It may be on the distant horizon, but a new main-series Mario Kart game is certainly on the way. And while its selection of new tracks could be all sorts of things, the franchise has built out some fairly standard patterns for its retro tracks. So we’re using those precedents to get a better idea of what we could see in the game’s four throwback cups!
All previous games should be represented. This has been the case with every release.
Newer games get a bit more presence. Whether this is due to reusing assets or just being easier to adapt tracks with more modern setups, each game’s retro tracks have included at least three from the last one.
Tracks don’t get repeated. A few were brought back for Mario Kart 8‘s DLC, so this could be changing, but for our purposes we’re assuming the non-DLC trend continues.
Okay, let’s get to it!
The Shell Cup isn’t the Mushroom Cup; it doesn’t need to be a pure introduction to Mario Kart for new players. Still, it’s not the place for trickery. These are easy tracks, but they can be fun ones, too.
Koopa Beach 1 (SNES)
A great way to have the retro cups start by screaming “hey, this is retro” is to go with an SNES track as the lead. Koopa Beach has the added distinction of being perfect to enhance, adding new underwater elements for gameplay variety while looking almost exactly as you remember it on the surface.
Mario Circuit (DS)
The DS installment has been raided quite a bit, leaving only a few tracks left to remake, but what’s here is ideal for a Shell Cup berth. This track’s classic Mario, but it gives some good shots at tight turns and shortcuts to be interesting enough to warrant a return. (You know, unlike Figure-8 Circuit, which is… basically nothing? That track has no features.)
Wuhu Loop (3DS)
Like it or not, we’re getting old, and the Wii era is now something about which people can and do get nostalgic. This Wii Sports-themed course can lean into the Mii stuff and be an effective time capsule in the lineup.
Sweet Sweet Canyon (8)
An early cup’s supposed to be like a nice dessert anyway, so why not finish it with one? This track needs nothing to keep it looking great, and its palette made it one that’s easy for players to remember. This slot could be Water Park or Toad Harbor, too… the nice thing about the picks from the previous game is that none of the great options have been taken yet. But Sweet Sweet Canyon works better alongside these other picks.
Banana Cup is a place for quirky tracks that aren’t particularly difficult. These are memorable, though, and should be a common pick for multiplayer sessions for being generally agreeable.
Shroom Ridge (DS)
This track would need some design work to be made more interesting, but as a DS track not named Bowser’s Castle or Rainbow Road, it certainly has a shot at getting just that. Some jumps or shortcuts would do wonders! Alternatively, this berth could go to Super Circuit‘s Riverside Park to leave another DS track for a future game.
Sunshine Airport (8)
For a nice, breezy mid-cup pick, Sunshine Airport works well. It’s an air-heavy change-of-pace that doesn’t ask too much of its players, and is a nod to the GameCube era without taking another choice from Double Dash!!‘s increasingly-depleted list of choices.
Daisy Circuit (Wii)
Daisy Circuit’s evening chill and peculiar shapes make it more memorable than the standard circuit fare, and it frankly also gets a bonus by not being named Mario Circuit or Luigi Circuit. That’s getting confusing, Nintendo. Quit it. (Note: they will not quit it.)
Wario Stadium (N64)
As the last remaining Mario Kart 64 track to get an update, this one’s almost a lock. And its delay’s not surprising; the track was fairly brutal and featureless in its original incarnation. It built its difficulty by limiting visibility and including jumps in a game that didn’t do those well, but any remake would include high-flying antics and the space to move around more easily. So it’ll get a bit easier and move into an earlier cup as a spectacle finale.
The Leaf Cup isn’t easy, but it tends to nod toward environmental stages. Jungles, deserts, mountains. They’re here.
Sunset Wilds (GBA)
While they’re technically similar to SNES tracks, the GBA offerings have been generally treated with less strict reverence and more creative freedom when brought back, so the best targets are ones with interesting aesthetic touches. Sunset Wilds, Super Circuit‘s final track, is certainly that, and it could use some depth and environmental changes to really make it sing.
Wario Shipyard (3DS)
Wario Shipyard was built on all the core water-and-air antics of the new games, and some processing power to build out its environments would do a lot to enhance what it tries to do. It already seems set for some anti-grav segments, too.
DK Summit (Wii)
The snow level spot goes to the Wii’s trick-heavy downhill track, with its cool, breezy feel. It may seem like this race goes by in the blink of an eye, but there’s still more than enough time to shave some seconds off your descent with smart maneuvers.
Dragon Driftway (8)
We’d bet one of Mario Kart 8‘s DLC courses will get a nod, and they’d all fit in best in the Leaf Cup for being intricate but not brutal. Dragon Driftway is the pick here because it just feels different from any other course, not relying on woods or ice or sharp city turns for its environments. Also, it’s a heck of a lot of fun to play.
The Lightning Cup is traditionally brutal, full of Special Cup encores and usually capped by one of the hardest races in the franchise’s history. Let’s get into it.
Moonview Highway (Wii)
This track’s a sort of greatest hits of Mario Kart headaches: sharp mountain curves, traffic, you name it. It was a rare moment of difficulty in a Wii game known for huge, generous courses you could keep on more easily, and it’s a good one to revisit here.
This instantly-iconic track has the flashing lights and pumping soundtrack to let it fit in well with the likes of Rainbow Road. Music-focused designs get an encore way faster than others, as we’ve seen with Music Park and Waluigi Pinball. This will be no exception.
Bowser Castle 3 (SNES)
The SNES original tracks are hard to remake in 3D, which is why we’ve seen increasingly fewer of them included in these cups. Still, there hasn’t been a single Bowser Castle remake from a game with three of them, and we’re due. This one gets the nod for its chaotic splitting paths and generally brutal difficulty, which is the sort of thing you look for when you’re picking your game’s token Bowser track.
Rainbow Road (GCN)
It’s time. Without DLC, we’d expect one returning Rainbow Road, and the Double Dash!! incarnation was distinctive and memorable. It’s a true test of skill, and worthy of the last slot in its encore appearance.