Now that Mario Kart 8 has been out for a few days, and we’ve all had some time to really delve into the intricacies of the tracks, it’s time to reveal our three favorite, and least favorite, tracks.
As always, let’s start with the good stuff.
Number 1: Water Park. I’ll admit, I didn’t expect anything particularly fun out of the Mushroom Cup - I mean, it’s the first set of tracks, after all, they’re supposed to be too easy. But Water Park is a an introductory track that includes all the good new stuff about Mario Kart 8 - there are multiple vertical and underwater sections, and a moving launcher that teaches you about the anti-gravity speed boosts. Couple that with a mildly tight track layout, and neither bikes nor karts have an advantage in Water Park. The environment itself is perfect - Nintendo really nailed the theme park setting even in the upbeat beach music. Water Park is straightforward, but it gives you everything you need to get better at the game.
Number 2: Yoshi Valley. It’s about time we got a remake of one of the best Mario Kart 64 tracks. This time, the game can actually keep track of who’s in first place, so the old-school question marks are gone. The branching labyrinth the course was known for is back, but this time the multiple paths are ALL quick, reasonable choices. It’s much more balanced than it used to be, and thankfully much tougher to fall off as well. The clincher is the music - Nintendo didn’t do anything super complicated - they just brought back the original score and re-recorded it. Say what you will about nostalgia goggles, but I get such a kick out of racing Yoshi Valley ... even if that stupid Yoshi egg is back to ruin your day again.
Number 3: Cloudtop Cruise. This was a tough call, but I have to give the edge to this track. The airship harkens back to my favorite Mario game - Super Mario 3. The course is tight with 12 racers - combine that with plenty of open fence lines and massive drops, you’ll have to go big and take the shortcuts to really set a good time here. You’ll see everything from calm, fluffy cumulus clouds at the start line to a seriously angry lightning storm before you round the lap counter.
Now for the losers of the lineup.
Number 1: Dry Dry Desert. This was terrible when it was first released on Gamecube’s Double Dash. It’s still terrible now -- the ridiculous quicksand pit is back, and it’s just as easy to dodge. The rest of the track is slow business as usual -- sweeping corners and one or two fallen pillars to jump over. Woohoo. I give Nintendo credit for trying something new and adding the oasis section, but it just slows the race down even more. And there are no alternate paths, unless you count spamming mushrooms over the deep sand. This track doesn’t even feel competitive.
Number 2: Moo Moo Meadows. The stupid, dopey cows are back to wreck your laps as they lope through the exact line you want to take. And since there’s only ONE path you can take here, get used to cursing out the cows. There’s one ramp to get enough air for your glider to open, but you can’t do anything with it. Yes, Moo Moo Meadows is a beginner course, but there’s nothing about it that’ll hook new players. The music is excellent- that’s the only nice thing I can say about this course. But the race is over so quickly that you never really get a chance to appreciate Moo Moo Meadows’ one plus point.
Number 3: Toad’s Turnpike. When this track first surfaced in Mario Kart 64, it was hell on Earth - two tight highway lanes absolutely littered with quick and unpredictable semis that were tough to dodge made Toad’s Turnpike difficult to play, let alone master. Still, its difficulty earned it high enough status to warrant a remake ... but not like this. The new Toad’s Turnpike is at least twice as wide, with maybe half the amount of obstacles on the course. Opening up the course would be okay, IF there were boost pads on the tarmac. But nope! You get none of that. There are a few boost pads on the walls, if you can be bothered to go up there ... but aside from the short boosts there’s no point. This was a real missed opportunity -- why isn’t the track narrower in these spots, bottlenecking traffic and giving you more reason to scale the wall? Toad’s Turnpike is more of a cruise than a race.
But these six are just a small sample - what are your best and worst?