The first game in the Mario Kart series was released on the Super Nintendo in 1992. It helped to bring the racing genre out of the real world and into an entertaining realm of fantasy and chaos. Mario and his friends & enemies were racing on tracks from the Mushroom Kingdom, while using items and weapons that are picked up on the course. This single-handedly led to the creation of the kart racing genre and spawned one of Nintendo's best-selling series of all time. The Mario Kart series has become a critical darling and has sold over a hundred million copies worldwide. Mario Kart has also branched into other Nintendo series, which has allowed characters and levels from The Legend of Zelda, F-Zero, and Animal Crossing to get in on the fun.
We are here today to rank the best tracks in Mario Kart history. From the course that started it all to the park that proves that simplicity is sometimes the best option.
Here are the 15 Best Mario Kart Tracks!
15 Mario Circuit 1
The Mario Kart series opened with a track called Mario Circuit 1. This course set the standard for everything going forward and for this reason it has earned a place on the list.
Mario Circuit 1 acted as a tutorial level that taught players what to expect from the game. This track gives the player straight runs to test the items out on, as well as sharp turns for its corners. It shouldn't take players long to realize that using the mushroom item allows them to skip parts of the track, as the speed boost can overcome the slowdown of the dirt outside of the course. The familiar green pipes from the Super Mario. games also appear as the first obstacles on the track, which should warn the player to watch out for things other than the other racers.
The first ever Mario Kart track would later reappear in Mario Kart: Super Circuit and Mario Kart DS.
14 Daisy Cruiser
Princess Daisy joined the Mario Kart series in Double Dash, where she formed a team with Princess Peach. Daisy has a bad rap, due to her incredibly annoying voice and the fact that people love Peach and Rosalina way more. The only good thing about Princess Daisy is her signature stage - the Daisy Cruiser.
Daisy Cruiser is a level set on a luxury cruise liner. It originated in Double Dash and went on to receive an updated version in Mario Kart 7. The Double Dash version of the stage is considered to be more difficult, as you have less paths through the stage and there are more tables in the dining room to avoid. Mario Kart 7's version of the stage added an underwater section, which allows you to continue the stage if you fall through a pit. The Mario Kart 7 version of Daisy Cruiser is what allowed it to shine, as it opened various routes through the level. Being able to travel through the water takes away everything that slowed down the stage in Double Dash and removes the major obstacles that held the course back from greatness. The exception to this are the moving tables, which requires all of the players to react on the fly in order to proceed without crashing.
13 Yoshi Valley
Yoshi and his brethren are known for living on an island. They made a whole series of games about his island homeland. At no point does Yoshi ever live in a valley. Nintendo clearly doesn't care about continuity, however, so Yoshi has a valley now.
The vast majority of the tracks in the Mario Kart series run on a single route, with a few shortcuts placed throughout for canny players to take advantage of. Yoshi Valley opens up from the start and gives the player a choice of route to take. This gives the player a few options, as they can risk following the herd or go their own way. Going with the group offers a chance to take out some of the opposition, though this opens you up to retaliation.
Yoshi Valley's unique layout is what makes it stand out among all of the Mario Kart tracks. An updated version of the course appeared in Mario Kart 8 for the Wii U and Deluxe for the Switch. These added a cannon & glider section to one of the routes in the stage.
12 Waluigi Pinball
This is Waluigi's stage. It deserves a place on this list for that reason alone. Waluigi had another stage in Double Dash, but it was just a boring dirtbike track.
Waluigi Pinball debuted in Mario Kart DS. It is a stage that takes place within a giant pinball machine. A graphically superior version of the stage appeared in Mario Kart 7.
As you can tell from the name, Waluigi's Pinball involves the player being fired into a giant pinball machine, which they need to escape from. The racers have to avoid all of the hazards you might expect from a pinball machine, which includes things like giant bumpers that will bounce the kart backward. A giant pinball moves around a portion of the stage, which can crush the player if they get too close. Even though Waluigi Pinball only appeared on handheld consoles, it is still one of the most visually impressive stages in the series.
11 Hyrule Circuit
One way in which the Mario Kart series could branch out is by becoming Smash Kart. Instead of focusing on Mario characters, the series could incorporate characters, items, and stages from all of Nintendo's major franchises. Imagine a Mario Kart game that featured the likes of Pikachu, Samus, and Kirby, as they raced around Magicant from EarthBound or the Lylat System from Star Fox. It would sell a ton of copies.
Mario Kart 8 finally branched the series out in its DLC packs. One of the stages you can buy is the Hyrule Circuit, which is based on the city of the same name from The Legend of Zelda. All of the coins in the stage are replaced with green rupees, as the players race through a Zelda fanservice-filled track. This stage earns a place on this list for no other reason than its historical significance. The track is still a lot of fun, but the reason people bought it was to make the dream of a Nintendo-wide Mario Kart come a little closer to reality.
10 Mute City
Nintendo has no interest in making any more F-Zero games. Shigeru Miyamoto said as much when he was told that the series won a Twitter poll for the property that fans wanted to see revived. According to Miyamoto, they have run out of fresh ideas for new F-Zero games. There hasn't been a new F-Zero game since 2004.
F-Zero lives in on Mario Kart, as Big Blue and Mute City appeared as DLC tracks in Mario Kart 8. These stages brought in the familiar elements from the F-Zero universe, as well as remixes of some of the classic tunes from this series.
Mute City is even more of a nostalgia trip for Nintendo fans, as F-Zero has so little representation outside of Smash Bros. We will likely see more of Hyrule Castle in the future, no matter how many times Calamity Ganon nukes it. Mute City might have been the last chance for fans to have enjoyed one of Nintendo's greatest racing franchises.
9 Sky Garden
The Sky Garden is a race course that takes place on the clouds in the sky. It is likely based on Mario's ability to climb a vine and enter a cloud level in the Super Mario. games.
What makes the Sky Garden so interesting is its high risk/reward factor. The Sky Garden is filled with potential shortcuts, that require perfect timing in order to pull off. If you screw up the shortcut, then you are going to fall off the side of the stage. Knowledge of these shortcuts doesn't necessarily provide an advantage to experienced players, as some of them require a mushroom in order to pull off. If you don't get a mushroom, then attempting a shortcut will end up with the player falling off the course.
An updated version of the Sky Garden appeared in Mario Kart DS, which added a new shortcut to the stage. Cloudtop Cruise in Mario Kart 8 is considered by many fans to be a successor to this stage.
8 Rainbow Road (SNES)
Players who were lucky enough to experience the original Rainbow Road in Super Mario Kart were in for a treat. They all gasped at the range of bright colors on the stage, which were mind blowing at the time of the game's release. These gasps soon turned into angry grunts of rage, as they realized that the track had no interior or exterior barriers. If you are going to play on the Rainbow Road, then you need to be on point. You have to master taking corners, otherwise, your kart will fall into the abyss of space.
The Rainbow Road of Mario Kart was the ultimate test of the player's skill. It has remained the purest karting experience of the series, as it doesn't allow you to wimp out. If you want to prove that you can complete Super Mario Kart on 150cc, then you need to perform a difficult race without screwups. Falling off the Rainbow Road even once during a 150cc tournament is tantamount to failure and you may as well just hit the reset button straight away.
7 Airship Fortress
Super Mario Bros. 3 introduced the Airship Fortress to the series. These were flying ships that were captained by the Koopa Kids. They acted as the final levels for seven of the eight worlds in the game. Each Fortress was filled with cannons that would fill the air with projectiles for Mario to dodge. This design element was brought into the Airship Fortress of Mario Kart DS, as the stage is based around needing to dodge enemy fire.
Airship Fortress is filled with Bullet Bills. moving pillars of flame, and those mole jerks from Super Mario Bros. 3 who keep popping out of the ground. This stage is all about reflexes, as you not only have to dodge the items of the other players, but also the projectiles that are constantly being thrown at you. You also become a projectile yourself, when you are fired out of the big cannon into a ruined tower at the halfway point of the stage.
6 Coconut Mall
The Nintendo Wii created the concept of Mii characters. These were customizable avatars that could be used within Nintendo games. Over time, the Mii characters became playable in Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros, and in the Mario & Sonic sports series.
One of the new courses introduced in Mario Kart Wii is the Coconut Mall. This is a shopping center that is set on Delfino Island (from Super Mario Sunshine) and features a range of stores and attractions. One of the main obstacles of the course involves escalators that switch direction at regular intervals and conveyor belts full of parcels. At the end of each lap, you need to dodge cars that take up the road. This is one of the best looking tracks in the series, with a vibrant and exciting background. It also keeps you on your toes with its obstacles.
If you have Mii characters saved on your Wii (or 3DS, if you are playing Mario Kart 7), then they will appear as the drivers of the cars that appear as obstacles on the track. They can also appear in the background of the stage.
5 DK Mountain
Mario Kart 8 introduced the concept of anti-gravity wheels to the series. This meant that the stages could now move in three dimensions, as the kart's wheels would flip sideways and allow the racer to travel up walls. In order to accommodate this, most of the retro stages needed to be redesigned. The one notable absentee stage from Mario Kart 8 was DK Mountain from Double Dash, as it involves the racers being fired out of a giant cannon and plummeting down a mountain. Having anti-gravity wheels would probably diminish the effect of the stage.
DK Mountain involves the racer driving into a cannon and being fired at a grimacing volcano. The stage then turns into a descent, as the players have to drive down the mountain in order to proceed. This pits them against boulders and chasms, as they fight a crumbling peak to the finish line. You have to compete with the other racers in a desperate rush to a steady ground, whilst simultaneously bashing each other with shells.
4 Moonview Highway
One of the games that were shown off during the initial Nintendo Switch premiere was called Mario Odyssey. This seems to be an open world Mario game, where he travels to a planet full of realistically proportioned people. Fans have pointed out that the game looks like a mixture between the terrible Sonic 06 and the Halloween episode of The Simpsons where Homer ends up in the real world.
The Mario Kart series has offered us an explanation for where these realistic people come from, as the Moonview Highway level is filled with cars and trucks that are much bigger than the cast from the Mushroom Kingdom. Moonview Highway gives the players a chance to race on a busy road in the middle of the night. They have to dodge traffic in both lanes, in order to avoid getting squashed. This can be used to a player's advantage, as you can push enemy karts into the path of the other vehicles.
Moonview Highway was brought back for Mario Kart 8, where it was improved with the addition of anti-gravity ramps that allow you to drive up walls.
3 Maple Treeway
Mario Kart Wii is one of the most important games in the series. It was the second best-selling game on the Wii, which is beaten only by Wii Sports (which is considered to be a pack-in game), and it is the highest selling racing game of all time. Mario Kart Wii is the best-selling game in the series and for good reason. This was the game that debuted such amazing tracks as the Moonview Highway and the Maple Treeway.
Maple Treeway takes place on the branches of the trees within a giant forest. Most of the course takes place on slender branches, which requires sharp cornering skills to make it across without falling off to your doom. The track is also guarded by two giant Wigglers, who are the big yellow caterpillars from Super Mario World. They act as slow moving obstacles in the beginning of the race, before becoming enraged during the final lap. Maple Treeway requires skillful navigation of a beautiful level, whilst avoiding some cute giant insects.
2 Rainbow Road (3DS)
There have been eight different Rainbow Road tracks throughout the Mario Kart series. Some of them are awesome, like the original one from Super Mario Kart. There have also been bad Rainbow Roads, like the boring slog that awaited you at the end of Mario Kart 64.
Mario Kart 7 holds the best Rainbow Road in the series. It only involves a single run around a track, with the laps acting as checkpoints throughout the level. The other Rainbow Roads are usually within space, whilst the 3DS one takes place around several planets, moons, and asteroids. This means that you can race across the rings of Saturn and on the rocky surface of a moon. You also have to avoid asteroids as you glide through the course.
The 3DS iteration of the Rainbow Road has the most variety of obstacles and pitfalls on a track of its kind. It is the best-looking track in the series and is one of the most challenging and enjoyable to race on.
1 Baby Park
The Baby Park is the signature stage of Baby Mario & Baby Luigi in Double Dash. It has appeared in several other Mario Kart games since, where it has remained one of the most played stages in the series.
What makes the Baby Park work so well is the simplicity of its layout. You have seven laps in which to finish a very small course, which has a basic oval shape for its track. This means that all of the racers are within a close proximity of each other at all times. If someone gains a significant lead in laps, then they are still susceptible to attacks from the person in last place. No one is safe on the Baby Park and any lead you might gain can be stripped away in seconds by a barrage of items.
The Baby Park also has no barrier around the center of the stage. This means that items can be tossed over from the other side of the track in order to create traps for people who are further in the lead. It also means that green shells (and Bowser shells in Double Dash) have become even more of an issue, due to the fact that they now bounce between both sides of the tracks.
Baby Park manages to encapsulate what makes Mario Kart fun in only a tiny arena. Nintendo did this by throwing the players into a cage with each other and forcing them to fight it out for victory.