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Ranking the Best Mario Kart Games

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The Mario Kart franchise is one of the most consistent in Nintendo’s arsenal. Its games are renown for their quality, providing fun for all types of gamers. The series has become a global phenomenon because of it, but which entry is the best? After considering each game’s tracks, gameplay, and innovation, here’s my take on the series’s current standings.

8. Mario Kart Super Circuit (GBA)

Best Mario Kart Games

Mario Kart Super Circuit isn’t a particularly bad game, but it does rank as the weakest entry in the Mario Kart series. That distinction isn’t entirely fair, however. A lot of Super Circuit’s shortcomings are a result of the Game Boy Advanced’s limited hardware. No one could accuse the game of being overly innovative, but Super Circuit did add the cup rankings that have become a staple of modern games as well as retro cups featuring tracks from previous games. Still, it’s stale visuals, overall forgettable tracks, and limited multiplayer options force it into this inglorious position.

7. Mario Kart DS (DS)

Best Mario Kart Games

 

I really enjoyed Mario Kart DS. It had a few very good new ideas, including a mission mode that added to the single-player offerings. Online play originated here as well, and wireless download play made it easy for anyone with a DS to jump in on the action. Customization really began here as well. You could unlock different karts with in-depth statistics for your racers and even create a custom logo for your kart! Still, Mario Kart DS never stood out as a particularly memorable game. It had some cool tracks, like Cheep Cheep Beach, Luigi’s Mansion, Wario Stadium, and Airship Fortress. Overall though, the tracks were pretty meh. Mario Kart DS isn’t a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, but most Mario Kart games achieved greater heights.

6. Mario Kart 64 (N64)

Best Mario Kart Games

Mario Kart 64 is beloved by so many, although I think that its praise is somewhat overdone. Stripping away the nostalgia reveals a game that is uninspired in a way not many Nintendo games are. Mario Kart 64’s track list is weak, filled with barren courses that lack any distinctive features, and its battle mode is similarly disappointing. There’s a reason people always want to play on Block Fort: It’s the only decent battle course in the game! 64’s controls are also suspect, especially it’s frustrating drifting mechanic. It wasn’t long before far better racers, like Diddy Kong Racing, existed on the N64.

However, it would be foolish to ignore just how important the addition of 3D tracks was to the series. It gave the courses a sense of tangibility. Driving up ramps, boosting down hills, all of that started in Mario Kart 64. Still, a lot of that innovation stems from the N64 itself rather than the game. You can say the same for 64’s other big Mario Kart first, 4-player multiplayer. Aside from its 3D visuals, Mario Kart 64 didn’t do anything to separate itself from the Super Nintendo version of the game, unlike every other entry in the series. It did add Mirror Mode and Ghost Data, but those minor additions don’t redeem the game as a whole. Its other big innovation? The hated blue shell.

5. Super Mario Kart (SNES)

Best Mario Kart Games

The game that started it all, Super Mario Kart can’t be placed any lower than fifth on this list. Just about all of the series’s key concepts started here, from the iconic green and red shells to battle mode. Super Mario Kart executed the concept of a hectic, multiplayer racer brilliantly. While the game doesn’t totally hold up against Father Time, it does a surprisingly good job of it. The visuals were incredible at the time of its release, with colorful courses that were engaging and replayable. Plus, its Rainbow Road is criminally underrated!

4. Mario Kart 7 (3DS)

Best Mario Kart Games

Mario Kart 7 is the first entry on this list that I believe is an elite game. It smartly built upon the ideas introduced in Mario Kart Wii and Mario Kart DS, especially where customization is concerned. The modern kart customization system originated here. Players could create their own kart from scratch. Choosing the optimal set of wheels, body, and glider to suit one’s individual play-style added a new element of challenge that Mario Kart desperately needed. Coins were reintroduced to the series, serving as both small boosts and the currency used to unlock more kart parts. Most notably, however, Mario Kart 7 opened both the air and the sea to racers. Both ideas allowed for dramatic changes to track design, making individual courses feel more unique and varied. The more stable 3DS online connection made racing against others a joy, making Mario Kart 7 the strongest handheld entry the series has seen.

3. Mario Kart Wii (Wii)

Best Mario Kart Games

A master class Mario Kart game, Mario Kart Wii doesn’t get enough credit for beginning the “Modern Era” of Mario Kart. The ideas that this game introduced made it the most innovative game in the series since Double-Dash, and some of its key concepts have yet to be topped. Optional motion controls made the game accessible to everyone, even those who hadn’t touched a controller in years, and the wheel accessory succeeded in making driving feel authentic. Bikes were also added, and dramatically changed the strategy behind picking your vehicle. Being able to pop wheelies, performing tricks while going over ridges, and all-new drifting mechanics made racing feel faster and more intense. Having 12 racers instead of the typical 8 added to the competition, and made the game more fun for beginners who now had a better chance of avoiding last place. Automatic drifting made things even more accessible to newcomers. 

The courses that make up Wii’s 32 tracks were incredible as well. Mushroom Gorge, Moo Moo Meadows, Maple Tree Way, Coconut Mall, Daisy Circuit, Koopa Cape and an incredible Rainbow Road are just a few of the highlights. Mario Kart Wii’s online services were the best Nintendo had ever created at the time, and even though that’s not saying much it has to count for something. Mario Kart Wii is a gem, and one could certainly argue that it’s the best Mario Kart ever made.

2. Mario Kart Double-Dash (GameCube)

Best Mario Kart Games

Mario Kart Double-Dash was and always will be special. It’s two characters per kart mechanic changed the game dramatically, both on the track and at your gaming parties. Nothing was more fun than grabbing three friends and facing off in 2 vs 2 races. The entire experience of playing Mario Kart changed from a single-player free-for-all to a more chaotic and fun team game where your kartmate served as both a trusted ally and worst enemy. That free-for-all fun was still an option, however, and everyone who has played the game knows just how thrilling it was to race to pick that one character that everyone wanted first.

On the track, two racer karts added a weight to driving. You could feel the kart sling about with a light racer clinging to the back as the driver took on a sharp curve, while heavy racers made it difficult to cut the angle just right. Double the items meant double the chaos, and character specific items made team building fun and strategic. These items were all a blast to use, but the Baby Mario and Baby Luigi Chain Chomp is the standout. The game’s 16 courses were phenomenal as well. Luigi’s Circuit, DK Mountain, the incomparable Baby Park… and the greatest Rainbow Road of all-time. Shine Thief, a classic battle mode game, was born here as well. Double-Dash still holds up today because of just how different its gameplay was, and it too could be considered the best Mario Kart ever made.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Switch)

Best Mario Kart Games

Still, the best Mario Kart game ever is the newest entry. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe takes this prestigious position because it combines elements from every game before it and masters all of their mechanics.

Before I go into detail just how Deluxe masters the other game’s mechanics, I need to point out just how great its racing is. At 150 CC, the sense of speed thrilling in a way no other Mario Kart game has since achieved. Steering is smooth and drifting is concise, while the zero-gravity areas allow for bumper-kart fun while also offering additional speed. Adding the Smart-Steering option as well as auto-acceleration make the game accessible to everyone.

Deluxe has the amazing glider sections found in Mario Kart 7, and with its unparalleled visuals, this makes for even more jaw-dropping moments. Both the glider and the returning underwater areas give Deluxe’s tracks have that constantly evolving vibe that 7’s courses had. The new anti-gravity mechanic adds to that, creating courses that are easily the coolest in the series. Driving up waterfalls on Shy Guy Falls, hanging on the side of an icy cave in Mount Wario, and hanging upside down on Mario Circuit forces you to stop and think about just how cool these courses are.

Double-Dash’s excellent Shine Thief returns, as does Bob-omb Blast, earning its battle mode the distinction as the greatest of all-time. The new Renegade Roundup game further cements its status. This spin on Cops and Robbers steals the show and is sure to be a fan favorite for years to come. Plus, just as Double-Dash’s two drivers changed the game, 200 CC forces racers to approach well-known tracks from an entirely different angle.

Mario Kart Wii’s motion controls return, although they’re strictly optional once again. The previously mentioned Auto-Accelerate and Smart-Steering, just as the motions controls before them, make the game more accessible to all players. While Bikes were a bit overpowered in Wii, they’ve been smartly balanced here in Deluxe and still have those creative designs that were found in the Wii version.

At the end of the day, it’s all about great tracks. Deluxe features by far the best tracks in the series, with each having a distinct identity and packed with charm. Old favorites from the N64, SNES, and GameCube games return and have new life thanks to the new zero-gravity and glider segments that were wisely added. DLC courses like Animal Crossing and Hyrule Castle take classic Nintendo franchises and smartly transform them into unforgettable Mario Kart tracks. Each course has catchy tunes that convey a sense of joy and fun to each, and their stellar visuals make them pop.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the best Mario Kart ever made. It’s truthfully impossible for me to think of a way to top it in the future, outside of fixing their online services. It’s a masterpiece and could be at the top of this list for a very long time.

Tyler has been a gamer since he was old enough to hold a control. When Sonic made his way over to GameCube, Tyler was forced to renounce his SEGA fanhood and fell in love with Nintendo. His favorite game series is the Fire Emblem series, and he's a formidable Marth main in every Smash game. When he's not gaming, you can usually find Tyler yelling at his TV watching a Red Sox or Sixers game.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Patrick

    May 17, 2017 at 3:40 pm

    I went blind after Mario Kart 64 made 5th.

    • James Baker

      May 18, 2017 at 5:44 pm

      Even worse, it made 6th.

      • Patrick

        May 18, 2017 at 6:33 pm

        Ha, proving my loss of vision.

    • Tyler Kelbaugh

      May 18, 2017 at 10:58 pm

      I’m not surprised hahaha. So many people hold that as their favorite, but I just can’t justify putting above any of the games above it on the list. I originally ranked it 7th, but decided it deserved a better placement than MK DS.

      • Patrick

        May 19, 2017 at 2:55 pm

        Man, it’s got to beat the original, right? If only for what may still be the best battle mode in the series? C’mon Tyler!

        Honestly, 7 seemed to be on cruise control for me, and though online with the Wii version was fun for a while, I didn’t find it to be all that memorable. I agree that 8 is the best, but I’d have 64 second. Tough list to make though.

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Game Reviews

‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off

The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.

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Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.

Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.

Life is Strange 2

The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.

To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.

Life is Strange 2

In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.

On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.

By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.

Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.

Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.

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Game Reviews

‘Yaga’ Review: A Bittersweet Fairy Tale

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Yaga Game Review

Some games feel perfectly suited to their genres, as if they fulfill every ambition that their genre could promise. On paper, Yaga from the developer Breadcrumbs Interactive, should be one of those games. This roguelike RPG is meant to bring traditional Slavic folktales to life, and its procedurally generated structure allows the game to change in every playthrough, just like how the ancient fairy tales it’s based on can change in every telling. Yaga immediately shines on a conceptual level, but as a game, the most important question remains: will this fairy tale be enjoyable to play?

From start to finish, Yaga uses the rich source material of Eastern European history and folklore to create a vibrant, fantastical world. The entire game is framed as three elderly women telling the story of Ivan, a heroic blacksmith who has been stricken with the curse of bad luck. These women spin a fanciful yarn, one in which Ivan is constantly plagued by horrors from traditional fairy tales such as the hideous One-Eyed Likho, along with more realistic foes, such as a corrupt, overbearing Tsar. The game thrives on this balance between history and fantasy. Its world is filled with peasants who face daily, universal struggles with war and agriculture, while massive ogres and goblin-like Vodyanoys haunt the surrounding wilderness. This mixture creates a strong setting that finally gives Slavic history and mythology its long-overdue representation in games.

Yaga Game Review

“Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.”

The frame story always remains the same: Ivan will always have to serve his Tsar while avoiding bad luck in every playthrough. However, beyond these core details, the old women are extremely flexible storytellers, often switching events around or changing story beats entirely. In some playthroughs, you may discover a woman raising an enormous chicken; in others, you may instead encounter a band of thieves waiting to rob you. You will frequently face important decisions to make that will dramatically impact the outcome of your quest. yes, you can always break into monster hideouts with hammers blazing to slay every creature before you; but more often than not, you are also given the opportunity to peacefully talk your way out of these toxic situations. Even more dramatically, oftentimes the game will zoom out to the old women storytellers and allow you to choose how they tell the rest of Ivan’s story. Yaga is at its best when it doubles down on this player freedom. It makes every moment engaging and allows its stories to truly come alive.

Yaga

Yaga’s writing and presentation only serve to make this world even more striking. It features a distinctly dark sense of humor – for instance, a man may ask you to push a boulder into a well behind his house, but he will neglect to tell you that he has also thrown his wife into the bottom of that well ahead of time. Much of this dialogue is even written in rhyme, enhancing the otherworldly, fairy tale atmosphere. On top of that, nearly all dialogue is fully voice acted, with most voice actors delivering some eccentrically charming performances that make the game feel as if it’s a playable Disney film. The visuals look like they’re taken straight out of a Russian children’s book of fairy tales, while the music incorporates traditional instruments and language into an electronic, hip-hop fusion soundtrack that captures the cultural heritage that Yaga focuses on while connecting it to modern culture. Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.

However, this leads to the gameplay. Quests may be randomized each time you play, but nearly every one of them takes the same general format. One character will request help, and then Ivan will have to venture out into the world to fight some demons or recover an item. Worse yet, the levels are just as randomized in their procedurally generated design, and not in a particularly clever way, either: most of them likewise follow the same formula, being little more than arenas full of enemies connected by copy-and-paste environments. Many paths in each environment lead to nothing more than pointless dead ends. The combat has a satisfyingly simple basis, with basic moves like long- and close-range attacks, roll dodging, items to use, and a variety of different weapons to equip, although his trusty old hammer is generally the best choice. However, while this simplicity makes the combat enjoyable on its own, there is very little depth to it, and the inherently repetitive design of the mission only serves to highlight how paper-thin combat can be. Most battles involve little more than hacking away at enemies until they die, which becomes increasingly repetitive by the end of the roughly ten-hour campaign.

Yaga

At the very least, the robust customization system helps add a little intrigue to the combat. As a blacksmith, Ivan is naturally gifted with the ability to craft weapons for himself to use. By scavenging parts and items from fallen enemies and treasure chests around the world, Ivan is able to create the most powerful weapons. Crafting is simple to use yet extremely ripe for experimentation, requiring only one base item and a handful of accessories to create unique new items. With dozens of components to discover and use in your forging, there are plentiful opportunities to create the best possible weapons.

“All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.”

The crafting system would be the standout aspect of the moment-to-moment gameplay if it weren’t foiled by another one of the game’s systems: Bad Luck. Ivan has been cursed with perpetual Bad Luck, which grows constantly throughout the game – whenever something good happens, Bad Luck is sure to increase. Whenever the Bad Luck meter fills all the way, Likho will appear and strike Ivan, generally breaking one of his weapons or stealing his money.

Yaga Game Review

On paper, this mechanic makes sense, since it prohibits the player from becoming too overpowered and also fits into the folklore style off the story. In practice, however, it is an infuriating limitation on player progression and invention. It effectively punishes players for putting thought and care into their weapon crafting and character-building – at any moment it can all be washed away in bad luck, so what’s the point? Considering how enjoyable the crafting and combat systems are, it’s a shame that Bad Luck seems to exist solely to diminish the very best parts of the gameplay, leaving the game feeling like it cripples itself.

Your enjoyment of Yaga depends heavily on what experience you want out of it. If you’re looking for a deep and satisfying RPG, then it likely won’t deliver. Although it features satisfying combat and customization systems, the frustrating randomization of its level design and Bad Luck system only serve to foil these good qualities. If you are instead looking for a faithful, fleshed-out image of Slavic cultural heritage, portraying both the harsh realities of peasant life along with its fanciful folklore, then Yaga is a clear triumph thanks to its emphasis on player choice, its excellent writing, and its beautiful hand-drawn visuals and inventive soundtrack. All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.

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‘Resident Evil 3: Nemesis’ — A New Height to Survival-Horror

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Resident Evil 3 Nemesis

If we can forget that Nemesis was a poorly designed rubber goof in the Resident Evil: Apocalypse movie, we can easily state that he is the apex predator of the series. The follow-up to Resident Evil 2 had quite a few expectations to fill and, for the most part, Resident Evil 3 delivered. While not so much a fan-favorite as RE2, there was a lot to like about RE3. The return of RE‘s Jill Valentine, some new intuitive controls, and, of course, theNemesis.

RE3 marks the first time in the series where you are limited to one character – Jill. Through this, the story is slightly more focused and straightforward – despite the plot being all about Jill trying to leave Raccoon City. RE3 director Kazuhiro Aoyama cleverly sets in pieces of RE2 to make this work as both a prequel and a sequel. If you’ve never played RE2 – shame on you – you would not be able to scout notable tie-ins such as the police station. With a large majority of the building still locked up, Marvin Branagh, the wounded police officer who helps you in the second game, is still unconscious and has yet to give anyone the keycard which unlocks the emergency security system.

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Where RE3 really shines is in its latest entry of Umbrella Corps. bio-engineered tyrants called Nemesis. The hulking tank brought a new dimension to the series, invoking more cringe-inducing terror and stress than ever. As if zombies and critters jumping through windows weren’t bad enough, now you have to worry about an RPG-wielding maniac busting through a wall and chasing you around the entirety of the immediate environment – and chase is certainly brought to a whole new level indeed. It became a running joke when you would encounter a handful of zombies, but could escape unscathed by simply running into another room. Nemesis, on the other hand, will continue his pursuit no matter what room you run into. At the time, this brought a whole new level of detail in the genre. Knowing that at any given moment he will just appear and will certainly derail whatever key or plot item you’re quested to look for made Nemesis a very intense experience.

Resident Evil 3 is the pinnacle of the series and the last of old-school survival-horror.

The gameplay also takes a few different approaches in this game. There will be moments when you encounter Nemesis, or certain plot occasions where you will be prompted to make a decision. It was a great alteration to the series, as it added new layers and weight for the player. Another addition to the gameplay came in the form of control although as minute as it sounds, is having the ability to turn a full 180 degrees – yes you read that correctly. Resident Evil quintessentially coined the term survival-horror, and survival certainly predicates the genre. There will be times – if not numerous times, you will run out of ammo. When those moments used to occur, you would have to make your character turn in the slowest fashion imaginable to make a run for the door and to safety. It was those moments back then that would pull the player away from the action. With the addition of the quick-turn ability- which was actually first introduced in Capcom’ Dino Crisis game – it gave the player the chance to just cap a few zombies and dash creating more seamless and dynamic gameplay.

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The level design of Resident Evil 3 is grand, if not grander than RE2. A lot of the setting and scenery take place in the open air of the city and a few other places around the vicinity. RE and RE2 mostly took place indoors, and those settings helped create unique moods especially when it is all about tight corridors adding a more claustrophobic feel. Aoyama definitely went with a bigger setting and atmosphere in the follow-up. The game takes you through a police station, a hospital, a local newspaper office, a clock tower and a factory. More often than not, though, people tend to forget the scope and grandeur of RE3. Not to mention you can only… spoiler… kill Nemesis with a Rail-Gun at the end.

Resident Evil 3 is the pinnacle of the series and the last of old-school survival-horror. It took everything that it did so well in the previous titles and made it bigger and better. Nemesis encapsulated fear and dread in ways rarely experienced at the time. The scene where he popped through a window and chased players through the police station has always remained a nostalgic moment, much like anything that comes through a window in the RE series. In fact, a bit of advice for anyone playing the first-gen of RE titles: beware of windows.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on May 16, 2016.

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