Making Retro Cups for the next Mario Kart

Our Cups Runneth Over

05 March 2024
by jmaldonado 5
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The Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Booster Course Pass has come and gone, and now speculation about what’s next for the Mario Kart series is at an all time high. This, combined with the white-hot speculation of when the Switch successor will be revealed, has Nintendo fans chain-chomping at the bit for the next Mario Kart title.

While I could go into some ideas for what a sequel could bring, I instead want to focus on one of the most oft-wondered aspects of the supposed sequel – how the series beloved retro cups will be handled.

Since Mario Kart DS (technically Super Circuit, but it just had SNES tracks) the series has had a tradition of creating 4 cups consisting of courses from past titles to stand alongside the 4 brand new cups and tracks. Given the fact that we just had an entire DLC dedicated to bringing back old courses, many fans have wondered if the next game will even have retro tracks. After doing admittedly WAY too much research into this topic, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not only possible but Nintendo would have plenty of options.

The thing about the retro courses is that they weren’t really interesting until Mario Kart 7. They were a neat bonus to have in the games, but they were often held back by the system they were on or were too faithful to their source material. MK7 and especially 8 introduced the concept of reimagining these courses to be expansions of their original concepts while still retaining their charm.

It was an incredible benchmark set by Nintendo, one that even the Booster Course Pass struggled to reach. It’s extremely obvious the Booster Course Pass was made to repurpose content from Mario Kart Tour before it was shut down, so I’m willing to give Nintendo a pass and assume that the retro tracks for the new game will be more in-line with standards set by base game Mario Kart 8. Basically, Booster Course Pass was all about the quantity and these new Retro Tracks should be all about the quality.

So, with all that in mind, I’m going to be giving you my picks for a potential new set of retro cups for the inevitable Mario Kart sequel.

Rules

Whenever I play imaginary game designer, I always like to limit myself with the rules and restrictions that an actual designer would have to work under. Yeah, it’d be nice to have 60 retro courses all with beautiful graphics and with absolutely no filler pics but that’s just not realistic. I always want to make these types of Wish lists a compromise of what I as a fan would want to see and what was feasibly possible.

As such, I wanted to analyze how past Mario Kart titles handled retro courses and compile the information into an easy-to-understand chart.

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Going off this table, we can see an interesting correlation. In Mario Kart DS, all four past titles received equal representation; but as the series moved on, the representation became far more weighted to the title that directly preceded. We can also see that the 2D Mario Kart games receive the least amount of representation in base game rosters, so we will also keep that in mind.

You’ll notice I didn’t include Mario Kart Tour in this data, even though Nintendo considers it part of the main series. Because of the game’s vastly different set up compared to previous Mario Kart titles, and the fact that the Booster Course Pass preserved much of the game’s content, I’m choosing to give the game a reduced focus in this hypothetical new game. Tour will still have some representation, but not as much as in the Booster Course Pass.

I also compared and contrasted the different types of courses picked between cups and between games (this was too much information to fit onto a chart, so you’ll just have to take my word for it).

Combining all this information I’ve gathered, here are the rules I will be limiting myself by.

1. I will create 4 retro cups with 4 courses each.

2. The courses placed within each cup will scale in difficulty appropriately. While several courses have moved up and down the cup tiers between games (DK Mountain was in the 3rd cup in Double Dash, but was moved up to the 4th in Mario Kart Wii, for example), Nintendo still tries to make sure the difficultly scales up across each course in a cup, so the same will apply to us. This means we will need both simple and difficult tracks.

3. The courses can not have any overlapping themes. No retro courses in any of the past titles have doubled up on themes and the same will apply here. This includes courses named after characters as well so we can’t include GCN Mario Circuit and Wii Mario Circuit for example. Also, courses from the same game will not be included in the same cup.

4. Courses that have never been remade will be put higher on priority but won’t be guaranteed a spot. This is mainly done for the sake of variety. While I would love to give every untouched course a shot, many have overlapping themes that would bar them entry.

5. No retro courses from Mario Kart 8 or the Booster Course Pass DLC. Considering that we’ve been playing on these retro courses for ten years now (and we just finished the Booster Course Pass) I get the feeling Nintendo wouldn’t want to highlight any of these so soon.

6. No Nintendo Crossover courses. I love these courses, but considering they all come from Mario Kart 8 and I have limited slots, I wanted to focus on Mario Kart 8’s original courses rather than these. Honestly, one of the ideas I think the next Mario Kart should try is adding an additional Nitro and Retro cup consisting of only crossover tracks so as not to cut into the Mario side of Mario Kart too much.

7. A new gimmick will not be considered, but old gimmicks will. It’s been a trend that every new Mario Kart brings a new gimmick that the new courses and retro courses are redesigned around. While we don’t know what new tricks Nintendo will unleash in the next Mario Kart, I’m going into this proposal with the assumption that all previous gimmicks will return in this new title (bikes, underwater, glide, anti-grav).

With all the rules accounted for here is how I chose to divvy up the courses.

SNES: 1 N64: 2 GBA: 1 GCN: 2 DS: 2 Wii: 2 3DS: 2 Wii U: 3 Tour: 1

I wanted to try and make this spread as fair as possible, but with only 16 slots and 9 games to consider it was pretty difficult. Now, with all that preamble out of the way, let’s start our engines with the Shell Cup.

Shell Cup

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Wii U Mario Kart Stadium

We’re starting with what I’m certain will be my most controversial pick of this whole list. Remember when I said that we’d need to have simple courses as well as complex ones? Well wouldn’t you know it, the fan-favorite courses tend to be the more difficult ones, meaning it was easier to fill out the later end of this list but more difficult to fill in the beginning half.

I ultimately chose Mario Kart Stadium because Wii U had the most available slots and a Mario Circuit course hasn’t been picked yet. I also chose this course over 8’s own Mario Circuit, mainly because I find the nighttime aesthetic more pleasing. I also just think it’s fitting that the first new course of Mario Kart 8 would be the first retro course of Mario Kart…whatever they decide to call it.

Yeah, not much to say about this one, but there’s nowhere to go but up.

N64 Koopa Troopa Beach

While this course did get its time to shine in both Mario Kart 7 and Tour, this would mark the first time seeing this nostalgic course in gorgeous HD graphics. While other beach courses were considered, there were stronger contenders in their respective games that left Koopa Troopa Beach as the last one standing.

The only problem with bringing this course back is that I can’t think of a good way to work anti-gravity into the stage besides making the secret tunnel have it. That minor problem aside, I’m sure many fans would be happy to see this course back – especially after how comparatively little love Mario Kart 64 was given in the Booster Course Pass.

Wii Toad's Factory

Now we’re getting into some fan favorites! Despite the absurd amount of love Mario Kart Wii was given with the Booster Course Pass, this Mushroom Cup favorite didn’t make the cut. It works out for me, though; you don’t know how happy I was to find an easier track that was also widely beloved by the community. Especially a course that hasn’t been remade yet, this was one of the first and easiest picks for this roster.

There are a lot of reasons to love this place. It’s a fun yet breezy tour through the factory where the item boxes are made. With the factory’s mechanical nature and vast amount of conveyor belts, it’s easy to see how Nintendo could also add in anti-gravity mechanics to the course as well.

3DS Shy Guy Bazaar

We needed a desert track, so why not go for one of the most unique desert tracks in the entire series? It’s a common trope in Mario games that the desert areas tend to be the least interesting, so it’s always satisfying when something bucks the trend. Rather than focusing on the same old sandy dunes and pyramid iconography like so many stages have before, this stage instead focuses on a charming Arabian styled village – and at night, no less!

Slight tangent, but I always wished that more games would set their mandatory desert levels at night. Nighttime deserts are one of the most beautiful sights in the world. While Sunset Wilds didn’t deliver in the Booster Course Pass, we can only hope that this charming desert town will really pop in HD.

The only problem with this stage’s inclusion is, again, there are no obvious spots to insert anti-gravity. Maybe they could do something with the Magic Carpet Shy Guys? Either way, I’m sure many would be happy to see this course leave the world of handhelds and mobile and jump to a more console appropriate image.

Banana Cup

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GCN Mushroom Bridge

While this Double Dash classic returned in DS and Tour, they were arguably lesser experiences than what was found in the GCN original. DS removed many beloved shortcuts, tricks, and features from the GameCube release, and while Tour brought these back, Double Dash is still trapped on a platform that many don’t wish to play on.

Therefore, the solution is simple: remake the course in HD with all the beloved quirks of the original. The wiggler bus and bob-omb cars, driving on the bridge’s rails, and the alternate path through the warp pipe that nets a double item box.

It’s a simple course layout with a lot of complexity that makes it a great opener for the Banana Cup.

N64 Frappe Snowland

The last 64 course I picked also fills our quota for a snow course. Since the Booster Course Pass already brought back a decent amount of beloved snow tracks, I opted for this one as its only other chances to shine were on DS and in Tour.

I also opted for this one over the other N64 snow course, Sherbet Land, because I personally just prefer Frappe Snowland. As you’ve now gathered, I’m a sucker for a nighttime course, and I imagine that the snow sculptures and night sky could look absolutely stunning in HD. You could also maybe add anti-gravity to the ice walls near the end of the course similar to Toad’s Turnpike or Toad Harbor.

Odds are we won’t see the ultra-festive Merry Mountain in the next game and, as far as I’m concerned, this track is the next best thing. They could even include the Jack O’ Lanterns from the Tour version if they really wanted to.

I don't fully understand what they were going for here, but I don't dislike it,
I don't fully understand what they were going for here, but I don't dislike it,

Tour Piranha Plant Pipeline

Probably the most obvious pick for the next Mario Kart, Piranha Plant Pipeline was the only original course from Mario Kart Tour to not make the jump to 8 via the Booster Course Pass, so it seems like a shoe-in for the next game. It has plenty of merits that make it a worthwhile stage to bring back.

While I’ve had difficulty imagining where to work in anti-gravity on my past few picks, this one is begging to have anti-grav all through the pipes. Allowing the driver to make a complete 360 around the pipe’s interior would elevate this course from a good pick to possibly the best pick of the whole bunch.

This course in particular is why I don’t want anti-gravity to go away in the next game; I believe the feature has yet to reach its full potential.

DS Airship Fortress

Probably the most talked about snub from the Booster Course Pass, Airship Fortress needs to appear on a console Mario Kart. It’s very rare for Nintendo to base Mario Kart Tracks off of actual locations from the mainline Mario games, so Airship Fortress always stood out as something special.

Honestly, I don’t really need to sell you on how good this course is and how much fans want it. Even if Nintendo can’t come up with a good way to include anti-gravity, there is simply too much buzz behind this track to ignore.

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My only real hope is that they would opt for the purple clouds of the DS release rather than the fierier interpretation from Mario Kart Tour. I always thought it was really neat that we had a Bowser stage that wasn’t a castle and didn’t have lava flowing everywhere, so a return to the original design would be appreciated.

Leaf Cup

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GBA Luigi Circuit

Yeah, I know, the Circuit-styled “generic racing” themed courses aren’t usually the tops of everyone’s lists, but past retro cups tend to include at least 2, so I opted for Mario Kart Stadium and one of Super Circuits stranger choices.

While most circuit courses tend to just be generic racing courses with vague theming tying it to their namesake character, GBA Luigi Circuit has a pretty bizarre weather station theme. I don’t know what made the team at Intelligent Systems think that Luigi’s Circuit would be the perfect place to stick a weather station amidst a howling storm, but it makes the track way more interesting on a visual level so I’m not complaining.

The Tour version already provided a significant glow up, too, so one can only imagine what the Switch 2 could do from a visual perspective.

You could also take inspiration from 8’s remake of GBA Mario Circuit and have one section of the track be elevated by weather balloons to create an anti-gravity section.

While it might initially sting that Super Circuit’s only representation in this list is just a circuit track, the right changes and updates could really make it stand out.

SNES Ghost Valley 3

Our two 2D Mario Kart courses are back-to-back, and this one hasn’t been seen since its debut on the Super Nintendo. I wanted to include a haunted course, and once I realized that this track hasn’t received any love, I opted for this one over a potentially more exciting pick.

The Ghost Valley Tracks in general don’t come back that much and it’s easy to see why; they are all rather dull, simply racing on a wooden bridge in a black void. Even remakes of the other ghost valley courses failed to remedy this problem.

The thing that made me want to give this course a second chance, though, is the Booster Course Pass’s genuinely incredible remake of GBA Boo Lake.

What could’ve very easily been a phoned in remake actually allowed the player to drive into and through the titular lake, something that wouldn’t have been possible in the original release. While I don’t think the same solution would be feasible for a stage called Ghost VALLEY, I think you could easily have a section of the track levitate upwards via ghostly powers, thus granting a unique anti-gravity section.

My biggest request would be to fill in the dark void that encompasses the track. If we’re supposedly in a valley, it would be nice to actually see it.

Wii U Electrodrome

Mario Kart 8’s Star Cup is quite possibly one of the greatest cups the series has ever seen, with every track being wildly popular with the fans. While I personally wanted to pick a different course initially (more on that later), my runner up pick would have to be Electrodrome.

Electrodrome is the first track many players picture when they think of Mario Kart 8. It’s a unique environment, a dash through a raving night club that few tracks have managed to compare to in terms of uniqueness. The music is a delightful earworm that sticks in players minds long after the party ends, and the splitting path makes for one of the more memorable showcases of anti-gravity in the entire game.

While we’ve been racing through this club for nearly ten years now, I’m sure many fans wouldn’t mind saving a dance for Electrodrome.

3DS Maka Wuhu

I know I said no Nintendo crossover courses, but I’m not sure if the Wuhu Island tracks count. The other Nintendo courses usually have some extra gimmick like changing the coins, sound effects, and ending music, but the Wuhu tracks just take place on the island.

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This makes sense as Wuhu Island (originally Wii Fit Island) has appeared across multiple different Nintendo series, so it stands to reason that Mario and friends would have free reign of the resort as well.

That said, I still chose to bring back just Maka Wuhu and not Wuhu Loop for sake of track diversity. As for why I picked Maka Wuhu over Wuhu Loop, we didn’t have a mountain-themed track yet. That’s really the only reason.

Both Wuhu tracks started the trend of tracks being broken up into multiple sections rather than laps, something I’m hoping the next game explores even further. Whether that happens or not, I’m sure many fans would love to take a drive around Wuhu Island again.

Lightning Cup

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Wii U Dragon Driftway

It only felt right to include one of the tracks from Mario Kart 8’s original DLC, and I believe Dragon Driftway makes the strongest impression. No offense to the likes of Wild Woods, Ice Ice Outpost, and Super Bell Subway, but Dragon Driftway’s theme is so unique compared to the competition that it can’t be ignored.

It’s also one of the few times Nintendo actually acknowledges Super Mario Galaxy 2, so that’s nice.

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Striking iconography aside, Dragon Driftway provides one of the more exhilarating challenges of Mario Kart 8 and pushes the anti-gravity mechanics to the forefront. It’s the best way to start the Lightning Cup.

GCN Wario Colosseum

One thing I learned when making this list is that courses baring Wario’s moniker might be some of the best in the series (there were multiple Wario courses I wanted for this list) and this one-and-done from Double Dash is no exception.

I’m honestly kind of stunned that Mario Kart added both motorcycles and anti-gravity to it’s gameplay and the thought of bringing back this obvious Globe of Death inspired course never crossed their minds. It’s practically begging to have those features added to it.

Given the incredible glow-up GCN Waluigi Stadium received in the Booster Course Pass, I can only imagine how stunning this more complex and exhilarating track could look.

Wii Bowser's Castle

For some strange reason, Bowser’s Castles don’t tend to be brought back unless they come from the 2D titles. This is a shame, as the castle courses are one of the most beloved traditions in the series, second only to Rainbow Road, so I think it’s time some love is shown to King Koopa’s domain.

In hindsight, though, I kind of see why they didn’t want to bring back this track for the Booster Course Pass.

These unique elements would have a better chance of standing out for their own merits in the next Mario Kart title, rather than being compared to other similar tracks in 8 Deluxe. They also both provide good opportunities to add anti-gravity.

DS Rainbow Road

It was surprisingly easy to pick this one. I chose every other course first and saved the Bowser’s Castle and Rainbow Road courses for last, and then whatever games still had slots would be the winner. At the end, I still needed a Mario Kart DS and Wii Track. Since Wii Rainbow Road already returned in the Booster Course Pass, the choice was simple.

While I have seen some speculation that the next Rainbow Road revisit would be the GBA version – since Mario Kart 7, they’ve been remaking the Rainbow Road tracks in order of their release – I feel the Booster Course Pass throws a wrench into those plans.

That’s not to say I would dislike a GBA Rainbow Road revisit. I really like the SNES Rainbow Road remake we got in 8 and, considering how impressive most of the GBA remakes have been, it would be really cool to see.

I’m also always going to advocate for more classic Paper Mario love.
I’m also always going to advocate for more classic Paper Mario love.

I just don’t think Nintendo would behold themselves to such a strict pattern after how random Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s content release was. Maybe remaking the Rainbow Roads in order was the plan at one point, but that seems less likely now. If anything, I feel it’d be a contender as DLC for this hypothetical sequel in the same way SNES Rainbow Road was for 8.

Getting back to DS Rainbow Road, though, there really isn’t much to say. DS is one of the most loved games in the series and its take on the classic track is no exception. You don’t even have to worry about where to put in anti-gravity sections as DS Rainbo Road had anti-gravity sections before they were even mechanics.

With Wii Bowser’s Castle and DS Rainbow Road rounding off the Retro Tracks, I feel this is a pretty strong selection.

Bonus Lap! The Honorable Mentions

I wasn’t kidding when I said Nintendo would have a lot of options to make these cups, so before we close out, I’d like to discuss some of the tracks that just barely missed the roster. I won’t discuss every Rainbow Road and Bowser’s Castle (frankly, they were all considered at some point or another). I also won’t make mention of every track that hasn’t returned yet because I just don’t have much to say about some of them (sorry, Mario Circuit 4 fans).

The Finish Line

Well, what did you think of my picks? What tracks do you feel are essential to bring back for the next title? Are you an N64 Wario Stadium stan who feels slighted? Let me know what you think in the comments below and what other ideas you’d like to see explored in the hypothetical next Mario Kart game, which will be announced any day now… any day now…

About jmaldonado

jmaldonado

A recently graduated creative writer hoping to work his way into the greater gaming sphere.

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Comments (5)

martynstuff

4M ago

Some solid choices. I would opt for DS Figure 8 Circuit as the starter retro course. It would wind some people up but I would like to see how it could be reworked


enthropy

4M ago

One of the interesting MK rumours is that it'll be a launch day title for Switch 2. That in itself would be huge.
I disagree with no new "gimmick" though. Might not have to be a huge change, but something to make it stand out. Same for Switch 2, really.


jmaldonado

4M ago

@enthropy

Oh I do think there will be something new I was just saying I wasn't going to try and predict what that gimmick would be and pick courses based on that.


jmaldonado

4M ago

@martynstuff

I didn't pick it because I couldn't see how it could be reworked save for making the whole thing anti-grav...and that's just Wii U Mario Circuit. Who knows though, maybe a hypothetical new gimmick would be able to spice it up.


kingbroly

4M ago

16 tracks pulled from Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

;)