With Mario Kart 8 being less than a month away, I thought I’d run down the top 5 best and worst Mario Kart tracks which have graced the series since the initial game on the Super Nintendo. One thing to note is that I will only be taking one version of each track, so don’t expect multiple Rainbow Roads on this list, it will just be one.
5- Melody Motorway (Mario Kart 7)
Let’s start the list off with a track from the latest Mario Kart. Melody Motorway (Music Park in the USA) was a stand-out track for me due to its design, based off a concert stage and catchy track theme. Playing a musical scale while power-sliding down a piano or a marimba was a nice touch. The nice mix of jumps, a short gliding section and twisting turns made for a fun track to end the Mushroom Cup on and I’m glad that it is making a return as a retro course in Mario Kart 8.
4- Koopa Cape (Mario Kart Wii)
Koopa Cape remains a stand-out for me from Mario Kart Wii, due to the frantic battles in the water pipes and racers hunting to get the best line through the river paths. An interesting mix of above ground and underwater sections, not to mention an earworm of a track theme which would muffle as you went under the sea all come together to create an incredibly fun course. I’m still haunted by those electric spinners.
3- Waluigi Pinball (Mario Kart DS)
I’m pretty sure that anyone who played Mario Kart DS as religiously as I did, thought that Waluigi Pinball was an amazing track. Incredibly catchy music combined with a great pinball aesthetic, completely with giant pinballs chasing you down rails and flippers trying to spin you out near the finish all add to this track’s greatness. I always love the initial shot up the rainbow cannon, mirroring an actual pinball as you start the race. It was great to see this track get an upgrade in Mario Kart 7 but the original will always have a place in my heart.
2- Wario Stadium (Mario Kart 64)
Even though this course lacks any flashy designs or crazy course hazards, Wario Stadium is so high on this list as it is the perfect course for players to just race on. You don’t have to worry about a Piranha Plant eating you on the final lap and ruining your lead or that random Chain Chomp on the second turn, this track is about pure driving skill. The course’s intricate track layout, relying on a mix of tight turns and wide open straightaways, to create a varied and exciting course without having to fall back on gimmicks. The number of super tense races I had on this track numbers somewhere in the hundreds (until I learned the wall shortcut). This track better get remade in Mario Kart 9 or I’m sending a Blue Shell Nintendo’s way.
1- DK Mountain (Mario Kart: Double Dash!)
While I have just praised Wario Stadium for a lack of course gimmicks, a really good one can make a course stand out. The introduction of the cannon into the Mario Kart series, causing your kart to rocket through the sky at high speed, blew my mind when I first played this course. The feeling of speed as well as the sheer size of this stage, as you fly down the mountain with boulders chasing after you made this course my favourite. The hairpin bends as you enter the jungle always meant a power-slide battle and the final stretch on the rope bridge guaranteed some fighting between racers. Playing this course with 4 players in two karts, shouting and bashing each other all the way down the mountain while shells and banana skins add to the chaos, is probably the most fun you can have playing a Mario Kart game. This is the track I always pick if it’s available.
5- Shroom Ridge (Mario Kart DS)
After we’ve had the best tracks, let’s do the worst. The main problem with Shroom Ridge is that it is just plain boring. It looks like it came from a Mario Kart rip off from the late 90s, with no real soul to it at all, just a plain mountain road. Not only does it have oncoming traffic (which we will talk about later) which just adds unneeded frustration to this course, but the music has the dreaded whistling which plagued Double Dash’s soundtrack. A forgettable track in a game which is otherwise filled with interesting new courses.
4- Kalimari Desert (Mario Kart 64)
Desert courses are usually fun, with creepy temples to power-slide through or falling obelisks to dodge whilst avoiding red shells. Kalimari Desert is not one of those tracks. What we have instead is a simplistic course, with a repetitive theme which has the infamous distinction of being one of the only Mario Kart tracks which requires you to brake. The amount of times I have been forced to lose all momentum to brake for that god-forsaken train or careened into it to be thrown back into 5th is too many. A dull course, with an annoying hazard and distinct lack of charm. I’m glad it’s not back for Mario Kart 8.
3- Moonview Highway (Mario Kart Wii)
Traffic is annoying in real life. What’s even more annoying is when it can send you 20ft in the air if you hit it, explode or flatten you like a pancake. All this and more awaits you on the Moonview Highway. I can just about stand Toad’s Turnpike with its lorries and Mushroom City is pushing it, but Moonview Highway pushes me over the edge when it comes to traffic tracks in Mario Kart. The hairpin bends at the beginning can be an absolute nightmare on lap 1, usually ending with me flying off the edge or being squashed by a truck while the tunnel section always becomes a mess of green shells and oncoming vehicles. Hopefully, Mario Kart 8 is low on the traffic courses or I may go mad.
2- Rosalina’s Ice World (Mario Kart 7)
Ice tracks are a fine science to get right. You either do them really well or make a super memorable course like Frappe Snowland in Mario Kart 64, or you make a track which makes everyone let out an audible sigh when it is picked, like Rosalina’s Ice World. Not only is the track infuriating to play, with hairpin turns with sheer drops near to them on icy surfaces but it is another example of a track just being completely generic. Apart from seeing the Comet Observatory when you cross the line, nothing about this course is that interesting. Like Shroom Ridge, it looks like something out of a Mario Kart knock off and has nothing memorable about it, besides it being no fun to race on.
1- Rainbow Road (Mario Kart Wii)
People may shout ‘Heresy!’ for putting a Rainbow Road up at the worst spot. ‘Rainbow Road is a great track! I love playing it, even if I fall off all the time!’ I hear you cry. That’s why I hate this version of Rainbow Road so much. It is just full of places to fall off, making it the bane of a person who plays light characters like Toad or Shy Guy. So many of the turns on this Rainbow Road are death traps, with a banana or a nudge from a heavy racer between you and 12th place. Certain aspects of this course are just badly designed as well, like the half pipe area before the first star cannon. It slows you right down, you’re in constant danger of being flung off course after coming off a jump and it breaks the flow of the race. The number of times a Wavebird has also gone through a window whilst playing this Rainbow Road is dangerously high. Other versions of Rainbow Road are so much better, even though they have many of the same hazards like sections without rails or tight turns, but the track design is much less infuriating and makes you less prone to trips into deep space.
So, there are my personal top 5 best and worst Mario Kart tracks. Let’s hope Mario Kart 8 adds some new entries to the best list and none end up on the worst list. Get your Green Shells ready and engines revved up for when Mario Kart 8 releases on the 30th of May.