The Kart racer genre is arguably video game’s greatest gift to mankind. These chaotic, fast-paced, go-kart party games have inspired friendships (and ended them) for decades. As kids, we screamed at our older brothers in rage when we got blue-shelled at the end of Rainbow Road. In high school, we tried out the broad-ranging offerings of the genre beyond the Mario Kart franchise, such as the Crash games, the Sonic series, and even some of the weirder ones, like the lesser known Star Wars: Super Bombad Racing. Then in college, we played Mario Kart 64 drinking games at parties, bringing the journey full circle.
Kart games have been with us since the early days of the Super Nintendo. And with Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled coming out on consoles this week, it seems like they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Here’s our ranking of the best kart games in video game history. If you’re mad about the outcome, we have one thing to say: Race us.
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9. Mortal Kombat Armageddon (2006)
To kick off our list, we’re starting with a minigame that is little-known yet still undeniably kickass. Hidden within the blood-and-guts fighter, Mortal Kombat Armageddon was a full-fledged kart racer, complete with power-ups, character-specific karts, and franchise-specific maps. In my opinion, there should be a kart-racing version of every game. Give us a God of War kart racer, you cowards. —Dom Nero
8. Star Wars: Super Bombad Racing (2001)
Listen, I know what you’re thinking: This is not a good game; it’s broken and clunky. But with Star Wars: Super Bombad Racing you could play as big-headed versions of your favorite Star Wars characters—an odd group of Sith and Jedi (and Jar Jar Binks) in mini pod racers—and as a kid, that was the shit. This one was a great time. —Cam Sherrill
7. Super Mario Kart (1992)
The title that kicked off the kart racing trend is still one of the best of all time. Have you played Super Mario Kart lately? It really holds up. The classic title has been modded and re-worked for decades by hackers and Mario Kart diehards, but the original SMK is undeniably an all-timer, and notably features a pre-Diddy Kong younger sibling of Donkey Kong, who goes by the name “Donkey Kong Jr.” in the game. —D.N.
6. Mario Kart: Double Dash (2003)
Nintendo loves duos. For every Mario, there’s a Luigi; for every Donkey Kong, there’s a Diddy Kong; and for every Yoshi, there’s a Birdo. Double Dash took this concept and expanded on it in the best way. Kart racers often revolved around fun kart and character choices, and now Nintendo let you pick two. Each member in the kart had different abilities and roles, and with multiplayer, each person could take one to control. It allowed for great little brother co-op. On top of that, the gameplay was fast, fun, and polished. Hopefully, we’ll see Double Dash mechanics make a return in the Mario Kart series. —C.S.
5. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (2012)
Planes, boats, and karts. Sonic & All-Stars showed us the meaning of “racing transformed.” This video game included more Sega characters than just the blue blur and friends. In fact, it will go down in history as having one of the best character line-ups ever, ranging from Danica Patrick to Wreck-It Ralph, a YouTuber, and Team Fortress. It was a wild game, and definitely still worth checking out. —C.S.
4. Mario Kart 64 (1997)
Mama Mia, it was hard not to put this one at number one. So many stellar maps. So many classic characters and iconic soundtracks. Mario Kart 64 is the racer that’s best known among our generation, and the game was so popular on the N64 that it has become something of a household name. For me, it had the best version of Rainbow Road, too. —D.N.
3. Crash Team Racing (1999)
We’re only one day out from the long-awaited release of Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled, which hasn’t made this list (yet). But the game that started it all, Crash Team Racing, earns its spot as one of the absolute best kart racers of all time. With a much higher skill cap then other racers and a power-slide mechanic that changed the game, not to mention the wacky and lovable characters, this was everything a kart racer should be. The new title is dropping tomorrow though, so this list may be due for a shake-up. —C.S.
2. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (2017)
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the definitive form of Mario Kart. It had the most characters, beautiful maps, and a ton of content, all with the good old Mario Kart fun we’ve come to love. There was a healthy amount of Smash-ish elements to it, and guests like Link, Villager, and the Inklings. It looked and played gorgeously; it also fixed the battle mode from the standard version, making it playable again. The Switch lends itself perfectly to kart racers, and Deluxe proved that with versatile controller use and great on-the-go play. All that being said, Nintendo forgot to include Birdo as a playable character, which did lose it some points. —C.S.
1. Diddy Kong Racing (1997)
We said it! No amount of angry comments can stop us from publishing the truth, folks: Mario Kart rules, but Diddy Kong Racing took the kart racer formula and utterly perfected it. While the Mario Kart titles have always focused on the core racing mechanics, Diddy Kong went one step further by introducing a story mode complete with a hub world and boss battles. The characters may not have been as iconic or beloved as the Mario Kart dudes, but what made this game so great was that it was willing to go way weirder than Nintendo’s in-house series would have ever dreamed. You had hovercrafts, planes, and the traditional go-karts to mix it up, and the game was wicked fast, balancing speed and finesse for an incredibly fun—and zany—experience. And it had that horny squirrel, Conker. Whatever happened to him? —D.N.
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