Just about everyone and their mother loves Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. As of Dec. 31, 2021, the game has sold a whopping 43.3 million units, meaning just about 50% of Switch owners have it in some capacity. Nintendo has seen such success that five years after its initial launch, they’re releasing DLC for it. But before the new tracks arrive, bringing with them some Coconut Mall goodness among other things, the question must be asked: which Mario Kart tracks are the best?
Trying to rank all 48 current courses within Mario Kart 8 Deluxe was a challenge. In order to be as scientifically accurate as possible, I played each course, ranked them with a tier system, and then compared my list with those of multiple friends. This Top 10 was forged in the crucible of heated, passionate arguments and many tense races. Peer reviewed and edited, Paste presents the unequivocal best tracks in the base game of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
Mind the gap as you barrel through the underground, wreaking havoc on the racers and passengers around you. The course itself is rather simple, as players careen through the subway itself, dodging green shells and trains alike in their race to their finish. The upbeat music makes the travel experience feel like a breeze, transforming into a leg-bumping groove underground. Although one must question the design of a circular subway station, every visit to Super Bell Subway is certainly worth the fare.
It’s all about the Kong, baby. Originating in Mario Kart 7, DK Jungle lets racers go bananas in the jungle. It’s a sightseeing tour you don’t want to skip: on your left, notice the anthropomorphic drums, while on your right is a centuries old temple with a statue to the almighty banana. Sporting such effortless diversity of views, one of the best (and most difficult) shortcuts in the game, and a fantastic remix of Donkey Kong Country 2’s bonus theme, this is one trip you don’t want to miss.
The Ewoks could take a lesson from the Shy Guys, who have created an entire village within the trees, one that even sports a race track. Climbing up the side of trees so tall they make the Redwoods seem short, this track utilizes the game’s anti-gravity mechanic better than most. The clever design mixes in some difficult twists and turns, forcing players to master the drift before attempting to set foot in the forest. All I’m saying is the song has Shy Guys singing in the background. How can you not like that?
Possibly one of the more unpopular picks for the list, the SNES Rainbow Road is not for everyone. The angular design of the original Super Mario Kart demands exact performances from the racers. But nothing feels better than confidently conquering the course after races and races of practice. The vibrant rainbow colors and the electric music provide a steady pulse of energy that makes this already short track feel even shorter, but it’s a blast of fun that never overstays its welcome.
Royal Raceway is the quintessential Mario Kart track; no turns are too difficult and nothing ever feels too gimmicky. The track doesn’t ask much from the player except to try their best and drive along to some smooth funk, enjoying the sights of the Mushroom Kingdom along the way. It is a mainstay from the series since Mario Kart 64, and Mario Kart 8’s redesign made it a beautiful joyride. It’s just a classic, and sometimes that’s not a bad thing.
Good day sunshine! Toad Harbor welcomes you to the Mushroom Kingdom’s chillest port town, one full of tradeships, a farmers market, and Toad trolleys. Although it’s in a relatively easy cup, Toad Harbor tempts players with simple and effective shortcuts, providing a thrill of achievement each time you get that much further ahead of the competition. It’s a nice reminder that there indeed is industry within the Mario world, they just take some days off to allow the famous plumber and his friends to race around.
If Nintendo is going to continue to ignore the F-Zero series, at least they gave us Big Blue as both an incredible homage to the series and one of the best courses in Mario Kart 8. A rollicking rock riff accompanies players zooming down the highway; the course itself is so long that it’s split into three parts rather than three complete laps. Each section surpasses the past, providing the player with a sense of speed unlike any other track within the game. We may not be playing as Captain Falcon, but for a beautiful brief moment, we can feel like we are.
Okay okay hear me out: It’s a volcano and it grumbles. What’s not to love? The tight turns, plethora of pathways, and the foreboding dark and dank atmosphere help make the track memorable. Any track can have those things, but Grumble Volcano has something else special: it falls apart. It may be hard to notice when cruising in first place, but the longer you stay on the track, the more it crumbles beneath your wheels. Gorges gape throughout the track while the safe (if slow) corners collapse, demanding precision of any racer who doesn’t want to go wheels first into the boiling magma. There’s simply nothing else like it.
Howdy partner and fall in line, it’s time for a drive through of the world famous Wario’s Gold Mine. An essential course from Mario Kart Wii, it’s no pun to say that this track shines. The revitalized course design incorporates the anti-gravity so beautifully, you start to wonder how it ever existed without it. The track feels like a rollercoaster: plucky country-yolk music blasts while Shy Guys chanting along all the live-long day, minecarts that give you an essential boost of speed, and one of the more easily obtained short-cuts within the game make the track worthy of its place in the community.
Could it be any other? Another straight-through course, the snowy Mount Wario provides the ultimate backcountry driver experience. Jump out of the plane and kart down the mountain side as fast as possible; whoosh past waterfalls, fly through a forest, and mow down moguls to take first place. Every bump, and there are plenty, perfectly poises players for tricks, providing speed boosts to propel you slightly closer to the head of the pack. The triumphant music gives order to the chaotic sensibilities of nature itself. Conquering the track isn’t an easy feat, but once you know it well, you’ll never want to go anywhere else.
Mik Deitz is a freelance writer and Paste intern. They inhale stories in videogames, films, TV and books, and have never finished God of War (2018). Yell at or compliment them on Twitter @dietdeitz.