Mario Kart 8: every track, ranked (part one)

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  1. GCN Dry Dry Desert (Banana Cup)

Dire Dire Desert, more like. So bad they named it twice, this somnolent sandy circuit was one of the worst tracks of the much-maligned Double Dash!!, and hasn’t been improved any by Nintendo chucking a giant puddle in the middle of it. If anyone votes for this online they’re either an idiot or a troll. Or both.

  1. GCN Sherbet Land (Leaf Cup)

Making it a Double Dash!! double-whammy in the bottom two, this tediously slow and visually dull course is somehow equally monotonous in 200cc mode. The best you can say about it is that the handful of design adjustments make it marginally more interesting here than its original form.

  1. N64 Toad’s Turnpike (Shell Cup)

A track which manages the impressive feat of being both boring and fantastically irritating all at once. I’d wager that this is almost certainly the track that prompts the most rage-quits in online multiplayer matches – and probably local ones for that matter. Less awful in 200cc, I suppose, but still bobbins.

  1. 3DS DK Jungle (Banana Cup)

Absolutely no one’s favourite track. Has one half-decent shortcut, but otherwise almost entirely uninteresting. Not hateful, exactly, but would anyone miss it if Nintendo quietly removed it from online rotation? Would anyone even notice?

  1. Bone Dry Dunes (Special Cup)

The Special Cup is supposed to be home to the best and/or most challenging Mario Kart tracks. Cloudtop Cruise proves to be a tough act to follow, but there’s no real excuse to dump this duffer immediately after it. Its hazards are irksome rather than devious (the corner immediately after the glider section is horrible) and it only avoids a bottom-three place because its brick-coloured sand and magic-hour lighting make it at least attractively annoying.

  1. Ice Ice Outpost (Triforce Cup)

I feel slightly sorry for whoever designed Ice Ice Outpost, because conceptually it’s quite an inventive course. It’s just not a lot of fun to play. It’s never quite clear which of the two intertwining tracks you should be on, and they’re both so narrow that you’ll invariably come to a grinding halt simply by bumping against the sides where the paths diverge. A good idea in theory; not so much in practice.

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  1. Wii Grumble Volcano (Lightning Cup)

In one of the brightest, most vibrantly colourful games money can buy, Grumble Volcano distinguishes itself with its sheer brownness. Bowser’s Castle does the fiery lava thing much better, and even noisy background eruptions fail to invigorate a track that prompts eye-rolling and weary sighs every time it’s picked online.

  1. Sweet Sweet Canyon (Mushroom Cup)

So sugary you can almost feel your teeth rotting with each lap, this Wreck-It Ralph rip-off has that neat doughnut shortcut on the final bend, a lemonade lake that looks like carbonated piss and not much else. The scenery looks good enough to eat, mind.

  1. GBA Cheese Land (Crossing Cup)

Essentially a desert track masquerading as something more interesting, Cheese Land is a more comfortably off man’s Dry Dry Desert. Less annoying than Bone Dry Dunes, and you can trick off the cheese craters, but if you had to choose which of the DLC tracks you could happily live without, this would be in most people’s top one.

  1. Rainbow Road (Special Cup)

I’m not angry, Rainbow Road, I’m just disappointed. Nintendo promised something extra-special; what we got was an admittedly pretty intergalactic jaunt around a twisty, turny, strangely forgettable ribbon of track, with a bizarrely clunky interruption from a passing satellite. After the invention of MK7’s similarly space-set climax, this was a real let-down.

  1. N64 Rainbow Road (Lightning Cup)

The original was remarkable mostly for being ludicrously over-extended, maybe the most insipid finale in Mario Kart history. The main thing it has going for it now is its brevity: one of the longest tracks is now one of the shortest. But oh, that music! The remixed theme is a joy, making you weirdly nostalgic for a track you never actually liked.

  1. DS Tick-Tock Clock (Lightning Cup)

Into the realms of the ‘not bad, but…’, Tick-Tock Clock is a fittingly mechanical offering: all the nuts and bolts are in place, but it’s lacking a bit of soul. There are many potentially better choices from the DS game’s very decent roster, yet Nintendo opted to update a course that consistently threatens to be more interesting than it actually is.

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  1. N64 Royal Raceway (Banana Cup)

A Peach-centric track, and as we all know, Peach is rubbish. Other than looking quite nice – and that’s something you could say of most tracks – the twee Royal Raceway doesn’t really have a defining feature. There’s a few sharp corners, a gliding section, a light sprinkling of sakura blossoms and three stupid birds who keep landing near the start line. It’s okay.

  1. 3DS Melody Motorway (Leaf Cup)

Its central gimmick – that you’re racing around and generating sounds from a bunch of musical instruments – is fun on the first few goes, but once the novelty has worn off you’re left with a track that doesn’t really do much else of note. Of note! Because…oh, never mind.

  1. Twisted Mansion (Flower Cup)

A Boo House as a Mario Kart track is an idea with potential for mischief and spooky trickery, but it’s wasted on a lavish but fairly generic haunted house setting. Beyond that, it’s an exercise in box-ticking. Anti-grav wall driving? Check. Gliding section? Check. Underwater bit? Check. Boost pads? Yawn.

  1. N64 Yoshi Valley (Leaf Cup)

Like Ice Ice Outpost, Yoshi Valley is a better idea on paper. Multiple routes just end up splitting the pack, and it’s only once the paths converge that things get exciting again. And let’s face it: as obstacles go, the giant Yoshi egg that occasionally blocks off the wooden bridge is pretty crappy.

  1. DS Cheep Cheep Beach (Shell Cup)

I’m a sucker for tropical settings, and this gorgeous, sun-baked circuit makes me yearn for a Wii U update of Super Mario Sunshine. You can almost feel the oppressive heat, which perhaps helps explain the languid pace. Slow and flat, Cheep Cheep Beach is far from top-tier Mario Kart, but it’s not bad.

  1. 3DS Koopa City (Bell Cup)

An HD makeover has done wonders for a track I always found thuddingly dull on 3DS. Neon lights and slippery asphalt are a surprisingly attractive combo, and light drizzle has rarely looked quite so appealing. A reasonable opener for the Bell Cup, but there’s better to come.

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  1. DS Wario Stadium (Leaf Cup)

The clear highlight of Mario Kart 8’s least enjoyable grand prix, Wario Stadium has its ups and downs – quite literally in the case of its new elevated anti-grav section, which smacks a little of change for change’s sake. Then again, bumping an opponent off the top edge is an undoubted pleasure. It’s the Crystal Palace of tracks: comfortably mid-table without ever looking like troubling the big guns.

  1. Big Blue (Bell Cup)

Slap an F-Zero theme on a flat, featureless strip of track and some people would put it in their top ten. Big Blue is basically a sci-fi waterslide that only really comes to life in 200cc. It’s fine, but its popularity is almost entirely down to rose-tinted memories of a series Nintendo has all but left behind. Great music, though.

  1. SNES Rainbow Road (Triforce Cup)

Pick of the Rainbow Roads, this can’t have the impact the original did back in ’92, but it’s a solid update. It’s a great time-trial track, but can be infuriating in multiplayer, and in 200cc you’ll either enjoy a terrifying white-knuckle ride or end up funding Lakitu’s kids through university.

  1. Mario Kart Stadium (Mushroom Cup)

The first track of any Mario Kart is traditionally fairly safe and pedestrian, but this is one of the series’ strongest starts. It offers a fine introduction to anti-grav, and is ideally suited to 12-player races. Put it this way: if it’s randomly selected in an online lobby, you probably won’t be too unhappy.

  1. GBA Mario Circuit (Shell Cup)

There’s something wonderfully artless about the way anti-grav is shoehorned in here, not least because you get to witness the section of track being lifted on a hydraulic jack in the introduction. And once you’re at its apex, you get one of the game’s best views: not just the track below, but a glimpse of the world beyond it. Nothing else quite lives up to that moment, but that’s enough.

  1. Dragon Driftway (Egg Cup)

Barely enjoyable at 200cc, this is otherwise a hugely undervalued track with an unusual theme, some devilishly difficult sections and a terrific soundtrack. The grass verge on the home stretch is a bit of a dick move, but any circuit that pays tribute to a Mario Galaxy boss (SMG2’s Gobblegut) is all right by me.

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