Top 5 out of 8? Sounds pretty safe. At least two of your top 5 will make it on the list. This is just a fun little list of my top 5 favorite Mario Kart games for Mario Kart Week content. They are not necessarily the top 5 best. Feel free to disagree with my list and make your own rankings as you see fit. To be fair, I’m not including the Deluxe version of Mario Kart 8 or the arcade Mario Kart games as I’ve not had access to either one. So we’re left with just the standard 8 games. You can also click on that video to watch a more brief listing rather than reading it out in this much detail.
5. Mario Kart Wii
Here come the pitchforks already. I know that Mario Kart Wii is notorious for being a bullshit mess of randomness. One blue shell often means the difference between a solid victory and ranking out. It can be utterly obnoxious to know that only the last leg of the last lap is of any significance. However, everything leading up to that, as pointless as it may be, is fun! It’s a thrill to dodge stage hazards, blast through boosters, and go off of jumps. It’s hectic throwing around items and trying to avoid those of opponents. You see people getting knocked off around you or flying by you constantly. There’s no break in this action! It’s a ton of fun. The big roster of racers per race and their different vehicle types only make it even crazier, along with a battle mode and vs play. Hell, even the motion controls for steering were a fun experiment. They were a novelty for some extra challenge and even though they were pretty rough they were still part of that overall fun factor. Mario Kart Wii is basically just the Mario Party of Mario Kart games. It’s horribly unbalanced and victory is not rooted in skill… but playing it with friends or at parties is going to be damn good time.
4. Mario Kart 8
It’s maybe a bit low on the list, but also remember I haven’t played the Deluxe version on the Switch, alright? Mario Kart 8 is not my favorite of them (obviously) but I do think it’s generally the best of them. It balances the skill of racing and use of items so well. You can’t stockpile the items as you can only hold one at a time, so you are encouraged to use them. Using them too quickly or too late could cost you, so you need to be very aware of that. Yet you also need to be a good racer. You need to know how your vehicle handles and the layout of the track. And of course you need to perform well with your driving skills to make expert use of this understanding and item proficiency. On top of such a solid core we have lots of shiny polish. The visuals are detailed and so vibrant while the music is a crazy mix of heavy metal guitars accompanying jazzy jams. There’s also lots of options for how you want to play. Newcomers won’t get a pure cakewalk in 50cc but the new 200cc mode will be challenging even to series veterans. You can even do some custom races where you control items, CPU difficulty, and engine class independently to make your own fun. Even the barebones battle mode is still a fun time if you give it an honest chance. I’m sure the Deluxe version would only make me like it more and while this didn’t win out the top slot, it certainly feels like the definitive Mario Kart experience for general audiences.
3. Mario Kart 64
Here’s where my nostalgic biases and personal preference get me into some hot water, but I also think it’s probably a pretty big shock to see this down at number three! So… I think I’ve been pretty fair without denying my actual opinion so… cut me some slack, okay? Mario Kart 64 was my first Mario Kart game and it’s on my favorite system, so it’s no surprise that the way this looks, sounds, and plays is going to gel with me. But there’s more to it than that. Mario Kart 64 is perhaps the easiest of all of them to jump into. The controls are so tight and responsive that you can win the game without ever even needing to drift! You don’t have to worry about too many stage hazards, overloading items, or gimmicky setpieces. You mostly spend your time racing and using those items. Sure, the rubber banding is pretty terrible and it’s not the greatest 3-4 player experience, but the grand prix and battle mode are such a fun time. This game is easy to pick up and difficult to master. It’s just very well balanced in terms of fairness. You don’t often feel like you got cheated in this one. If you mess up, it’s on you. No excuses, just combat racing. Besides, this one has the best Luigi quotes hands down.
2. Mario Kart DS
Mario Kart DS has such a strange blend of existing Mario Kart things. It has gameplay elements pulled more from Double Dash, minus the double racer thing. Yet it has visuals more akin to Mario Kart 64, which obviously we know I’m all for. And yet some of the soundbites are pulled straight from the GBA! I think this one does a good job making your choice of racer and vehicle feel meaningful in terms of the stats. You actually need to plan out each cup and where you need your stats to be boosted and what you can skimp on. It’s fascinating and oddly engaging. The battle mode is pretty slick too. But since solid gameplay is no real surprise from Mario Kart, I think the real standout feature is the mission mode. Trying to complete those interesting challenges as fast as possible using Mario Kart mechanics is such a fun exploration of what you can do with the engine. I mean, how fucking insane is it to be fighting a BOSS in MARIO KART!? I cannot stress enough how cool that is and I’m still wondering why it hasn’t come back yet. Nintendo, you’d better get your act together for Mario Kart 9.
1. Mario Kart 7
Mario Kart 7 was a little game I got one year for Christmas. It was the first thing I opened that pretty much signified that I wasn’t getting a Wii U that year. So… this game already had an unfair mark against it to start with, but once I finally played it… holy shit! For the first time in my life I played a Mario Kart game that wasn’t just fun but actually a great game in general! Not to mention how blown away I was that something so polished and frantic could work on a handheld AND somehow be BETTER than the one for the freakin’ Wii to boot. It was a wild ride of appreciating how well balanced yet high octane it was. It controls like a dream and you can take it anywhere. Offline or online play with custom races or grand prix or battle mode. Just… just everything awesome about Mario Kart in this unassuming package that wowed the ever-living shit out of me. Well done. The only flaws here are probably that it doesn’t have MORE awesome content, but since it doesn’t even feel like it’s lacking I don’t think that really even matters. Mario Kart 7? More like Mario Kart Heaven.
Well, those are my picks and placement so do please feel encouraged to tell me yours. And now, to cover my ass a bit, I just want to point out that I don’t think any of the games are terrible or anything but there’s just only five slots, man! Double Dash was heavy to control and a bit of a chore to manage the unique switching mechanic, though I did really like racing in the same kart cooperatively with someone. Super Mario Kart is classic but it controls so poorly and coupled with the stretching and skewing of trying to simulate 3D with its 2D engine made it impossible for me to enjoy beyond my curiosity. Super Circuit basically took the same concept and made it actually playable due to the hardware, but it still just wasn’t that appealing of an experience to me. So please do elaborate on your picks or disagreements with mine. I’m very open to thinking about this further. I just wanted something fun to close out Mario Kart Week. Hopefully you had some fun too. Keep on karting!