The best Mario Kart games (that aren’t Mario Kart)
Everyone loves Mario Kart. But, particularly these days, not everyone has a Nintendo console.
Maybe the Nintendo Switch will change all that, after all stranger things have happened in the last decade of gaming.
In case it doesn’t, here are 10 of the best Mario Kart alternatives. We’ve included ones released around the time of the very first Mario racer back in the 90s to others that popped-up over the last few years.
What brings this band together are slide-y “kart” physics, and prioritising fun over the driving-glove wearing tricks of the more serious racers out there.
Platforms: Commodore 64/PC
A little bit of wacky goes a long way. Wacky Wheel’s brand of wackiness is thankfully less irritating than a “you don’t have to be mad to work here but it helps” poster and boils down to silly sound effects, and using a bunch of different animals for its racer characters.
Wacky Wheels is a bargain basement Mario Kart impersonator, but there’s an enduring charm to its stripped-back style. That we remember playing the shareware version on a magazine floppy disk back in the days of, well, shareware and floppy disks, probably helps too.
This is a DOS (PC, in other words) racer, but was also released for Commodore 64, the closest many of us got to a games console in the 80s and early 90s.
One of the most shameless SNES Super Mario Kart clones, Street Racer took the kart formula and added a bunch of “cool” generic characters like a sumo wrestler and a Frankenstein’s monster clone.
Oh, and also multiplayer football in karts. If you really want to give Street Racer credit it probably doesn’t deserve, you could say it inspired Rocket League.
Multiplayer is the main draw here. While Street Racer is faster than Super Mario Kart, it doesn’t have the rock-solid racing feel that makes the best kart racers feel great decades after their original releases.
However, it’s still quite fun more than 20 years later, and was a good example of the SNES’s Mode 7 graphics tech in action. It wasn’t quite as impressive when it arrived on PlayStation two years later in 1996, mind.
Take Mario Kart, add some of the high-speed chaos of Micro Machines and you have Re-Volt. It was released for N64 and PS1 in 1999, but the most impressive-looking console version was the Dreamcast release.
While not strictly a kart racer, Re-Volt’s remote control car racing has a similar over-the-top, toy-like feel. It lets you use the environment more than the other racers here, its tracks packed with shortcuts and obstacles to show what consoles were capable of back in 1999.
Success is more about fast reflexes than learning how to skid around corners, but this also changes depending on the kind of car you use. There are 28 cars in Re-Volt, some that can turn 180 degrees on a dime, others with skiddier, more Mario Kart-like, handling.
Stunt Race FX
Back in 1994 there were few more ambitious console games than Stunt Race FX. It squeezed every last bit of performance out of the SNES.
Stunt Race FX was just one of a few SNES games to feature a SuperFX chip, an extra graphics processor built into the cartridges of titles like this, Star Fox and Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (which went even further with a SuperFX 2 chip).
It pushed the SNES so far that Stunt Race FX lost out on some of speed of the very best kart racers. If you’re used to playing games at 60fps on your water-cooled, LED-laden gaming PC, it’ll seem like this one runs at about 3fps.
Steering is unforgiving and you can flat-out destroy your car here. Learning tracks is a must. However, it’s a nostalgia goldmine and a real technical feat.
Konamic Krazy Racers
Platforms: Game Boy Advance/Virtual Console
Our one pick that started off its life as a portable-only racer, Konami Krazy Racers was made for the Game Boy Advance in 2001. Wii U owners can also check it out, though, thanks to a 2015 virtual console release.
It’s a classic Mario Kart wannabe, with ‘flat’ tracks giving Konami Krazy Racers a semi-3D feel just like the SNES’s Super Mario Kart or Mario Kart: Super Circuit, released for Gameboy Advance just a few months after this title.
Konami would have been sunk if Krazy Racers had slipped out after that game as, let’s be frank, Mario Kart: Super Circuit is better. However, this alternative is still worth playing.
Konami also made a new, full 3D remake of sorts for iOS and Android in 2009. But it seems to have disappeared from their app stores at some point since. Bugger.
Crash Team Racing
Made by Naughty Dog, producer of some of Sony’s best games of the last three decades, it’s no surprise Crash Team Racing is one of the very best kart racers.
It gloms classic Mario Kart-style race mechanics onto dynamic tracks with more jumps, more height elements and revved-up speed.
Crash Team Racing is less pristine and more chaotic than its arch rival Mario Kart 64, but this just means it gives you a different flavour of fun to Nintendo’s karting classics. It was first released for PS1 in 1999, but as part of the PS One Classics arsenal you can play it on PSP, Vita and PS3.
The LittleBigPlanet of kart racers, ModNation Racers lets you design your own courses and download those of other players. There are more than a million to download, although if you don’t fancy racing along what some 13 year-old has made on their PS3, you can just play through the ones developer United Front came up with.
It’s easy to get side-tracked by the creation side of ModNation Racers, but it’s a very solid kart racer in its own right.
It was released for PS3 and PSP in 2010, and there’s also a sequel for Vita released in 2012, called ModNation Racers: Road Trip.
Diddy Kong Racing
Here’s one that should get some of you a bit misty-eyed. Diddy Kong Racing was Rare’s take on Mario Kart. It bungs-in classic Rare characters like Banjo, Conker and Diddy Kong, and also spreads tracks across a 3D hub world, giving it an adventuring exploration element.
It features planes and hovercraft as well as cars, which adds some variety to Diddy Kong Racing’s sheer cuddly charm.
If you want a game you can dig deep into, sure you might want to stick with Mario Kart. However, if you just want to scoop some froth off the top of a classic kart racer for a few hours, Diddy Kong Racing is pure joy.
Is F-Zero GX really a kart racer? Well, you don’t drive a kart but a sort of futuristic space craft, but if you were to inject a 20ml of Wipeout juice into Mario Kart, F-Zero GX is more-or-less what you’d get.
This is the Gamecube entry of a series that began before Mario Kart was born, the SNES’s F-Zero released all the way back in 1990.
F-Zero GX is insanely fast, unusually intense, and will have you hooked for longer per session than just about any other arcade racer. F-Zero X for Nintendo 64 and the original F-Zero are also worth revisiting if you still have those old consoles knocking about in a cupboard somewhere.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
Platforms: PS3/Xbox 360/Wii U
If you don’t have the patience to dig around in decades-old games, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is the only Mario Kart alternative you need to check out. SEGA may have dragged Sonic’s name through mud and doggy doings for much of the last 20 years, but this is one of the best kart racers of the last decade or so.
There are 25 tracks and 20 characters spanning the surprising breadth of the SEGA universe, and online multiplayer is included for good measure.
SEGA nailed it with Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, and we don’t get to say that too often about its games anymore. Racing physics are spot-on, the levels are packed, and it’s that extra nitrous shot faster than Mario Kart 8. Would you expect anything else from a Sonic game?