Believe it or not, there have been 14 different entries in the Mario Kart series. And this doesn’t include re-releases. That’s not bad going for a series which was birthed from Nintendo’s desire to offer a two-player F-Zero game. The series has since gone on to become one of the best selling in videogame history, and one of the most recognisable. But which are the best Mario Kart games? That’s what we’re here to discover.

So before we begin, let’s define what actually is a Mario Kart game. Of course, we have all the numbered entries. That goes without saying. But then we have the likes of Mario Kart: Double Dash!! and Super Circuit. These also count. And then we get to the more interesting spin-off, such as Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit and the arcade titles. These are still true Mario Kart titles, as is Mario Kart Arcade GP VR. So, what doesn’t count?

Essentially, the only thing we’ll be ruling out is the Mario Kart 8: Booster Course Pass. This DLC add-on requires Mario Kart 8: Deluxe to play. And a Nintendo Switch Online subscription to boot. It is therefore, not a game in it’s own right, despite having been well received by most Mario Kart fans.

The 7 Best Mario Kart Games

On with the show! There’ll surely be some controversial picks in the list below. However, having extensively played every Mario Kart game since the original Super Mario Kart‘s debut, we’re in a good position to offer an opinion! Read on for our picks of the seven best Mario Kart games, ever!

Mario Kart Arcade GP VR keyart

Mario Kart Arcade GP VR

Beginning with somewhat of an oddity, Mario Kart Arcade GP VR is – you guessed it – a virtual reality edition of the series! It’s the fourth title in the Mario Kart Arcade GP series and debuted back in 2017. To this day, it’s only playable in public VR arcades. No home version has yet been made available to purchase.

The game is played in first-person, using a HTC Vive headset and hand-trackers to place the player in the kart. It’s a fantastic experience. However, it is also very limited. Only four characters are playable, and features just a single track. This track does a good job of bringing together the unique aspects of many Mario Kart tracks, but still, it’s somewhat disappointing.

A great experience can be found in Mario Kart Arcade GP VR, but it’s not going to hold your attention for years like many of the home console release.

Mario Kart Arcade GP DX screenshot

Mario Kart Arcade GP DX

Mario Kart Arcade GP was the third Mario Kart Arcade GP game. It’s essentially a culmination of Mario Kart Arcade GP and Mario Kart Arcade GP 2. It offers 10 redesigned courses and brings aspects introduced in Mario Kart 7 into the fray, including gliders and underwater racing.

The all-new Team mode allows two players to race against two computer-controlled opponents. The two players can combine their karts to form a more powerful kart, with one player driving and the other serving as the gunner, similar to Mario Kart Double Dash!!.

Of the three Mario Kart Arcade GP games released thus far – discounting the above Mario Kart Arcade GP VRMario Kart Arcade GP DX is undoubtedly the best arcade Mario Kart experience currently available.

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit screenshot

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit

The third (and final!) oddity on this list, Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit was a surprise release from Nintendo. Most certainly a product designed to capitalise on a single holiday season, as Nintendo often like to (here’s looking at you, Game Boy Micro), Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit uses AR technology to offer a brand new Mario Kart experience. Similarly to Mario Kart Arcade GP VR, the gameplay is somewhat limited in comparison to the core games, but it’s uniqueness makes it worth your time.

Two editions of the game were launched – Mario and Luigi – but both function in the same fashion. A physical kart is placed in your living room (or kitchen, or bedroom, or an entire floor) and using the on-board camera, the player can drive around in the fashion of a remote control car. They can determine a track using cardboard AR markers, and then race against AI or other players (who, of course, must also have a Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit set).

The karts are surprisingly resilient. They may slow down on carpet, but are perfectly functional nonetheless. Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is a truly underrated Mario Kart game, and well worth a look for fans with a Nintendo Switch console.

Mario Kart: Double Dash!! screenshot

Mario Kart: Double Dash!!

At launch, Mario Kart: Double Dash!! wasn’t particularly well received. Many complained that the formula had been toyed with too much, and that all the GameCube needed was another Mario Kart game with better graphics. Thinking this way is to miss the point.

There are many things Nintendo may be stubborn about – not least slapping Mario on everything; the reason this series even exists! – but innovating within their own franchises is not one of them. Mario Kart: Double Dash!! was the fourth title in the series, and brought with it a number of changes. The powerslide had been renovated significantly, arguably making it easier for beginners. The boost start, too. And of course, then there’s the two-racers in a single kart.

Here, one player would drive while the other would take charge of the weapons. As stated above, this element is mirrored in Mario Kart Arcade GP DX. However, these are the only two titles in the series to feature such a change. Perhaps it’s time for a doubling-up comeback?

Mario Kart: Super Circuit screenshot

Mario Kart: Super Circuit

Similarly to how Mario Kart 8: Deluxe is many Nintendo Switch owner’s go-to, Mario Kart: Super Circuit was the reason to own a Game Boy Advance back in 2001. Launching soon after the console itself, Mario Kart: Super Circuit would go on to become the best-selling non-Pokémon title on the handheld.

Mario Kart: Super Circuit offered the same format which has become standard for the series. The player race against AI opponents around four consecutive circuits in a GP. There are 10 GPs offered, as well as increasing speeds (read: difficulty levels). Where Mario Kart: Super Circuit innovated however, was in its multiplayer.

As the first Mario Kart game on a handheld system, Mario Kart: Super Circuit had to deliver a reason for friends to buy multiple copies of the game. How better to do that then to actually let them play the game without buying first. A demo of sorts, Mario Kart: Super Circuit is possible to play in multiplayer even if only one player owns the game cartridge. It is of course, limited. Only one character and four tracks are available, encouraging players to invest further to get the full experience.

Mario Kart DS screenshot

Mario Kart DS

Another handheld Mario Kart, Mario Kart DS was a huge success. Reportedly selling nearly 25 million units – compared to Mario Kart: Super Circuit‘s ~6 million – Mario Kart DS rode the wave of the Nintendo DS console’s popularity. It was also the very first game from Nintendo to be playable online in the west.

Mario Kart DS used the Nintendo DS’ top screen for the racing, while the bottom touchscreen displayed the race’s current standings and a map of the course. It also showed which weapons each racer currently had, of which two new items were added for the first time. The Bullet Bill, which transforms the player into a Bullet Bill that autopilots the track; and the Blooper, which squirts ink on all racers ahead of the user, blocking their vision.

After Mario Kart: Double Dash!! made efforts to make the game more accessible, Mario Kart DS attempted to balance things out. Yes, the boost start and powerslide had been changed forever, but now there was a new expert level move. Mario Kart DS allows players to avoid the Spiny Shell (Blue Shell) without any aid from items. This can be done by releasing a mini-turbo right before the Spiny Shell hits the player. This requires precise timing, and it is one of the most difficult skills to acquire in the entire series.

Best Selling N64 Games - Mario Kart 64

Mario Kart 64

Did you guess it? Mario Kart 64 may look very dated by today’s standards, but it still handles at pace and offers some of the most replayable tracks of the series. Debuting in 1996, Mario Kart 64 sold nearly 10 million copies on the Nintendo 64 – making it the second best-selling N64 game – and cementing the future of the series.

Aside from using fully 3D tracks, Mario Kart 64 also innovated in a number of different ways. Chief amongst them was of course four-player, which has since become a minimum standard for the series (Mario Kart: Super Circuit being the only exception). It also added the Spiny Shell – love it or hate it – for the first time.

Another area for debate is the so-called rubberband-AI. This feature balanced the difficulty by improving the performance of AI karts when the player was also performing well in an effort to keep races close. This feature has also been adopted in every Mario Kart title since.

Honourable Mention

An honourable mention must go out to the game that started it all, Super Mario Kart. While many while cry for it’s lack of inclusion, to do so is nothing more than rose-tinted nostalgia. Much like the original Super Smash Bros. on the Nintendo 64, returning to the classic will only likely tarnish memories. Super Mario Kart is still a fine game, but the lack of speed and poor animation make it difficult to enjoy when compared to more modern entries.

That concludes our list of the seven best Mario Kart games! Did you favourite make the list? Let us know in the comments below!

Categories: Games