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Ranking the Best Mario Kart Games

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mario kart

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

‘Coffee Talk’ Review: The Best Brew in Town

Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.

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It’s 9:00pm. The rain just started coming down softly a few minutes ago, and the street outside is reflecting the lights above it. Neon signs shine brightly in the distance, although it’s hard to make out the words. You unlock the doors to the coffee shop and wipe down the counters in order to get them clean for the customers. The rain makes a soft sound as it hits the glass and passerby speed up their walking pace to avoid it. The bells chime as a tall, green orc walks in and sits down at your table in silence. You wonder what their story is…

I wanted to set the tone for this review because of how important atmosphere and audio/visual design is in the world of Coffee Talk. While it’s easy to boil the game down as a visual novel-type experience, it’s honestly so much more than that. A unique cast of characters, incredible user interface, and a mysterious protagonist combine to form the most enjoyable experience I’ve had this year on Switch.

Coffee Talk
Some of the subject matter can be pretty serious in nature…

Coffee Talk is beautiful because of how simple it is. The entire game takes place within a single coffee shop. As the barista, you’re tasked with making drinks for the patrons of the shop as well as making conversations with them. The twist is that earth is populated with creatures like orcs, werewolves, and succubi. The relationship between the various races is handled very well throughout the story, and some interesting parallels are made to the real world.

Making drinks is as simple as putting together a combination of three ingredients and hitting the ‘Serve’ button. If a unique drink is made, it will be added to a recipe list that can be referenced on the barista’s cell phone. This is where the awesome user interface comes in, as the phone has a series of apps that can be accessed at any moment in the game. One app houses your recipe list, another acts as a facebook for the characters in the game, one allows you to switch between songs, and the other houses a series of short stories that one of the characters in the game writes as it progresses. It’s one of the coolest parts of the whole experience and helps it stand out from other games in the genre.

Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.

Coffee Talk cycles between talking with customers and making drinks for them. In the beginning, they will ask for basic beverages that can be brewed on the fly. Later on however, they may ask for a specific type of drink that has a unique title. These drinks often have certain descriptive features that hint at other possibilities in terms of unique dialogue. If the wrong drink is made, you’ll have five chances to trash it and make a new one. If the wrong drink is made, don’t expect the customer to be pleased about it.

The gameplay really is not the focus here though; it’s the characters and their stories that take center stage. An elf with relationship issues, a writer that can’t seem to pin down her next story, and an alien whose sole goal is to mate with an earthling are just a few of the examples of the characters you’ll meet during the story. There are tons of memorable moments throughout Coffee Talk, with every character bringing something unique to the table. The barista develops an interesting relationship with many of these characters as well.

Coffee Talk
Appearances can often be deceiving in this game.

Even though serving the wrong drinks can change some of the dialogue, don’t expect any sort of options or branching paths in terms of the story. It’s not that kind of experience; the story should simply be enjoyed for what it is. I found myself glued to the screen at the end of each of the in-game days, waiting to see what would happen in the morning. The first playthrough also doesn’t answer all of the game’s questions, as the second one is filled with all kinds of surprises that I won’t spoil here.


Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen. It’s an easy recommendation for anyone who loves video games, not just visual novel fans. There are characters in the game that I’ll certainly be thinking about for a long time, especially when the setting brings out the best in them. Don’t pass this one up.

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Games

The Magic of Nintendo: How Mario and Zelda Connect us to Our Inner Child

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Magic of Nintendo

Nintendo is special. Many excellent developers depend upon story or progression systems to entice engagement, but not Nintendo. Nintendo games captivate because of their immediate charm. There is no need for a payoff. The games, themselves, are enough: they elicit feelings, hard to find in adulthood. Through intrepid discovery, playful presentation, and unfiltered whimsy, the best of Nintendo connects gamers to their childlike selves.

The heart of any great Nintendo game is discovery and no encounter encapsulates this better than Breath of the Wild’s Eventide Island. First, finding the island requires genuine gumption. Found far from Hyrule’s shore, the island is only clearly visible from other islands, and even then, it’s only a speck in the distance. Reaching the island requires players to brave the open ocean and head towards something … that could be nothing. Then, upon arriving on the beach, a spirit takes all the player’s gear, including clothes and food. Link, literally, is left in his underwear. From there, players must make clever use of Link’s base skills in order to steal enemy weapons and make traps. The scenario creates a marvelous sense of self-sufficiency brought on by one’s own desire to discover. The player comes to the island purely of their own choosing, tackles the sea, and then overcomes obstacles without the aid of their strongest tools. The game turns players into plucky children who are discovering they can take care of themselves.

The intrepidity of Breath of the Wild and other Nintendo greats mirrors the feelings Shigeru Miyamoto, the father of many Nintendo franchises, experienced as a child. “I can still recall the kind of sensation I had when I was in a small river, and I was searching with my hands beneath a rock, and something hit my finger, and I noticed it was a fish,” Miyamoto told the New Yorker. “That’s something that I just can’t express in words. It’s such an unusual situation.” In sequences like Eventide Island, players don’t just understand what Miyamoto describes, they feel it: Apprehension gives way to exhilaration as the unknown becomes a place of play.

 Nintendo’s intrepid gameplay is often amplified by playful presentation with Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island being the quintessential example. The game’s visuals, defined by pastel colors and simple hand-drawings, appear crayoned by a child while the celestial chimes that punctuate the jubilant soundtrack evoke shooting stars. The overall effect cannot be understated. It takes the surreal and turns it real, allowing players to interact, tangibly, with imagination.

Super Mario Odyssey Wooden Kingdom

Even if one removes the presentation and gameplay from Nintendo’s masterpieces, an unabashed creativity remains that bucks norm and convention. The arbiter is fun; reason and logic have no say. For instance, Super Mario Odyssey’s Wooded Kingdom, takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting akin to Nier Automata. Players explore the metal remnants of a civilization that has become a lush home to robotic beings. However, unlike Nier, the dark undertones of the past have no bearing on the game or those who inhabit its universe. The post-apocalyptic setting is just a fun backdrop. It’s as though a bunch of children got together, began playing with toys, and one of the kids brought along his sibling’s adult action figures. There is no attention paid to the context, only unfiltered imagination.

When they’re at their best the creators at Nintendo invite gamers to come and play, like a parent arranging a play date. Pulled along by joyful gameplay that expands in unforeseen ways, players desire to play for the sake of play. It’s a halcyon state of being: No messy thoughts or contradiction, just joy.

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Games

‘Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind’: An Utterly Shameless Cash Grab

Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some other trash.

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Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

In the 15 year long history of DLC, we have seen some really shameless displays. The notorious horse armor incident of 2006 and a notable day one DLC for the ending game of a trilogy notwithstanding, few companies have had the utter audacity to offer so little content for such a high price point. Enter Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind.

Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some social media nonsense for people who really hate themselves. That’s really it, that’s what you get. Honestly, Square-Enix should be utterly embarrassed by this DLC.

It’s been one year: 365 days, 8760 hours, 525600 minutes, or 31556952 seconds, since the release of Kingdom Hearts III. Let that sink in as you begin the meat of Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind. Think of it as the extended version of a movie you really like… you know, the kind where they add 4 minutes to the 120 minute runtime.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Yes, Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind, really is that cynical. I’m not kidding when I tell you that the game literally starts with an exact cut scene from the base game, and a cut scene that happens to be available from the theater mode of the main game that you’ve already bought if you’re playing this DLC. Yes, the introduction to this new content is… content you’ve already seen.

In fact, that’s kind of the sticking point here: most of what you get for your hard-earned cash is footage you’ve already seen, and battles you’ve already fought, and story you’ve already experienced, just with slight alterations for context. Remember back in the 2000s, when we were super obsessed with prequels? This is like that, except even more egregious.

Generally I’m not so unforgiving as to call a company out for a forthright cash grab, but that’s absolutely what Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is. There’s just no other way to put it. You might find someone in the marketing department for Square-Enix who would disagree, but being a company that has faced just these sort of allegations for their last two major releases, Square-Enix either doesn’t read the news, or doesn’t care what people think of their products.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Square-Enix was roundly accused of shipping unfinished products in the case of both Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III — their two most high profile releases of the last decade. I personally gave mostly positive reviews of both games for this very website but if you want ammo to suggest that this company is deliberately trading on the nostalgia and passion of its fan base in order to make financial headway, there are few examples you could draw from that are as obvious as this DLC.

Look, maybe you’re a really big Kingdom Hearts fan. Maybe you just really wanted to know what the context was for that cliffhanger ending in Kingdom Hearts III. Maybe you just don’t do much research before you buy something. Or maybe… you just really trust this company for some reason.

Hey, I’m not judging… hell, I bought this DLC for $40 same as anyone else. I oughta be honest that I’m not reviewing Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind as some holier than thou critic, talking down to you from my position of privilege. No, I’m an angry consumer in this particular case. I’m a person who spent enough to replace a flat tire on my car, or buy my family dinner, on a game that is clearly playing off of my love for a franchise, and using it to bilk me out of money in a method that is so clear, and so concise, that those involved in the entire endeavor should be totally embarrassed for their part in the creation, marketing, pricing, and distribution of this expansion.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Yes, fans had their complaints about Kingdom Hearts III. “Where are the hardcore boss battles? Where are the Final Fantasy characters? Where are the secret areas? Where are the hidden plot developments?” Still, to address these particular complaints by hammering a few minutes or seconds here and there into already existing content is truly like spitting in the faces of the people who have built the house you’re living in.

I haven’t sat in the board rooms at Square-Enix and I haven’t been in email chains about the planning of projects at their company but what I can say is that there is something rotten in Denmark if this is what passes for a satisfying piece of content for the wildly devoted fans of a hugely popular franchise in 2020. Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is literally, truthfully, and succinctly, the worst piece of DLC I’ve ever purchased.

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