A Nintendo Tell-All: the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Tier List

There’s always something that drags me back into the world of Super Mario. Whether it’s anniversaries and the opportunities that arise to play classic games, exciting new ventures on the Nintendo Switch, or just revisiting games from my childhood, I’m always coming back. With the release of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s Booster Course Pass DLC, I just can’t get enough of the online play feature. Playing so much of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s online multiplayer has caused something to happen to me,terminal Mario Kart Track-itus. This meansI can remember these courses like the back of my hand, and have a hankering to talk about them.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe doesn’t allow you to simply pick a course when playing online. There’s a random selection of three courses from the game, and one completely random course. Once everyone picks, only one of those selections will be the track you end up racing on. I’m ecstatic to see my favorite courses like Wario Mountain, GBA Mario Circuit, or 3DS Piranha Plant Slide. Yet, as much as I love Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for those tracks among others, it does not love me back. There are some courses that I dread playing, some that I couldn’t even be bothered to yawn at, and some in-between. I did what any terminal Mario Kart Track-itus patient would do, and made a tier list chronicling my least favorite to favorite tracks. I won’t be including any of the DLC courses, but let it be known that the majority of people automatically pick them online. This means I have to play them over, and over, and over again, you can imagine what that’ll do to someone. After going through this tier list, you’ll know exactly what courses to look for when playing online, or at a house party… I think people bring Mario Kart to those, at least I do.

F Tier:
The worst of the worst. These courses are not only bad, but it seems to me like they are always picked by online players, making the next two and a half minutes miserable for me.

GCN Baby Park – This is the course that your little brother picks because it’s “funny.” A novel concept, GCN Baby Park is simply an oval with seven laps. Just let the chaos ensue, right? Wrong. Nothing is exciting about this track, but everyone has internalized it as “the funny one,” meaning it always gets picked.
Ice Ice Outpost – Boring concept with forgettable music. This track is divided into two separate lanes that spiral in and out of a glacier like a strand of DNA, and players can switch tracks whenever they please. The problem is… everything. These individual lanes are too small, and with how one lane will rise while the other sinks, it leads to a mess of shells or other racers bouncing off the edge of each lane. Everything crescendos into a clunky mess that might be my least favorite Mario Kart track ever. This was even released as DLC after the original Mario Kart 8, it’s that recent. This is embarrassing.
Bone-Dry Dunes – Anyone else feel like they recently discovered this course was called Bone-Dry Dunes as opposed to “Dry Bone Dunes?” Like the one Super Mario enemy? No? That’s about how interesting this course is. You could say it’s bone-dry in terms of level design. At least the music is decent.
Dolphin Shoals – My first hot take. While GCN Baby Park is iconic, it is pretty divisive and I’m sure some people would actually agree with me. With this track however, people certainly won’t. Dolphin Shoals seems to be one of the modern classics of Mario Kart, and from an art direction standpoint, I’d say it’s deserved. A wonderful lagoon filled with classic sea creatures from the Super Mario series, and that part where you shoot out of the water in-sync with that saxophone solo? That may be one of the most beautiful things we as a species have created. So why is this in F Tier again? I think it has something to do with the fact that it feels like a real stretch.The part where you’re propelled up by pipes over the oceanic abyss is conceptually neat, but it takes up so much of the track and you’re basically just floating for that time. It doesn’t even feel satisfying to win. I like the inclusion of the eel from Super Mario 64, but the titular dolphins of Dolphin Shoals? Well, you better not blink, because they’ll be gone by then. What a rip-off.

D Tier:
These courses are either the go-to mediocre Mario Kart tracks or tracks that I think are too overrated, but not to an offensive degree like the F Tier courses.

GCN Yoshi Circuit – People love this track… I am not one of those people. It’s a neat one, I guess. I can imagine some little kid playing this course for the first time on his Nintendo GameCube being blown away at the fact that the track is in the shape of a Yoshi… and that’s all it has. Sorry buddy, it doesn’t make up for the lack of originality in the course. .
Sunshine Airport – The spiritual successor to Coconut Mall, but with a fraction of the chaotic fun and a severe lack of good music. I think this one would be a bit higher on the list if it was a bustling airport with a whole lot of… things going on. Instead, a good portion is dedicated to what I can only describe as meandering in your kart around a punch of realistic airplanes. Not to mention a giant track in the sky that’s begging you to be impressed by it, but it just falls short. This track moves at the pace of waiting in a TSA line at an actual airport and is about as fun as it too.
Water Park – It’s an S Tier track if we’re talking about tracks I just… don’t think about. Yet something really bothers me about this track and I think I finally figured out what. Most of the water-based Mario Kart courses are some kind of beach or ocean, i.e. being natural bodies of water, but Water Park is this weird man-made body of water. On top of that, for a water park, this place must be open in the winter because it’s empty. It just feels like a liminal space and not in a cool way. One of the best things a Mario Kart track can do is make you believe that it’s in or want to go to the Super Mario universe. If these are the water parks of the Mushroom Kingdom, I want out.
Wii Wario’s Gold Mine – Wario has a lot of things, huh? A mountain, a shipyard, two stadiums. His iconic W is even smacked onto the ferris wheel in Water Park. The money was just burning a hole in his pocket, I guess. People love this course because of how hard it is but it really isn’t, at least in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. I can see this being difficult with motion controls on the Nintendo Wii, but here it’s just sort-of whatever. Also, out of all the Wario tracks, this music is just… lame- unless you count Water Park, I can’t even remember the music there. Wario, you’ve gotta make better investments, buddy, because this track stinks. Get it?
3DS Music Park – Out of all the tracks that originated from Mario Kart 7 that made a return, I’m the least nostalgic for this one. It just screams “put me on the Nintendo 3DS.” and maybe it should’ve stayed there. Ironically, for a course called Music Park, the music sounds like something you’d hear from a fictional video game inside of a TV show or movie. It doesn’t jive with the golden, jazzy aesthetic of the track. A let down.
GCN Dry Dry Desert – My memories of this track are as barren as the desert it’s set in. Sorry, it’s just too easy to make desert jokes about bad desert-set tracks, and they always seem to be the most forgettable tracks. Except for Calamari Desert, people like- no, love- that one. In fact, I’ve forgotten so much about GCN Dry Dry Desert so much that I’ve to rant about Calamari Desert. It’s not even in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, it was in Mario Kart 64. To my surprise, people love this one. Why?! Because of the train?! Because of how lil’ choo choo goes around the track and you have to wait for it to pass?! What is this? Actual driving?! If I can get this passionate about this course that I haven’t played in so long while I’m supposed to be talking about another track, you know what you’ve done.
GCN Sherbet Land – People do not like this track… and I am one of those people. It’s honestly sad that the Mario Kart: Double Dash!! tracks got the short end of the stick. It’s cool that tracks that existed before something like the Nintendo GameCube got such good remakes in Mario Kart 8, but I can’t help but feel bad for that six-sided console and its unanimously-praised Mario Kart game.
Twisted Mansion – There’s only one time where I like this course. It’s that part where you fly out of the water. It’s not even that cool, but when you’re in the lead and they play the frontrunning rendition of the soundtrack for this course, well, it takes the “G” out of “Graveyard.” The rest of this track needs to go lay down. It isn’t good.
Shy Guy Falls – A good idea for an amazing landscape with the anti-gravity feature of Mario Kart 8, but this one just falls flat. Despite being a mountain, this track is far from the peak of Mario Kart courses.
Sweet Sweet Canyon – The music is really good, but the delicious-looking dessert foods in this track are just a facade for a very boring experience. There’s not much else to say about this let down.

C Tier:
This is where Mario Kart 8 gets mediocre. Don’t expect me to say too much about these tracks. They aren’t very remarkable.

DS Tick-Tock Clock – Missed potential. I really like the music, and for a while this track is alright, but by the end, it’s a real slog.
Mario Circuit – An okay one. The music is a real jam, and the way this track goes crazy with the anti-gravity is really fun. Not my favorite Mario Circuit, unfortunately.
DS Wario Stadium – Great music with a lot of ramps to do tricks off of. I wish it was a little more intense, however. Aesthetically, it’s going for an extreme motor sports arena-type feel, and I think that would’ve been accomplished if this was a little more cramped, which is weird to say.
SNES Donut Plains 3 – A real mouthful. I don’t like the remix of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System music, though. It just doesn’t sound right. The visuals are some of the best. Somehow, the time of day and cloudy weather really add to this one. It feels like it was made to be compared to the visuals of Super Mario Kart, which is a neat idea.
Dragon Driftway – A fun one. I like drifting and quickly releasing the drift into a boost. The twists and turns make this track feel very technical, which I like.
Rainbow Road – It’s a fun one if it isn’t 200cc. I’m sure my friends remember me repeatedly slamming my desk in rage because of 200cc Rainbow Road. Yet this version is a letdown honestly. For the first and currently only original Rainbow Road added after the anti-gravity addition of Mario Kart 8, it feels like every other anti-gravity course. And the technology-based aesthetic is certainly different, but I just prefer the whimsy of the other Rainbow Roads that are more fantastical and magical.
Thwomp Ruins – As a track, this one is mediocre. As a setting, I love the idea of ancient ruins set in the Super Mario universe, and the fact that it’s tied to Thwomps just works.
Toad Harbor – As I said before, I really like when these tracks feel like real places in the Super Mario universe. This one does feel like that, but I just… don’t care enough to rank it higher, so here it is.

B Tier:
The good ones. Honestly, I liked the C Tier course a lot more than I expected, so I’m gonna have to really gush about the next few tiers.

Wild Woods – This is everything that Ice Ice Outpost and Shy Guy Falls want to be. I’ve always loved the idea of villages located in gigantic trees, and that’s exactly what this course is. On top of that, it’s just fun.
Wii Moo Moo Meadows – One of the best upgrades in the franchise. Changing the time of day to sunset was just… man, just give whoever decided to do that a raise. They deserve it. A nice and simple course. I really wish the Booster Pack Courses were this good of an upgrade from the originals.
Super Bell Subway – Exhilarating. Racing towards subway trains never looked this fun. It’s one of the more forgettable DLC courses, but man, I like this one a lot.
Hyrule Circuit – Seeing a location based explicitly in The Legend of Zelda canon appear in Mario Kart was jaw dropping. Such a nice little course with great touches from The Legend of Zelda games. Also, the music? One of the best soundtracks in the game.
Bowser’s Castle – Mario Kart 8’s rendition of the series staple of Bowser’s Castle may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I like it a lot. The atmosphere is great and does a good job of making you feel like you’re in a place you shouldn’t be. This is Bowser’s track, not yours.
Mute City – A fun crossover with F-Zero, but it’s made worse because the other F-Zero course is one of the best. My only complaint is that the frequent use of booster pads doesn’t make you feel like you’re moving insanely fast, it just feels like a bunch of boosts that need to be strung together.
3DS DK Jungle – Another crossover, but it’s a bit more humble considering that the Super Mario series and Donkey Kong series are basically cousins. Either way, this one is a fun jungle adventure that feels like it was ripped straight out of Donkey Kong Country Returns.
Cloudtop Cruise – Yet another fan favorite and modern classic of Mario Kart 8. I feel like the Airship segment is a bit cramped, and driving through a thundercloud with lightning raining down on you isn’t as fun as it could be.
Excitebike Arena – An interesting crossover course. I like that this one is randomly generated, and I like the randomly-generated segments, but the music is just kind of lame. There are also just long stretches where it doesn’t feel like anything happens. I think I would’ve put this higher but I’ve played it too much.

A Tier:
This is where these tracks go from giving me mixed opinions to being really good. From here on out, these are courses I jump at the chance to race on when given the opportunity online.

N64 Rainbow Road – This is the real Rainbow Road of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. It’s a genuine spectacle compared to both a lot of other tracks, and the Mario Kart 8 rendition of Rainbow Road. The original Nintendo 64 track was only two laps because of how long it was. This time it’s only one, but man, it’s worth it. There’s a reason why it’s the star course on Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s box art.
Mario Kart Stadium – Now this is how you open a game. The very first track you’re likely to play in the Grand Prix, Mario Kart Stadium may very well be my favorite opening level of all time. It has everything. An interesting sports superstar atmosphere that takes place at night, which feels unlike any other opening track, grandiose music that syncs up perfectly with the track, and a fun track that introduces every concept to new players. What a track.
DS Cheep Cheep Beach – A gorgeous beach level that puts Dolphin Shoals to shame. It’s a pretty fun, albeit generic track, but it’s also quite relaxing. There’s a hefty amount of bias considering this was one of the few tracks to be playable for local multiplayer in Mario Kart DS, meaning I’d play it on roadtrips with my cousins a whole lot. Nostalgia merely sweetens my rating of this already amazing track.
N64 Yoshi Valley – I wish I were here. A winding spider web of alternative routes that make for a really fun race both when everyone goes their separate ways, and when they converge near the end. It has so much replay value. I’ve played this track so many times and there are some routes I’ve just never taken. People like to talk about how many paths Ninja Hideaway has and how cool it is, but N64 Yoshi Valley did it so much better.
GBA Cheese Land – One of the most underrated courses. It may be a bit cheesy to put an underrated track this high up for the sake of an underdog story, but I do genuinely believe that GBA Cheese Land is that good. An interesting take on a desert level, in fact I can hardly call it that, with the single best soundtrack in the game. All I’m saying is that Mozart has been real quiet since that one saxophone solo dropped.
N64 Royal Raceway – A fun spin on the traditional circuit tracks. A lot of the Mario Circuit tracks feel like generic raceways with Super Mario iconography in terms of aesthetics, and while N64 Royal Raceway has that, it also has a unique take on it, truly making it feel royal.
Wii Grumble Volcano – As a kid, I always hated this one because of how hard it was. Now, I can’t get enough of it. It’s not so much that it’s hard, it’s more about it being intense. It feels like an absolute rush for the race to be over before something goes awry, like a volcano erupting. The progressive destruction of the track makes you feel like you’re racing across a wasteland with little time to spare.
GBA Ribbon Road – In terms of level design, it’s a bit generic, but in terms of art direction, it might be the best in the game. There’s just so much to look at in the background. The gigantic karts, the Yarn Yoshis, and all of the other in-universe Super Mario merchandise is such a nice touch. The idea of racing on a giant toy castle with an actual raceway created from ribbon that’s interwoven into the castle reminds me of my childhood and I can just imagine some kid dreaming this up. What a novel concept.

S Tier:
These are the best of the best. I jump at the chance to play these online, and you should too. If these aren’t chosen, you may as well leave the game.

N64 Toad’s Turnpike – What a vibe. Driving alongside all these other trucks at dusk emanates going on those long, long road trips over the summer. It reminds me of when you look outside your car’s window into the vast expanse of traffic. Have you ever just realized that all those other cars have a home to go back to? Where are they going? They possibly have completely different walks of life- some of them may not even be from the same state or province. It makes you realize how large the world is. If a Mario Kart track can make you feel like this, that’s a good sign.
SNES Rainbow Road – What an exciting track, and a boppin’ tune. The completely flat course and dark, starry backdrop makes this truly feel like the final frontier of Mario Kart races, as if this is your final battle against eleven other racers. There are no crazy gimmicks, it’s just a test of everything you’ve learned, and you need to make use of it.
Big Blue – This is the better F-Zero crossover track. One gigantic race to the finish with an insane pace. I feel like the flowing water on the track works better than constant boost panels like on Mute City, and with the way the roads twist and wind across the tropical sci-fi setting, and the way this track just throws obstacle after obstacle at you, it feels like a roller coaster both emotionally and physically.
Mount Wario – Everyone’s favorite. Much like Big Blue, Mount Wario is one interrupted race to the finish beginning at the top of a mountain, and ending at the bottom. It may seem simple but the execution leads this track to be one of the best in the game. The track begins with a treacherous slide down an icy path, quickly transitioning to a musky cave. Then to a mad dash through a forest of snowy trees, and finally a climatic race down a ski resort. These locations make this mountain feel alive, and the adaptive music is one of the greatest ideas… ever. Nothing hits quite like the violin solo that queues as soon as you enter the forest that leads subtly into the heart-pounding tune that meshes nicely with the cheers of the crowd. This track makes you feel like the main character of the universe.
GBA Mario Circuit – I may be biased… I really like this one. It’s just such a technical track. There are so many shortcuts that are either detrimental to good time trials or accessible to anyone if they play their cards right. It’s a track for pros that I think can be enjoyed by anyone.
3DS Neo Bowser City – Definitely one of my controversial picks, but I don’t care. The stormy environment that takes place high up in a cityscape, the cyberpunk reimagining of the world of Super Mario, and the neon-drenched streets that lay in the backdrop make for one of the coolest aesthetics in Mario Kart history. It just feels like a hive crawling with Bowser’s goons that never sleeps- a city never dry for a storm always loomed over. The fact that this was originally attempted on the Nintendo 3DS is jaw dropping, and even as a kid I was interested in this place. I was astonished by the idea of what it would be like and how lived-in it would be in the Super Mario series. I honestly hope it makes an appearance in another game. Also the music… chef’s kiss…
Electrodrome – One of my favorite things to do on this course was watch the Piranha Plants suddenly start headbanging to the music after the opening countdown at the beginning with my friends. Watching all these Super Mario enemies, like Shy Guys and Koopa Troopas, dance to the music while karts zip by just gives me life. Wherever y’all are dancing Koopa Troopas, I salute you.
3DS Piranha Plant Slide – For some reason, this didn’t appear on my tier list that I’m referencing. Luckily thoughuckily I remembered it because my feelings would be hurt if I didn’t get to talk about this one. A really fast-paced track which you’ve probably noticed that I enjoy. I love the focus on classic Super Mario iconography, and the leitmotifs that appear in this course’s soundtrack are the best. Can’t get enough of this one, which is sad because nobody ever votes for it online. So-called free thinkers…

And that’s a wrap. No matter how low some of these courses ranked, I think the amount of effort put into all of them is undeniable. It is a little sad to see that the Booster Course DLC tracks feel as lazy as they do, which makes them feel a lot more unlikeable. All of the courses I’ve ranked today feature something that make them memorable and stick out in my mind- they feel like whole new worlds to explore, and that’s what’s missing from these new remakes. I’ve been cleared of my Mario Kart Track-itus, but as a result, it seems I have a hefty amount of distaste for the new tracks entering the fray. No matter what, not all of these tracks are my favorite, but every track here is someone’s favorite. They all have my respect- except GCN Baby Park.