Mario Kart’s all-time best (and worst!) racetracks

MarioKartposter

Celebrating 20+ years of go-kart coursework

There ain’t nothin’ like a Mario Kart track. Over the years they’ve gotten wilder and wilder, from Super Mario Kart’s modest “real kart racing with a twist” to Mario Kart 7’s manic, setpiece-laden jaunts through the air and underwater. And now with Mario Kart 8, Nintendo plans to turn those courses upside-down with antigravity sections that’ll see karts racing on the walls and ceiling.

Just before Mario Kart 8’s May 30th release, I’d like to run down my own personal list of the best and worst tracks in the series’ history. I’ve chosen to break things down by game — I want this list to represent the entire series, after all, and not just my own favorite Mario Kart games. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope these are some of your favorites, too. Here we go, starting with the most recent game and working our way back:

Mario Kart 7

The worst: Maka Wuhu and Wuhu Loop

I’m cheating right off the bat by selecting two “worst” courses, but I can’t help myself. I really, genuinely hate Mario Kart 7’s Wuhu Island levels. These tracks are meandering, boring stretches of nothing, each so long that Nintendo has opted to make them only one lap. Because of this, items can’t accumulate on-track, making them fundamentally less exciting than other courses. Both tracks even had game-breaking glitch shortcuts, leading to Nintendo releasing their first ever downloadable patch. And it really rankles that, of all Nintendo’s properties to include as a Mario Kart locale, they chose Wii Sports’ lifeless Wuhu Island over anywhere that fans would actually want to race through. An absolute travesty.

Worst runner-up: Rosalina’s Ice World

The best: Piranha Plant Slide

This level just oozes old school Mario charm. After a quick slide down some colored pipes, Mario and friends are whisked away to level 1-2’s iconic underworld, complete with snapping piranha plants and blue goombas. Another pipe leads players to into one of the game’s best underwater sections, where air currents push karts toward and away from boost pads. Then players exit into the air, gliding past a series of waterfalls into a facsimile of the first game’s orange brick “end of level” castle, swerving around real and fake goombas as they cross the finish line. This level has everything: slick turns, nostalgic setpieces, and obstacles that are dangerous but totally fair.

Best runner-up: DK Jungle

mariokartmushroomgorge

Mario Kart Wii

The worst: Daisy Circuit

Ugh. It’s like Nintendo just can’t figure Daisy out. Instead of giving her something totally awesome, like a Super Mario Land themed course complete with bomb koopas, sphinxes, and hopping zombies, they give us… this. Daisy Circuit is a completely bland coastal city level that bears depressingly little Mario influence at all. There’s a statue of Luigi and Daisy dancing plus some Delphino islanders here and there, but otherwise the level consists of boats, a lighthouse, and a bunch of meandering roundabout turns. There aren’t even any obstacles, unless you count the pathetic traffic cones scattered throughout. Yawn.

Worst runner-up: Coconut Mall

The best: Mushroom Gorge

I didn’t play Mario Kart Wii until well after release. Reviewers trashed it as unpolished and unbalanced, and I didn’t need that kind of karting in my life. But then I played it at a friend’s house, fell in love with the game, and ended up time trialing Mushroom Gorge for three hours. Mushroom Gorge is pure fun, players racing over bridges and through a crystal cavern, hopping and tricking off of giant mushrooms as they go. Every section of the track seems to have its own focus, and there’s endless opportunity to screw people over. The goombas wandering the end of the track are a nice touch, and the mushroom-boost shortcut through the grass is simple but incredibly satisfying — especially if you manage to steal first at the very last second.

Best runner-up: Koopa Cape

Mario Kart DS

The worst: Peach Gardens

Peach Gardens is just awkward. There’s always some flowerbed or bush in your way, and every turn is too short and square to be really satisfying. The chain chomps roaming the grounds are one of Mario Kart’s most infuriating nuisances, especially considering that they trail precious item blocks behind them. The only section I even remotely care for is the stretch of dirt road with Monty Moles popping out left and right. This level makes you want triple shrooms so you can just skip everything.

Worst runner-up: Yoshi Falls

The best: Tick Tock Clock

This level could easily be a highlight on theme alone. Who wouldn’t want to race around the inside of a clock? And it translates well into a course, the clocks’ ticking hands and swinging pendulums acting as obstacles, the gears acting as speed boosts to propel players along. They’re the real heroes here: there’s nothing better than snaking from interlocking gear to gear, propelling your kart along clockwise, then counterclockwise, then clockwise and counterclockwise again. Any track can boast thwomps and fireballs —this track is something unique and special.

Best runner-up: Luigi’s Mansion

Mario Kart Double Dash!!

mariokartDKmountain

The worst: Sherbet Land

If there’s one thing Double Dash definitely doesn’t need, it’s slidier controls. But that’s exactly what Sherbet Land excels at, whipping players left and right into ice blocks that freeze them in their tracks. And from a design perspective, this just skews way too close to Sherbet Land 64, full of ice-skating obstacles, wide-open spaces, and a descent into an icy tunnel. Sherbet Land wasn’t good on 64, and it’s not good here.

Worst runner-up: Dry Dry Desert

The best: DK Mountain

This one isn’t even a competition — DK Mountain crushes the other Gamecube tracks to banana mush under its hairy fist. They’re not all bad tracks, mind, even though I do think Double Dash had some real lamers. But DK Mountain really stands out as one of the purest examples of setpiece design meeting great track fundamentals. Who doesn’t love winding their way up that hill, blasting out of a cannon to the top of the volcanic DK Mountain, and then barrelling all the way to the bottom? It’s a rough and tumble ride, and it offers a really unique perspective on the other racers ahead and below as you lord over them with your power items. Plus there’s the iconic rickety bridge at the end, perfect for setting up trap walls. DK Mountain is awe-inspiring.

Best runner-up: Peach Beach

Mario Kart Super Circuit

The worst: Lakeside Park

I really struggled picking this one. Lakeside Park isn’t really so bad, generally speaking. It’s a pretty solid Donut Plains-style course, with lots of tight turns, some cool volcanic rocks raining down, and a zip boost over the track. There’s only one problem: Lakeside Park was designed to troll players. Toward the end of the track, there’s one particularly sharp turn that you’re 100% guaranteed to mess up the first time you play. And when you do, you hit a yellow bumper… sending you over a wall and three turns back. There are a few instances in Mario Kart history where poor track design leads to frustration, but Lakeside Park is one of the only tracks that revels in it. There’s essentially no coming back from hitting that turn wrong, and it’s not like Super Circuit needed to be any harder.

Worst runner-up: Bowser Castle 4

The best: Bowser Castle 3

Super Circuit’s Bowser Castle tracks are downright schizophrenic. Bowser’s Castle 2 and 4 are a hot mess, while 1 and 3 are sublime. Bowser Castle 3 succeeds by reigning in a lot of the excesses that plague Bowser levels. Everything’s sensibly laid out, and everything has its purpose. Thwomps menace players throughout but never block the entire track. There’s a straightforward series of jumps with fireball hazards, and a skinny metal bridge at the end for laying banana peels. And Kammy Koopa flies the skies above, giving the stage some flavor. Bowser Castle 3 is understated but an absolute blast to race through. This is one of my all-time favorites, and it’s even better in Mario Kart Wii.

Best runner-up: Rainbow Road

Mario Kart 64

mariokartkoopatroopabeach

The worst: Rainbow Road

I suspect most people really love this level, but I just can’t stand it. Take away the cool neon background and great music, and you’re left with one of the most mind-numbingly boring stages in Mario Kart history. Rainbow Road 64 is way, way longer than it needs to be, and the really insulting thing is that there’s no challenge here at all. Rainbow Road should represent the ultimate test of karting skill, yet this one has walls all the way around it. The only remotely dangerous hazards are the chain chomps that chomp chomp along the track. Rainbow Road 64 is more than just a boring, meandering mess. It’s a disgrace.

Worst runner-up: Kalimari Desert

The best: Koopa Troopa Beach

Koopa Troopa Beach makes a pretty easy name for itself as the best track in Mario Kart 64. It’s early and iconic, features some of the most open track design in the entire game, and has alternate routes and shortcuts scattered throughout. Taking a mushroom and ramping through the cliffside cave is the most memorable shortcut in the game and earns the level some extra props, even if it does shave off a bit too much lap time. There are also some surprisingly evil palm trees and some crabs that scuttle about. And I dig the giant troopa-shaped rock — it’s one of the few standout setpeices in the entire game.

Best runner-up: Royal Raceway

Super Mario Kart

The worst: Koopa Beach 2

What a meandering nothing of a track. I was tempted to pick something else, just because there’s so little to say about Koopa Beach 2. Vanilla Lake 1 has its annoying ice blocks, while Bowser Castle 3 has the lava you’ll automatically fall into if you’re going too fast. The only standout moment of this race is the extra item nestled between pools of deep water. Otherwise, you’re just skirting a bunch of bushy shrubs the whole race. Lame.

Worst runner-up: Bowser Castle 3

The best: Donut Plains 2

Look: there are a lot of totally awesome tracks in Super Mario Kart. But if there’s one track that really brings me back, one that’s totally emblematic of the game as a whole, it’s… Donut Plains 2? Absolutely. This track is great turn after great turn after great turn. It’s immaculately plotted, perfect for racing and trialing. The last two turns are incredible, sweeping arcs, one after the other. And Monty Mole makes his first Mario Kart cameo in this stage as perhaps the most nefarious obstacle of all time, latching onto your face and refusing to let go unless you hammer the shoulder buttons relentlessly. Plus, there’s even a nice pond halfway through. How delightful.

Best runner-up: Rainbow Road

And there you have it. My own, personal, completely informed votes for greatest Mario Kart tracks of all time. What are your favorites? Let me know with a comment!

mariokartvictory

Advertisements

Tags: , , , , ,

9 Responses to “Mario Kart’s all-time best (and worst!) racetracks”

  1. Chris "Kodoku" Detrick Says:

    No Maple Treeway? No Maple Treeway.

  2. alexislives Says:

    I haven’t played the two most recent installments in the series, but I played the original game on the SNES for countless hours. It’s still my favorite in the series with Rainbow Road being my absolute favorite. I agree with Koopa Beach 2, oh how I hated that track as a kid.

  3. Technique Says:

    I’ve never seen your blog until today and I’m realizing I’ve been missing out!

    I agree with your list 95% but Koopa Beach 2 on SNES was awesome. Haha something about being able to drive throught the water was just sweet to me. That’s what makes the world go around though I guess, different opinions. I will be reading more from you in the future!

    • catstronaut Says:

      Thanks for reading and responding!

      Yeah the water part is pretty cool, but most of the track is just turning around those boring shrubs. Koopa Beach 1 has a lot more water and is a lot more enjoyable imo, even if it is really, really easy.

      I honestly don’t even really hate any of the tracks in Super Mario Kart, since it’s my favorite game in the series. So picking a least favorite track was kind of a toss-up between most broken (Bowser Castle 3), most annoying (Vanilla Lake 1) and most boring (Koopa Beach 2). I really coulda gone any which way.

  4. Strawberry Says:

    This is a great list! The only one I really disagree with is Rainbow Road from 64 being the worst. I loved that track. Oh well, to each his own.

  5. SavageSalamence Says:

    Pretty good list, but why no mention of the great GBA tracks like Sunset Wilds and Sky Garden? I know this is your opinion, but also Kalimari Desert is far from the worst track. And Peach Beach over Mushroom Bridge and Baby Park? I don’t think so.

    • catstronaut Says:

      I only picked a few tracks, so some absolute classics had to get left in the dust. I love Sky Garden and Sunset Wilds — Super Circuit actually has some really great track design in general, even if they did get too wild in places.

      Kalimari Desert is one of those track designs that’s just awful on every level, imo. If it’s not the worst then it’s def up there.

      My picking Peach Beach surprised me too. I love Mushroom Bridge, though. Never totally gelled with Baby Park in the way that everyone else has; I’d love to see it make a return, though.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: