9. SNES Donut Plains 3
Mario Kart 8 can’t rely on anti-gravity forever, so it’s not afraid to go back to the basics. The grounded, rough n’ tumble racing that started it all is timeless for a reason, as evidenced by the game’s one and only Super Mario Kart track: SNES Donut Plains 3. Here, there are no fancy gimmicks, no anti-gravity walls emerging from the ground or flashy hazards requiring split-second decisions; it’s a simple, straight-up race, utilizing raw skill as you dodge Red Shells and Monty Moles and speed along shortcuts.
This non-ambition is mirrored by its accompanying music track: whereas many of Mario Kart 8‘s live performances go for over-the-top big band productions, this remix takes a more laid-back approach with acoustic and bass guitars. Combined with the deliciously warm Super Mario World-inspired aesthetic, it’s hard not to think back to the days of yesteryear.
8. 3DS Neo Bowser City
What’s possibly Mario Kart 7‘s best track returned for the final round of DLC. While it shares the darker colors and mood of N64 Toad’s Turnpike, 3DS Neo Bowser City has far more in common with its respective handheld original than the N64 course, as the layout and shortcuts and the like are more or less the same. Even the one anti-gravity section doesn’t shake things up that much, so barring the flight climax, it’s another track dedicated to pure racing skill; actually, that’s why I often turn to it for Time Trials.
Really, what sells Neo Bowser City is how it oozes with atmosphere, and it especially shows in beautiful HD. Just like in Super Mario 3D World, rain drips down the screen to immerse us into its world (and check out Nintendo’s attention to detail: it disappears when you enter a tunnel) Also, don’t the monitors of Bowser laughing everywhere give you the message of “you just wandered into the wrong neighborhood”? Just imagine what it’d be like to enter a city of Bowser-supporting Koopas and Hammer Bros. Scary, scary stuff.
7. Toad Harbor
Delfino Square from Mario Kart DS is my favorite Mario Kart track of all time, so naturally I’d have high expectations for another harbor/resort course. To my delight, Toad Harbor ended up becoming one of Mario Kart 8‘s best tracks, capturing our attention instantly with a tantalizing boat shortcut that sends us speeding atop market awnings. It’s a track that utilizes its setting to the fullest, namely how Toad Toy Store props up the course’s one anti-gravity segment. Like DS Wario Stadium, we’re thrilled by this one, quick burst that doesn’t wear out its welcome.
However, Toad Harbor takes it a step further by using it as a segue for the downhill slope, the course’s climax. Here, a cable car trudges along as a possible hazard, ramps pop up to provide boosts, and a number of shortcuts and alternate paths await you at the bottom. Given the amount of variables here, it’s guaranteed to get crazy with every other racer aiming for supremacy, so hold tight! Even if you stumble, you’ll at least be provided with a lovely view.