Ranking The Mario Kart Series

by Dan Ryckert on May 16, 2014 at 10:29 AM

In the past, I've posted stories where I rank long-running franchises like Call of Duty and Tony Hawk. It wasn't too hard to put those together, as the quality spectrum was fairly wide. With Mario Kart 8 on the horizon, I've put together a similar feature that proved to be much more difficult. While I did my best to rank them based on my own personal preference, I found that even the entries at the very bottom were great games. Regardless, I gave it a shot. Here's my purely personal ranking of one of my favorite franchises.

Note: Yeah, I know there were a few Namco-developed arcade versions of Mario Kart. I'm not counting those.

8. Mario Kart: Super Circuit (Game Boy Advance)

I was excited about being able to take Mario Kart on the go with this Game Boy Advance entry, but it wound up being my least favorite in the series. Its visuals always looked a little muddy and cheap to me, and controlling the karts always felt a little loose. That said, it was still an entertaining first portable attempt for the franchise.

7. Mario Kart Wii

The Wii launched to a ton of fanfare and commercial success, but Nintendo's iconic plumber was nowhere to be seen in the launch lineup. In 2008, Mario and the gang arrived on their trusty karts, complete with a wheel accessory for the Wii remote. Motion control worked alright, but most players saw it as a gimmick and quickly reverted to the Wii remote and nunchuk scheme. Even though it's low on this list, this entry introduced solid new elements such as bikes and stunts.

6. Mario Kart DS

Considering how slow Nintendo has traditionally been when it comes to embracing online multiplayer, it's surprising that this DS debut featured it back in 2005. It was also one of the few titles to branch out with new game modes, such as the competitive multiplayer Shine Runners mode. A mission mode was also included that tasked players with completing tasks with with a set scenario and racer. Neither of these modes proved to be especially popular, but it was still nice to see the franchise try something new.

5. Mario Kart 7 (3DS)

The best portable Mario Kart is this 2011 entry, which introduced several new elements. Players were able to customize their karts for the first time, allowing for stat tweaks via different frames and wheels. Racing became possible by air and by sea thanks to the new glider and underwater sections, which proved to be a fun addition. Being able to race in first-person was touted as a new feature, but it was a jarring and difficult (and completely optional) viewpoint to see the course from. 

4. Mario Kart 64 (Nintendo 64)

In terms of pure nostalgia, this entry may be the strongest for many gamers. Debuting a few months after the Nintendo 64's 1996 launch, it was one of the first titles to really deliver on the promise of four-player local multiplayer. I'd guess that the majority of gamers over the age of 20 have had at least a few fun sessions spent staring at one quadrant of a screen. It's so fondly remembered that I've even seen bars host Mario Kart tournaments, and the entry of choice has always been this one.

3. Super Mario Kart (SNES)

Mario Kart 64 may be the high nostalgic point for most gamers, but this is the one for me. I have tons of great memories of playing one of my first Super Nintendo games for a ridiculous amount of hours. My dad and I played this so much that he would time his lunch breaks at work so that he could rush home and sneak in a quick grand prix with me before heading back. If you haven't played it before, this version probably seems bare-bones and completely dated by comparison with the rest of the series, but it was a pretty fantastic experience back in 1992.

2. Mario Kart: Double Dash (GameCube)

The most significant change to the series' format came in this awesome 2003 title, and it's one that Nintendo has never repeated. As the title implies, Double Dash allows for two characters to fit into each kart. While it's a basic change, it makes a big impact. Instead of wasting that red shell that you get while in first place, you could now swap that character to the back while your new driver utilizes mushrooms, banana peels, or anything else they come across. That way, you can swap back to your red shell guy if something happens that takes you out of the lead. In addition, each character was granted their own special attack, meaning that character selection was more important than ever. Mario threw fireballs, the babies have their kart dragged by a giant Chain Chomp, Bowser throws a comically huge, spiked shell, etc. Double Dash looked great, felt blisteringly fast, and made some bold choices that made for one of the best entries in the series.

1. Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)

It was a tough choice putting this new entry over Double Dash, but that's where I'm at right now. I've just finished reviewing the game and I really love it, so the experience is obviously very fresh in my mind. Whether it remains my favorite Mario Kart over time remains to be seen, but I stand by my statement in the review that "none of the previous titles can boast the rock-solid total package that this one offers." It has stunning visuals, pitch perfect controls, cool new anti-gravity sections, an awesome roster, great new items, solid online play, and an entertaining replay system. I have a hard time saying that any other game in the franchise is as finely tuned as its newest entry.