Mario Kart 8 has been out for almost a week. I’ve been playing it pretty extensively, but I still have yet to unlock all the characters and kart parts. I have however, completed all the cups. So I thought it fitting to give my initial impressions on the tracks. Mario Kart 8 boasts 32 tracks, without a single dud in the mix. So picking a rough top third was a pretty difficult task, but I think I’ve got a reasonable list. Of course, this list could change down the line as the game becomes increasingly familiar, but without any further ado, here’s my current list of the top Mario Kart 8 tracks!
1. Moo Moo Meadows
Returning from the Wii incarnation, Moo Moo Meadows is much improved by the Wii U’s processing power. Everything about this stage is beautiful. The rising sun, the grass, and especially the music. What makes this stage stand out though is the function it can serve as a learning tool. It has no drop-offs on its sides, meaning you won’t be seeing Lakitu at any point (unless he’s in the race of course). This makes it the perfect place to learn how to master drifting. The sharp turns of the course essentially require you to do so if you’re going to come out on top, and the worst that can happen is you drift too soon or too early and skid off-road. Totally not the end of the world, but it could set you back a bit, encouraging you to get better until you can do it perfectly.
2. Bowser’s Castle
Bowser’s Castle is usually a later stage in Mario Kart games, and usually up there in the difficulty department. This new version is no different, but it’s an absolute joy to play thanks to its seamless use of the anti-gravity mechanic. The giant Bowser statue menacing these portions add the perfect touch of tension, keeping you on your toes during what initially seemed like a reprieve.
3. Rainbow Road (N64)
Rainbow Road is a series mainstay, so of course this game has its own version. But sadly, it can’t come close to the classic N64 incarnation, which feels like a whole new level thanks to ramps and boosts that encourage you to glide your way through large portions of the track. The way the course is split up also makes for a streamlined race time, compared to the six minutes it took to complete three laps in Mario Kart 64. It is a little disappointing that the newer version isn’t better than a returning track, but we’ll take what we can get, especially when it’s as good as Rainbow Road.
4. Toad Harbor
Toad Harbor initially frustrated me to no end. It still does on the occasion when I mess up the anti-gravity part. It’s incredibly easy to drift too far to the right, and run into a wall on the short segment, leaving you to bump your way back onto the main path. In fact, it might just be better to skip anti-gravity period on this track. But ironically, this highlights what I grew to love about this track: the multitude of routes that can be taken through it. Over canopies, under them, through back alleys, along trolly tracks, it all lends towards the character and atmosphere of the San Francisco-inspired stage.
5. Shy Guy Falls
One of the most impressive examples of the anti-gravity at work is in Shy Guy Falls. Driving down a waterfall had been done before in Mario Kart, but zooming up one? It’s wild, and a natural extension of the logic behind the anti-gravity idea. The rest of the track is no slouch either. Tight turns, treacherous drops, it’s all here, and it’s all begging you to master it.
6. Toad’s Turnpike
Another N64 track gets a makeover in Toad’s Turnpike. The original incarnation is the stuff of my nightmares. I’m terrible at it! So this new version appeals to me because some of the dye is taken off by anti-gravity. It might be slower, but you can avoid that messy traffic. This is a fantastic choice that is being offered to you, because it lets you tackle the course at your own speed, and still have the potential to come out on top.
7. Sunshine Airport
Airports, am I right? Mario Kart 8 takes one of the cruelest tortures of humanity—the airport terminal—and lets you burn rubber through it. There’s a kind of anarchistic glee that you feel as you throttle ahead through the terminal and onto the tarmac. Security is nowhere in sight, and you are free to go crazy in ways that you never could in real life. Of course the real highlight of the stage is flirting with danger as you race ahead a jetliner that is about to take off. Overall, it makes for a frantically fun track, and really, what is Mario Kart without frantic fun?
8. Mount Wario
The only course in the game that is not set up in circuits, Mount Wario is instead a race to the bottom of the mountain, playing out like a skiing competition, with segments reminiscent of cross-country, and others that owe a definite debt to slalom running. It has a different feel to it because of its linear nature, but it actually works very well for Mario Kart. I’m looking forward to further experiments like this in future titles. One thing that confuses me though: what does it really have to do with Wario?
9. Yoshi Valley
Like Toad Harbor, the main strength of this N64 track is the number of choices you have. Your mission for this race is to find the most efficient route through, with multiple forks in the road coming up on you in an instant, forcing you to make split second decisions and then living with them. This holds true of many Mario Kart tracks, but rarely is it as easy to just barely make the wrong decision.
10. Donut Plains 3
The only SNES track returning in this game, Donut Plains 3 may feel a little vanilla to some. The only updated feature it has is the benefit of being able to drive underwater, turning one of the original’s most difficult parts into a potential shortcut. Like Moo Moo Meadows, Donut Plains 3’s strength lies in its use as a tool to teach not only drifting, but trick jumping. Numerous boosts can be gotten by jumping off of the mounds of dirt created by the Monty Moles inhabiting the track, and a judicious use of a drift boost can help you cut at least a few corners.
Images courtesy of the Super Mario Wiki.