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May 30 2020 marks the sixth anniversary of Mario Kart 8. The best-selling game released for the Wii U, shifting 8.44 million units (against Wii U console sales of 13.5 million), was released on the Nintendo Switch as a Deluxe version in 2017, where it's sold in the region of 25 million copies.
What we're saying,basically, is that Mario Kart 8 is huge, and that loads of you have bought it, and love it. And to celebrate its birthday we're ranking all 48 of its tracks, including the Wii U DLC circuits that came to Switch at launch. We will be taking no further questions: as we see it, this is the definitive ranking of Mario Kart 8's splendidly colourful speedways.
48: Toad's Turnpike - N64
A dreary figure-eight track where you can glide over the overpass. Which is something, I guess. There's some anti-gravity action on the corners but, really, this is the dullest of MK8's circuits by a stretch. TBH, it's the only track here that I'd say was bad - everything else is just steadily rising levels of good, leading to great, leading to exceptional, leading to winner(!).
47: Donut Plains 3 - SNES
I love me some SNES Super Mario Kart, but while Donut Plains 3 tickles the ol' nostalgia gland, it's a track out of time and place in MK8, with little that takes advantage of the latest game's mechanics.
46: Mario Circuit - GBA
Another blast from the past that feels wholly unremarkable in the here and now, with a token anti-grav section added.
45: Moo Moo Meadows - Wii
Look, I'm not deliberately piling on the older tracks, early doors, but the muddy slalom of Moo Moo Meadows is another that's fun enough for a flashback to what was, and very pretty with its early morning staging, but isn't getting much repeat-play action in 2020.
44: Mario Kart Stadium
The most beginner-friendly of MK8's originals and the first circuit of the entry-level Mushroom Cup, this is a good place to learn about the game's shortcuts.
43: Dry Dry Desert - GCN
It just feels a little flat to me? Its bendy Pokeys are more annoying than interesting, and the added oasis section doesn't lend the track much more life than it had in Double Dash!!.
42: Water Park
Track two of the Mushroom Cup is fun but fleeting in the extreme. It's really a tutorial on how to use MK8's spinning boosters.
41: Rainbow Road - SNES
Don't hate me - I'm just calling it as I see it. The SNES Rainbow Road, with its Thwomp shockwaves, is the weakest of the three Rainbow Roads in MK8, and its bracing speed can't make up for a pretty unremarkable setting. Gotta love that music, though.
40: DK Jungle - 3DS
Some smoking pillars and an anti-grav addition (watch out for the giant banana) make this feel at home in MK8, but it's not one that I'm ever voting for in online play.
39: Mario Circuit
MK8's own Mario Circuit is a step up or two from the GBA update, and it's the first track where you really get an appreciation for the fact that you're racing upside-down.
38: Sherbet Land - GCN
This Double Dash!! update gives racers the option of sliding on the ice or plunging underwater, and a hidden ramp gives you some bonus air. Kinda feel bad interrupting the Shy Guys' skating time, TBH.
37: Wario Stadium - DS
It's got a massive statue of Wario in the middle of it. What more do you need?
36: Thwomp Ruins
The final track of the Mushroom Cup introduces some neat features - multiple routes are open to racers thanks to anti-grav, and depending on their actions in other parts of the track, they can access a secret gliding pad.
35: Sweet Sweet Canyon
Aww, it's just like Sugar Rush, from Wreck-It Ralph. And do you go pink, or do you go blue? The choice is an illusion, really, as both routes wind up in the same place.
34: Bone-Dry Dunes
This rib-tickling circuit gives racers the option of going high or low for its final stretch, but sand just isn't that much fun to drive on, is it?
33: Tick-Tock Clock - DS
A great update of the track from Mario Kart DS, where risk-taking drivers can test their nerve by speeding along clock hands.
32: Excitebike Arena
What if Baby Park but with a shedload of ramps? What is cool about Excitebike Arena is that its layout - the ramps and mud pools set across its oval course - changes with each race. All those ramps do get sorta tiresome - but they move, so, that's something.
31: Twisted Mansion
Another track where the final stretch can be taken high or low, and its haunted house vibes are brilliantly spooky. In a nice nod to all those films where a book on a shelf acts as a lever to open secret doorways, there's a shortcut through the library section that requires a tight turn to nail, but is always worth it if you've a mushroom to hand.
30: Cheese Land - GBA
I was originally ranking this one much lower - but replaying it for this piece showed me that, actually, it's really good. It's one of MK8's best reinventions of an old track, which really makes the most of anti-grav, flight sections and trick boosts.
29: Toad Harbour
A spread of alternate pathways lends welcome variety to this starter-ish level circuit - and those trams are too cute, right?
28: Ice Ice Outpost
NGL, this one is a track that could have placed anywhere on this list between about 40 and 15, because it's great when you're in it but almost immediately forgettable. Toads in fluffy jackets, though? Winners.
27: Yoshi Circuit - GCN
It's shaped like Yoshi! That's it. That's all it needs.
26: Rainbow Road - N64
Another fantastic update, with fireworks and a grand view, indeed, of the Peach Statue and Toad Circuit below. It's a long circuit, too, with the race being held across just a single lap split into three sections.
25: Cloudtop Cruise
While a new track for MK8, this one takes cues from Super Circuit's Sky Garden course, and its music has melodies lifted from Super Mario Galaxy. The gorgeous cloud-topped setting gives way to a metallic section inside a storm cloud, where the player's own risk versus reward balance comes into play, as boost pads can be struck by lightning.
24: Shy Guy Falls
I just love the little Shy Guys, working away in the mine. Makes me smile every time. And how is it not cool to go tearing up a waterfall? Right? Right.
23: Grumble Volcano - Wii
A track that changes as you race, parts of this circuit collapse on every lap, adding more challenge the further into it you go. That's not a new feature added by MK8, but it's something that still works 12 years on from Mario Kart Wii.
22: Yoshi Valley - N64
It's like a plate of dirty spaghetti that you race on, with a gigantic egg in the way Because Video Games. And MK8 gives the original a cannon that launches racers into a new gliding section. That's never a bad thing.
21: Wario's Gold Mine - Wii
So you want us to crash into the mine carts now? Okaaaaay...
20: Animal Crossing
Another track where the layout - and the season - can change each time (well, four different ways), and it makes the most of its other-franchise dressing with Nook's Cranny and Able Sisters visible as you race around. And naturally, it has item boxes floating beneath balloons, no slingshot required.
19: Cheep Cheep Beach - DS
I just love the freedom this track gives you, as you can stick to the beach or drift through the shallows, hitting boost ramps as you go. And it's so, so sunny. I am pro sunny tracks.
18: Hyrule Circuit
Hit the three boosts and you open the Master Sword - and you'll want to do that every time, because what it actually gives you is a very useful dash pad. Like Animal Crossing, Hyrule Circuit is liberally dressed in influences from its inspirational series, from the coins becoming rupees to its enemies/obstacles being entirely Zelda themed rather than synonymous with the Mushroom Kingdom.
17: Royal Raceway - N64
While you can't drive inside the castle, as you could in the N64 original, this is a classic Mario Kart circuit given a caring update. I love its opening bends, too, where you can build up some incredible speed.
16: Piranha Plant Pipeway - 3DS
I like log flumes. And this is, sort of, that. A big-ass log flume. It's enough for me.
15: Wild Woods
A dazzling, beautiful track with plenty of anti-gravity action and tricky corners, this is a course that's maybe unfairly overlooked by many in MK8's DLC content, but like Dragon Driftway it's one of the very best the game has to offer.
14: Koopa City - 3DS
It's just so refreshing for a MK-exclusive track to have a sci-fi feel - but that's what Koopa City delivers, coming over like a crossover between Nintendo's franchise and a cyberpunk series. It's largely the same circuit that appeared in Mario Kart 7 - but if it ain't broke...
13: Dragon Driftway
Pay close attention, because there are neat nods to the original Super Mario Bros. in this one. On top of its aesthetic appeal, though, this is simply a terrifically fast, terrifically fun track that's a treat to visit in online play.
12: Melody Motorway - 3DS
For me, if a Mario Kart track makes me feel good, that's half the battle won for my heart. Melody Motorway (aka Music Park) is hardly changed, layout wise, from its Mario Kart 7 debut, but the improved visuals and irresistibly buoyant music, accompanied by the on-track effects, make it a big favourite.
11: Dolphin Shoals
I make no apologies: MK8's Star Cup is my favourite run of four tracks, bar none. Dolphin Shoals is a bright and sunny essential of any MK8 session for me. The moment where your racer bursts out of the underwater section, and the music shifts gear (that sax, so good, and the lens flare, uh), is the star of the show and still one of the most uplifting gaming moments that I can return to time and again.
10: Ribbon Road - GBA
I never paid much attention to Ribbon Road in the early days of me playing MK8's DLC, but more fool me because not only is it one of the most glorious courses to speed around, its setting is also utterly brilliant. MK8 shifts the track to the inside of a child's bedroom - you're racing on a toy-sized track, avoiding wind-up Mechakoopas and jack-in-the-box Koopa Cars. Just, wonderful.
9: Rainbow Road
Goodness me, it's beautiful, isn't it? Demanding, but beautiful. Also: space. Space is the place, as we all know.
8: Mute City
With Nintendo not looking like it's going to give us a new F-Zero anytime soon, the two themed courses in MK8 - both of which arrived via DLC - are probably as close as we're going to get. Mute City is an all-anti-grav dizzying twister of a track where coin collection is replaced by the very F-Zero need to use glowing refuel pads. I love it.
7: Bowser's Castle
Humongous flaming Bowser pure hammering his fists on the track. Amazing. Next!
6: Super Bell Subway
A quiet triumph, Super Bell Subway is another DLC track that's easily slipped to the back of your favourites, before you play it again and realise its brilliance. Maybe it's the London commuter in me talking, but there's something so amazing about having space and freedom to be fast in an underground/metro/subway setting. I love all the little details in this one, too - it's worth having a slow putter around to drink them all in.
5: Big Blue
The other F-Zero track, this one's a three-stage, single run from A to B, which goes from futuristic motorway to water-slide shenanigans and onto speed-panel ferocity. The same coin/panel logic exists here as Mute City, so get your racing line just right for the best results.
I told you Star Cup was the best - as my top five will make clear. Electrodrome is just so shiny, so sparkling, so sorta sexy. Right? It's Mario Kart Goes Clubbing, where even the Piranha Plants have dressed for the occasion. Keep an eye on your driver of choice as they will, even while focusing on coming first, be bopping to the beat.
3: Baby Park - GCN
If any one track is the very essence of MK8, it's the game's version of Double Dash!!'s Baby Park. Go fast, go straight, go bananas (and be sure to leave a load of them on the turns, too). In multiplayer it's amongst the most intense selections as racers constantly bump into each other, spread shells and bombs everywhere, and generally cause chaos. And if you're after a lil easter egg, take a look off the circuit - that building, over yonder, is indeed Luigi's Mansion. A candy floss-flavoured theme park riot, and no mistake.
2: Sunshine Airport
Y'know when you play games to escape, to shut out your crappy day? Sunshine Airport is my MK8 track of choice for just that. It also feels like a kind of hub for other circuits, with announcements for other 'destinations' in the game on the departure screens. It never, ever fails to pick me up, this one.
1: Mount Wario
And then I sliiide all the way down to the bottom of the peak that Sunshine Airport's taken me to with this: the track that I feel is the absolute crown jewel of MK8. There's so much going on here, from the aeroplane opening to the anti-grav blast across a dam, to the boost-maxing moguls and then the breathtaking finish through the heart of a trio of boost rings. The (three-part) music, the sights, the speed: it all comes together, for me, in this one. Winner!
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