• Mal Morgenstern

The 50 Best Mario Kart Course OSTs, Ranked

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe's Wave 2 DLC is Out Now.


I’ve been enjoying Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the run-up to Wave 2 of the Booster Course Pack, the soundtracks especially. Hearing the Coconut Mall music for the first time in 10 years was a revelation!


That piqued my curiosity in the previous games’ music, as well as made me want to indulge in some nostalgia for a series that means a lot to me, beyond just bringing out my vicious competitive streak. So I’ve compiled my favourite 50 soundtrack pieces to form a definitive retrospective on the music of the mainline Mario Kart series (plus Mario Kart Tour - since we’re probably getting all the new Tour music in 8/Deluxe anyway).


 

50. Super Mario Kart - Bowser’s Castle

Spoiler for the coming list: there is a lot of Bowser’s Castle. It’s a good track on every game because it’s an opportunity for the composers to let loose and do some cool, edgy shit you won’t see in the rest of the soundtrack.


This one is simple, discordant. I enjoy the very 90s synth crashes, and I like that it sounds like a B-movie horror. It works well for Bowser’s first go-kart outing.


49. Mario Kart: Double Dash!! - Rainbow Road

This isn’t my favourite Rainbow Road track, if only because, while I like it, I think other tracks embody Rainbow Road better. Still, this track takes the overall lightheartedness of the GameCube soundtrack but lifts the Mario Kart 64 Rainbow Road motif wholesale, and to be honest, though this will be controversial, I prefer this version to the 64 one!


48. Mario Kart 8/Deluxe - Ice Ice Outpost

This theme feels cold in its arrangement, but manages to balance that iciness with a warm and welcoming melody. Shimmering background synths and a gorgeous live violin performance are the icing on the cake.





47. Mario Kart Wii - DK Summit/DK’s Snowboard Cross

I love how this track sounds perfectly like its time. It’s a little dated now but that endears it to me more. The drum and bass percussion adds momentum, while the synths are shockingly beautiful as they rise up high - giving that impression of being on a snowy mountain.



46. Mario Kart 7 - Music Park/Melody Motorway

Honestly, it would’ve felt mean to not include this on a musical ranking. The giant, adorable music notes on the track might have killed me. The combination of 8-bit sounds and orchestral stabs gives the impression of joy from first making music as a kid, slamming the heels of your palms on an electric piano at the music store.


45. Mario Kart 7 - Neo Bowser City/Koopa City

This one is a futuristic variation on the main circuit theme in 7 (with a hint of 64’s Toad’s Turnpike). To me, it suits the synth-driven sound a lot better, feeling more ambient in its execution.





44. Mario Kart Tour - Berlin Byways 2

Mario Kart Tour will feature quite a lot in this list! Its soundtrack is such a pleasant surprise and this synthpop anthem (like... literally the German national anthem, if I’m hearing it right?) is a standout.





43. Mario Kart 8/Deluxe - Dolphin Shoals

This track has an incredible jazz solo from saxophonist Kazuki Katsuta. I don’t like the non-solo sections that much, if only because I think they’re overshadowed by how good that solo is! But the moment that solo starts, you know you’re in good hands, while in the gameplay you’re rising above water to the top of the cliff. A beautiful track with a fluid structure!


42. Mario Kart DS - Tick Tock Clock

I mean it does what it says on the tin. It sounds like a ticking clock, and I like the sound design, like the reverb on what sounds like a thumb piano? I also enjoy the second half which introduces some mysterious chords. The vibe is being part of something greater than yourself, all-encompassing and impossible to understand except by dividing it into arbitrary units. Or like being shrunk down and stuck inside a clock to race for entertainment. I wish the original of this track were longer, but that’s all the more reason to enjoy the remixed and extended version in 8/Deluxe.


41. Mario Kart 7 - Shy Guy Bazaar

This one is atmospheric and has a melancholy feel for Mario Kart - it stands out for that reason. A lot of 7’s tracks have this appeal, honestly, they don’t sound like anything before or since.





40. Mario Kart 7 - Rosalina’s Ice World

Speaking of which! This track is on par with Shy Guy Bazaar for atmosphere, which feels perfect for Rosalina’s first course. I’m soft for those low reverberating piano notes, which make it more chilled than most of the previous winter-themed tracks.




39. Mario Kart 8/Deluxe - Thwomp Ruins

I enjoy the more folk inspired tracks on these soundtracks. They’re very distinctive, and this one has a feel like you’re about to be whisked away to fairyland.






38. Mario Kart 64 - Frappe Snowland/Sherbet Land

This one’s simpler than other tracks, sure, but it perfectly reflects the tracks it accompanies. It’s festive and puts a smile on my face every time I hear it.






37. Mario Kart DS - Shroom Ridge

Upbeat funk which celebrates Mario Kart OST history. Every aspect of this track hints towards all the games that have come so far. The bass sounds like a cleaner SNES bass, the GameCube whistles run throughout, and I think the melody sounds like something you’d hear on 64. A perfect combination of the reasons why people love the Mario Kart music.


36. Mario Kart 7 - Bowser’s Castle

Unsurprisingly, Bowser’s Castle fucks in 7 too. It chugs along, emphasising Bowser’s everlasting threat. It’s not the best Bowser’s Castle, but of all the handheld Castle tracks, I think the over-the-top spookiness represents Bowser’s overall feel the best.




35. Mario Kart 8/Deluxe - Bone Dry Dunes

Another folk-inspired track, this time drawing on Middle Eastern and North African folk. There’s gorgeous instrumentation and a beautiful melody, as well as a disco beat in the middle, which wasn’t necessary but ups it by like 10 points in my estimation.




34. Mario Kart Wii - Rainbow Road

This track highlights the sheer beauty of the Wii soundtrack and reminds me of simpler times, trying to perfect my run on this track while playing Rosalina. The popcorn synths and shimmering percussion are maybe a little dated, but to me that makes this track more endearing.



33. Mario Kart Wii - Dry Dry Ruins

This track reminds me of old 90s platformers, with a busy melody and the juxtaposition of a MIDI sitar with more openly electronic elements. I always thought it was neat how it changed depending where you were on the track - it was an element through a lot of this game, but it was noticeable here because the contrast between the two track versions was so big, excising the primary melody when you went indoors.


32. Mario Kart 7 - Piranha Plant Slide

This one is so funky! I love the thundering, echoing bass and the references to the Super Mario Bros. underground theme.







31. Mario Kart: Double Dash!! - Waluigi Stadium/Wario Colosseum

Similar to how there isn’t a bad Bowser’s Castle track, I don’t think there’s a bad Wario or Waluigi track, all of them veritable nasty goblin tracks that make moral bankruptcy (at least, as morally bankrupt as you can get in a Mario game!) cool. I love the ska influences throughout this game’s soundtrack, especially with the emphasis on horns? It gives it a distinct feel from the others... but, I do feel the limitations of MIDI horns here, and I’m desperate for a live band version of this track.


30. Mario Kart DS - Airship Fortress

Before making this ranking, I forgot this track existed. And I regret that so much because its theme is amazing! Compared to the other spooky offerings from the series, it has a much more distinctive sound - almost a country vibe, with harmonica and acoustic guitar.




29. Mario Kart: Double Dash!! - Luigi/Mario/Yoshi Circuit

This is such a quirky circuit theme, iconic and memorable to this day. If I were to pick a song that sounded like Mario Kart this would be the one.






28. Mario Kart: Super Circuit - Bowser’s Castle

Honestly, I don’t have much of a taste for the Super Circuit soundtrack, and I don’t know if it’s that it doesn’t sound good because of the Game Boy Advance’s lack of a dedicated sound chip, or if the composition is just weaker, because the reimaginings in later games haven’t done it for me either. But this track is unsurprisingly one exception, because Bowser’s Castle always brings it home. The guitar riff is great, the urgency in the keyboards is fab, it feels saturated and full of interest in a way that a lot of the Super Circuit music just... doesn’t to me.


27. Mario Kart 64 - Circuit and Raceway Theme

This track boasts one of the catchiest basslines in this whole series, a smooth climbing bass. It takes a contrasting, poppier approach to the SNES version’s circuit themes, focusing more on preserving a funky vibe throughout the track.




26. Mario Kart Wii - Mushroom Gorge

This one is not going to be for everyone, but I love how wild that arrangement is. Like, a disco synth bass with recorder and clapping percussion... electro folk? I don’t think it could have existed in its present form, because for all this list is dominated by 8/Deluxe and I think it’s the best written of the OSTs, I don’t think 8/Deluxe’s arrangement choices were massively ‘out there’. So this entry, like many of the Wii entries, benefited from the restrictions of not having a live band.


25. Mario Kart Wii - Toad’s Factory

We love Toad’s Factory in this house. I think some of the jazz/swing stuff in these games can be a little generic for me (this is going to come back to bite me when you read what my number one is). But those crunchy chords and swelling horns make a classic, one that works well with the limitations of a MIDI big band by upping the dynamics and going bold places with its harmonies.


24. Mario Kart 8/Deluxe - Rainbow Road

This is such an uplifting Rainbow Road track. Some Rainbow Road tracks have been mysterious, others have been a little cloying for my tastes, but this one gets the balance down. I love that despite each Rainbow Road getting a little more modernised, this one sounds especially 80s, fitting well for a neon venture into space.


23. Mario Kart 8/Deluxe - Shy Guy Falls

Oh my god guys it’s Mushroom Gorge 2. Like I enjoy that we do have a decent amount of synth and MIDI instruments alongside the live recorded instruments, and I like the long slow build of this track, which feels fitting for a cascading waterfall.




22. Mario Kart 8/Deluxe - Dragon Driftway

This track is so evocative, winding intricately like the track. I love the combination of the driving funk/fusion rhythms with the more traditional melody.






21. Mario Kart Tour - Los Angeles Laps

I’m obsessed with the fact the opening chords are the same as the SNES Rainbow Road theme! It’s catchy and jaunty throughout, weirder than most of the new tracks in Tour, and it suits LA well.





20. Super Mario Kart - Rainbow Road

What a gorgeous introduction to Rainbow Road as, like, a concept. Those opening chords are instant frisson, the more melodic part soars airily, but I like the contrasts this track uses to distinguish it - that even here, that chugging synth bass so synonymous with this game’s OST is still present, a lingering presence all the way back from Mario Circuit.


19. Mario Kart 8/Deluxe - Cloudtop Cruise

When I first heard those complex, gorgeous opening bars, I was like, why is this masterpiece of contemporary classical in a Mario Kart game? I like that this track references other motifs throughout the soundtrack but flies past them so fast you could miss them. And the sheer power of that melody works so well for the track theme even as it’s passed between the ensemble, even at one point to electric guitar.


18. Mario Kart 64 - Bowser’s Castle

This one is such a huge contrast from the 64 soundtrack as a whole, which I find pretty soothing. It’s ominous but also lamenting... and it’s so bare, with just a synth choir, strings, and a gentle pounding drum. It’s akin to the track - the castle is huge and open and, despite being full of Thwomps and self-portraits, tremendously lonely. (It’s okay though! Bowser just needed to experience the joys of fatherhood.)


17. Mario Kart Wii - Bowser’s Castle

I love that this track starts with the original Bowser theme from Super Mario Bros.! That’s such a cool little thing! Like the 64 version of Bowser’s Castle, this one takes more of a melancholic angle for the Koopa King, with its slow pace and mournful organ and strings. I’d say this one’s a bit more badass, though - more of a boss battle than a post-defeat lament. It’s more situated in its key, and a bit more structured, which adds to its ominousness because it feels like it’s building towards something a bit more concrete. It goes more places than 64 did and I appreciate that. I miss this track a lot and would love to see it in 8 Deluxe!


16. Mario Kart DS - Peach Gardens

This track is so gorgeous, graceful and sweet but not saccharine. I’ve found myself humming the melody ever since tasked with ranking all these tracks, and love how much it manages to evolve in its short runtime.





15. Mario Kart Wii - Daisy Circuit

This track took the circuit theme from this game and elevated it to perfection. That spicy key change in the middle section is so nice, and the melody is so memorable (both the one taken from the other circuit themes, and the one written specifically for this track!). Like the track itself, it feels like watching a beautiful sunset with someone you love.


14. Mario Kart 8/Deluxe - Super Bell Subway (Underground)

Honestly, I’m not the biggest fan of the non-underground version, but I mean, you spend most of the track underground anyway. Who can blame them for referencing the underground theme again? It slaps! Literally this time, with a slap bass. And that high-up synth riding over the whole track without a care. Gorgeous.


13. Mario Kart Tour - Sydney Sprint

This track is great, but it’s a little limited by the lack of a live band - so I am excited to hear the 8 Deluxe version! In the meantime, this is a funky, laidback saunter through the city that’s well constructed start to finish.





12. Mario Kart 8/Deluxe - Wild Woods

This track is gorgeous and bold - that is, I think going for a weird time signature is a bold move in a racing soundtrack, something which necessitates constant energy. But it works for anti-gravity racing, as the melody winds and coils along with the track! You’re in the heights but you’re also not alone, because the music itself seems to whisper that nature is alongside you.


11. Mario Kart Wii - Coconut Mall

You were waiting for this. It barely missed the top ten, but it had some tough competition. When I first heard the rearrangement in 8 Deluxe I was like, almost in tears because I had missed hearing it so much. This track is nothing but good vibes and I wish going to the mall in real life felt anywhere near as joyful as this.


10. Mario Kart DS - Rainbow Road

Controversially, this is my favourite Rainbow Road track. I like that the harmonic progression feels kind of bittersweet, which was absolutely how it would feel to fall off in this game. And I love how deep the DS bass could go.




9. Mario Kart 8/Deluxe - Mount Wario

Wario gets the best tracks! This is a track that could never have happened prior to this release because it needs that live violin and horn section to work. It’s bombastic, grand, feels like descending a mountain and surpassing all the dangers you could possibly incur. Vibes of that one It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia episode where Frank buys the mountain, albeit less cynical.


8. Mario Kart Tour - Ninja Hideaway

This one hits all the criteria for me. It’s high-energy and powerful, it matches the track, and there’s a slap bass. I was thrilled to get to know this one through the superior 8/Deluxe version, but I listened to the original Tour version for this ranking and it still got to rank 8! It’s just that good.



7. Super Mario Kart - Mario Circuit

It doesn’t get any better for the Mario Circuits; this is an absolute classic. I love that this soundtrack was so loose with harmonies - this track rushes through the key changes as you rush along the track, giving everything a loose, uptempo feel. The offbeat parts are -chef’s kiss-, especially with those dissonant chords near the end of the loop.


6. Mario Kart Tour - Singapore Speedway

This track brings some smooth electropop to the series. It’s unendingly confident and, like most of the new Tour tracks, well executed.







5. Mario Kart 8/Deluxe - Sunshine Airport

Another gorgeous but gentle melody that suits its setting well. Like this is some easy listening you could hear playing over an airport tannoy, never losing its upbeat tone.






4. Mario Kart DS - Waluigi Pinball/Wario Stadium

This one goes fucking hard. There isn’t a bad version of it, but I think the original is the best one; I love the out of tune guitar in the section breaks. I also like that the melody echoes other tracks in the DS soundtrack (you might be able to spot some quotations from Shroom Ridge!) but brings more edge to them, befitting the cursed men this track represents.


3. Mario Kart Tour - Vancouver Velocity

This is shockingly high. Like I’m surprised it’s here; I didn’t think Tour could reach as high as top 3 but this track is stunning, and I don’t think there’s much like it anywhere else on these soundtracks. The best I could describe it as is ‘epic disco’ (epic in the narrative sense, rather than the ancient meme sense). Give it a listen!


2. Mario Kart 8/Deluxe - Bowser’s Castle

I love this track because of all the Bowser’s Castle themes, of which six are in this list because I’m edgy, this is the only one that embodies Bowser as he is in the Mario multiplayer spinoffs. He’s here on a truce to have a good time and do occasional deadly tours of his castle. This theme feels more light-hearted than the others, maybe because it’s more melodic and upbeat, maybe because we have the live horns in combination with the electric guitars. Maybe it’s controversial to pick the cheesier, more rock-influenced one. The other Bowser’s Castles are how Bowser appears in the main games, but this is how riding a Wild Wiggler as Bowser feels.


1. Mario Kart Wii - Moonview Highway

Here we are, finally, at number one. Moonview Highway was a stealth favourite because as I was compiling this ranking, I wasn’t expecting it to be at the top - maybe because, like most people, I just remembered how hard it was to dodge the cars in this stage. But there was nothing that could beat it. It’s jazzy and frantic, perfect for a night drive down bustling streets. It’s well arranged and avoids making a meal out of the amount of stuff going on. The different offbeat rhythms and shifts into banging horn sections are like candy to my ears and perfectly reflects the way playing this track feels. I desperately hope we’ll get a live band remix of this but I doubt that we are going to get it in the Booster Course Pack because it’s not in Tour. So I guess we can only hope it comes back for Mario Kart 9, whenever that comes along.



 

Making this ranking made me realise that the best game music from my childhood almost exclusively lives in Mario Kart - and now the tracks only keep getting better. I loved revisiting these soundtracks and hope that you’ll enjoy them with me! What are your favourites from the Mario Kart soundtracks?



 


Mal Morgenstern is a writer, visual artist, and musician. Follow them on Twitter here.


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