Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Rank Up! - Mario Kart 8 Tracks

Mario Kart 8 has been out for almost a month now, so I think it's been long enough to wrestle in my mind which new tracks from the game I love the most and the least. Even after racing on all sixteen tracks over and over, the decision on how to order these races never really became easy, save for a token amount of tracks. Regardless, I finally came to a conclusion on how each track should rank on this special Mario Kart 8-centric edition of Rank Up! What is Rank Up! you ask? It's where a member of staff here orders a selection of items from least greatest to greatest. While we ordinarily dabble in entries of franchises, this is a special occasion for a truly special game.

16) Bone-Dry Dunes

There really are no Mario Kart 8 tracks that I absolutely abhor or even dislike, for that matter. Therefore, Bone-Dry Dunes being the first track on this countdown doesn't make it a poor track by an stretch of the imagination. Full of twists, curves, mounds, sandships full of Toads that toss coins onto the track near the beginning turns of the race, multiple divided paths that meet back into each other before dividing apart once more, a cool anti-gravity section that allows you to ride on the wall of bones, and a glider section that puts players into a cavern being guarded by a giant Dry Bowser skull, Bone-Dry Dunes is one of the more difficult tracks of the Special Cup, especially those last turns!

15) Water Park

Who needs to wait in a line for the log flume when the entire track is a heck of a ride all on its own! Water Park is the second track of the Mushroom Cup in Mario Kart 8. It features an anti-gravity section that has racers speeding along the Sub Coaster attraction, even using the occasional roller coaster car to get a boost of speed off of. Once racers head underwater for the second time during a given lap, with a Mushroom they can jet through the underwater carousel, successfully skipping a turn of the track. Then it's just a gliding section past a tall Wario-themed Ferris Wheel to return to the starting line for the next lap or the end of the race. 

14) Sweet Sweet Canyon

A track coated in so much sugar that just racing on it could give a racer cavities, Sweet Sweet Canyon is a confectionery-themed race that has racers drifting around large cakes, blasting across a sugary sweet ocean, and deciding between taking either the pink or light blue paths. Regardless of the choice, the paths are the same length, only mirroring one another. With the use of a Mushroom and well-executed drift, a racer can speed across some chocolate frosting, through a doughnut's hole, and arrive back on the track in order to shave some seconds off their final time. Just watch out for Piranha Plants near the end who must have it like torture to see so much sweet creamy goodness around them, yet they're forced to stay in their pipes!

13) Dolphin Shoals

It has a fantastic saxophone-based theme, it has beautiful sparkling waters, and it has inviting shores where the dolphins from Super Mario World hop through hoops. What isn't there to love about Dolphin Shoals? My issue with this track is just how hard it is to build any kind of lead. The track is extremely narrow for Mario Kart 8 standards at many places, particularly near the beginning turn into the submerged cave full of pipes as well as the loop that takes place after racers finally emerge from the water. Still, Dolphin Shoals is a blast to play, offering a ride on Unagi the Eel from Super Mario 64, multiple routes through the submerged cave that precedes said eel, and hardly ever a dull moment.

12) Mario Kart Stadium

The first track of Mario Kart 8 and the first time Mario Kart itself has ever had a track devoted to the series, Mario Kart Stadium is a fantastic way to kick off the game and racing festivities. Being a beginner course, Mario Kart Stadium features multiple wide and easy turns so it's very difficult to careen off-course. From the starting hairpin turn, where taking the outside allows you to speed along some boost pads, to the ending glider segment, where an assault on you while in the air can make or break a race, Mario Kart Stadium is a glorious starter track. Seeing the stars sparkle above you and the crowd upside-down during the anti-gravity segment makes for an unforgettable first impression.

11) Twisted Mansion

The third and final race that was in the E3 2013 demo build of Mario Kart 8, Twisted Mansion juxtaposes the settings of the Flower Cup races before and after it quite well. With its slow opening of its creaking mansion doors at the start of every race to its twisted pathways, submerged section full of fear-inducing bonefish, and outdoor courtyard home to two unpleasant Boos, Twisted Mansion fits the part of a spooky ghost house splendidly. The track has two major shortcut locations, both of which require Mushrooms to fully take advantage of each. The one allows for racers to cut across the inside of the first major turn in the mansion, while the other grants permission to cut across the lawn leading to the finish line. Twisted Mansion is one spooky setting, and it's a rather enjoyable race to "boo"-t as well.

10) Rainbow Road

There are far worse Rainbow Road tracks in Mario Kart history, but there's also far better ones too. Rainbow Road in Mario Kart 8 is one that is higher on the list of great final Mario Kart tracks, but it doesn't have what it takes to be the very best, like no Rainbow Road ever was. Ahem. Set in and around a space station, Mario Kart 8's Rainbow Road features multiple perilous twists and turns that require heavy skill to overcome. It doesn't help that most of the turns and pieces of track completely lack railing, so for beginning racers, be prepared to fall off Rainbow Road. A. Lot. Racing inside the center space station has two revolving pieces of track that alternate directions each lap. Picking the right piece to race on separates the men from the boys (or the women from the girls in other cases!). The final half of track takes place on two paths that weave across and under one another. Unlike most other split path choices in Mario Kart 8, these paths are not identical or even mirror images of one another. Mario Kart 8's Rainbow Road offers a tense ride from beginning to end, but ban me to Mario Kart DS's Rainbow Road if it's not fun.

9) Mario Circuit

The first track unveiled in Mario Kart 8, Mario Circuit is a racer's welcome to the Flower Cup. The track itself is pure Mobius strip that weaves in and out familiar sights like hills from the Super Mario Bros. series and Princess Peach's castle. It's a perfect showing of exactly how cool and wicked the track design of Mario Kart 8 has become compared to past games. This track proved to me just how special even a simple concept like a Mobius strip could be made into a marvelous course to race on. Mario enemy standbys like Goombas and Piranha Plants litter the course to trip up unassuming players, but other than that, Mario Circuit is a relatively safe ride. 

8) Electrodrome

Have yourself a race and a rave all at the same time with Electrodrome's groovy raceway. Candy for your eyes, Electrodrome's bright flashy colors and giant glistening disco ball make sure that racers are having a party regardless of whether they're in first place, dead last, or somewhere in between. The track features two separate gliding areas, one at the beginning and one near the end of the race; it possesses a choice between split paths that ride over one another as if they were mirror images; and there's some particularly funky music playing all the while this is going on. It all adds up to a track that is a feast for the eyes and a joy to drive on!

7) Cloudtop Cruise

The first race of the Special Cup takes players on a sky high ride through and on top of clouds. Innocently enough the race begins with some wide turns on top of a lanky cloud pathway. Players can use various jumps and ledges to trick off of to gain some speed. The sole airship that players race upon gives a choice of going on the longer left side or the much narrower but shorter right side. From there, the sides converge and racers get shot out of a cannon through the clouds. Here, racers are now inside a massive storm cloud, which threatens to shock players with lightning bolts that blast the various boost pads inside. Once this section has been cleared, players glide into more forgiving skies onto a beanstalk where one final choice is offered: either take the longer and safer left path or cut across two leaves over a pit below to make a death-defying shortcut. Cloudtop Cruise is a beauty of a course that feels, looks, and plays the part of something epic.

6) Sunshine Airport

This was the track of Mario Kart 8 preview trailers that revealed the names of plenty of other tracks within the game. Thank you, observant watchers for that information! Sunshine Airport is a tropical destination that features racers crossing under the legs of an airplane, gliding in the air while giant planes cross over, and making precise turns to shave off as many seconds as possible. The attention to detail is massive, such as the murmuring of the PA in the airport terminal itself, the numerous planes having markings of Mushroom Kingdom-related companies on them, and there's even something that appears to be Mario Kart 64's Koopa Troopa Beach in the distance during the final gliding section of the race. It's inviting, it's engaging to race on, and there's enough variety to keep each and every lap feeling fun and fresh, Sunshine Airport is my second favorite Star Cup track in Mario Kart 8.

5) Shy Guy Falls

A race where you ride up the side of a gushing waterfall and then make a quick hairpin turn and ride down the side of another waterfall? That's just pure awesomeness in my book, no matter how I try to slice it. This is another race in Mario Kart 8 that turns racers upside-down, sideways, frontways, backways, and under-ways! I'm slipping into Willy Wonka speak here. I apologize for that. Regardless, Shy Guy Falls is not just one of the more visually appealing tracks in Mario Kart 8, but it's such a darn pleasure to race on. The track's two shortcuts, one after the track's sole gliding section and one that's relatively hidden that requires a Mushroom, both allow for some precious second-shaving fun. All that and then you have those adorable Shy Guys working hard mining ore from the side of the mountains? Oh, yeah. That's freaking fantastic!

4) Thwomp Ruins

Although it's the just the final race of the Mushroom Cup, Thwomp Ruins is a great track set in an ancient temple. The first lap is inconspicuous enough, but on the second lap, stone wheels start traveling down the inside of the temple and aren't very shy about running racers foolish enough to challenge them over. The first piece of track within the temple offers an anti-gravity path on the wall to race on to avoid the wheels completely, but the ordinary track that curves on a downward slope is the faster way to go. Once past this first inside portion of Thwomp Ruins, there are multitude of routes to travel in the outdoor courtyard. From the second lap onward, a ramp in center allows racers to glide off to catch some big air. There's also an underwater pool that can be traversed, or you can take the sides of the courtyard, either on the ground or wall. Just watch out for the titular Thwomps that litter the track and have no fear of crushing unassuming drivers. The last part of the race offers a daredevil shortcut across a narrow sliver of track surrounded by a bottomless pit. Crossing this saves some time, but falling does the opposite. A final gliding section concludes this awesome ancient track.

3) Bowser's Castle

While I am a lover of both the Nintendo 64 and GameCube Bowser's Castle tracks, Mario Kart 8's twisted and hazard-filled iteration of this long-standing traditional track certainly rivals my faves. Right away from the starting line, as racers rev their engines and countdown to begin racing ticks down, the gate of Bowser's Castle creaks open. It's a small touch but an awesome one simultaneously. Bowser's Castle in Mario Kart 8 has so many moments where you're wondering which way is up as you avoid the laser beams shot out from the eyes of the beginning straightaway's Bowser statues, tear through the crooked hallways of the castle, and come face to face with a gigantic molten Bowser statue which pummels both choices of paths at steady intervals. Bowser's Castle in Mario Kart 8 rocks, and I'm not just talking about the song that accompanies this fantastic race either!

2) Toad Harbor

I'm a sucker for street-based, city-themed tracks. It's no wonder why one of my favorite Mario Kart tracks of all time is Mario Kart DS's Delfino Square. However, I think I've found a new city track to take the crown from old Delfino Square, Toad Harbor. This San Francisco-inspired track is full of uphill and downhill street-racing, it has its own supply of streetcar trolleys, a beginning marketplace where weaving through awning poles, barrels, crates, and more is the best solution, and at least four sections of track that offer a choice of paths. Whether it's taking the seaside route for a quick shortcut across a docked boat or crossing the beginning bridge, or it's riding on the wall or continuing on the street, Toad Harbor is a terrifically designed track that still amazes, even close to a year after its initial reveal at E3 2013.

1) Mount Wario

The only all-new Mario Kart track that is split up into three sections rather than being a circuit-style track of three laps, Mount Wario is my favorite new track in Mario Kart 8. You start in truly extreme sport fashion, driving out from the inside of a plane onto the summit of the mountain. You lean into the snowy and then icy curves of the mountainous road as you move down the mountain ever so slowly. The second part of the track takes place in multiple settings: 1) inside a cavernous setting where you can glide or ride down a cascading waterfall, using the rocks to keep your flight pattern continuing, 2) on the side of a dam where water and boost pads careen downward. With proper timing, you can hit the boosts without falling into the water to your left, and 3) inside a forest, weaving in and out of the way of snow-covered trees, and tricking off of logs in the process. The final part of Mount Wario has you playing like a slalom skier, drifting downhill before coming off a glide strip towards the finish line, where thousands of screaming fans cheer you on.


Which Mario Kart 8 tracks are your favorites? Least favorites? Let us know in the comments section below!

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