This Friday marks the release of Mario Kart 8, so what better time to take a quick spin through kart racing history?
Now, I could just take the easy route and make this an all Mario Kart list, but I like a challenge, so this top 10 also includes pretenders to Mario’s go-karting throne. There’s been a hell of a lot of bad kart racing games squeezed out over the years, but there’s been a few surprisingly good non-Mario branded ones as well. So, what are the 10 best kart-racing games of all time? Does M&M’s Kart Racing make the list? Read on to find out…
10) Freaky Flyers
I’ve always appreciated kart racers that let you fly planes, and Freaky Flyers was nothing but flying planes. The game was one of the first to do the whole ‘toon-shading thing and featured a wacky art style where all the guys had crazy bug-eyes and the ladies all looked like Bratz dolls with massive racks. Uh, I’m not making it sound that great, but it was fun! The multiplayer dog-fight mode in particular was quite an addictive time-sink.
9) Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
Sega had tried (and failed rather miserably) many times to make a Sonic racing game, but they finally got it mostly right with the Sonic & All-Stars series. Honestly, I think Sonic & All-Star Racing Transformed lacks some of the charm of the best kart racers, but there’s no denying it’s a nice-looking, slick racer that’s packed with options.
8) Mario Kart 64
It’s an old gaming truism — most people’s favorite Mario Kart is the one that just happened to come out when they were 12. Technically Mario Kart 64 came out when I was 15, but I was an immature 15 so, speaking purely from the heart, this is probably my favorite Mario Kart.
Looking at the game more objectively, Mario Kart 64 has its problems. Its 2D/3D hybrid graphics aren’t great, and its rubber band AI is out of control, but still, there’s a lot to like here. It introduced four-player console multiplayer to the world, its battle mode arenas are great and at least half the game’s tracks are really good. Putting my personal warm-fuzzies aside, this isn’t the best karting game of all time, but it’s still top-10 material.
7) Kirby Air Ride
Kirby Air Ride came out during an era when NINTENDO IS KIDDIE GARBAGE petulance was at an all-time high and most critics savaged the game for its cuteness and simplicity. Thing is, once you get past the fact that the game is so streamlined it doesn’t even have a button for acceleration, it’s actually a hell of a lot of fun. Air Ride really is one of the Gamecube’s most underrated titles.
Blur kind of came and went without leaving much of a dent, but I liked it a lot. The game’s basic premise was, “What if we took real-world cars and dropped them into a wacky kart racing game?” and hey, it worked for me. If you’re jonesing for a power-up packed racing game without all the cutesy cartoon characters, I suggest digging this one out of the bargain bin.
5) Mario Kart DS
I’ve never been a huge fan of portable racing games, but I certainly can’t discount Mario Kart DS. The game really went above and beyond — it had the best graphics on the DS, introduced the engrossing mission mode and was the first Nintendo game to feature a significant online component. This was the rare handheld game that not only equalled, but in some ways actually exceeded its console counterparts.
4) Crash Team Racing
Sony and Naughty Dog’s, Crash Team Racing was more than a match Mario Kart 64, and probably would have been the best kart racer of the PS/N64 era if Nintendo hadn’t published another non-Mario karting game (which we’ll get to soon enough). Crash Team Racing looked great (it was fully 3D unlike Mario Kart 64), played smoothly and packed in a lot of depth. I was never a huge fan of Crash Bandicoot’s platforming games, but he has a hell of a kart racer to his name.
3) Mario Kart: Double Dash!!
There was a lot of disappointment and grumbling about Mario Kart: Double Dash when it was first released, but I think history has judged the game well. The game’s pared-down, intentionally streamlined tracks are some of my favorite in the series, and the whole two-players per kart co-op thing was a hell of a lot of fun in retrospect. I’ve never totally exhausted a racing game like I did Double Dash — I mastered every track forward, backwards and upside down. That says something I think.
2) Diddy Kong Racing
Nintendo and Rare had this wonderful rivalry during the N64 days — Nintendo would make Mario 64, and Rare would set to work making their own bigger, vastly better-looking 3D platformer (Banjo-Kazooie). The same thing happened on kart racing front, with Rare absolutely blowing Mario Kart 64 away with their Diddy Kong Racing.
Diddy Kong Racing looked amazing, allowed you to tackle most tracks with cars, planes or hovercrafts and included a fantastic adventure mode, complete with a free-roaming hub world and epic boss races. In some ways the Mario Kart series is still struggling to catch up to what Rare did with Diddy Kong Racing back in 1997.
1) Super Mario Kart
Come on now, what else could I pick for the number one spot?
The original Super Mario Kart is an incredibly entertaining game that still holds up today, but to truly get a sense of how amazing the title is, you have to look at what most other racing games were doing in the early-90s. Back then most racing games were still straightforward arcade experiences like Out Run. Simple games where you meandered down endless winding roads, dodging other cars while trying to come in under the time limit. Mario Kart’s tightly designed tracks, and racers with actual personalities and AI were a revelation. Even if you removed the game’s turtle-shell shooting tomfoolery, Mario Kart still would have been the best racer on the market back in 1992.
Wait for it, waaait for it. Phew — okay, I was afraid Chuck E. Cheese’s Kart Racing might fire off a blue shell and sneak into the lead, but we’re safe. I think.
Did I miss any favorite obscure kart racers? Did I totally screw up the ordering of my Mario Karts? By all means, hit the comments and give me an earful.