game (ironically) felt slower than the original. That trend has continued to this day. Recent games (while still fun) feel slower and less breathtaking than earlier entries.
However, MKDD doesn’t feel slow. Somehow, the devs conjured up just the right formula for modern racing mechanics while maintaining a sense of speed. Just thinking about the technical Yoshi Circuit and simple yet blazing fast Baby Park get my juices flowing. This fast game leaves plenty of room for driving acumen.
Before moving to #1, I should expand a little bit on the graphics. For a standard definition game, MKDD’s graphics are crisp and colorful. And things run along at a smooth 60 fps making this a slick, beautiful game.
One more note – I can’t find my copy of MKDD ANYwhere. If I loaned it to you, I would appreciate having it back. 😀 Okay, on to #1!!!
Super Mario Kart is the greatest Mario Kart game ever made. I don’t know how they did it (maybe it’s just beginner’s luck), but Nintendo somehow managed to knock their first attempt at Mario racing out of the park.
The music is fun, the graphics (though 16-bit) are colorful and cheery, and the track designs are superior to pretty much everything that came later. This is a racing game that anyone can enjoy.
There are three things that I really love in SMK.
First, you can lap your computer opponents. This was largely taken away in later MKs (except for MKSC); I’ve never understood why. I LOVE driving a couple perfect laps and then, hello, that’s Mr. Eighth Place! Then seventh place. Then sixth. And on it goes. The greater the margin of victory, the better the Grand Prix experience. SMK gives you that experience to the hilt.
Second, I love how fast 150cc is. SMK’s normal racing speed hovers somewhere around the 100cc mark for non-Grand Prix elements (Time Trials, Battle Mode), so 150cc Grand Prix is something special, as it is the fastest gameplay available. Speaking of “special”, 150cc Special Cup feels even faster than normal 150cc. To this day, 150cc Special Cup is the most brutally hard set of races found in any Mario Kart game.
Third, I love, love, love, love, love, love, LOVE Time Trial mode. When I get a new Mario Kart, I will always spend the bulk of my time playing Time Trials. Sure, Grand Prix is fun (and essential for unlocking tracks/characters), but Time Trials are where the true replay value is. I could’ve discussed this on every MK game, but it originated here, so SMK gets the credit.
Two more things about Time Trials.
1. I remember reading an issue of Nintendo Power twenty-two years ago in which readers were challenged to send in their fastest times for Mario Circuit 1. I raced with Toad back then (I hadn’t discovered the powers of DKJ and Bowser), so I raced and raced and raced and RACED until I got my time down to about 1’07″14 or so. I couldn’t wait to read the next issue and see how I compared.
I got the next edition, flipped to see the results, and was completely dumbfounded. Readers had sent in times of 1’01” and 1’02” – I was a solid 5-6 seconds off pace! I didn’t understand how that was possible. I eventually realized I had to use DKJ or Bowser to get close to that. After racing for over twenty years, I’m proud to say I’ve arrived at a best time of 1’00″70. Can I go faster? Yeah, probably, but I don’t have time to play anymore with work and life and such.
Before continuing, enjoy this acapella rendition of the theme from Rainbow Road by Smooth McGroove.
Okay, back to the article.
The point is, Time Trials in MK have become like Olympic sprinting. Folks will spend years whittling down their best times, even rejoicing over shaving one one-hundredth of a second off their records. It’s a very fun endeavor, and something that can generate lasting memories.
For example, one year my buddy Andrew and I went back and forth one-upping each other, trying to see who could get the best MC1 time. He had the best lap time; I had the best total time. We spent at least one full spring/summer trying to beat each other. Awesome stuff.
2. There is an entire community devoted to Mario Kart Time Trials. This might seem like nerd central to a lot of folks, but it is essentially like Mario Kart Olympics to enthusiasts. If you’re new to Mario Kart and want to see how you measure up to the best in the world, go check it out.
So there you go – SMK is the greatest Mario Kart game ever made, and I don’t see it ever being dethroned. BTW – it is on the Wii’s Virtual Console, so if you don’t have a Super Nintendo lying around, why not give is a download and try it out?
THAT’S IT. Those are my rankings. If you love my order, rad. If not, no problem. I understand that even the smartest folks are capable of holding false beliefs. If you think I’m waaaaaay off or waaaaaay right, why not tell the world in the comments below? I’d love to hear from you.
* – In SMK, there is a method described as NBT (New Boosting Techniques). It is a collection of boosting elements used by the top SMK drivers today, but it wasn’t even used in a World Record attempt until TEN YEARS after SMK’s release and six years after MK64’s release.
While these boosting techniques are comparable to boosting in MK64, they aren’t a blatant element of the game and weren’t meant to be the focus for new drivers. So, I consider MK64 to be the father of modern kart boosting.
Grant Stevens is a semi-non-pro Mario Kart racer and part time Mario Circuit 1 dominator. He also writes, plays music and enjoys basketball. And he likes apologetics. AND he’s the Dictator of the Use Ironic Correctly Society.