next up in my series of posts where i rank series that i’ve played all the games in is the mario kart series. (incidentally the previous posts looked back at the mario and metroid series.) i played the series pretty much entirely sequentially over the span of four years, and although the first entry didn’t really grab me, its sequel, mario kart 64, is what made me a believer and a fan. the first entry in the series was the first of its kind and started a whole genre, and the series continues to be hugely popular. it’s gotten a lot of flak in more recent years, though, for becoming more casual: all too often the first-place driver will suddenly find her/himself in last place at the last moment of a race. but it’s still a lot of fun, and in general i appreciate that even if you make a mistake you still have a chance of winning the race.
here’s a look back at the series via my ranking of the seven games in the series. for this post i’ve enlisted the help of alienjesus to provide a contrasting opinion. so without further ado, 3 … 2 … 1 … GO!
|the mario kart series
|as ranked by geozeldadude and alienjesus
mario kart 64 (N64): as i mentioned, mario kart 64 is really what made me become a fan of the series. although it’s prob. among the easiest in the series, like many sequels it took the core concept and greatly expanded it. the tracks went from the almost-completely flat tracks of super mario kart to ones that had bumps, jumps, and steeply angled twists and turns, along with many more moving obstacles to contend with including penguins, cars and trucks, boulders, a train, and a giant yoshi egg. the game introduced new types of course locations that have been built upon ever since, including farm, desert, stadium, jungle, and city tracks. the balance of items feels “just right”, and i think many people would agree that it’s one of the standout entries in the series, if not the best.
Mario Kart DS: Definitely the best Mario Kart. This is the game that perfected the series, and got everything right. The physics felt perfect, with well judged steering and a better sense of speed than most Mario Kart games. The item selection was better balanced than others in the series (I’m looking at you MK Wii and Double Dash), and the track design was at its peak – Tick Tock Clock, Desert Hills and Airship Fortress are some of the greatest tracks in the series. Add in bonus challenges, the first major appearance of remade retro tracks, 8 player possibilities and the series’ first online mode and you’ve got an amazing game that manages to improve on a classic formula.
||mario kart wii (wii): i’m torn about this choice. if you read my post at the time, i was extremely frustrated by how the profusion of items makes the whole experience chaotic and obnoxious in the single player grand prix mode. of all the games in the series i’ve played this one the most, though, thanks to the wi-fi modes, which my nephew and i regularly use. it’s simple for us to race together, and it’s been interesting to see how accurate the VR (vs. ranking) is. although many people quickly gave up on the motion controls, i think they’re what makes the game a wholly unique experience and i don’t consider them to be a handicap. the game took the 3-D tracks of mario kart N64 and took them even further by adding in trampolines, more ramps and boost pads, and half pipes. it features quite a few now-classic tracks, including mushroom gorge, coconut mall, DK summit, and koopa cape; it looks great; and the number of characters and karts/bikes is an added bonus. although my first experience with the game was more frustrating than fun, nowadays it’s clear to me that it’s one of the definite high points of the series.
||Mario Kart 7: This one seems hit and miss for most, but I love it. Whilst the underwater mechanic never did much for me, the new gliding mechanic works great and a well judged glide can put you way ahead of the pack. The reduction back to 8 characters from the Wii game’s 12 is much appreciated, and causes a little less of that ever-present Mario Kart rage when you get ruined by items on the last lap. This is also helped by the reduction in the number of items to use. The character selection is odd, and not all of the tracks are hits, but there is a nice selection of unique tracks like Shy Guy Bazaar to keep things fresh. Plus, the new three stage tracks are a nice change of pace.
||mario kart: double dash!! (GCN): this game gets a bad rap, and there are probably several reasons, including the “double” mechanic which is somewhat useless as a 2P experience. i never tried that myself, but as a single-player feature it adds strategy and adds to the game’s uniqueness. people also seem to complain about the return of character-specific items, which i thought was a nice change for the series. the tracks really didn’t feel that unique, but the game looks great and it brought in a few of my favorites to the series (birdo, waluigi, daisy, plus the creation of toadette). i’m probably ranking this game a bit high, but i always appreciate it when developers try to do things a little differently.
||Mario Kart: Double Dash!!: This one was a real favourite of mine when I was a teenager. The track selection may be one of the smallest in the series, but it’s full of classics like Baby Park, Wario Colosseum and Yoshi Circuit. Some people don’t like this game’s comparatively heavy physics, but personally, I love them, and always go for the heaviest cart. The mix-and-match character selection allows for everyone to choose a weapon or character set-up to suit their tastes, but the character specific weapons tend to be a bit overpowered and chaotic. Even so, it still manages to be significantly less frustrating than the Wii game’s never ceasing bombardment of pain, and sits pride of place in number 3 on my list.
||mario kart DS (DS): this is the first of the handheld titles in my list. the handheld games in the series have always felt like they closely followed the mold of their console predecessors, but mario kart DS did have some things to set it apart. it features a mission mode, which does a pretty good job of expanding the overall experience. it was the first to feature a wide variety of retro tracks (the GBA iteration included all the SNES tracks, but the DS edition draws from all the previous entries in the series). it was also the first to introduce wi-fi matches, although that mode was pretty much a wash for me since winning relies on snaking, which i find completely pointless. i could’ve easily put this third in my ranking, but i just didn’t find the experience to be as memorable as double dash due to the tracks being too closely based on the N64 tracks (with the exception of delfino square, which remains a favorite).
||Mario Kart 64: This one was a tricky decision for me. Honestly, I’m not that taken by most the N64 game’s track design, which tends to be a bit sparse, nor its slow physics and odd feeling power boost system. With only 8 characters and 16 tracks it also tends to feel a bit lacking in content compared to the later games in the series. Why did I rate it at number 4 then? A few reasons – first of all, despite there only being 4 of them, this is the game with the absolute best battle mode arenas in the whole series (with Double Dash coming in second). Block Tower and Double Decker are classics that never fail to break up friendships. Secondly, though most tracks feel a bit bland, some of the more interesting ones are classics – Yoshi Valley comes to mind straight away. Finally, this is the last game in the series where weapons were more toned back – even the blue shell, which debuted here, was far better balanced here than it ever has been since.
||mario kart: super circuit (GBA): next up would be mario kart: super circuit. the first handheld mario kart, this game felt like a step back for me since all the tracks were completely flat like in the original SNES game, and even despite that fact they weren’t very memorable. the game was the first to introduce a rankings system, which increases replayability (as well as insanity), but in the end i think what gives this game the edge is that instead of just being a remake of the original SNES game, it’s basically a remake with double the amount of content, which is a pretty sweet bonus.
||Mario Kart: Super Circuit: This is the game that fought MK64 for the number 4 slot for me, and I’m sure several people with think I’m nuts to not have this one in last. The game has some weird slidy physics and loses out on the multiplayer front too – it’s pretty tricky to find 3 other people with the game and link cables who will want to play this with you nowadays. However, some of the tracks in this entry to the series are among the most creative and interesting in the series, yet most have never made it into one of the retro cups of the more recent games – Sunset Wilds, Cheese Land and Ribbon Road. It’s also the last time we saw the Boo weapon, which I sorely miss. Nothing was more fun than stealing your friends own red shell and nailing them with it.
||mario kart 7 (3DS): i find it surprising that quite a few people have called mario kart 7 the best in the series. i found the game to be a huge bore in the single-player mode due to its astoundingly low difficulty level. the addition of gliders, underwater sections, and customizable parts is hardly noticeable, and although i appreciated that they toned down the number of opponents and thus the amount of items that get thrown at you every second compared to the wii edition, there’s just too much time where nothing interesting is happening at all (this is exacerbated by the addition of tracks that are one continuous course instead of multiple laps). the “lucky 7” item is more confusing than fun, and i found the new tracks to be entirely ho-hum. it’s possible i’ll get more into the game the more i play with others and over wi-fi, but right now it’s easily one of my least favorite in the series even though it introduces lakitu, one of my favorite new playable characters to the series.
||Super Mario Kart: The original, but certainly not the best. Whilst still an enjoyable game, Super Mario Kart has been improved on so much that it feels severely dated nowadays. Ignoring the obvious slidy physics, the tracks feel short and limited, and way the game plays in split screen even in single player is irritating. The worst aspect of all is the way the game deals with CPU characters using weapons though – not only can they activate them at any time, but they also tend to be unique and overpowered exclusive abilities. Having one of the Mario Brothers as your main rival and constantly activating his invincibility is a pain in the neck. Certainly worth a play, but more of a novelty these days.
||super mario kart (SNES): the game that started it all, but also the game that is the most inaccessible and unforgiving by modern standards. i basically haven’t touched this game since i played it four years ago, but the amount of rubberbanding by the AI is a common complaint (although i didn’t have too much of a problem with the fact your opponents get unique weapons and you don’t). at the time i also hadn’t really mastered drifting, but now that i have it should be interesting to give this one another go.
||Mario Kart Wii: You probably all saw this coming; I’ve been bashing this game enough during the article for it to be pretty apparent. The worst aspect of Mario Kart Wii is that it’s not a bad game – the courses are decent enough (Koopa Cape, Mushroom Gorge and Maple Treeway are awesome), there’s a nice and big, if odd selection of characters (Baby Daisy? Why?), the 12 player battle mode is chaotic fun and the online multiplayer is pretty well done. The problem is that you’ll be too busy getting constantly slapped around the face to care. With more overpowered weapons, more item blocks, more characters to use them and a new way of dealing with CPU characters’ items, it’s not uncommon to go from first to last in this game as you get pummelled by every weapon possible all in a row. What’s worse than going from first to fourth because of a Blue Shell? Going from first to twelfth because of a blue shell, a red shell, a bob-omb, a star and a bullet bill in the space of 10 seconds, with a thundercloud left above your head to boot. Bah!
||Mario Kart Arcade GP 1 & 2: Throwing these in here just for a mention to be honest. I honestly don’t know if I think these are worse games than Mario Kart Wii, because I haven’t played them enough. What I do know is that from the little I’ve played, the tracks are dull, the turning feels weird, the items are odd and they really feel more like Mario Kart knock-offs than real Mario Kart games. There’s supposedly a third on the way which includes the glider mechanics from Mario Kart 7. I don’t imagine it will be any more interesting.
interestingly enough, it looks like alienjesus and i agreed pretty closely, with only our opinions of mario kart 7 and mario kart wii being drastically different. anyway, thanks to him for helping out, and for two more contrasting opinions, see this article at craveonline and this one at digitallydownloaded.net. don’t know when i’ll actually get around to replaying the entries in this memorable series, and hopefully it won’t be too long before we hear more about the new entry, for wii u.