3. Cloudtop Cruise
One of Mario Kart 8‘s more scenic courses takes place in the clouds, and is an absolute blast from start to finish. From bouncing on mushrooms to navigating Bowser’s airships and sailing through thunderclouds, there’s just simply a lot going on here. Sky courses are very few and far between in Mario Kart, so it’s clear the development team pulled all the stops to make this course as memorable as possible. It’s certainly a classic I’d like to see reappear in future entries.
As mentioned earlier, Mario Kart 8 isn’t shy about referencing the core Super Mario series, and this course may contain the slyest one. The music taking a cue from Mario Galaxy‘s beloved Gusty Garden Galaxy theme is great enough, but did you ever notice where the beanstalk you start on comes from? The answer may surprise you, especially if you’ve played the original Super Mario Bros.
2. Wild Woods
Easily the best of the DLC courses, Wild Woods is perhaps my favorite example of subtle anti-gravity in the game. The enchanted forest features elaborate architecture to host its Toad and Shy Guy denizens, so the gravity-defying boardwalks and tree trunks must bend according to its whims, and it’s all just a wonder to take in (especially with that musical chorus!). Said detail, however, must ensure it never takes any giant dips or ascensions, so the player can maintain the lead while absorbing their surroundings.
Like Toad Harbor before it, Wild Woods is a course that takes full advantage of its setting, which is imperative for a track as inspired as this. From the lily-pad rapids to the Shy Guy bridges, it’s my favorite original Mario Kart 8 track not merely for how fun it is, but in how much I want to engage with the world it presents; in fact, never before have I felt such desire to live among the Toads and Shy Guys. Especially the Shy Guys, with their Nate Bihldorff grunts and chants filling the magical woods day and night.
1. N64 Rainbow Road
Mario Kart 64‘s Rainbow Road was notorious for just how long it was; it was a three-lap course, and each lap took approximately two minutes! And yet despite the fact it took six minutes to clear the course, much of the game’s nostalgia for many (including my own) centers around this one track, with its dreamy music and character neon lights instantly transporting us to our youths. Hence the instant excitement surrounding the April 2014 trailer: witnessing the nebulous course transformed into an explosion of colors (literally, if you count the new fireworks) taking place above a nightlight-filled city was too much for our wistful hearts to take.
From the beginning, the familiar flute from Mario Kart 64 captivates us just before it erupts into a big band session complete with saxophone. Like Dolphin Shoals’s last half, we want to race again and again just so we can hear it in its entirety. Divided into three laps ala Mount Wario, N64 Rainbow Road is now perfectly paced enough to function at a normal length; a good thing, as we wouldn’t want the magic to grow tired. Bursting with more visual activity and energy than any other stage, the anti-gravity segments are just subtle enough to let every firework and flying train overwhelm us with shiny colors.
N64 Rainbow Road operates on so many levels that Mario Kart 8’s original take on the traditional course–a space-station manned by Toads–simply can’t compare in everything from aesthetics, music and design. It’s the one course where I don’t care at all if I’m losing or falling off constantly, as I’m too busy grinning and laughing at the magic on display. It’s by far the funnest course to look at, the funnest course to cap out our play sessions, and most importantly of all, the funnest to play on. It isn’t just Mario Kart 8‘s true Rainbow Road, but its best course. Period.
And that’s it! Unfortunately, the likes of Mute City, Dragon Driftway, and Sunshine Airport just missed the cut, so feel free to criticize if your favorites missed the cut! (And, of course, celebrate if your favorites made it in)