A Deep Dive into the 10 Best Courses of Mario Kart 8
By: Tobin Carlberg I May 29, 2022
As Mario Kart 8 is slowly rolling out its Booster Course Pass with new race tracks through 2023, now is a great time to reflect on the previous courses that made this game so great.
With over 48 courses pulled from throughout the series’ history, it was difficult to narrow down to 10. But since I haven’t played every single Mario Kart game, I’d like to think I’m not swayed by nostalgia for the remastered versions of tracks that came before. I tried to stay as objective as possible by choosing the races that felt the smoothest and most exhilarating to drive on. So after three hours of playing every course (in addition to the countless hours running through them with friends), here are my top picks for the most fun and creatively designed races in the base game of Mario Kart 8.
10. Thwomp Ruins
For the adventure seekers out there, Thwomp Ruins provides a thrilling ride with tight turns, anti-gravity walls, and a fun glide at the end of the map. As you enter the ruins, beware of the Indiana Jones-esque rolling wheel and all the Thwomp Traps that block your path. As a whole, it’s a fun map with a ton of great details!
9. Twisted Mansion
With an array of ghouls, sentient knight statues, and three hidden 8-bit Luigi sprites spread across the map, Twisted Mansion has atmosphere to spare.
Just like the floating ghosts, the roads inside the mansion bend and twist for a surreal and spooky vibe. The course will take you all over the mansion, with an underwater basement and a short gliding section in the middle. If you’re a fan of haunted house-themed levels, this one takes the cake.
8. Bowser’s Castle
Step into the fortress of Mario’s arch nemesis, the infamous King Koopa, Bowser himself. This course is loaded with traps that make it clear just how unwelcome you are in Bowser’s abode — you have the castle lasers, hanging spike balls, falling boulders, and a giant statue of Bowser trying to smash you to smithereens! Overall, Bowser’s Castle is a great track with high stakes, deadly hazards, and an epic rock soundtrack.
7. Toad Harbor
Searching for a track with lots of fun shortcuts? Toad Harbor should be your first stop. This map is riddled with unique pathways and bouncy rooftops that gives you more creative freedom over the course. Plus, with all the boosts and wide turns for drifting, there’s never a dull moment.
The last part of the track has a wide slanting road with multiple streetcars, which is clearly modeled after the hills of San Francisco, and what looks like the Statue of Liberty in the distance is actually Peach holding a big star. Toad Harbor is a great example of how this fantastical series can emulate the real world.
6. SNES Rainbow Road
Simplicity is key. While this race is short, it’s pure fun and a classic blast from Mario Kart’s past. Throughout the map, you will have to rely on your drifting skills to stay on the course while dodging all the giant Thwomp Traps that attempt to squish you along the way.
One of the most annoying but hilarious sections of this map is the two Thwomps that are strategically placed right before the finish line. If your timing is a bit off and you get smashed, you may lose your first place standing in the final moments of the race.
5. Sunshine Airport
Only Nintendo could design an airport as cool as this one. Unlike the slow-moving lines at airline check ins, Sunshine Airport brings the speed. As you’re zipping through aircrafts with multiple boost pads along the way, this track flies by.
I had so much fun with this course that its three minute track length only felt like a few seconds. This is an essential course for any racer looking for a blissful time and dazzling visuals. Not to mention the amazing soundtrack in this one — out of all the courses, it has to be the grooviest song in the game.
4. Animal Crossing
One of the main reasons I play video games is to escape from all the stress. And what’s a better retreat from reality than a race on Tom Nook’s Island? This course captures the wholesome vibe of the Animal Crossing series while creating a dynamic racing experience chock full of charming characters.
The best part of this course is that it renders a random season each time you play. Even though the track remains the same, it feels like a totally different course depending on the season. From the beautiful sunny skies and cherry blossoms of spring to the powdery snow and holiday lights in winter, it’s one of the most visually unique tracks in the game.
3. Hyrule Circuit
Mario Kart 8’s best decision was adding Link to its roster. If you enjoy Zelda games, this crossover is a treat for long-time fans of the series. But that’s not all — they also designed a beautiful track for Link’s home kingdom of Hyrule. From the epic main score to the rich grassy landscapes and detailed intricacies of the castle, this track pulls you straight into the Legend of Zelda universe.
I’m amazed by all the little details this map includes. Instead of coins, Rupees are scattered around the map for you to collect. My favorite part of the course is driving inside the castle. If you drift just right and hit the three anti-gravity switches, it will play the familiar “puzzle solved” theme which will unlock a boost pad that lets you jump through the Master Sword!
2. Cheep Cheep Beach
What can I say? I’m a sucker for beach-themed levels. Not only is the tropical locale breathtaking, but this course gives you off-roading freedom that most other maps don’t. If you steer away from the sand, you can still drive underwater and admire the waddling krabs and fish swimming beside you.
Cheep Cheep Beach has smooth pacing and a great setting that offers a few minutes of vacation vibes with every race, which is why I don’t hesitate to revisit this map time and time again.
1. Mount Wario
Mount Wario deserves the number one spot on this list for its nuance and ingenuity. While most tracks have you making several laps around the same course (perhaps with minor variations), Mount Wario is one of the few that features a linear path, making each section different from the last. Racing from the top of the mountain to the bottom like an alpine skier, you’re faced with tight turns on wintery slopes, excellent gliding sections, and a sudden ride down a flowing river.
It’s the unpredictable nature of this course that makes it so memorable for me. While some courses can get repetitive, Mount Wario keeps you on your toes with a variety of distinct environments that make you feel like you’ve completed an epic descent each time.
Phew, we have finally reached the finish line! While this list reflects my personal favorites, Mario Kart 8 is such a polished game that there are many others that I love. With all the colorful tracks and catchy tunes, most of them are so consistently good that it was hard to choose. Here are some tracks that almost made the list: DK Jungle, Sherbet Land, and Wario’s Gold Mine, to name a few.
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