The best Mario Kart games from worst to best

Certain truths are fundamental. In the same way we know that the sky is blue, we also know that running into a shimmering question mark while driving a souped up go kart and suddenly discovering a red shell in your hand makes you feel invincible, like anything in the world is possible. This is the magic of Mario Kart, a series that’s now been with us for a quarter of a century and is poised to continue its glorious reign on Nintendo Switch where it will, finally, no longer distinguish between portable and console entries. While all Mario Karts are great, not all Mario Karts are created equal. Here are the all the Mario Kart games ever made, from worst to best.

12. VB Mario Kart, Virtual Boy 

The Virtual Boy Mario Kart was cancelled alongside the ill-fated console. The only known coverage of the game is an announcement in Germany’s Big N magazine. Let’s go ahead and assume that it would have been the worst one ever made because Virtual Boy is a machine that causes headaches, nausea, and brain explosions. Okay. No explosions, but the first two are true.

11. Mario Kart Wii, Wii

If there's an example of the gulf often found between popularity and quality, Mario Kart Wii is perhaps the most resounding one ever. Selling nearly 40 million copies worldwide, Mario Kart Wii is Nintendo's third best-selling game ever, falling just behind system pack-ins Wii Sports and Super Mario Bros. for the NES. It's not that Mario Kart Wii is bad, exactly, but where Super Mario Bros. and Wii Sports found innovation in elegant design, Mario Kart Wii is a bloated, populist mess attempting to please everyone.

It's got motion controls! (which are… fine?) Or you can use the d-pad instead! (which is… fine?) Courses are bigger and wider than they've ever been, but they still turn into an absolutely inscrutable mess of thrown shells and jockeying turtlemen and cartoon plumbers. The whole thing just feels like the most Mario Kart rather than the best Mario Kart, and as a result, it's as if it's missing the series' soul - replaced, as it is, by one too many goddamned blue shells.

10 & 9. Mario Kart Arcade GP/2, Arcade

The first of three arcade experiments in the series, Mario Kart Arcade GP had some really fun ideas in it that were hampered by the mixed execution that all Namco-produced Nintendo games suffered from in the early ‘00s. On the bright side, it’s got Pac-man characters including the OG Puckman himself, as well as his paramour Ms. Pac-man and lifetime frenemy Blinky the ghost. It’s also got cameras built into the cabinet to take pictures of fools the moment they’re pummeled by a blue shell, digitally immortalizing their shame for all competitors. 

On the not so bright side, Arcade GP only has six tracks total and recycles its sound effects from the superior Mario Kart: Double Dash. GP2 probably shouldn’t have had a number on the end of it as it’s more of a Super Street Fighter 2-style sequel than a full blown evolution of its predecessor, adding in just a couple of extra characters and slight tweaks. Additions like the presence of a color commentary announcer aren’t a huge deal but getting Waluigi and a Tamagotchi in there as racers is pretty great. 

8. Mario Kart: Super Circuit, Game Boy Advance

Super Circuit had an opportunity to be the best in the series. Not only was it the first portable Mario Kart, it also remains the only other 2D racer that lets you hurl glorious pixel-based red shells at unsuspecting motorists. The limitations of the Game Boy Advance as a multiplayer platform kept it from true glory, though. Pokemon guaranteed that plenty of GBA owners had link cables, but Mario Kart requires an ease of access to races that the hardware couldn’t muster. The 2D graphics, while lovely in their own right, didn’t pop with the the same primary-colored vibrancy of the SNES game opting for the softer pastel palette favored by a number of first-party GBA games. Another reason Super Circuit feels different compared to the rest of the series is that it’s the only entry developed by Intelligent Systems, the Nintendo studio best known for strategy games and RPGs like Paper Mario, Advance Wars, and Fire Emblem. 

7. Mario Kart Arcade GP DX, Arcade

Now that’s how you make a Mario Kart arcade game! GP DX, short for deluxe, finally delivered what felt like a full package. Mixing in the glider and underwater sections from Mario Kart 7 but with a graphical sheen closer to Mario Kart 8, DX expanded its cast to include favorites like Rosalina and modes to better take advantage of the arcade setting. The best of these is Team Mode, which actually lets you and a friend in a two person cabinet to face off against the computer racers cooperatively. You can even meld your karts together into a single super kart, where one player drives and the other is on pure offense, sort of reimagining Double Dash’s mechanics around the idea of two vehicles. Its arcade exclusivity around the world and limited track list keeps it from top ranking, but it’s an admirable spin on plumber karting.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

I've been playing games since I turned four in 1986, been writing about them since 1987, and writing about them professionally since 2008. My wife and I live in New York City. Chrono Trigger is my favorite game ever made, Hum's Downward is Heavenward is my favorite album, and I regularly find myself singing "You Won't See Me" by The Beatles in awkward situations.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Roberts lives in Everett, WA with his wife and two kids. He once had to sell his full copy of EarthBound (complete with box and guide) to some dude in Austria for rent money. And no, he doesn't have an amiibo 'problem', thank you very much.
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