Ah yes Mario Kart, one of the few franchises that invoke feelings of joy and anger; sometimes at the same time. Since its debut on the Super Nintendo in 1992, the Mario Kart series has graced almost every Nintendo console (there was supposedly one planned for the ill-fated Virtual Boy), selling 97.42 million units as of March 2012, won numerous awards over the years, and has become one of the flagship franchises for whatever new home console or handheld Nintendo releases. It’s a series beloved by many people, myself included (in case it wasn’t obvious). I first got into the series with Super Mario Kart, and with the exception of Mario Kart 7, I’ve played every game in the series (even the arcade ones!), some of them to one-hundred percent completion. Over the years however, the series had been criticized on a wide range of issues, from its constant rubber banding, to its unbalanced items (specifically the Blue Shell).
While these are valid complaints, I still love the series and its many, many, MANY flaws, and it’s without a doubt one of the best multiplayer experiences you can have on a Nintendo system, if not of all time. At the end of the week, Nintendo is going to release Mario Kart 8, and so to celebrate the eighth console release of the series, I decided to countdown the five best and the five worse courses in the series. Before I start this however, let me go over a couple ground rules: 1) one course per game (otherwise my best list would be dominated by 64 & Double Dash), and 2) no Battle Mode maps. Oh, and these picks are based on my personal tastes and opinions, shouldn’t be taken as fact, etc. And with all that out of the way, let’s start our engines.
5. Koopa Beach 1 (Super Mario Kart)
Despite being the first game in the series and setting the ground work for future games going forward, most of Super Mario Kart’s courses leave a lot to be desired. They’re not terrible mind you; it’s just that outside of Rainbow Road, there really isn’t much to set the courses apart from each other besides the number at the end. This makes it all the weirder that one of my favorite courses from that game is Koopa Beach 1, a course that doesn’t have anything that makes it stand out that much, other than bunch of easily avoidable grass patch near the finish line. And yet when I was a kid, I played this course so much as a kid (mostly in Time Trial). What was it that I loved so much? Was it the simplicity of its design, the shortcut that wasn’t really a shortcut its chill theme song, or maybe it could it be chalked up as me being a stupid 7-year old who didn’t know better? I’ll never quite know the answer, but whatever it was that I liked about must have been important, because here I am, a stupid 25-year old who doesn’t know better, talking about it and putting it on my list.
4. Bowser’s Castle 3 (Mario Kart: Super Circuit)
Bowser’s Castle 3 from Mario Kart: Super Circuit isn’t the most popular course based around the Koopa King’s castle. Hell, the game as a whole doesn’t get as much love as I think it deserves, but that’s a discussion for another day. I will say this about Bowser’s Castle 3 though; it is one of the first courses that I remember getting really excited to play without knowing anything about it. From the moment I saw the foreboding icon on the course select screen that showed a surprisingly scary looking Bowser in front of a thunder laced night sky, I knew I had to check it out. And oh man what a course it was! Taking place what appears to be outside on the top of Bowser’s Castle with some foreboding storm clouds in the background, this course has everything that one associates with a course based on Bowser’s Castle: Thwomps that crush you if aren’t careful, sudden sharp turns, and of course, lava; lots of lava. Add to the fact the course itself is a decent size to race on, and you have one of the few Mario Kart courses that is both fun to play and looks cool at the same time.
3. Waluigi Pinball (Mario Kart DS)
To say that Waluigi is the Poochie of the Mario universe would be an insult to Poochie. I mean seriously, Wario works because a capital ‘W’ is just an upside down ‘M’, but with Waluigi all Nintendo did was just put an ‘Wa’ in front of Luigi and called it a day; that’s just stupid (and yes I’m aware of the fact that Waluigi’s name is based off the word Warui, which is the Japanese word for bad, but that doesn’t make it any less stupid). However, I like to think of myself as someone who looks for the positive in all things negative, so as much as I hate Waluigi, I’ll give him credit where it’s due: he has one of the best courses in Mario Kart DS. Waluigi Pinball is literally what it sounds like; a course that takes place on a giant Pinball Table with Waluigi’s ugly mug all over the place. It’s simple in its design and it’s not very long, but you know what? It all works in the course’s favor, as you start the race by being shot onto the table like a pinball and before long, you’re dodging giant black metallic pinballs, bumpers, and electric flippers as you race your way down the bottom to do it all again. Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the awesome sound design, with music and sound effects that do an excellent job in convincing you that you’re racing on a pinball table; seriously, look up the music for Waluigi Pinball; it’s absolutely amazing and is easily on of my favorite music tracks in the entire series. So yeah, I may hate Waluigi as a character, but he has one of the finest courses in Mario Kart history.
2. Baby Park (Mario Kart: Double Dash!)
Have you ever played a Mario Kart and said to yourself “man this is fun, but I wish there was some sort of Final Destination-like course to prove that I’m the best Kart player”? If you answered yes, then Baby Park is the course for you. Much like Koopa Beach, this was a course that I played a lot whenever I popped in Double Dash, and for good reason. Basically a simple oval loop in the center of a Yoshi-centric amusement park, what Baby Park lacks in size (it’s the shortest course in the series to date) or stage hazards, it makes up for in its raw competitive design, with each race consisting of seven laps (five in the DS version) instead of the measly three. And boy what an insane seven laps they are; since there are no major obstacles like hills or winding paths, items like Green Shells and Banana Peels can pose as much of a threat to a first place driver as a Blue Shell or a Lightning bolt. Not only that, but when racing on this course with the speed jacked up to 100cc and above, things get even crazier, with characters able to pick up items a bit faster, and it’s even possibly to overlap some players. At the end of the day, don’t let name Baby Park mislead you. This is a course that separates the pleebs from the pros, a course that causes men to curse like sailors and cry like children. On the harder difficulties, Baby Park will spit you out and break you; and you’ll have fun while it does.
1. Rainbow Road (Mario Kart 64)
Rainbow Road is usually the last course that players race on, and while they come in all shapes and sizes, the one that appeared in Mario Kart 64 is the one that stands out the most in my mind. I know that there are some hardcore Mario Kart players reading this right now that are probably flipping out right now. “Goof”, I hear them say, “why do you like N64 Rainbow Road? It’s one of the longest, dullest courses in the series!” While I do agree with it being long (seriously, it’s the longest course in the series history), the idea of it being dull couldn’t be further from the truth. The N64 Rainbow Road is a bright, colorful course with multiple hills, plenty of winding paths to powerslide, and constellations in the sky of the (at the time) eight racers, as well as a couple based on a Boo and a Mushrooms. In addition, the Chain Chomps that appear to attack unsuspecting players spice things up in way that doesn’t feel cheap (unlike the Thwomps on the SNES version of Rainbow Road), and while some people may bemoan the course for having railings, I for one was always happy with them being there, since it meant that victories were based on skill and not by who could be pushed off the course the most (looking at you Mario Kart Wii). And of course, no discussion of MK 64 Rainbow Road would be complete without mentioning the truly amazing song that accompanies it; which is nothing short of amazing, although I prefer the F-Zero remix. In fact, amazing is the word I use to describe the entire course; it embodies everything that a Mario Kart course should be; it’s fun, challenging, and an absolute blast to play. And with its return to Mario Kart 8, I’ll be playing this course constantly; even if it has been relegated to one giant lap this time.
So yeah, those were my favorite Mario Kart courses, but I know why you’re all really here. So without further ado, here are what I think are the worse courses in the series:
5. Desert Hills (Mario Kart DS)
When I’m writing up what I think about these courses, I try to the best of my ability describe why I love these courses, either because they were well designed, looked good, etc. And I imagine, that for my worst section, I can hopefully explain to you why I hated these courses. However, for the life of me, I can’t really tell you why I hate Desert Hill from Mario Kart DS so much. Ever since I first played it, I just had an irrational hatred of this course. Maybe it’s the fact that the course winds a bit at the beginning, or maybe I never liked the hazards on this course (Pokeys and that asshole sun from Super Mario Bros. 3). Maybe it was because it was easier on the higher cups for me to go from first place to last place with no hope of recovering; or maybe it was all of the above, though the problem with that is that other courses are like that too, and even they don’t frustrate me as much as Desert Hill does. Hell, my beloved Rainbow Road and Baby Park are guilty of this. I know that this sounds like a copout, but for the life of me I can’t figure out why I hate this course. My personal vendetta against this course is why it’s even on this list, but it’s also the reason it isn’t any higher.
4. Rainbow Road (Mario Kart: Super Circuit)
As much as I loved the MK 64 version of Rainbow Road, that love has unfortunately not translated to later iterations in the series. The Rainbow Road in Mario Kart: Super Circuit is one of those courses. While it definitely looks and sound nice (the Paper Mario version of Bowser's Castle is pretty cool), the course itself is really poorly designed. While the sudden sharp turns and humps on the sides of the road that can send players flying off the course are annoying, it’s the two jumps at the end of the course that really put it on this list. While the first jump is somewhat manageable (albeit a little cramped), it’s the second one that always annoyed me. I lost count the number of times I overshot that second jump, causing me to fall of the course and most likely costing me the race, usually on the last lap. Now I know some of you are going to read this and say I probably suck, and to those people I say yeah, I really do. But that’s no excuse for a course this messed up and chaotic; to make matters worse, Super Circuit also has every course from the original game packed in, including the original Rainbow Road. And when a course from a racing game that came out in 1992 is better than one from a game that came out nine years later, something isn’t right.
3. Choco Island 2 (Super Mario Kart)
As I was coming up with this list, thinking of what course I would talk about, I had four courses in mind from Super Mario Kart: Donut Plains 3(for the broken bridge at the beginning), Vanilla Lake 1 & 2 (because ice levels in general can burn in hell), and Choco Island 2 (for that mud patch near the end of the race). It was a close call, but ultimately, I chose Choco Island 2. Why? Because like those courses I mentioned, this course has appeared in future entries in the series, specifically Super Circuit & DS. However, unlike those courses, Choco Island 2’s design hasn’t changed at all; it has the same winding path at the beginning, the same ill-placed ramps, and most importantly, the same mudslick toward the end of the course that turns the race into a war of attrition. I know that I sound like a broken record by constantly bringing up the mudslick, but it’s the reason this course is even here on the list. It makes races on the course challenging, and not in a good way, punishing players who decide to pick a racer that isn’t a medium weight class, which at the time was only Mario and Luigi. As I said earlier, most of the courses in Super Mario Kart are at best, dull and unforgettable; at worst, they’re Choco Island 2.
2. Wario’s Gold Mine (Mario Kart Wii)
I didn’t like Mario Kart Wii. While it built upon the online mode introduced in Mario Kart DS, added some really cool Mario characters to the roster (Rosalina!), and introduced bikes and tricks, the cheap A.I. and lackluster courses really weighed the game down for me. Most of the courses in this game are bad, but none of them are Wario’s Gold Mine bad. Wario’s Gold Mine looks and feels like a course that was put together by the dev team at three in the morning because they needed to meet a quota. I can somewhat forgive the winding paths and lack of railings throughout the course, and while annoying, the mine carts and bats aren’t enough to make me hate this course, though they certainly don’t help. No, what puts this course near the top of my worst list are the half-pipes the course employs, both at the beginning and then end of the course. They’re both so out of the way and redundant, that any benefit you get for using them is instantly negated by the fact that three or four racers have passed you by; hell with one of them, it’s very easy to land wrong and fall of the course(believe me, this has happened to me before)! I get what they were trying to do with this course, but it’s a bunch of minor annoyances that add ultimately add it up to one enormous headache. It’s so bad, that whenever I played the Flower Cup in Mario Kart Wii, I would make sure I get first place in the three previous races, since I knew there was no way in hell I was going to do well on this course. I actually like Wario, he’s an interesting character, and he’s had some pretty awesome courses named after him; Wario’s Gold Mine isn’t one of them.
1. Toad’s Turnpike (Mario Kart 64)
I hate this course so much. I’m honestly tempted just to write “fuck Toad’s Turnpike” repeatedly and just leave it at that, but I like to think I’m better than that, so I’ll put my nostalgic anger aside for a bit and explain as best I can my hatred for this course while keeping the swearing to a minimum (though I can’t make any promises). You know how I said Wario’s Gold Mine was made up of a bunch of minor annoyances to make things frustrating? Toad’s Turnpike is much worse than that, with problems running the gambit from poorly placed item boxes that force you on the left side of the course at all times (right in Mirror Mode) if you want a chance to pick up an item, to cars and trucks that block your way on key parts of the course, forcing you to try and navigate small cramped pathways to avoid getting hit by said cars and trucks, which is made even more difficult by the fact that their speed is determined by what engine class you pick (so in 50 cc they’re super slow, but crank it up to 150 cc and suddenly it’s Fast & Furious), as well as avoid the traditional Mario Kart shenanigans like Shells, Banana Peels, and whichever jerks that got the Star and Thunderbolt. Want to know the best (worst) part of this course? In Mirror Mode, you’re going AGAINST traffic, because the developers decided that bobbing in and out of traffic wasn’t difficult enough. Now before anyone gets the wrong idea, I have beaten this course before, but whenever I did I never felt a sense of accomplishment; I felt tired and drained. But more importantly I never had fun when I played this course, which is the number one goal for any Mario Kart course. This course was my personal Water Temple, a low point of what’s otherwise an excellent game that still haunts me to this day. So yeah, in other words, fuck Toad’s Turnpike.
So yeah, those were the Mario Kart courses that I thought were the best and the worst. What do you guys think? Do you agree, disagree with my choices? Maybe you’re upset that I didn’t include Kalimari Desert (a.k.a. that course from 64 with the train)? Regardless, if you read all the way through, you’re awesome, and I hope to see you beautiful people online when Mario Kart 8 comes out this Friday.