Despite telling myself there was no point in buying it again, I recently caved and wound up getting Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Nintendo Switch. Between the new characters, improved Battle Mode and all the included DLC, it’s easily the definitive version of the game. If you missed out on MK 8 the first time around, you have no excuse to not grab a copy.
As I replayed it, I was reminded of how good a lot of the race courses were, which got me to wondering which ones I liked the best. So, just for shits and giggles, I’ve ranked each and every course from Mario Kart 8, from my least favourite to my most favourite, with brief explanations as to why.
First, some quick notes:
- I will be judging all 48 courses on multiple factors – overall design, difficulty, music and just general enjoyment
- This is purely focused on the race courses so there’ll be no mention of the Battle courses
- This is not a definitive ranking; only a personal one
Anyway, let’s rev up our engines and accelerate into the ranking proper.
48. Donut Plains 3 (SNES)
Easily the dullest course in the game. While by no means badly designed, there’s not really anything interesting about this one. It doesn’t even feature any anti-gravity sequences. Considering it’s from the very first game, it’d probably be hard to update it without completely overhauling its design. As is, though, it’s just kind of there. My brain always tends to switch off whenever I have to race here.
47. Cheese Land (GBA)
Despite the name, this is ultimately just another desert course. If it wasn’t for the name and the blocks of cheese in the background, you’d probably assume it was just another desert anyway. I’m not sure how you could really pull of a cheese-themed course anyway; it just seems a bit random and not as fleshed out as it could have been.
46. Bone Dry Dunes
From one boring desert to another. While the Special Cup is pretty great overall, in both courses and challenge, Bone Dry Dunes is the one dullard course. Again, it just boils down to it not being very interesting or even all that fun to race through. The only reason I put it above Cheese Land is because of the sunset covering the course in a harsh orange. Usually sunsets are meant to be beautiful but this one adds to the arid feel of the course, which is a nice departure from the norm.
45. Mario Circuit (GBA)
Possibly the most simple course in the game, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You need a course like this that’s short and easy to memorise so beginners can get to grips with the controls and the like. Unfortunately, it’s too simple for its own good. There are so many more courses in the game that are easy but also interesting. Though at least this one incorporates the anti-gravity mechanic, but that’s only by raising part of the course on an angle. Aside from that, this feels virtually unchanged from its GBA appearance.
44. Dry Dry Desert (GCN)
OK, this is the last desert course in the game so I can finally stop bitching. Dry Dry Desert was never one of my favourite courses in Double Dash and its reappearance here hasn’t changed my opinion at all. Even the added oasis area feels a bit pointless and doesn’t really add anything to it. It does serve its purpose as an intermediate course well, though; simple enough to get to grips with but having enough tight curves and obstacles to make it challenging.
43. Twisted Mansion
For a name like Twisted Mansion, part of me feels like the designers could’ve gone a bit further with how wacky this course could have been. While it does have moving floors, a random underwater section and possessed statues that try to hit you, it feels rather plain. Maybe they could have put in a few more surprises or utilised the Boos more? You don’t even really drive through the mansion that much. Music’s decent, though, from an atmospheric standpoint at least, but I think I prefer Mario Kart DS‘s Luigi’s Mansion course more.
42. Thwomp Ruins
As the last course in the Mushroom Cup, Thwomp Ruins does a good job at being a good challenge for new players. Between the multiple Thwomps, giant millstones and plenty of instances where a poorly timed drift will send you over the edge, there’s enough here to keep the player focused. In the end, though, this is very much one of those middling courses – not bad but not amazing. It’s the kind of course I have no issues racing on, but I’m not gonna go out of my way to pick myself if there are better options.
41. Sherbet Land (GCN)
I didn’t really think much of this course when I played Double Dash, and while it’s mostly the same here, the little changes they made make it a tad more memorable. Now you have alternative routes by being able to drive underwater (which I prefer to do rather than skid through that ice field area) and the nighttime setting adds an extra layer of charm. It almost feels cosy, even though realistically it’d be God damn freezing. How have Mario and friends not contracted hypothermia, like, twenty times yet?
40. Dolphin Shoals
The Star Cup is easily my favourite Cup in the whole game (so you can probably guess where the rest of the courses will end up in the ranking), but Dolphin Shoals is the one weak link. By no means a bad course per se, it’s just that the others are so much better. It’s at least unique in being mostly set underwater, bouncing off the eel for tricks is a blast and the fact that the music changes when you exit and enter the water is a lovely touch. Not to mention it’s visually pleasing. At the end of the day, though, there’re a lot of other courses I’d much rather play.
39. Koopa City (3DS)
Or Neo Bowser City if you live in America (which is admittedly a much cooler name). Having a Bowser-themed course not set in a castle is a nice change of pace, and it’s still just as challenging. The tight corners and many opportunities to fall off the edge are complemented by the unending rainfall and bleak skyline, creating a heavy atmosphere that somehow helps accentuate the challenge. You can tell just by looking at it that this is a tricky course. It’s difficulty is more traditional if that makes sense, as opposed to the slightly wackier Bowser Castle courses, which I honestly kind of prefer.
38. Moo Moo Meadows (Wii)
I’m honestly kind of surprised Moo Moo Meadows isn’t lower in the ranking considering how basic it is, but I’ve found myself growing weirdly fond of this course over my time spent on the game. I think it’s just because of the improved graphics. It feels more lush and, as a result, relaxing (at least on easier difficulties). The added sunset helps with that too. Not much else I can really say; it’s just nice.
37. Piranha Plant Pipeway (3DS)
Or Piranha Plant Slide if you’re in America (I personally prefer the alliteration). While not my first choice for a course from Mario Kart 7, I do like how this one’s just a big throwback to the original Super Mario Bros. You start off by going into a pipe that leads underground, resembling the underground areas from SMB (the music even sounding almost 8-bit at points and incorporating SMB‘s Underground theme). You can use the running water to push yourself forward, as well as chase after Item Boxes that are also being carried by the water. And when you loop back to the start, you see that it looks just like the backgrounds from, again, SMB. It almost feels like one of those water-themed roller-coasters you get at some amusement parks, except here I don’t have to worry about getting wet in real life.
36. Ribbon Road (GBA)
While I admittedly didn’t play a lot of Super Circuit, I was almost immediately put off by the controls and simplistic look of the game. None of the courses stood out to me visually, which is why I think the GBA courses have benefited greatly from an HD re-imagining, especially Ribbon Road. Not only is it super colourful but I love the idea of racing around a kid’s bedroom, surrounded by play-sets, toys and even go-karts. It’s got a Toy Story vibe going on and I just really appreciate how detailed the area outside of the track is. Seriously, go look up how many Easter eggs are in this one.
35. Wario’s Gold Mine (Wii)
I’ve heard some people absolutely despise this course and, while I don’t blame them, I actually find it to be decently challenging, with its slopes, tight turns and asshole mine-carts getting in the way. Honestly, I find this version of the course easier than its original Wii appearance since the mine-carts are placed on an anti-gravity segment, meaning bumping into them gives you a boost of speed. Visually, it’s pretty uninteresting though and once the Blue Shells and Lightning Bolts come out, things get very frustrating very quickly.
34. DK Jungle (3DS)
Not the best DK-themed course in the series, but it’s decent for at least capturing the feel of a Donkey Kong game from an aesthetic point of view. It honestly gets this far up the ranking on music alone. The references to Donkey Kong Country Returns are nice too but it’s not particularly exhilarating or challenging, except for that final stretch. Plus, it’s more-or-less the same course it was in Mario Kart 7. Don’t fix what’s not broken but maybe they could’ve picked a more interesting course from that game.
33. Cheep Cheep Beach (DS)
It seems to have slowly been forgotten over the years but Mario Kart DS was undoubtedly one of the best entries in the series. I played that game so much that a quick look at its course list immediately brought back memories of every one of those race tracks. And while Cheep Cheep Beach isn’t one of the stand-out ones, it was still nice to see one of that game’s simpler courses serve its purpose once more in lovely HD. The fact that you can now drive underwater makes it even easier to traverse. Probably one of the better beach-themed courses in the series.
32. Melody Motorway (3DS)
Or Music Park if you’re in America – another example of the European name being better (though, hilariously, the banners in the course still say Music Park regardless of which version you play). This was probably one of my favourite courses from Mario Kart 7 just from the idea alone – a track completely themed around musical instruments. Drifting on piano keys and xylophones (complete with the instruments actually adding extra beats to the music as you do so) and bouncing off of drums really appeals to me, but I can’t help but feel they didn’t go far enough in terms of design. Visually, it’s a treat, with giant trumpets and speakers surrounding the track but I don’t think they incorporate enough of the instruments into the track itself. I’d probably place it higher in the ranking otherwise.
31. Mario Circuit
Every entry in the series has had a Mario Circuit, and they always serve the same purpose of being relatively simple courses that anyone of any skill can enjoy, with maybe one or two somewhat tricky moments to make sure players are concentrating. They’re very vanilla, is what I mean. But this iteration of it has one thing over its predecessors that helps it stand out, and it’s just its layout. The decision to have the track take the form of a Mobius strip is pretty clever, as it not only demonstrates the anti-gravity mechanic and takes it to its most logical extreme (driving upside-down) but it also means the course looks like the number 8, which is just a nice touch. I almost wonder if someone came up with this course idea first and that led to the anti-gravity idea.
30. Tick-Tock Clock (DS)
I really enjoyed this course from MK DS so I was quite pleased to see it return with even more detail. While the original level from Super Mario 64 that this was based on could be a bitch to navigate, this course, while tricky, is a blast to race through. I especially love how you can now bounce off of clock hands to perform tricks, the added gliding section towards the end and using those gears right before the finish line to give myself some extra speed. It’s just a very pleasing aesthetic, for me at least.
29. Dragon Driftway
Out of all of the new DLC courses that were made for the game, Dragon Driftway is probably the weakest. It’s not a bad course; I just remember not being especially surprised or excited when I first saw it. I like the fact that it’s based off of the Gobblegut boss from Super Mario Galaxy 2 and married with a suitable Chinese-theme, complete with matching music and some nice use of the anti-gravity mechanic. It’s probably one of the more difficult DLC tracks. It’s just that it did nothing that really jumped out at me.
28. Wild Woods
This course I actually thought would be a bit higher, but I surprised myself with how many other tracks I admittedly prefer. Still, Wild Woods is a tonne of fun for me. I think it’s really cool how you start the race vertically on a tree trunk, before moving onto a treetop village populated with Shy Guys and a rapid stream that leads to a pond with boost pads on giant leaves. We’ve seen plenty of jungle-based courses but I can’t recall one that was placed somewhere this dense. I think that helps it be a bit more unique. It’s not overly special and some may argue that Dragon Driftway is better, but it holds a weird, special place in my heart.
27. Toad’s Turnpike (N64)
I remember hating this course in Mario Kart 64 because of all the vehicles you could crash into, sending you spiraling into the sky and costing you your lead (I also had no idea what a turnpike was until I looked it up for this article). Here, though, while it’s still jam-packed with obstacles and the layout hasn’t been changed, it feels like a completely different course. The improved controls and drifting mean I actually enjoy weaving in between all the vehicles and I always get a kick out of using the ramps to drive along the roofs of lorries or getting that tricky shortcut where you can glide over the bridge. It even has areas where you can ignore the traffic entirely if you just don’t want to deal with it. And the advertisements on all the lorries and the like are just a nice detail.
26. Rainbow Road (SNES)
I have no nostalgia for the very first Mario Kart game and, every time one of its courses comes back in a newer Mario Kart, I’m usually pretty apathetic towards their inclusion since they’re not visually interesting and feel too “blocky” in their layout, if that makes any sense. This iteration of its Rainbow Road, though, is an exception. Rainbow Road is always a nightmare for newbies and veterans alike, and this one even more so because of its complete lack of guard rails. Between that, the sharp turns and the numerous Thwomps, it’s arguably the hardest course in the game, and I kind of like it because of that. I also like how they added some scenery in the background this time, with a full moon, a cloud sky and colour-changing hills that add a bizarre nightclub feel to it all (though that might just be me).
25. Ice Ice Outpost
I don’t know why but I feel like I like Ice Ice Outpost more than most people do. Again, there’s nothing particularly super special about it; in many respects it’s a pretty standard ice-themed course. But the simple decision to have the track split into two seperate, intertwining paths really appeals to me for some reason. With some pretty hard-to-spot shortcuts to boot and that neat anti-gravity section near the end, Ice Ice Outpost may not be everyone’s favourite but I’ll always appreciate it, even if it doesn’t manage to break into the top half of the ranking.
24. Yoshi Valley (N64)
I remember absolutely loving Yoshi Valley as a kid. It was an absolute maze of a course, with multiple routes to take, and you didn’t even know what position you were in until the race was over. As an adult, though, I think the novelty and mystery of it has worn off, especially in MK 8. The mystery of what position you were in as been removed (you now know exactly where everyone is) and it’s pretty obvious now which routes will get you ahead of everyone else (there is no reason to take that one path towards the barrel cannon). While those aspects have knocked it down a few pegs, I still have enough nostalgia for it to place it just above the half-way mark.
23. Wario Stadium (DS)
Another of my favourites from the DS game. For some reason, I’ve always enjoyed the stadium courses; the kind you’d see for dirt biking and the like. And associating those courses with Wario (and, at one point, Waluigi) weirdly makes sense. Between the huge jumps, bumpy roads and twisty turns, you can build up a surprising amount of speed on this one. It more than makes up for the lack of any really outlandish set-pieces.
22. Bowser’s Castle
Bowser’s Castle is a recurring course throughout the series that everyone always seems to look forward to seeing. Usually serving as the prelude to Rainbow Road, they’re always challenging and this iteration is no exception, thanks to the boulders, fire, lasers and a giant Bowser statue that punches certain parts of the track. I don’t think it’s the hardest version of the course, but it’s hard not to love driving around the residence of Mario’s arch-enemy and see him show off his personal aesthetic.
21. Rainbow Road
I’ve heard some people aren’t all that fond of MK 8‘s take on Rainbow Road, and while by no means my favourite version, I do like how different it is compared to its predecessors. Rather than just be some random road in the sky, this time it’s an actual, man-made space station. It takes on a more futuristic feel as a result which helps it stand out against the other iterations that, admittedly, kind of blend together after a while. And the shot of the planet underneath is beautiful. That being said, it’s colour palette has a bit too much grey for its own good and, while still a challenge regardless of skill level, it’s too simple and not as off-the-rails crazy as previous Rainbow Roads.
20. Yoshi Circuit (GCN)
Easily one of my favourite courses from Double Dash, so you bet I was happy to see it be announced as one of the first DLC tracks. I’ve always loved courses that actually resemble specific shapes. No idea why; it’s just one of those gimmicks that really appeals to me. The extra HD detail has only helped this course, visually, with the inside of the course composed of greenery to match Yoshi’s colour, a set of buildings taking the shape of his boots and his saddle turned into a shading area for an audience. I’ve heard some people say they dislike the course because it’s shaped like Yoshi and, as such, they don’t think it functions well but I have to disagree. I personally would love to see more courses done in this style, if only to see how weird they’d look.
19. Grumble Volcano (Wii)
Grumble Volcano was a decent enough course in Mario Kart Wii but, for some reason, I find myself really liking this version, even though very little was changed. I don’t know, for some reason, the atmosphere is much heavier; you get a real sense of danger as you drive through an active volcano, avoiding debris and lava at every turn. I also love how parts of the course break away with every lap you take, meaning you have to focus even harder unless you want to drive off a sudden cliff edge and lose your lead. More than worthy being in the Lightning Cup; the retro equivalent of the Special Cup.
18. Water Park
While maybe a bit too bland for some people, I personally love Water Park because, well, it looks like the kind of place I’d visit in real life. As a kid, I loved going to water parks on holiday, with all the twisty slides and water-based roller-coasters, so of course I’d enjoy racing around one. Though while I do enjoy it in its simplicity, I do kind of wish it got a bit crazier. I feel like the course is restricted to only a small portion of the park itself; maybe we could’ve explored more of it? At the very least, I like to think of it as a small tease for that Nintendo theme park they’re making.
17. Mario Kart Stadium
The first course of the Mushroom Cup is usually always the easiest and the simplest to navigate. It’s a starting point for any newcomers to the series. As a result, they’re ultimately looked over when compared to later courses because, well, there’s nothing about them that particularly stands out. That’s why I was so surprised to find myself really loving Mario Kart Stadium. Aside from being a great introductory course, acting as an example for how both the anti-gravity and gliding mechanics work, I just love the overall design of the stadium. The large audience, fireworks, music and that big Mario statue almost make it feel like a grand opening to an event, as if to say “Yeah, Mario Kart is back and better than ever.”
16. Royal Raceway (N64)
Royal Raceway is arguably one of the most iconic courses from Mario Kart 64. It always felt glamorous racing along it as a kid, so it’s cool to have that feeling captured again without needing nostalgia goggles on. If anything, it feels even more glamorous thanks to the now highly detailed audience, that big lake with swan boats on them that you glide over, the use of pink, and Peach’s castle in the background. It’s a shame you can’t drive into its courtyard anymore (where Mario Kart 64 also held its victory sequences for winning cups); I always loved that detail, even if it wasn’t necessary and honestly detrimental if you wanted to win.
15. Toad Harbour
As great as it is to drive around strange and wacky locations like volcanoes, icy tundras and space, I always get a kick out of driving through residential areas or locations that are somewhat based in reality, like this one. A quaint town by the seaside heavily based on an American city (complete with a Peach Statue of Liberty in the background), this one is just oddly pleasant to race through. You’ve got that little market area that you can either drive through or go above by riding on the canopy of the stalls, the multiple cable cars that you have to weave past and that awesome downhill slope you shoot down, with a couple of ramps dotted about to give you some air time.
14. Sweet Sweet Canyon
Why, hello there Sugar Rush from Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph. Fancy seeing you here! Obvious comparisons aside, I feel like Sweet Sweet Canyon has enough slight differences to keep it from being a complete 1:1 copy and an enjoyable course in its own right. Whereas Sugar Rush’s visuals lent to a more hyperactive feel, Sweet Sweet Canyon, funnily enough, feels more calming and relaxing. Maybe it’s the soft sunset and pink sky that helps. I also just love how it looks, with the tunnel made of cookies, the cake mountain, the soda lake and the wafer windmills. I almost wish Ralph cameoed in this game instead of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed.
13. Baby Park (GCN)
Baby Park was pretty much guaranteed to get pretty high in the rankings. I’ve not met a single person that doesn’t enjoy this track. When it first appeared in Double Dash, it became an instant hit because of its short length (it’s so short, you have to do seven laps instead of the usual three), meaning racers were always clumped together and the tide could turn in an instant. And while that middle section has a guard rail now, preventing items from flinging over it, it’s appearance here is possibly even more chaotic thanks to the increased number of racers (going from eight to twelve), the item boxes constantly moving and having the whole track be set in anti-gravity, meaning bumping into other racers gives you a boost. I actually lose track of my position whenever I’m racing here and become paranoid of anyone I see in front of me. It’s just a classic.
12. Super Bell Subway
Much like Toad Harbour, I love this course mostly for its setting. As mundane as it might sound to some people, I just really enjoy being able to race on a subway. Not to mention I love the multiple routes you can take in the underground section. It’s risky, but drifting right alongside one of those subway trains gets my heart racing. Plus, like Dolphin Shoals, the music changes when you go in and out of the underground part. I love details like that.
11. Animal Crossing
I’m not a fan of the Animal Crossing series myself, but even I can’t help but be in love with this course. There’s so much effort put into it to make it as faithful to the series, complete with a tonne of character cameos and other neat references that probably leave die-hard fans squealing. I also like how you don’t spend it entirely in the town; you even go into a short beach area. I almost wish the course was longer, so you could really see every facet that goes into making an Animal Crossing town. Oh, and the season will randomly change each time you play it; complete with different music to go with it. I adore details like that.
10. Excitebike Arena
Again, another awesome callback to a series I’m unfamiliar with. But you don’t need to know Excitebike to fully enjoy this one. While it’s layout is just a long oval similar to Baby Park, what makes this course great is that all the ramps, jumps and mudslides change places every time you play it. Apparently, there’re over 200 different patterns for it, meaning you get a slightly different experience each time. You can’t plan for it and I love that (albeit, very little) level of unpredictability. It’s one of the few courses that mostly relies on skill to win… unless you keep items on and get smacked by a bloody Green Shell at the last minute.
9. Mute City
Poor F-Zero. With Mario Kart taking its gimmick, the odds of it getting a new title sometime soon are very low. On the plus side, both of the cameo courses are damn cool. This one has visual flair, tonnes of opportunities to go fast (and to fall off) and the addition of driving over F-Zero‘s recharge paths to get coins is a fine touch. A lot of love went into making this feel like F-Zero. If only they’d put that effort into a new game too.
8. Shy Guy Falls
One of the tracks that I fell in love with the instant I first played it. The sheer awesomeness of driving up and then down a waterfall is enough to place it pretty high in the ranking, but its tough but satisfying shortcuts, sweet music and a nice difficulty balance make it, in my opinion, one of the best tracks in the game and a fine end to the Flower Cup.
7. Hyrule Circuit
I don’t know how anybody could dislike this track, especially if you’re a Legend of Zelda fan. The music is a kick-ass remix of the main theme of the series, it’s jam-packed with cool references which are super easy to miss, and there’s that cool Master Sword shortcut that you can only get if you solve a puzzle first. Granted, it’s not hard to get but what a cool detail regardless. I kind of want to see more courses based off the series now. Imagine racing through the likes of Death Mountain or Gerudo Desert or even Ganon’s Castle? Hell, just make a Zelda Kart and I’ll be happy.
6. Big Blue
I don’t know if we really needed a second F-Zero course but, boy, am I glad we got it anyway. Big Blue is one of three courses in the whole game that are just one big track divided into three sections instead of laps. I love this idea because it creates this sense of the course being longer than it actually is and it means that rather than repeat the same scenario three times, you get to experience something new with every lap. There’s also just something satisfying about racing towards a goal instead of looping three times to win. It even manages to look distinct to Mute City despite the visual similarities. What more can I say without rambling; it’s the superior F-Zero track and I wish more courses were like it.
5. Rainbow Road (N64)
I understand why some people were put off by this super-long version of Rainbow Road being turned into just one, long course but I’m personally OK with that. I played a lot of Mario Kart 64 back in the day and Rainbow Road was always such a drag because it went on for so damn long. Here, it manages to both be a lengthy challenge and not tiring. Not to mention the additional visual flair makes it stunningly beautiful to look at, and even its detractors have to admit the music is fantastic. With all the bright colours, fireworks, and the now dubbed hype train flying past certain parts of the track, this feels more like a grand finale than MK 8‘s own Rainbow Road.
4. Mount Wario
The last of the “sectioned” courses, the concept alone was enough to make me fall in love with this one. A downhill race to the finish, starting off inside a giant plane before being dropped onto the peak of a mountain and having to make your way through icy slopes, water-filled caves, a dam, a thick forest and a slalom course, with each section even having its own music. It’s a blast from start to finish and a part of me wants these kinds of courses to become the norm for a future game.
3. Sunshine Airport
One of the joys of videogames (for me, at least) is being able to do crazy shit in places I recognise from reality. That’s the main reason why I love courses like Toad Harbour, Super Bell Subway and this one. I’m not sure why this one got put so high up compared to the others though. Maybe it’s just because of the insanity of racing through a busy airport, surrounded by planes. And much like Super Bell Subway, you can even see references to other courses. It’s these extra details that make the place feel like a real airport, which only adds to the hilarity of holding a go-kart race there. I just wish you could hear the intercom better, if only to enjoy the references more.
2. Cloudtop Cruise
I wrote a VG Music Pick about this course’s music already, and that alone guarantees its spot as my second favourite track in the whole game. Racing through the sky on top of clouds, a flying ship and through a tunnel filled with lightning is epic enough but combine that with amazing music (which also utilises elements of Super Mario Galaxy‘s Gusty Garden Galaxy – another awesome music piece) and you have one hell of an awesome course. When given the opportunity, this course takes priority above all else, just so I can hear those sweet tunes again. Well, unless a certain other course is available.
As I was writing up this ranking, debating over which courses I liked more, I already knew that Electrodrome was going to sit at the very top with a metaphorical gold medal draped around its equally metaphorical neck. Not only does it easily have the best music track in the game but is also what I believe to be the most unique setting for a course. I mean, it’s a frigging nightclub in a Mario game. Has anybody ever imagined this would ever happen? The pure surreality of a modern-day nightclub in the Mushroom Kingdom, with Koopas and Shy Guys bopping along to pseudo-dubstep was enough to make it number one. I never get tired of racing along this track and my love for it only makes me more determined to take first place.