The 10 Best Kart Racing Games

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The 10 Best Kart Racing Games

Operating outside the realm of either arcade or simulation racing games, kart racing titles occupy their own special place in the games industry. While Mario Kart remains the undisputed victor in the quest for kart racing supremacy, several other worthy contenders have sprung up throughout the years to challenge Nintendo’s crown. Unfortunately, most of them fail to capture the essence of what makes the Mario Kart series so special, making most other kart racing games an exercise in mediocrity. Still, there are those rare titles that stand on their own to become worthwhile experiences by blending homage to Mario Kart with unique mechanics and fan-favorite IP. These underdogs more than earn their spot alongside Mario Kart as some of the best kart racing games.

For a kart racing game to stand out, it needs to accomplish three things. First, the actual racers themselves should be characters that players want to control as they battle against one another in supercharged go-karts. Second, the tracks that these characters race on should be enjoyable to maneuver around and make clever use of their respective IP, incorporating all sorts of subtle nods and Easter Eggs for the observant eye. Third, and most importantly, kart racing games need to be easy enough for anyone (young, old, or in-between) to pick up and enjoy and provide hours of fun in both single and multiplayer. Every game on this list manages to tick all those boxes, regardless of whether it features a certain Italian plumber mascot.

10. Muppet Race Mania

Muppet RaceMania gameplay

©Muppet RaceMania gameplay screenshot – Original

The impact of Mario Kart 64 had the unfortunate effect of encouraging publishers and developers to churn out tons of licensed kart racers that were little more than shovelware. You’d be forgiven for assuming that Muppet RaceMania on the PS1 is another piece of forgettable licensed software along the lines of the abysmal South Park and M&M kart racing games, but you’d be missing out on one of the more charming and competent kart racers of the 32-bit era. The Muppets themselves are the perfect kind of IP for a kart racing game, as they have plenty of appeal for both kids and adults and their enduring popularity makes for a great cast of racers. Each of the stages features references to a different iconic Muppet movie and the actual racing is fun, something many other licensed kart games struggle to achieve.

9. Crash Nitro Kart

Crash Nitro Kart gameplay

©Crash Nitro Kart gameplay – Original

Despite the success of Crash Team Racing, its sequel seems to fall somewhat flat with some critics depending on which version they’re discussing. Still, Crash Nitro Kart features more of what makes Crash Team Racing such a great game, even if it doesn’t reinvent the wheel enough to count as a full-fledged follow-up. Surprisingly, the home console versions are actually somewhat inferior to the Game Boy Advance version, which ironically might even be better than Nintendo’s Mario Kart Advance. Ultimately, Crash Nitro Kart maintains the zany humor and wacky items from across the excellent Crash Bandicoot series, but its somewhat lackluster track design and uninspired cast of racers make it more forgettable than its predecessor.

8. Mario Kart: Double Dash!!

Mario Kart: Double Dash!! gameplay

©Mario Kart: Double Dash!! gameplay screenshot – Original

Even though it doesn’t feature as much content as Mario Kart 8 or the same kind of success as Mario Kart Wii, Mario Kart: Double Dash!! is one of the best titles on the GameCube and an excellent entry into the Mario Kart series. The game’s core mechanic immediately sets Double Dash!! apart from the rest of the franchise thanks to its emphasis on co-op. Unlike other Mario Kart games, in which players compete with one another as single drivers, Double Dash!! places two players onto one kart. While one player drives, the other is responsible for using items to try and derail other racers. And, with unique items for each racing team, there’s plenty of opportunity for some hilarious competitive shenanigans. It’s a wonder the title hasn’t received a port to the Switch to make better use of its signature mechanic with online multiplayer functionality.

7. Mario Kart 7

Mario Kart 7 gameplay

©Mario Kart 7 gameplay screenshot – Original

Somehow, Mario Kart 7 proves to be the absolute best handheld-exclusive version of Mario Kart and one of the greatest iterations of the game in the entire series. A massive leap in quality from Mario Kart DS, Mario Kart 7 is basically the 3DS’ “new and improved” version of that game with a ton of new content. The roster of racers is larger, the track selection is better (and the new tracks are some of the greatest in the series), and the karts themselves handle as buttery smooth as players are used to on console, only now they fit in your pocket and races are playable on the move. Mario Kart is a perfect franchise for pick-up-and-play handheld sessions thanks to the ability to quickly run a race or an entire cup on longer commutes, making Mario Kart 7 one of the many must-have titles on the 3DS.

6. Super Mario Kart

Super Mario Kart key art

©Super Mario Kart key art – Original

The original Super Mario Kart on SNES is still surprisingly entertaining even in the face of multiple decades of new series entries. What makes the original Mario Kart game so fun more than 30 years later is its pitch-perfect balancing and wide-ranging track selection, and it’s no wonder that the game stands as the 4th best-selling SNES game of all time. Regardless of the individual merits of the title, Super Mario Kart is a landmark entry in the history of games thanks to its single-handed invention of the kart racing genre. Mario’s power as a mascot capable of carrying multiple spin-off franchises is well-documented across Nintendo’s history, but Mario Kart has evolved throughout the years to take on a life of its own that counters the mainline Super Mario Bros. games. It’s all thanks to the brilliance of the original Super Mario Kart.

5. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed gameplay

©Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed gameplay screenshot – Original

It took Sonic a while to get his own kart racing game, but boy was it worth the wait. Sonic & All-Stars Racing is an excellent game in its own right, but its quasi-sequel Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is an improved version of one of the only kart racing games to stand toe-to-toe with Mario Kart, starring his rival no-less! The Wii U is one of the few missteps that Nintendo has made throughout the years, but the console was still home to some incredible games. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is both one of the Wii U’s best games and the only kart racer on the console to compare with Mario Kart 8. With an excellent roster of classic Sega characters, amazing track design, and modality-shifting karts that go from car to boat to plane at the drop of a hat, Sonic & All-Stars is a unique and excellent kart racer.

4. Diddy Kong Racing

Diddy Kong Racing gameplay

©Diddy Kong Racing gameplay screenshot – Original

Determining the best kart racing game on the Nintendo 64 is a tricky proposition thanks to the excellent Diddy Kong Racing. Another first-party Nintendo kart racer, only this time featuring development by Rare, Diddy Kong Racing is a more kid-friendly alternative to the N64 classic Mario Kart 64. But don’t let its younger-leaning aesthetic fool you, as Diddy Kong Racing is every bit as competent a kart racing game as its other first-party counterpart, and it even introduces some ideas that the Mario Kart franchise would borrow in future iterations. Launching into the air and sprouting wings or a glider from the back of your kart is something that’s a core component of Mario Kart now, and that idea originates with Diddy Kong Racing. It might be a little on the easier side compared to Mario Kart, but Diddy Kong Racing is peak Nintendo 64.

3. Mario Kart 64

Mario Kart 64 gameplay

©Mario Kart 64 gameplay screenshot – Original

Super Mario Kart‘s “proof of concept” would reach fruition in Mario Kart 64, which makes good on the promise of its SNES predecessor to serve as the definitive template of every subsequent game in the series. The key to Mario Kart 64‘s success is the game’s multiplayer, with the Nintendo 64’s 4 controller ports (versus the SNES’ on-board 2 and requirement of a Multi-Tap for more players) making split-screen local matches the highlight of the game. Mario Kart 64 ends up being the full package — the graphics continue to age gracefully thanks to their use of a pre-rendered style akin to Donkey Kong Country, the soundtrack and track selection are timeless, and the various modes are worth the price of entry on their own, much less together all in one cartridge.

2. Crash Team Racing

Crash Team Racing gameplay

©Crash Team Racing gameplay screenshot – Original

The only kart racer to ever truly make a valiant attempt at almost dethroning Mario Kart as the definitive kart racing game of a generation is Crash Team Racing on PS1. The Crash Bandicoot series is already perfect for a kart racing adaptation with its inventive level design, wacky sense of humor, and eclectic cast of characters. Ultimately, Crash Team Racing taps into what people love about the mainline platforming games and translates it perfectly into a competent kart racer, and the game’s legendary status as one of the best games on the PS1 only serves to further cement its legacy as one of the all-time greatest kart racing games. The recent remake on modern consoles is every bit as finely tuned and accessible as the original, and now players can experience this classic with a major graphical overhaul.

1. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe gameplay

©Mario Kart 8 gameplay screenshot – Original

While the general idea behind gaming sequels is that they should be the best game in the series and improve on their predecessors, that doesn’t always pan out to be the case. Sometimes, the newest game in the series doesn’t equate to it being the greatest. However, this is one of the definitive characteristics of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Both the latest and greatest game in the long-running Mario Kart series, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is an absolute treasure trove of content with hundreds of hours of potential playtime and a plethora of features to unlock. The roster of racers is the largest and most varied seen in the series yet, and the track selection only continues to grow as time goes on, becoming a museum of highlights from across the Mario Kart series.

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