Monday, November 7, 2011

Matt's Top Ten Favorite Mario Kart Tracks

When it comes to video games, Mario Kart has to be the most prominent and important series in my life. Mario Kart 64 was the first Nintendo game I owned and was the whole reason I ever got into Nintendo as much as I did. It’s also the main reason I met everybody I’m great friends with today. If it wasn’t for my love for Mario Kart, I never would have joined my first internet message board, Mario Kart Central, and I never would have met the person who would lead me to meeting all the people I am currently associated with today. Mario Kart means more to me than any other video game ever could. Hell, my internet handle was Toadkarter for many years. Needless to say, I frickin’ love Mario Kart.

One of my favorite aspect of the Mario Kart series is it’s incredible track design. Nintendo has such a way with creating unique, fun and often times challenging levels and stages, so it makes sense that same creative genius would spill over into Mario Kart’s tracks. Whether avoiding boulders on Choco Choco Mountain or launching off of tree branches in Maple Treeway, the Mario Kart series simply can’t be beat when it comes to track design. So today, I’m counting down my top ten favorite Mario Kart tracks. It’s pretty difficult to narrow down over 90 tracks to just ten, but I’m going to attempt to do it the best I can.

Admittedly, this is still the best racing game with Pac-Man in it
Now before I begin, I just need to get this out of the way; there are no courses on the list from the SNES or Gameboy Advance entries of the series. The tracks in those games are mostly boring and just don’t stand out very much. It’s not really Nintendo’s fault, the game consoles they were working with just weren’t powerful enough to handle any truly wacky tracks that weren’t just…flat. Sure, Super Circuit has some cool ones like Cheese Land or Ribbon Road, but those are purely aesthetic. The tracks are still flat and boring. Likewise, there’s no tracks from either of the arcade entries on the list either. Partially because I’ve only played each of those games a few times, but also because the tracks in that game are pretty boring too. Racing through Diamond City from WarioWare is pretty cool, but look at the map in that screenshot there. It’s boring and uninspired. So no Arcade games this time around. Feel free to disagree, though. Anyway, let’s start the list.

 Number 10. Wario Stadium from Mario Kart 64

He's in first because he trolled the others off the cliff.

It seems like every time Wario gets his own race course in one of these games, it’s always awesome. Wario’s Gold Mine in Mario Kart Wii is fun, if not a little frustrating and Wario Colosseum in Double Dash is awesome. But my favorite Wario based track has to be Wario Stadium from Mario Kart 64. This track always felt so big to me as a kid. It just seems to last forever. Not as long as Rainbow Road, but pretty darn long. Which made it all that much important to win. You were always trying to keep the enemy off of you and just hoping the final lap would win before you can get by a blue shell. I also always loved placing bananas or using a lightning bolt as other drivers were going over the huge jump. They’d fall right down and be way behind the rest of the racers. I was kind of a jerk as a kid. Wario Stadium is one of the few tracks from Mario Kart 64 that has yet to come back as a retro course in any of the subsequent games and that’s a shame because I love this track. It’s simply one of the best.

Number 9. Rainbow Road from Mario Kart Wii

It is a road, it's called a Rainbow Road...
Since every single Mario Kart game has it’s own Rainbow Road, it seems like a must to include at least one on this list, so naturally I did. My personal favorite is the iteration from Mario Kart Wii. It’s just the most fun, in my opinion. I love the long stretch at the beginning with the boosters you can go through and the weird wavy part that you can pull a bunch of tricks out. I don’t exactly get why it’s wavy like that but it’s awesome! I also love the figure 8 in the middle of the course, where you can also perform tricks. The whole course is about pulling tricks and going fast and I love it. Just don’t fall off the side of the track.

Number 8. Airship Fortress from Mario Kart DS

Seems legit.
Let me level with you for a second, viewers, I love anytime a track in a Mario Kart game is actually based on something from a Mario game. Most of the time, they just make locations up but every once in a blue moon, they use a location that actually exists. Airship Fortress is one of those tracks. Based on the infamous airship stages from Super Mario Bros. 3, Airship Fortress has you dodging Bullet Bills, Rocky Wrenches, Fire Pillars, it’s fantastic. You race outside the airships on a crumbling castle and somehow work your way on to the beast. It’s all topped off with a blast out of a cannon back onto the castle. It’s a fantastically designed stage with a lot of respect for the source material put into it. I’m thrilled to see it return for Mario Kart 7, as it’s one of the best the series has to offer.

Number 7. Daisy Cruiser from Mario Kart: Double Dash!!

It also has an amazing lens flare.
Hey, have you ever wanted to race around the deck of a giant cruise ship? No? Well, too bad because that’s what you’ll be doing on Daisy Cruiser. I don’t exactly know why Daisy’s home track is a giant cruise ship to begin with but it is awesome. It’s one of the stand out tracks from Double Dash. Racing around pools on the deck, avoid swerving dinner tables in the dining hall, it’s a very well designed track with plenty of obstacles. I also love the little shortcut you can take if you go down under the dining hall and shoot out of a smoke stack. It’s great. This is another track returning for Mario Kart 7 and I couldn’t be more thrilled for it’s return. Daisy, you may annoy me every time you speak in Double Dash, but I forgive for having such a fun cruise line.

Number 6. Bowser's Castle from Mario Kart 64

Green Thwomp for Mario Kart 7!
Much like Rainbow Road, every Mario Kart has it’s own version of Bowser’s Castle. In fact, Super Mario Kart and Super Circuit have more than one! But the stand-out version, to me anyway, is the entry from Mario Kart 64. This track is so cool. From the second you enter the castle and avoid the giant Bowser statue that I don’t think can actually hurt you, to the second you leave by jumping over huge gaps and avoiding falling into the lava, Bowser Castle is a treat. The Thwomps always gave me trouble as a kid, I could never get their pattern down. As an adult, I can get through them no problem. But as a kid? Forget about it. I also always loved that bizarre green Thwomp that was imprisoned at the start of the track. Why was he imprisoned? Why is he green? I want to know his backstory. They changed the design of the Thwomps in the Mario Kart Wii version of this same track and made the green Thwomp regular colored. Needless to say, I was disappointed. Whether playing the N64 version or the remake of it on the Wii, Bowser Castle is sure to leave an impression on you. Just don’t let the Thwomps leave their impression first.

Number 5. Tick Tock Clock from Mario Kart DS

Thankfully, Ke$ha had nothing to do with this.
Here’s another track based on a stage that actually exists, only this one seems a lot more random to me. Tick Tock Clock from Super Mario 64 was a great stage and everything, but it’s hardly the first stage I think of when it comes to that game. But man am I glad somebody at Nintendo suggested this because Tick Tock Clock is one hell of a Mario Kart race course. The swinging pendulum at the start of the track is the perfect precursor to what’s in store for the rest of the race. Not just “This stage is going to be entirely clock based!” but also letting you know there’s going to be plenty of obstacles. There’s hands on clocks you have to avoid, giant gears that change the direction they spin every lap, it’s great. I love using the gears to my advantage. Play the track a few times and you’ll know which direction they’ll go, so you’ll get a boost of speed if you go with them instead of against them. I also love the two big, vertical gears at the end of the stage. The same rule applies, go with the gear and you get a boost of speed, sometimes you can even use this to pass up a last minute opponent as the AI never takes this small shortcut. It might not have been my first pick for a stage to become a course in Mario Kart but I’m glad it was one of Nintendo’s. I hope Tick Tock Clock gets another chance to shine in the inevitable Wii-U Mario Kart

Number 4. Yoshi Valley from Mario Kart 64

You can't tell me this doesn't look like fun.
I can hear you all moaning and disagreeing now. Yes, I’m aware this track isn’t very popular, as for me, I love it. It’s one of my all-time favorite tracks and my absolute favorite from Mario Kart 64. The whole gimmick of this track is that you don’t know where you’re at in accordance to the other racers. The positions are all blacked out and replaced with question marks. Why? Because this track has a bunch of different paths you can take. There’s no set path you have to follow, you can follow any number of them. Sure, anybody whose anybody knows the best path the take is the bridge that leads to the weird porcupine things, but playing this stage the first few times, you’re bound to try every path at least once. I don’t recommend taking the path immediately to the left though, it’s very narrow. I fall off a lot. But you’re likely better at video games than I am, so by all means, give it a try. The only downside to this track is that items aren’t as effective as they should be. Red Shells normally don’t know where to go and just run off cliffs and placing bananas or fake item boxes can be risky because who knows if your opponent is following your same path. Either way, this is the best track in the game and the best track Yoshi’s every attached his name to.

Number 3. Koopa Cape from Mario Kart Wii

This is probably really dangerous but I don't care!
When I first played Mario Kart Wii, the track designs didn’t really stand out to me. Sure, there were a few cool designs. Toad’s Factory, Coconut Mall, Mushroom Gorge… But then you get to the Star Cup and your mind is blown by one of the best courses in Mario Kart history. Of course, I’m talking about Koopa Cape. I feel like a lot of Nintendo’s creative energy was put into this one track when it comes to Mario Kart Wii. Everything about it feels unique to the series and is just a blast to play as. You start the track like normal, just on a paved surface. There’s some ramps you can go over, some Goombas to avoid. Standard stuff. But about halfway through, you get to a large body of water that takes you along with the current and suddenly you’re going at full speed down a rushing river. It’s so much fun! The sense of speed has never been better than on this one track. Then to top it all off, once you reach the end of the river, you fall down a massive pipe underwater. It’s see through so you can see all the Cheep Cheep and Unagi on the outside. It’s awesome. But don’t get too distract, there’s a current in the pipe too and if you’re not careful, you’ll drive right into these weird electrical spinning things that shrink you when touched. Koopa Cape is an amazing track and proof that Nintendo’s still got it when it comes to Mario Kart. I can’t wait to play it again in Mario Kart 7.

Number 2. Waluigi Pinball from Mario Kart DS

I thought I was the mighty table king...
Was there ever any doubt that this would be on the list. But what’s that? Not number one you say? Well, no, but it was close. Yes, Waluigi Pinball from Mario Kart Ds is certainly the fan favorite and for good reason, it’s beyond awesome.  Racing inside a giant pinball machine? Sign me up! You have to avoid flippers, bumpers and of course ,pinballs all while racing on an incredibly well designed course filled with twists and turns. It’s fantastic. I don’t exactly know what it has to do with Waluigi. I guess he’s a pinball wizard. Makes as much sense as him being able to create water and swim through it in Mario Power Tennis. Regardless, this track is amazing. The concept, the design, the traps, the music. It’s a stand out example of the genius that is Nintendo. It’s utterly baffling to think it wasn’t brought back in Mario Kart Wii, but frickin’ Yoshi Falls was. Good thing Nintendo is fixing their mistake in Mario Kart 7. But I know what you’re thinking; “If Waluigi Pinball isn’t number 1, then what is?” Well, let me tell you.

Number 1. Baby Park from Mario Kart: Double Dash!!

Maybe Mushrooms aren't the best example here...
Didn’t see this one coming, did you? Yes, my all-time favorite track happens to be the one with the most simple design. “But Matt, you hate tracks with simple designs. You just insulted Yoshi Falls in your last entry!” Well, true but let me explain. Yes, Baby Park is just an oval, a really small oval where each lap can be completed in roughly ten seconds. But what sets Baby Park apart from the other simple tracks is that because it’s so small, it’s incredibly hectic. Not to mention, they decided to make it seven laps. See, in Double Dash, each of the 8 karts could hold two characters, each of which could hold an item. So in theory, that’s 16 different items ready to be fired at any second. Throw in the fact that each character has their own insane special weapon and things are hectic in this game already. Now shrink the course to about as big as your house and you have one of the most insane levels in video game history. Shells are flying everywhere, Bowser’s Big shell is bouncing off walls and spinning over the median hitting racers nowhere near him, banana peels litter the course. It’s insane! But man, is it fun. This track is literally a free for all. It’s the great equalizer. Because of it’s small size and the fact that items are just flying everywhere, somebody who has yet to win a race can very well pull a win out here and the current reigning champ can end up in last. There’s no telling what will happen on this track and that’s what makes it so enjoyable. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as fun in it’s DS form. They reduced the number of laps to a mere five and because there was no longer two characters per kart, less items were flying everywhere. Not to mention special items were completely eliminated from the equation so there was certainly no Bowser Shells or Fireballs. The only way to play this track is in Double Dash. One of the most common complaints about Mario Kart Wii is that there’s too much stuff going on when it comes to items. I think that’s a fair complaint. But what Baby Park does right is limit the item madness to just one track. It’s a lot more fun when it’s in a confined environment and not plaguing the whole game. And that, to me, is why Baby Park is the absolute best track in Mario Kart’s history.

So there you have it folks, my ten favorite tracks from Mario Kart. I’m sure you disagree and that’s fine, everybody has their own opinion. In fact, I’d love to hear your opinions in the comments. But to me, these are the ten best. I love Mario Kart and I always will and I can only hope that all future entries have tracks even half as good as these ten.

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