It’s time to grab a red shell and take out the competition on the Rainbow Road, as we check out the best Mario Kart games!
Since the very first Super Mario Kart game was released on the SNES in 1992, the series has gone on to become a perennially popular phenomenon, regardless of the system the games have appeared on.
An absolutely astonishing 164.43 million units of games in the Mario Kart series have been sold worldwide – with the latest game, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Switch, accounting for a stunning 48 million units of that total alone!
That places it as the best selling Switch game ever and the seventh best selling video game of all time – so it’s fair to say that Mario Kart is more popular now than it has ever been.
It’s even invaded the toy world, with some absolutely amazing Mario Kart Hot Wheels toys now available!
With so many Mario Kart games having been released over the years, you may be wondering which ones we here at Retro Dodo consider to be the best.
Let’s find out, as we check out the best Mario Kart games!
Table of Contents
OK, this one might be a bit of a cheat – as it’s not exactly a ‘traditional’ Mario Kart game.
Instead, Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is a toys-to-life style, augmented reality-based video game and toy hybrid, which will see you creating circuits and racing a real Mario Kart toy around your own home!
It’s an incredibly fun experience, though as you may expect it is limited in comparison to other Mario Kart games.
It does feel magical to race a camera-equipped Mario Kart around, however – and of course, the possibilities for course design are limited only by your imagination and the space in your home!
You can even partake in multiplayer races if you have a friend or family member with their own kart and Switch – though of course, you’ll also need to have a significant amount of space to race them around in too!
A return to the bright, bold and much more colourful style of the SNES Super Mario Kart – after the slightly muddy textures and more muted colour scheme found in Mario Kart 64 – Mario Kart: Super Circuit was a breath of fresh air on the Game Boy Advance.
Though of course, thanks to the GBA’s design, it went back to digital control – which did feel like a step back.
However, Mario Kart: Super Circuit could be played by up to four players with the aid of GBA Link Cables. It was even possible to play this way with just one cartridge, though the selection of characters and tracks was severely cut down if not every player had their own copy of Mario Kart: Super Circuit.
Just like Mario Kart 64, Mario Kart: Super Circuit features a battle mode for up to four players too; however, it does of course lose the multi-level design of the arenas and consequently feels a little underwhelming as a result.
Mario Kart: Super Circuit is an excellent game with beautifully colourful visuals; though this may be a somewhat unpopular opinion, it just felt like it didn’t do anything new and perhaps also felt like it went in reverse a little, after the advances made possible by 3D in Mario Kart 64.
Which, coincidentally, is up next on our list of the best Mario Kart games!
As Mario Kart’s first foray into 3D, Mario Kart 64 felt like a big leap forward for the series, certainly from a visual standpoint.
The N64’s analogue controller was also put to great use in Mario Kart 64 – steering your karts around the new courses felt absolutely sublime next to the digital controls found in the original Super Mario Kart.
It was a joy to race around what felt like jaw-droppingly open courses with – for the time – some genuinely impressive track elements not possible in the original SNES title: courses at different levels of elevation, for example, as well as bridges, walls and tunnels!
Yet unfortunately, the visuals are a bit inconsistent, with the courses being fully 3D, but characters and items remaining as flat, 2D sprites. It’s not that they’re bad, per se, but it’s certainly a design choice that has made the game look a lot weaker – particularly on more modern screens.
It does struggle to maintain a decent frame rate at times too, particularly in its otherwise fantastic four player multiplayer modes (you might want to check out our ‘who is the best character in Mario Kart 64‘ article if you’re looking to take your friends on in 64-bit kart racing action!).
That said, Mario Kart 64 is far from a bad game – though it did introduce the blue shell, which we’ll forever hold against it – and it’s a testament to the consistently high quality of the series that a game as well received (and fun to play!) as Mario Kart 64 finds itself so low on the list of the best Mario Kart games!
It may surprise you to discover that Super Mario Kart wasn’t initially intended to be a racing game starring Mario and his supporting cast at all.
In fact, when development began, Nintendo’s team were attempting to evolve the Mode 7-powered racing action of games such as F-Zero.
The developers wanted to bring simultaneous two player gameplay to Mode 7 racing on the SNES; it was only after a few months of development that Mario and the now familiar racers were incorporated into the game.
Would Mario Kart have become the phenomenon that it still is, thirty plus years on, without the Mario characters?
Who knows – but we should be thankful that the series is still around, as they’re still among the very best racing games ever made.
There’s also the fact that the Mario Kart games even spawned an entire subgenre of kart racing titles!
Yet it still holds a pretty stiff challenge – especially on the higher speed levels.
Very much the definition of easy to play, hard to master, Super Mario Kart is an iconic and beloved game that changed the course of gaming history forever!
The Bullet Bill – which transformed players into a an autopiloting, giant bullet – and Blooper squid, which squirted ink over other players and hampered their view of the track, both made their debuts as power ups in Mario Kart DS. Bunches of three bananas as power ups also appeared for the first time here!
Mission mode made its one and only appearance in the series in Mario Kart DS too; in Mission mode, players took on races with specific tasks, such as collecting coins or taking on enemies as a specific character – and progressing through a very basic, campaign-esque set of levels.
Versus mode could be played with players split into two teams, adding an extra element to the multiplayer fun.
Also, perhaps the most exciting feature of all when it came to multiplayer – particularly back in the mid-00s, when this was a particularly amazing inclusion for a handheld – was the addition of online, rather than just local, multiplayer options!
Sadly, the servers were turned off in 2014 – but if you’re playing with friends in the same vicinity, you can still take advantage of the multiplayer modes on Mario Kart DS.
Unsurprisingly, Mario Kart DS also features in our best Mario games on Nintendo DS list!
Though Mario Kart: Double Dash!! is often unfairly labelled as one of the ‘worst’ Mario Kart games, in our opinion it’s a genuinely strong title (it also, rather belatedly, brought fully 3D karts to the series for the first time, rather than just 2D sprites!).
Mario Kart: Double Dash!! Is also one of the most innovative titles in the entire series, with a huge number of additions to the Mario Kart formula – some of which have, sadly, not returned in subsequent games.
The addition of a second character in each kart opens up a wealth of possibilities for the gameplay, which of course Nintendo made great use of – for instance, it’s now possible for two players to play co-operatively, with one driving and one in control of items.
Impressively, this co-operative gameplay can also be utilised in most of the game modes!
Using the GameCube Broadband Adapter, up to eight consoles can be connected – allowing for up to sixteen players in eight karts to take each other on!
Despite not being as fondly remembered as other titles in the series, Mario Kart: Double Dash!! deserves praise for bringing so much to the table, with eleven new playable characters, a revamped (improved might be pushing it, considering how hated it is) blue shell and even character-specific power ups.
Unsurprisingly, Mario Kart: Double Dash!! sold phenomenally well – so it also features on our best selling GameCube games list!
Though often, handheld versions of massive game franchises are treated as inferior to their big screen counterparts, the addition of the numeral suffix to Mario Kart 7 showed that Nintendo were treating this 3DS entry as a true continuation of the main series.
For good reason too: not only did the game make great use of the glasses-free 3D on Nintendo’s handheld, but it also brought some long-lasting innovations to the series which we still have to this day.
Gliders, submersible karts and even the re-introduction of coins for speed boosts – as well as being able to unlock new kart parts – were all here; additionally, local and online multiplayer for up to eight players simultaneously ensured that the frantic, competitive fun was present and correct too!
Released back on the Wii U in 2014, Mario Kart 8 was, at one stage, unfairly overlooked due to the relative unpopularity of the platform it was available on.
Though – as you’ll see when you continue reading the list of the best Mario Kart games of all time – it’s since been brought to a much wider audience, this Wii U game still stands tall as one of the very best titles in the Mario Kart series overall.
So, what did Mario Kart 8 bring to the series?
Not only was this the first HD Mario Kart (yes, in 2014 – showing just how long ago Nintendo had detached themselves from the technological arms race that Sony, Microsoft and other video game competitors had long been engaged in), but it also gave players an incredible extended cast of characters – with fifteen racers new to the series!
Thanks to DLC in some cases, it brought Link to Mario Kart for the first time (and a superb Hyrule course where rupees replaced coins), with Animal Crossing characters and tracks joining the series too.
If 150cc karts weren’t challenging enough, Mario Kart 8 introduced a 200cc kart class as well.
Also, we have to mention the brilliant anti-gravity effect that vehicles could deploy, allowing tracks to become more vertiginous and twisting than ever before!
This was truly the killer app of an underappreciated and misunderstood console – though unsurprisingly, Mario Kart 8 was the highest selling game on the Wii U, with 8.46 million units sold.
From one of the worst-selling Nintendo consoles to one of the very best: the Wii was an absolute phenomenon when it released, thanks mostly to its innovation and immediately accessible motion controls.
Those motion controls were put to great use in Mario Kart Wii, which was originally bundled with a plastic steering wheel attachment for the Wii Remote.
Motion controls would often feel gimmicky or shoehorned in to many games on the Wii, but the immersiveness and immediacy they brought to Mario Kart Wii was absolutely fantastic. More traditional control methods were available too, for when the novelty of physically steering your kart wore off!
Motion controls weren’t the only addition that Mario Kart Wii brought to the series, however. Mid-air tricks, bikes and three new power ups were all present and correct; in fact, two of the power ups in Mario Kart Wii – the Thundercloud and the POW Block – haven’t even returned in subsequent games.
A Battle Mode called Coin Runners was also a new addition in Mario Kart Wii.
With sixteen new tracks – plus sixteen remade from previous Mario Kart games, along with arenas for Battle mode – players had plenty of content to compete either alone or with friends on.
With online and local multiplayer options, Mario Kart Wii also had lots of ways that players could take on opponents too!
It won’t surprise you to discover that Mario Kart Wii also features on our best racing games on Nintendo Wii list.
Mario Kart Wii was hugely – and deservedly – popular too; it sold an amazing 37 million copies, second only to the game that finds itself at the top of our best Mario Kart games list!
The Switch has been immensely popular since its launch in 2017; so much so that, with nearly 123 million units sold, it’s now the third best selling console of all time (interestingly, Nintendo’s own DS is at number two, with just over 154 million units sold – not far behind the PS2 at number one!).
Nintendo have capitalised on this renewed popularity in comparison to the Switch’s predecessor, the Wii U, by updating and re-releasing numerous Wii U games on the Switch.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is truly the finest Mario Kart game ever made – and a deserving occupant on the top spot of our best Mario Kart games list!
So what’s new in comparison to Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U?
Along with the ability to use Joy-Cons (with a great amount of control configurations and assists possible, to ensure that players of any age and skill level can join in the fun), Mario Kart 8 Deluxe also brought back double item boxes, gave karts a further turbo ability and even added in seven new characters.
One area in which the original Mario Kart 8 was lacking was its Battle mode, which bafflingly took place on tracks instead of arenas. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe fixes this oversight beautifully, with a superbly revamped and fully featured Battle mode, which takes place in properly designed arenas.
With even more content added via DLC, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe really is the pinnacle of the series. It’s also the highest selling game on the Switch, with a mind-blowing 48 million units sold – also placing it in the top ten best selling games of all time, on any console!
Can’t get enough Mario Kart? Why not check out our list of the best Mario Kart characters of all time?
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Jason – who lives in the UK – has had a lifelong interest in video games, which all started when he discovered Space Invaders in the early 80s. The first game he ever completed was Wonder Boy in Monster Land on the Sega Master System – which remains one of his proudest gaming achievements. Jason is a passionate writer – and has been writing about gaming since the late 90s. He currently runs pop culture blog midlifegamergeek.com, which he updates on a daily basis (and has written more than 700 articles on the blog alone!).
Outside of video games, Jason is a keen tabletop gamer, film buff and comic book fan.