Mario Kart 64 Courses, Ranked
--Pulled from the Imperial article archive on Scarif for your re-enjoyment!--
Surely this ranking is a thing that already exists many times over on the internet, probably most recently on a defunct Blogspot page from 2008. I have not consulted those rankings as they do not matter. The rankings below are final and an absolute good.
Unlike the two brothers I share this site with, I don’t really care about video games. The last system I played with any kind of regularity was PS2, but my real love is N64; I still bust it out at least three times a year and play with friends. The crowning achievement of that system is Mario Kart 64. Please don’t talk to me about GoldenEye.
So, let’s rank the courses from that game. Mario Kart 64 released in North America 20 years ago so I have a reason for doing this. Truth be told I was going to create this list anyway because I played this a couple weeks ago but now I have a somewhat legitimate reason for doing so. Happy birthday Mario Kart 64!
By the way don’t bother watching the YouTube clips unless you want to waste a large chunk of your day. They’re just if you want to get a feel for the course if you’re unfamiliar.
16) Rainbow Road
15) Mario Raceway
I don’t even remember this one. But look at this shit (you can watch this one, it’s short):
“Damn it feels good to be a gangsta,” is likely what that guy or gal was thinking.
14) Moo Moo Farm
Nintendo’s best attempt at encapsulating a hoedown. There’s cows and a dirt track. Probably some hay. ‘Merica. Some moles that jump out of the ground that are easy to dodge. A pretty forgettable track.
13) Kalimari Desert
Feels endless. Not quite as long as a Leone film but close. If you avoid the train you can cruise around on the tracks and dick around. Google tells me you can manipulate the train track into a shortcut somehow. Sure.
12) Choco Mountain
The track feels fast and in higher cc levels there’s an area where players can tumble over the side and be hopelessly fucked. But it’s ranked this low because of the disgusting color palette. It’s like driving a lawnmower through shit for four minutes.
11) Toad’s Turnpike
If Nintendo wanted to make this realistic they would have put the Karts in LA traffic gridlock, hey-o. One of the most frustrating aspects of the entire game is being hit by an enemy shell, then ran over by a bus while you’re waiting out the shell-induced damage. No lead is ever safe, so in that way it’s fun, but it also feels like you’re competing against Honda Accords more than fellow players.
10) DK’s Jungle Parkway
Indiana Jones for a Mario Kart world. There’s a long bridge (with presumably hungry gators below), a long jump across a river, natives throwing things (coconuts?) at you if you veer off the track, and an ugly background that looks more like leftover 90s era Nickelodeon slop than a jungle.
9) Bowser’s Castle
Ugh I suck at this course so hard. For my money it’s the most difficult track. Some impossible turns, unavoidable Thwomps, and a narrow bridge that provides little protection from the lava below. Definitely unique, but so punishing in some respects that it takes away from the fun.
8) Banshee Boardwalk
Similar to Bowser’s Castle due to the many tight turns and perils of plummeting off the track, but more forgiving. The Boos can be distracting but don’t present an actual obstacle — it’s really the best test of pure driving in the game, which is the nerdiest thing ever said. That’s interesting but we play Mario Kart to sling shells and the narrow track/abundant turns make that difficult if not impossible, so if a driver races to a big lead you’re wholly dependent on them driving into the water to gain ground.
7) Luigi Raceway
A perfectly adequate introductory race to the game. It’s a simple course for beginners to play because it’s short, the turns are easy, and there aren’t any obstacles to speak of (other than the inevitable bananas that end up on the track). The short race also lends itself to fun, intense races for experienced players — there won’t be any showboats reversing to victory on this track.
Nobody has ever successfully collected the item that floats down from the hot air balloon.
6) Frappe Snowland
A fun track but loses points because it’s not even the best wintry course in the game. The end is nearly perfect for close races: a tight-ish cluster of snowmen (which are a blast to run over with a star) causes chaos, then leads to a corridor with high barriers on both sides, providing safety to floor it with no repercussions.
5) Wario Stadium
A bit of a slog, but few things in life are as satisfying as saving a lightning bolt for opponents about to make the jump, causing them to come up short and repeat most of the track. The final straightaway can present some fun, last second drama.
4) Royal Raceway
The big jump is dope. Also features some of the most difficult turns in the game that could plunk you into the lake, provided you’re not a coward like me who just mushroom boosts across the grass. And if you’re way behind you can check out the Easter egg-y castle to your right after the dope jump.
3) Koopa Troopa Beach
Not one, but TWO shortcuts. The more popular of which requires you to go chasin’ waterfalls, using a mushroom to boost up a ramp through a waterfall and into a secret cavern that dumps you out near the finish line. That’s the expectation. In reality you will boost straight into the rock and fall hopelessly behind your opponents. (The guy in the above video is way better than you — you will not succeed. Also he uses a really lame “that’s what she said” joke if you want to hear it.)
2) Yoshi Valley
The most unique course in the game. As close to an M.C. Escher painting as Mario Kart can get, this choose-your-own-adventure provides several different routes you can take. Play it safe and surely lose, or risk a more difficult route and tumble off the track. Your progress on the track in relation to your competitors is more or less unknown at all times, making it the loneliest of all the races. If you take a sparsely used route then the majority of the race you won’t see your opponents, which sounds like a bug but the mystery of your opponent’s location is actually kind of fun, particularly when everyone starts to funnel out of their respective roots. Successfully navigating the shortest route is nirvana (until you’re crushed by the giant Yoshi egg).
1) Sherbet Land
There’s cute penguins of death that will bounce you into the icy water. There’s nothing more to say.
Just for the sake of completion, here’s my ranking of the Battle maps:
1) Block Fort
2) Double Deck
3) Big Donut
Follow Andrew on Twitter: @andrewkarcher