1. Super Mario Kart
It’s hard to imagine a time when videogame characters didn’t hop into go-karts and race each other, but it was Mario & Co. who first discovered the need for speed. Super Mario Kart pushed the Mode 7 graphic effects to the limit, offering pseudo 3-D racing in a 2-D world (even if half the screen was taken up by a map). It birthed a new racing genre that would be followed by everything from Pac-Man to Crash Bandicoot to Sonic the Hedgehog.
Introduced Everything. Mario Kart is a veritable road map for how it’s done: Take a bevy of beloved characters, add various themed weapons and power-ups, and put them on tracks based on the series’ world.
2. Mario Kart 64
Nintendo perfected the Kart style with the second go-round: 3-D graphics, four-player support, and more ambitious tracks, including the revised Rainbow Road, which is still the longest Kart track ever.
Best feature Winning all the Gold Cups at the highest difficulty earned you the ”Extra” difficulty, where you raced through mirror-image versions of each track. The brain-teasing Mirror Mode has been part of every ensuing installment.
3. Mario Kart Super Circuit
Game Boy Advance
Remember the Game Boy Advance? No? The first small-small-screen iteration of the Kart franchise wasn’t too different from the Nintendo 64’s. But if you had a Game Boy Advance, and if you had Super Circuit, and if three of your friends had a Game Boy Advance, you could link all your Advances and play together.
Best feature Along with 20 new courses, you could unlock the original 20 Kart tracks. Still the record holder for most tracks.
4. Mario Kart Double Dash!!
It’s widely regarded as the redheaded stepchild of the series — the Luigi, if you will — but for no good reason. It’s arguably the most innovative game in the entire franchise. Double Dash!! shook things up by putting two characters in each kart, doubling the pleasure and the fun.
Best feature The two-player co-op mode, with one player steering while the other controlled weapons and power-ups, which made for some serious bonding moments.