Back when Nintendo announced the very first Mario Kart game in the early '90s, there were some in the industry who proclaimed it as a sign that the veteran firm had finally lost its marbles. Sure, Mario had appeared in other games, but his forte was 2D platformers – he had no place on the racing track, and Super Mario Kart was initially viewed as a questionable attempt to shoe-horn the famous mascot into a genre where he simply didn't belong. As you might expect, when these same nay-sayers actually got to play it, they changed their tune.
Since then, Mario Kart has become one of Nintendo's most successful properties and has sold in excess of 160 million copies worldwide across all titles. But, you may well ask, which one is best? That's not an easy question to answer in a series of solid gold console classics, so we turned to you, dear readers, to rate and rank every game in the series.
Before you ask, no we've not included the arcade entries, because we like being stubborn traditionalists at Nintendo Life). We have added the mixed reality racer Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit and the mobile-only Mario Kart Tour, though. We've also lumped both Mario Kart 8 and its Deluxe Switch upgrade together to keep things tidy.
Remember: the order below is updated in real-time according to each game's corresponding User Rating in the Nintendo Life game database. Even as you read this, it's entirely possible to influence the ranking below. If you haven't rated your favourites yet, simply click the 'star' of the game you wish to rate below and assign a score right now.
So stash those banana skins and start those karts — it's time to hit the track and see who ends up on the podium...
The first entry in the series to make the jump to mobile devices which aren't Nintendo handhelds, anyone coming to this expecting a facsimile of the console games will probably be disappointed — this free-to-play version was never going to rival the majesty of a full-fat, fully operational Mario Kart 8! The game was built around one-handed mobile play and landscape mode wasn’t available initially. Couple that with some confusing and questionable monetisation mechanics and it could be easy to see this as a blight on the series' good name.
However, you're not obliged to go in for all those unseemly microtransactions, there's no limit on playtime as found in many other mobile games (including some of Nintendo's), and — taken in context — it's a pleasantly diverting mobile take on your favourite kart racer. Crucially, it costs nothing to find out for yourselves, so there's no reason not to take this for a test drive, even if it doesn't fire on all cylinders.
Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is a startlingly authentic "mixed reality" recreation of Nintendo's most popular racing series which encourages you to be inventive with your course designs and does an excellent job of combining your real-world surroundings with the fantasy environments of the Mushroom Kingdom; add in a second player (or three, or four) and it becomes even more compelling. The tech side of things is undeniably impressive and it's impossible to not raise a smile the first time you play; the question is how long that magic will last, especially if your home limits your track designs and you've only got the budget to cover the cost of a single car.
We can confirm that simply free-roaming around the house while being chased by small children and/or pets is a pretty great way to spend an afternoon, though.
Those fans who loved the flat tracks and tight power-sliding gameplay of the original Super Mario Kart were pleased as punch when Nintendo confirmed that it was bringing the series to the Game Boy Advance with a more 'retro' look. The portable was only really capable of replicating the performance of the SNES — it certainly wasn't up to the standard of the N64 or GameCube — so Mario Kart Super Circuit ended up feeling like the Super Mario Kart sequel we never got on Nintendo's 16-bit console.
The integrity of its gameplay holds up well nowadays and it serves as a great 'successor' to the original. Sure, the visual style has arguably aged worse than the SNES version, but this pint-sized speed-fest packs in plenty of content. The fun foundation was there at the very beginning of the series and it's definitely there in the GBA version. The 3DS Ambassador and Wii U Virtual Console re-releases lacked any multiplayer features, so make sure you go for the original game on original GBA hardware if multiplayer is your thing (which, with Mario Kart, it really should be). Don't forget the link cables!
The game that birthed an entire genre (albeit a genre it dominates to the point where you wonder why any other company decides to make their own kart racer), Super Mario Kart got so much just right from the starting line that it still remains surprisingly playable and accessible decades later. There's no worrying about picking karts or wheels here; you select your character and hit the track. The split-screen layout (which is present even when racing solo) encourages a second player to pick up the pad, and it's certainly a game that is best enjoyed with a friend (or foe). The Battle mode has also stood the test of time superbly, and that iconic power-slide move still feels natural and intuitive.
The mainline games that followed may have refined the formula to the Nth degree, but despite feeling barebones by comparison, controls, track design, and item balance are still nigh-on perfect in this first outing, and getting behind the wheel still feels good. Super Mario Kart is fun distilled, and its narrow focus can actually end up being a benefit – especially if you're looking for the ideal pick-up-and-play multiplayer challenge.
The DS entry in the series did a marvellous job of giving players the full-blooded 3D experience, but 3DS’ extra horsepower made this feel more like a home console release than ever before. Mario Kart 7 (the first game in the series to have a number at the end of its title, fact fans) is perhaps one of the finest racers ever made, and certainly one of the best on the 3DS.
Bringing back coins during races and introducing vehicle customisation and underwater driving to the series, its excellent autostereoscopic 3D once again proved that, in the right hands, the system's namesake feature could really add some special sauce, helping flesh out the world just that little bit more. Booting it up now makes us miss having the option — roll on Nintendo 3DSwitch! (Calm down, that’s a joke… or is it?)