Review – Every Mario Kart 8 Track

It's-a-me!

It’s a common misconception that unemployment means you are looking for a job, and that’s what you’re doing. The truth is that this is only a portion of what you do. In my case a big part of unemployment has been occupied by caring forpreschoolers and wondering why 4-year-old boys are so insane. Then there are thetimes spent polishing resumes, applying for jobs, following up, stuff like that. The rest of that time has basically been taken up eating, sleeping, and playing Mario Kart 8.

Speaking of Mario Kart 8, this last week I crossed a major threshhold: I got gold on every track at every level, including Mirror Mode. That means I’ve literally won every cup backwards and forwards. That doesn’t even include the countless late-night sessions with online multiplayer. I’ve buffed my rating byabout 400 points in two weeks, though I’m still a long way from the guy in Maryland I raced against whose rating was over 5000.

The AV Club already wrote a very informative article reviewing all of the characters in Mario Kart 8. (Though they were unfairly dismissive of the best character, Donkey Kong.) But characters are really just a matter of personal preference. There isn’t truly much difference once you move beyond weight class. It’s much more interesting to think about the tracks, since that’s the part of Mario Kart that makes it new in the first place.

So here you go, reviews of all 32 tracks in Mario Kart 8.

Mushroom Cup

Mario Kart Stadium – Most Mario Kart games begin with a basic track that is mostly a big circuit. That means that it’s a track that is basically a warm-up before the good stuff starts. This one is different for a couple reasons: first of all, it features a basic but cool implementation of the zero-grav elements, which keeps the track from being a big oval. That saves it from the “whatever” pile for me. Secondly, it’s not a Luigi-themed track, which might explain all of those death stares he’s been giving people. B

Water Park – The big zero-grav hairpin turn in Mario Kart Stadium is one-upped in Water Park, which has a huge loopy turn complete with those little pinball things that give zero-grav karts a boost. Most Mario Kart tracks follow some kind of theme, but I can’t recall a theme park being one that we’ve seen yet. B+

Sweet Sweet Canyon – I imagine some exec at Nintendo walked out of Wreck-It Ralph and thought, “That Sugar Rush game looks like someone designed Mario Kart whilst high on the cocaine. Maybe this candy theme has potential.” Sweet Sweet Canyon uses one of my favorite elements in Mario Kart 8, the dual anti-grav tracks. And I know that it’s not really different to be driving in a cola lake instead of a regular lake, but driving in cola feels more Mario-ish. B+

Thwomp Ruins – This one appears to be a popular one online, but I confess that I don’t like is quite as much as everyone else. I think it has something to do with the “ruins” motif, which I find to be a little out of place in the Mario world. Doesn’t it look like something from Uncharted 3? Also, there’s this one shortcut just before you go into the big jump at the end of the track, and I have maybe a 25% success rate at making that jump. B-

Flower Cup

Mario Circuit – There’s always a Mario Circuit, and it’s always a pretty straightforward track to make them good for time trials. This might be the least curvy of any of them so far, but the cool thing is that the zero-grav actually allows it to be a big Mobius strip. This is as close as Mario Kart has ever gotten to being an actual episode of Futurama. Now it just needs dimensional drift. A-

Toad Harbor – Is it just me, or does Toad seem to have a lot of tracks based on oncoming traffic? There’s also Toad’s Turnpike from Mario Kart 64 (which turns up in this one too), and Mushroom City in Double-Dash is probably where Toad was born, so he gets the blame for that one too. To be fair, these are actually street cars, which isn’t as irritating. There are also a lot of different routes you can take as you cruise through the city. Also, I like that home stretch where it basically opens to a huge 8-lane highway and everyone has lots of room to throw stuff. A-

Twisted Mansion – There’s always a ghost-themed something in Mario games, just like there’s an ice and a desert world. Ghosts the most interesting of the three, but Nintendo still goes to this well a lot in all of the Mario Kart games. But I think this might actually be the best ever ghost track, just because it does dueling zero-grav tracks again. In two different places, at that! B+

Shy Guy Falls – This track is a gem mine completely staffed by Shy Guys. Since Wario owned the mine in the Wii version, I expect he owns this one too and doesn’t pay a living wage. The only solace these poor oppressed workers get is watching one of their own finally make it to the Mario Kart circuit, and they cheer him on as a way to bring hope to their empty toiling existence. Kind of like the Hunger Games. B

Star Cup

Sunshine Airport – The Star Cup is the best cup in the game, and Sunshine Airport is the first reason. It has basically everything great about Mario Kart 8 in one track. All of the little bustling details, the huge soaring jump, the big zero-grav stretch, and the sheer insanity of flouting TSA regulations to race go-karts. I especially like when the big jet flies over your head, because it makes me feel like I’m in a U2 video. A

Dolphin Shoals – This one might be too busy for my tastes. Look, ramps and hoops to jump! Three pipes in a row that bounce you to a giant eel! Drive on the eel to get coins! I dunno, I think it also falls into the “too realistic” style trap. (Aside from the giant eel and stuff like that.) Like all of the new courses it isn’t actively bad, but it’s definitely the weak link in the Star Cup. B-

Electrodrome – Can you imagine a Mario Kart rave? Because that’s what Electrodrome is. If you look hard you can see a Toad dropping acid and dreaming up some nightmarish reality where the clouds don’t have faces on them, and banana peels aren’t serious road hazards, and where the whole field can’t be struck by lightning simultaneously. A-

Mount Wario – I’ve been playing Mario Kart for many years, and I don’t think I’ve yet played a track that I love as much as Mount Wario. I love the ski-slope motif, maybe the first really great snow track Mario Kart has ever made. I love that it encompasses the entire downhill descent in the race, dividing up laps as different sections of the mountain. I love how it forces you to adapt to different kinds of driving, ski slolams, soaring hoops to fly through, series of burst strips, weaving in and out of trees. It’s basically perfection, though I question whether Wario was able to pay for it legitimately. A

Special Cup

Cloudtop Cruise – This might be the first Mario Kart track based off of a specific game (Mario Galaxy) rather than a motif or a specific character. It’s a philosophy I hope to see more of with the upcoming Hyrule DLC, because Cloudtop Cruise is one of those tracks that makes your jaw drop. I like that it’s a specific setting, one where the zero-grav makes total sense. And I love driving on a bean stalk. A

Bone Dry Dunes – There have been a few “desert” tracks in Mario Kart, and almost all of them suck. This one is a little better. On one hand, the track itself is actually pretty fun with lots of tight curves and shortcuts. On the other hand, desert track. Setting it at sunset just means that it’s an all-red track instead of an all-yellow track. No thanks. C+

Bowser’s Castle – Like Mario Circuit and Rainbow Road, it’s not a Mario Kart game until there’s a version of Bowser’s Castle. They all have a rather overwrought quality, but this might be the most over-the-top they’ve ever gone. It’s a great track, twisting over itself while a giant stone Bowser punches the track and blasts of lava explode on either side of you. And man, it makes the best case for Mario Kart in HD. A

Rainbow Road – I know Rainbow Road is a Mario Kart tradition, but I never like them as much as other people. This one seems to lean a little heavily on the sci-fi space station elements, and it actually makes it look a little toned down. The track itself is one of the better Rainbow Roads in a long time, but I still think it’s too muted to really serve as the wham-bang finale, especially after Bowser’s Castle. B

Shell Cup

Moo Moo Meadows (Wii) – I’m always a little unclear as to how Nintendo selects what tracks to bring back for the retro portions of each Mario Kart title. Was Moo Moo Meadows some fan favorite without me realizing it? Also, I get it confused easily with a track from Mario Kart 64, Moo Moo Farm, which was almost identical. I think the difference is that this one has a windmill. C

Mario Circuit (GBA) – The GBA iteration of Mario Kart is probably my least-favorite one, mostly because I don’t much like steering with a D-pad. But there’s no D-pad here, and I like the little zero-grav section of the track. Like all the tracks from the GBA and SNES versions, it’s shorter than most of the rest of the tracks here, which is kind of nice. Sometimes straightforward is good. B+

Cheep Cheep Beach (DS) – “Beach” is another very common setting for Mario Kart tracks, and this one is pretty average. On the plus side, you can drive large distances underwater, which seems dangerous. But not in Mario Kart! C+

Toad’s Turnpike (N64) – Toad’s Turnpike was arguably the worst track on Mario Kart 64. (Except Choco Valley, but let’s not dig up the past.) It’s just a big figure-8 in traffic. But for Mario Kart 8 it’s been spruced up a lot. I like that there are now big zero-grav strips on the walls, so you can drive a little way avoiding cars. And I especically like that there are cars with ramps that let you launch yourself and deploy your glider, and then you can bounce off the roofs of buses, giving the tourists inside a good story from their admittedly poor tour of a closed circuit of traffic. B+

Banana Cup

Dry Dry Desert (GCN) – Whenever someone picks this track in multiplayer, I question whether they even like Mario Kart at all. It’s a big loop. In the yellow-tinted desert. I once saw someone pick this, no joke, over Mount Wario. This game is wasted on people like that. C-

Donut Plains 3 (SNES) – Here’s the only track from the original SNES game, and it shows. It’s a lot shorter than the other tracks, which is kind of nice, and it’s just a stock Mario theme, which is also pleasant. And it’s fun how the short distance means it’s very close quarters the whole way. It sticks out like a sore thumb, but I still like it. B+

Royal Raceway (N64) – Oh man. Royal Raceway was one of my favorite tracks on Mario Kart 64, and it’s so well done here that I actually rank it as one of my favorite tracks in the whole game. I love the springy color pallette, the huge jump across the river, the series of s-curves. Just everything is great. It shows how good Mario Kart tracks can be even when they’re gimmick-free. A

DK Jungle (3DS) – I never did play Mario Kart 7, so this track was new to me. I tend to really like Donkey Kong tracks, and this one is solid. The ones from MK 64 and Double Dash were better, but they’ve already been redone in other Mario Kart games. No major complaints, except for those drum-dudes standing in the road. I’m generally against just throwing enemies in as obstacles, so shame on you DJ Jungle. B+

Leaf Cup

Wario Stadium (DS) – I just have one question: why did they not use the Wario Stadium from the N64 version? I know they already leaned pretty heavily on N64 tracks, but that one is still a highlight of all the Mario Kart games. Whatever, this one has some cool stuff. But now I’m just annoyed at what I don’t have. C+

Sherbet Land (GCN) – Continuing the tradition of rehashing the least interesting Double Dash tracks, Sherbet Land was among the most irritating tracks in its original form. It’s been improved some here, since the ice blocks at the end now just make you spin out and don’t freeze you. Also, I like that you can drive beneath the ice. So they did salvage it, but seriously Nintendo? Are you trying to ruin Double Dash’s legacy? B

Music Park (3DS) – Again, this was the first time I had seen this one. And boy, I love it. I love the tight turns that play music as you slide through them. I like the giant bouncing music notes that give you a little boost. And I really like that no one else seems to enjoy it, because it gives me sadistic pleasure when it comes up in online mode. A

Yoshi Valley (N64) – There are few retro tracks that benefit from HD like the N64 ones, and that is especially true for Yoshi Valley. It wasn’t bad in its original form, but it’s much easier to see where you should be going now, and it’s fun to try a different route every time. I like going through the barrel cannon at least once. A-

Lightning Cup

Tick Tock Clock (DS) – This was a favorite of mine from the DS iteration, so I’m glad to see it back here. I don’t know why but I never registered before that you could drive on the hands of the clocks. It’s tough to thread that needle, but really fun to pull it off. Also satisfying to cruise by the pendulum and see the guy next to you run into it. A-

Piranha Plant Slide (3DS) – Another new one to me, and it’s a little bananas. I like the slide feel, and driving in the sewars, but I hate having to dodge giant piranha plants. Also, who keeps letting Goombas wander onto the track? Is there a Mario Kart commissioner who can do something about this? B

Grumble Volcano (Wii) – Screw this track. It’s utterly infuriating. I constantly launch off the edge into lava, get hit by fireballs, and try to drive on track that isn’t there anymore. I know that obstacles are part of Mario Kart, but this is way over the top. It’s like a track where the only item is a blue shell. D+

Rainbow Road (N64) – Man, four tracks from Mario Kart 64 speaks to its quality. This particular Rainbow Road was insanely long, to the point where here it’s been divided up into one single lap that is then divided up. I actually like this one more than the MK8 version, just because it feels more rainbow-y and has a better soundtrack. I love the train running alongside spewing coins, and the fireworks give it a fun finale feel that is sorely missing from the MK8 track. A-

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