When Nintendo announced the first Super Mario Kart game in the 1990s, the titular plumber had mainly been doing 2D platforming. Super Mario World, Super Mario Bros. 3, and of course, the one that started it all, Super Mario Bros. But I’m sure someone at the Japanese giant realised he could be so much more — so they put him in a kart.
Due to that bold move almost 30 years ago, Mario has become one of Nintendo’s most reliable characters, which is why you have recently found him in so much of its stuff. He’s golfed, smashed, thrown baseballs, and even shot hoops with his friends. Since then, the series has sold over 160 million copies worldwide, leading to Mario Kart appearing in arcades and toys, a theme park ride, and even a real-life but unofficial Mario Kart race. But we won’t be including those in this list. No, this is strictly for the mainline games.
Let's get it ranked by counting down the best in the series.
Mario Kart Tour
This concept could’ve been something special. But the abundance of microtransactions, having to use a phone to control a kart where in the console entries you can use an analogue stick, and it being a gacha game hampers the experience. And yet, Niantic and Nintendo still insist on monetising their mobile games this way, so it has to be last on our list. Still, the concept is excellent; having Mario Kart Tour easily accessible on something everyone has is impressive, but it’s not as great as right now. Thank goodness we got these tracks in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, though.
Super Mario Kart
This game is the one that started it all. Now, before you get mad, let me explain. I am not refuting the importance of Super Mario Kart, but when you look back, later entries have greatly expanded on the formula. I don’t think anyone would argue against that. However, there isn’t any reason to play this one unless you have it on the original SNES and want to experience history. Still, phenomenal that Nintendo got it right on their first try. So much of the series was born here, but it’s still really old.
Mario Kart: Live Home Circuit
Nintendo finally did something unique with the series and brought Mario into your kitchen, with this title including a real-world toy companion that you can use to create your very own courses. While it’s a pain to set up, seeing the characters race around your house with the elaborate courses you’ve created is an incredible feeling. For around €80 (£68), though? That’s a hard sell for many people, and it'll cost you double that if you want to race with your siblings. I still recommend trying this out, though — it’s a neat thing to experience, and it’s also not something other companies are doing right now.
Mario Kart: Super Circuit
If it’s super, it must be good. Super Circuit is an upgrade from the original SNES entry, now on the Game Boy Advance. It features Quick Play, a recognisable cast of characters, and the same wall-bouncing gameplay as its predecessor. Coins are back, too, so that’s a bonus. The controls are more refined, and the visuals look great. There isn’t any reason to go back to it without some third-party enhancements, though.
Mario Kart 7
While this might not seem innovative, it’s a good time. The underwater and gliding mechanics are fun, and use the 3DS’ glasses-free 3D. We also have to thank those mechanics for appearing in Mario Kart 8 and Deluxe, and I also played it a lot when I was younger. But like I mentioned, it doesn’t do much other than the bare minimum, and the music isn’t that great either. That said, I still loved it.
Mario Kart 64
Mario Kart 64 is a worthy contender for one of the best Mario title screens. Just him yelling the name of the game happily like that makes me feel warm and cosy. It was hard not putting it higher on this list, too, but games like DS and Wii outmatch this one, in my opinion. I love some of the tracks, though — Royal Raceway especially. Still, I would be lying if I said I didn’t prefer the other games.
Mario Kart: Double Dash!!
If it has two exclamation marks, it must be better than Mario Kart 64. The Mario Kart for GameCube was the first to use 3D models for characters, and included the birth of Baby Park. This one seems to be the most revered by fans these days. I’m not sure why — maybe it was the two characters thing? That made it unique. I don’t know; it didn’t appeal to me as much as the other two games that followed. Rocket start is pretty cool, though.
Mario Kart Wii
Coconut Mall! Mario Kart Wii is not as beautiful as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, but it makes up for it with memorable tracks and insane item balancing. Going for all the characters will make you want to curse at the Mario gods, and I love it. This game is the one that feels the most alive for me, as later titles feel dumbed down. The kart selection is better too!
Mario Kart DS
The best single-player Mario Kart. Mario Kart DS has a mission mode where if you’re not in the mood for racing, you can blow off steam by defeating a boss. I love this game, and I would also be remiss if I didn’t at least mention that you can draw on your kart. Bring back mission mode!
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Could it have been anything else? It has the best track design, the best music, the best visuals, an improved battle mode, 48 new tracks, plus a bunch more. You can even play it at the airport with two people by popping the Joy-Con off your Nintendo Switch. It’s a modern masterpiece in arcade track racing and deserves to be played by all. Whether a newcomer or a seasoned veteran plays it, this game has a little something for everyone.
So there you have it: all of the mainline Mario Kart games ranked. I wonder what the series will do next — Nintendo Kart, maybe? We’ll just have to wait and see.