Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Frisch Ranks the Mario Kart Games!

Mario Kart 8 is right around the corner, and boy does it look impressive!  HD visuals, impressive tracks, beautifully reimagined retro tracks, and all sorts of interesting bells and whistles thrown in.  In light of Mario Kart 8's impending release, I thought now would be the perfect time to look back at the previous games in the series.  So today I'm listing all seven of the previous Mario Kart games in order from my least favorite to my favorite.  On top of that, I'm also identifying my favorite track in each game, just for kicks.  So, let's-a go, shall we?

7.  Mario Kart Wii - Dry Dry Ruins

I really don't like Mario Kart Wii.  The game is a mess.  More than any other entry in the series, Mario Kart Wii really has the feel of a game that was simply phoned in.  It doesn't do anything terribly new or exciting, it reuses assets from Double Dash all over the place, and the item balance is incredibly poor.  Getting hit with a lightning bolt, blue shell, and POW block all at once at the end of lap 3 is one of the most infuriating experiences I have ever had playing a Mario Kart game.  And don't get me started on the thunder cloud.  The whole game gives off the impression of being hastily put together just to get a Mario Kart game out on the Wii.  Given how excited I was for its release beforehand, it was very disappointing to discover that Mario Kart Wii simply wasn't that much fun to play.
That said, Mario Kart Wii does have some excellent tracks sprinkled in between all the mediocrity.  Wario's Gold Mine, Maple Treeway, and Rainbow Road all come to mind.  But in my opinion, the best of the best is Dry Dry Ruins.  I've always had sort of a fondness for desert tracks in the Mario Kart series, mostly because they always seem to have very memorable music.  Dry Dry Ruins takes what Dry Dry Desert did in Double Dash and takes it all up a notch.  Hearing the music change inside the tomb to become all spooky sounding was definitely the coolest moment about this otherwise unpleasant entry in the series.

6.  Super Mario Kart - Rainbow Road

Given that I first became familiar with Mario Kart thought Mario Kart 64, I've always had a hard time going back to Super Mario KartMario Kart 64 really cemented the formula of what Mario Kart is for me, so playing an older game that operates with a number of different rules and mechanics always throws me off.  On top of that, all the tracks are so small and basic that few really stand out in my mind.
The exception is, of course, Rainbow Road.  Crazy music, great visuals, and a ridiculously steep difficulty curve easily makes Rainbow Road the standout track of Super Mario Kart.  I doubt many would argue that point!  Ultimately, though, Super Mario Kart is just a little too unfamiliar and antiquated for me to find it all that enjoyable.

5.  Mario Kart 7 - Neo Bowser City

Mario Kart 7, much like Mario Kart Wii, doesn't quite feel like a finished game.  It feels like it was rushed to market and, considering the drought of games the 3DS was experiencing at the time, it almost certainly was.  Modes and options from other games are missing.  Tracks largely feel a little empty.  But the game is still very enjoyable because what is here is very solid.  While Mario Kart Wii felt like a big jumbled mess, Mario Kart 7 still feels like a polished and complete, albeit rather lean, experience.  Instead of cutting corners across the board, it feels like Nintendo instead tried to create a scaled-down but more refined package overall compared to Mario Kart Wii.
There aren't a lot of major stand-out tracks in Mario Kart 7, but the one that always jumps out in my mind is Neo Bowser City.  It's a very unique track in that it's a Bowser themed track that isn't a castle.  The futuristic setting also sets it apart from the other city themed tracks the series has seen over the years.  But the main thing that makes it my favorite track are the various callbacks to Toad's Turnpike sprinkled throughout.  In fact, all of Mario Kart 7 shared a surprising amount of continuity with Mario Kart 64, which is an easy way to get on my good side!

4.  Mario Kart Super Circuit - Sunset Wilds

There was a time when I could easily tell you that Mario Kart Super Circuit was my favorite Mario Kart game.  First off, it's the first game in the series I ever personally owned, so it's the first one I ever seriously spent a lot of time playing.  It also blended enough elements of Mario Kart 64 into the Super Mario Kart formula to create a much better overall experience.  Plus, being developed by Intelligent Systems, the goofy sense of humor of the Paper Mario series is felt strongly in this game, delivering a very upbeat and cartoony experience overall.
Super Circuit had a ridiculously strong track lineup considering the technical limitations of the system.  Memorable themeing, interesting track gimmicks, and scenery that changed as the race progressed.  Sunset Wilds is the ultimate example of all of these things.  It's a wild west themed track, which is a theme rarely explored in the series.  Shy Guys could burst out of teepees and latch onto your kart, which was both hilarious and actually did screw up your kart's speed and handling until you shook them off.  The course was also surprisingly dynamic, as the sunset progressed further on each lap, with lap three taking place at night.  Sunset Wilds is a very unique track that perfectly demonstrates just how clever and inventive Super Circuit could be.

3.  Mario Kart DS - Figure 8 Circuit

From a purely objective standpoint, Mario Kart DS is probably the best in the series.  It features an incredibly solid selection of tracks and characters.  Controls are perfect and the items are very nicely balanced, keeping things hectic without becoming frustrating.  It has the largest and most diverse selection of game modes and features ever seen in the series, including a number of options that are unique to this game only.  It was the first game to feature online play.  It was polished.  It was impressive.  It did absolutely everything right, and is one of the best games ever released for the Nintendo DS.
Figure 8 Circuit might seem like kind of an odd choice for my favorite track from a game with so many excellent tracks in it.  It's just the standard introductory course, after all, which don't tend to be all that exciting.   Honestly, the main reason it's my favorite course is because of how frequently seen it was prior to the game's release.  I was majorly exciting for Mario Kart DS before it came out.  Some might even say obsessed.  I watched the footage of Figure 8 Circuit over and over in anticipation of it's release.  When the game finally launched and I finally got to play it for myself, it was extremely exciting to actually race on Figure 8 Circuit instead of just watching a video of it.  And, fortunately, Mario Kart DS as a whole was more than good enough to live up to the hype!

2.  Mario Kart Double Dash!! - Wario Colosseum

Even though Mario Kart DS improved upon Double Dash in numerous ways, I still prefer Double Dash.  Why?  Because, save for maybe the upcoming Mario Kart 8, it's the only Mario Kart game that feels "big."  What do I mean by that?  It's the only game that really feels like it was trying to push the series as far as it possibly could at the time that it came out.  It put two characters in each kart.  It added special items.  It introduced tons of characters beyond the standard eight the series had seen at that point.  There were multiple karts to choose from.  The tracks were huge and detailed.  The graphics were colorful and lively.  Battle mode had been expanded beyond just balloon battle.  Even the way Mario proudly proclaimed "Let's-a go!" on the menu felt new and exciting.  This game was a massive leap forward from what had been done before, in a way that probably won't ever happen again, and it wasn't afraid to show off a little!
As such, Double Dash has what is arguably the single greatest track line-up of the entire series thus far.  Every single course was memorable and well designed, with bright colorful graphics, interesting track layouts, and all sorts of unique gimmicks.  And I think most folks agree that the best of the best is Wario Colosseum.  So enormous that it only comprises of two laps instead of three, Wario Colosseum was and still is a spectacle to behold.  Featuring a roller coaster ride through a crazy metal obstacle course, Wario Colosseum was and still is one of the most frantic and unique tracks ever to be featured in a Mario Kart game.  I'm very disappointed it wasn't chosen to return in Mario Kart 8...

1.  Mario Kart 64 - Toad's Turnpike

If you read my list of my top 5 favorite Mario spin-off games, this should come as no surprise to you.  Despite being bettered in many ways by Double Dash and DS, Mario Kart 64 is still my favorite game in the series.  It is Mario Kart in its purest form.  Eight classic characters all driving the classic pipe frame kart.  Sixteen classic courses all accompanied by the best music in the series.  All the basic mechanics that still define the series to this day were largely introduced in Mario Kart 64.  The battle mode of Mario Kart 64 is the stuff of legends, with fans of the series still waiting for a new game that can recapture the magic of Mario Kart 64 multiplayer.  The whole game had a certain arcade-like quality to it that has never been replicated.  It's the quintessential Mario Kart experience.
In a game full of classic courses, Toad's Turnpike stands out the most.  Though essentially just a figure 8 shaped track, not unlike Figure 8 Circuit in Mario Kart DS, Toad's Turnpike was incredibly memorable because it took place on an actual working highway, complete with other traffic!  This is an idea that has since come back in most of the subsequent entries of the series, but it was absolutely insanity the first time it happened.  Dodging semi trucks and darting between cars was one of the most exciting moments in Mario Kart 64.  Coupled with the cool sunset atmosphere and great music, Toad's Turnpike is still one of the most iconic and enjoyable tracks in the Mario Kart series.

Well, folks, that's that!  All seven Mario Kart games ranked and my favorite courses from each described.  How will Mario Kart 8 stack up to the rest of the series when it comes out?  Early signs look promising that it'll do quite well!  Fortunately, we don't have to wait long to find out!

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