This is the first in a series of three posts celebrating the release of DLC Pack #2 for Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U. I will be looking at the best tracks, the worst tracks, and the best music that the series has to offer.
Mario Kart holds a special place in my gaming heart – it’s a tired, worn out cliche, but there really is no other game that turns a group of friends into a hotbed of antipathy for each of other in the same way. My love affair with the series began on the Gamecube with Double Dash, but I have got round to playing through an completing all versions of the game since. Coupled with my love of real world racing as well, I feel this leaves me in a good position to judge probably the most important aspect of the series – the tracks.
I’m focusing on the best tracks the series as a whole has to offer – I haven’t limited myself to choosing a certain amount from each game as I feel this would defeat the point. When creating the list I was surprised at which tracks fell out of the running and which remained. I was sure Daisy Cruiser, Cloudtop Cruise and even just one version of Rainbow Road or Bowser Castle would appear but to no avail. I’m judging the circuits on a few different thing, the main ones being circuit layout, overall aesthetic and the completely numerical and objective value of ‘fun-ness’:
10 – Baby Park (Double Dash)
The most simple track in the series themed around the baby characters should be a recipe for one of the worst tracks Mario Kart has ever seen. However, while a lap will only take around 10-12 seconds, you will have to do so 7 times and all while avoiding normal and giant banana peels, fireballs, chain chomps, green, red and giant Bowser shells. The fact that there isn’t a divider on the circuit means that any item can rebound across the whole track at any point. It’s complete mayhem and one of the best adverts for Mario Kart
9 – Music Park (Mario Kart 7)
The little touches really add to this track – the keyboards and xylophone notes playing as you drift around them, tambourine sounds when you bounce across and the giant bouncing music notes on the main straight look amazing, but the track design itself is more than sound (geddit…) too. The drifting flows nicely between corners and the shortcuts are well placed so as not to interfere while still giving you a noticeable bonus for seeking them out, as long as you can handle the corners straight after.
8 – Waluigi Pinball (Mario Kart DS)
Mario Karts DS outing is a highly underrated outing for the series, with some of the most unique and challenging tracks. This colourful and twisting track certainly ticks both boxes in front of a brilliant pinball aesthetic. The tight chicanes and corkscrews after being lauched are very satisfying, while the main straight bombards you with the pinball, bumpers and flippers to avoid. A special shout out to the sound design of this level, one of the first to use a custom roulette sound based around the track which really adds to the atmosphere.
7 – Sunshine Airport (Mario Kart 8)
There’s a reason this circuit was used quite a bit in MK8’s promotional material – the airport is colourful and bright, with challenging jumps, logical obstacles and a nice short anti-graviy section towards the end of the track. The shortcut at the end doesn’t require a mushroom boost to use and feels perfect when you hit it just right.
6 – Delfino Square (Mario Kart DS)
Another very strong Isle Delfino based track and another bow to MKDS’s cap. Almost every corner of the track is worth mentioning – the hairpin at the start will catch out fast starters if they’re not careful, multiple routes through the streets and a tricky chicane just after the bridge are just a few of highlights to mention.
5 – Mount Wario (Mario Kart 8)
Easily the best point to point track the series has seem so far, the variety on offer here between laps is one its major selling points. Starting at the top of a snow capped mountain, going through caves which lead onto a damn and then traversing a forest leading onto a fully formed skip slope, there’s never a dull moment. Some more clever jump based shortcuts and some clever anti-gravity use across the side of the damn compliment the subsequent tight and tricky corners on the slopes.
4 – Maple Treeway (Mario Kart Wii)
This is probably the most gorgeous track on the Wii game, but don’t be fooled by that as it’s also one of the hardest too – Maple Treeway’s branches have steep slopes on either side, as well as marching Wigglers which can catch out the unaware. There’s a very nice shortcut right at the start of this track which can save you from a bot of the mayhem at the start of the race here, leading nicely to the cannon back to the top of tree, as well as one of few good uses of the ‘trick boosts’ in the game.
3 – Wario Colosseum (Double Dash)
I’m honestly surprised that this track still hasn’t received the remake treatment, especially in Mario Kart 8 given that you’re almost sideways at some points anyway. The only track to be just 2 laps in Grand Prix, Wario Colosseum is twisty, challenging and frenetic – you really have to take the corners with confidence as one false move and you’re falling to your doom. The music and rattling while driving on the cage flooring both add to the energy of the track too.
2 – Yoshi Valley (Mario Kart 64)
The fact that the N64 cannot handle current driver rankings for this track says it all. The most twisty of them all with multiple routes, the uninitiated will get lost while even the experiences will get caught out by the narrow edged track and porcupines in your way. Ahead of its time in many ways and a 4-player favourite, it would probably have taken top spot if not for that infuriating, irrational spinning egg. Only blight on a balls out wild ride of a course.
1 – DK Mountain (Double Dash)
There isn’t really any way to do this track justice – the twisting corners up the hill at the start lead to a long and open right-hander where you have a short window to use a weapon if you wish, before being fired to the top on the unhappy mountain. From there, you bounce and spark down the cliff face, finding yourself in another twisty section, but this time you have to avoid the boulders falling down the mountain while drifting around series of tight hairpins with chasms in the middle. Top this off with a long rickety bridge just before the finish line (perfect location for a last gasp shell to knock an opponent off) and you have an engaging, well thought out cup closer, with interesting but avoidable-with-skill hazards.