Best Mario Kart Games Of All Time (Ranked)This post may contain affiliate links. If you buy something we may get a small commission at no extra cost to you. (Learn more).
If you’ve never played a game in the Mario Kart franchise and want to know where to start, this list should help you make the right choice.
Or if you’re a lover of the series and just want to know what we think of all the games, well hopefully you won’t be too upset with my choices.
The evolution of Mario Kart has taken place over many years appearing on both handheld and home consoles, and even making use of gaming apparel such as the Wii’s floating steering wheel.
The changes have at times been minor, such as tweaks to existing stages and the addition of different karts and cups, and at times much more significant. Like for example the introduction of paragliding capabilities and 2-wheeled vehicles as well as the traditional 4-wheeled karts.
Yet throughout it all one thing though has always remained the same: the highly entertaining gameplay.
So let’s dive into the best Mario Kart games and look into the most exciting options out there.
9. Mario Kart 64
Sitting first in this list(but certainly not a bad game at all!) is Mario Kart 64.
This first appeared on the Nintendo 64 in 1996 and it was an instant hit.
First things first: the nostalgia with this game is high even though it’s over 20 years old. The graphics were a big step up from the SNES title “Super Mario Kart” which came out 4 years prior, but MK64 helped to bring the franchise into what we know it as today.
And the 3D aesthetic helped to make the game really pop – especially the backgrounds of all the tracks.
So far so good, right?
You might be wondering what prevents this game from taking a better spot on this list. Well for one, the huge anticipation and hype surrounding this game following the success of the original meant that its flaws have been really exaggerated and it unfortunately fails to live up to expectations.
Perhaps feeling the pressure of following up the classic Super Mario Kart, Nintendo fell short when it came to making the AI more intelligent and less clingy. This is referred to as the rubber band effect, your competitors often stay in proximity to you throughout the race, which makes getting into first position pretty difficult.
What’s more, one of the main attractions of the Mario Kart series in its tracks. In MK64 these are generally underwhelming and uninspired, especially compared with the likes of some of the more recent titles.
Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t a bad game, but I feel there are some valid complaints for this title that might make it tougher for newer gamers to play without some of the nostalgia factor.
8. Mario Kart Super Circuit
Next up, the first Mario Kart on this list made exclusively for handheld consoles(Game Boy Advance to be specific).
Super Circuit is a fun addition to the series and the first to bring the addictive game on the road with you, yet does fall short in some key areas. But there are plenty of great things in this game too!
Coming out at the beginning of the 21st century, this game brings in a new era of Mario Kart with a portable travel-friendly version. No doubt Super Circuit was definitely a pioneer of its times.
Some of the positives of the game are the addition of cup rankings which obviously became standard in every game since, and some fun multiplayer gameplay if you’ve got friends to play with.
Unfortunately the best quality of Super Circuit – the fact that it’s on the GBA – is also what ultimately holds it back.
The not-so-great graphics make Mario Kart 64 look like a visual masterpiece. And the game is generally limited by being on a handheld console with a smaller screen.
The tracks in this game are also devoid of any real personality – bar a few – and so it won’t feel as fun as other iterations of the game.
While overall not a terrible game, the first handheld edition of the franchise is frankly forgettable and doesn’t hold a candle to many of the others in this list.
7. Mario Kart DS
We got Mario Kart DS four years after the Super Circuit release for GBA (don’t worry, the list isn’t in chronological order as you’ll notice with the next entry).
A definite improvement over the GBA version, and not only just because the game was on more powerful hardware. Mario Kart DS was a step in the right direction for mobile racing games.
The introduction of online play hit on the DS for the first time in this franchise and it was a huge plus for the game. Especially considering for the first time you didn’t have to be in the vicinity of your friends to have a quick game of Mario Kart.
As well as this groundbreaking feature, Mario Kart DS allowed for the customization of karts in so far as you could change the logo and unlock styles with different stats for each character.
Where the game falls short is mainly in its uninspired level design.
Aside from the theme – which can get old after a while anyway – the success of the Mario Kart games relies heavily on creative level designs which capture the imagination and provide a fantastic backdrop to the crazy, fast-paced racing action.
While this game has some gems like Airship Fortress, there aren’t many other tracks that will compel you to keep playing after you’ve completed the cups a couple of times.
What I mean is that replayability is negatively affected here. Although to be fair, it really is an entertaining title. But when you’re competing within the Mario Kart series you really have to do something special to stand out.
6. Super Mario Kart
Going back to where it all began, we have the timeless classic that is Super Mario Kart for the SNES.
It would be hard to argue against the game that kicked off this epic series. It has its drawbacks compared to more recent versions of the game, but this is to be expected for a title that’s running on 30-year-old hardware.
The fact that it can even compete with some of the more recent versions of the game is hugely impressive, and a testament to the brilliant work that went into this SNES title.
Noteworthy for its enjoyable battle mode, array of crazy weapons, and it’s easy to pick up and play style, Super Mario Kart deserves a lot of praise. It’s easily still a playable game to this day.
Of course, as much as it’d be fun to just wax lyrical over the classic game, the drawbacks have been made blindingly obvious by recent titles. And while you can certainly make a case for the graphics and aesthetic still being amazing, they pale in comparison to what we have today.
Granted if you really like the old-school retro pixel art then you will absolutely adore this game. Seriously, grab yourself a SNES Mini because if you like this kind of game then you’ll be playing it a lot.
5. Mario Kart 7
Mario Kart 7 is the game that wipes the floor with its underwhelming predecessor (Mario Kart DS) and it still sells fantastically well on the 3DS to this day.
Adding some great new features to the franchise and being the best Mario Kart game to grace handheld consoles, Mario Kart 7 is an excellent addition to the series.
Building upon the concept of kart customization, this 3DS title allowed you to construct your very own kart from scratch which added a whole new aesthetic dimension to the game.
Gamers love to customize, so it was only a matter of time until Nintendo let people get their hands on the karts and manipulate them however they saw fit.
Most notably though, Mario Kart 7 opened up the sea and the air as potential racing arenas in the game.
Before this point the sea was always considered out of bounds and prompted Lakitu to float over to you on his little cloud to pull you out of harm’s way.
This all changed in MK7 as it let you drive underwater as well as glide gracefully through the air.
The combination of being able to choose which hang glider and kart components would give you the best chance of success, along with being able to pick a strategic weapon, gave this game an edge over many of the previous titles.
I have a feeling that ultimately the gameplay here is a big factor that’s lead to its status as the best handheld Mario Kart on the market today.
4. Mario Kart 8
An undeniable improvement on many of the previous games in the series, Mario Kart 8 certainly deserves to be among the best in the franchise.
Bringing the game fully up to date in the modern era on home consoles – like Mario Kart 7 did for handheld consoles – the only reason this one doesn’t feature higher is that unlike MK Wii and Double Dash, Mario Kart 8 simply improves on an already winning formula. While this is a welcome update to the series, it doesn’t deviate enough creatively to make it stand out from the others.
A good way to look at this game is that it has to be(up until the point of its release in 2014) the most impressive visually and the most complete of all.
A fantastic entry point to the series for any newcomers looking to get to grips with the core mechanics of the games while having all the bells and whistles of the modern generation, Mario Kart 8 is a solid all-round game.
It boasts a huge roster of 30 playable characters, and you can pick a different character every time. Plus with the ability to fully customize your kart you’ll potentially never pick the same racing setup twice.
The drifting in Mario Kart 8 is also a strong point for the game too. Simple to execute and a pleasure to experience.
Perhaps the most striking feature of this modern version of the popular franchise though is the outstanding visuals which shows just how far the series has come in the best possible way.
Other than some other points to games higher in this list, I have to say Mario Kart 8 is the most complete experience you can hope to find for a Mario Kart game, and maybe even any kart racing game in general.
3. Mario Kart: Wii
Moving the series forward significantly and adding a plethora of new gameplay mechanics and visuals, 2008’s Mario Kart: Wii should definitely be given the credit it deserves for freshening up the series.
Let’s start with the Wii controller compatibility. If I told you pre-2008 that you would be standing in your living room driving around in Mario Kart with a cordless steering wheel, you’d have called me crazy.
But Mario Kart: Wii made this a reality.
And if that wasn’t enough, the game introduced bikes to the series for the first time. These added so much extra entertainment value with new approaches to take on the levels.
Essentially a complete overhaul of the entire series by upgrading almost every element, Mario Kart: Wii definitely stands out as one of the best games in the franchise.
Not many games up until this point(Double Dash excluded) really mixed up the gameplay mechanics by introducing something completely new and changing the skill level required to compete with the AI.
Throw in the exceedingly fun levels that the game added and you can see why this title shines so bright.
2. Mario Kart: Double Dash
This is a hugely innovative Mario Kart game that deserves a lot of praise.
Double Dash was absolutely responsible for some of the best Nintendo themed fun with friends moments had in the kart racing series.
While its position in this list as number 2 may be controversial to some, I believe it is fully warranted due to the big step away from what we perceived as the traditional Mario Kart experience. This game moved us more into the territory of insanely fun co-op gameplay.
One of the highlights of Double Dash is being the character on the back of your team’s kart in charge of dashing into opponents that get to close. It’s their task to to throw them off their game, or even off a giant cliff when appropriate.
The hilarity – and at times, rage – that ensues when your friend accidentally dashed you both off the edge makes this one a classic choice for get-togethers and parties.
The 2 characters-per-kart mechanic alone isn’t the reason why this game is such an outstanding entry to the series. It is also because of how the gameplay revolves around this idea that characters have specific items to use against competitors.
Chasing your friends who are out in front with the Chain Chomp is an experience you have to have first-hand to truly appreciate. And on top of this the experience, the kart will actually be affected realistically depending on the size of the backseat passenger.
As you might imagine Bowser isn’t a great buddy for making tight corners, for example.
Add to all of that the high quality levels you see here and Double Dash really offers a complete Mario Kart package.
1. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
As much as I’d love to give the top spot to one of the more underrated entries to the series, something like Double Dash or MK Wii, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is without a doubt the best game for racing around.
Taking everything that has made Mario Kart the hugely successful series that it is, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe rolls them all up into one immensely entertaining game.
Sometimes it’s easy to just give the latest iteration of a series the title of ‘best in the series’ due to graphical superiority and superior mechanics. But this game is genuinely a bit more fun to play than the rest up until the present day, and in part yes it’s from years of developers constantly tweaking mechanics to get them just right.
Let’s breakdown the gameplay first since that’s the most important part of the game.
In Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, gameplay quality isn’t compromised as you’ll notice when you effortlessly slide around corners with the extremely responsive drifting. And you can glide through the air as if you were truly flying which is another added feature from later games.
The anti-gravity mechanic which was introduced in the prior title(Mario Kart 8) is improved in this game as the levels include new innovative ways to drive on walls, ceilings, and any other solid surface you can think of. That’s a big leap from the original SNES version!
Now gameplay aside, the visuals here are gorgeous and truly show off the game in a way no other title has been able to.
Flying through the air will make you want to stop and take a look around at the magical surroundings and highly detailed racers and karts. Plus to compliment the astounding aesthetic of the game are the eye-catching new stages which really include some tricky areas that you wouldn’t think of.
Great music, great visuals, and super fun gameplay mechanics. These all add up to one enjoyable experience either playing solo or with friends. And to me, that’s what really makes a great game.