When a person thinks of Mario Kart, it’s very likely the first course they think of is Rainbow Road. Every Mario Kart game has come with Rainbow Road, the most difficult track at the very end of the final cup of the game. The Rainbow Road in each game is always a memorable track, but not all Rainbow Roads are created equal.
We’re taking it upon ourselves to rank all eight Rainbow Roads from worst to best, as according to our whims. The following rank is our opinion, and we don’t expect you to agree with it, but just know that we’re always right about everything. So hit the jump, and ride the rainbow road with us…
Super Mario Kart is the original, but it hasn’t aged well. At the time, it was a graphical marvel utilizing the Super FX chip for pseudo-3D graphics. The Rainbow Road in this game was the first ever Rainbow Road, and boy, it shows. The track is extremely simple, having only a few right-angle turns and a single section where the track splits in two. Due to the limitations of the SNES, there is no verticality either; this is probably the Mario Kart most like actually driving go-karts around a track. However, the SNES Rainbow Road is still devilishly tricky, having no guard rails on its sides anywhere. One wrong move, and you’re toast – and then there are the electrified Thwomps to worry about!
This track was remade as DLC for Mario Kart 8 as well. It’s mostly the same, but with one noticeable improvement: now the Thwomps cause the entire track to oscillate when they stomp! This really livens up a very dull track, but it’s not enough to keep it interesting.
Mario Kart Super Circuit was the first mobile Mario Kart game, and in many ways it was similar to Super Mario Kart. It was more complex, with a greater number of turns and the occasional jump. Some of the turns were even full 180s! One of the highlights of this course is a thin strip of boost pads on a straightaway that could give a player a huge speed increase at the risk of falling off. Sadly, being completely flat is still a huge detriment to the course’s fun quotient. This is a big improvement on the original, but it’s still pretty boring. At least the background with Bowser’s floating castle is fun.
This Rainbow Road is… weird. Instead of the magical rainbow floating in the night sky, this Rainbow Road has been re-imagined as a space station in orbit, complete with a Blooper-shaped shuttle and LED light panels forming the “rainbow”. Mario Kart 8’s special gimmick is anti-gravity racing, where on certain stretches of track your car will float vertically or even upside down. Mario Kart 8’s Rainbow Road doesn’t even make good use of that! The anti-gravity sections do twist and turn, but never form full loops or curls. The most egregious part of the track is the central station segment, where the track isn’t even rainbow colored!
For good reason, Mario Kart 64’s Rainbow Road is the first one most people think of. It’s a classic, a legend, the track that defined what a Rainbow Road should be in peoples’ minds. Too bad it’s a boring track that takes way too long to finish. One lap on Mario Kart 64’s rainbow road can take nearly two minutes! That’s as long as a full three laps on Mario Raceway! To add insult to injury, the entire course is lined with railings, preventing any racers from falling off. So not only are you trapped on this long-ass course, you can’t even have fun trying to knock your competitors off. Despite this, the track isn’t without its merits. The large, round corners are great fodder for drifting, and the enormous Chain Chomps roaming the track are a fun hazard.
This Rainbow Road was also remade in Mario Kart 8, and boy, what an improvement. The track was cut down to a single lap in three parts, the railings were taken off, and numerous jumps were added. The roaming Chain Chomps were changed to enormous ones bouncing on the track, making it wobble, and the whole course is followed by a magical Toad-crewed train cheering you on.
Mario Kart 7’s Rainbow Road, too, is weird. For instance, it’s the first Rainbow Road to not be divided into traditional laps, but is a single long lap split into three separate sections. The course is also very space themed, with portions involving you driving on the rings of Saturn and the surface of the Moon. Mario Kart 7 was the first Mario Kart to introduce gliding, adding a three dimensional element and emphasis on jumps that makes the game play a little more like F-Zero than a classic Mario Kart. This Rainbow Road makes great use of this feature, adding in undulating portions of the track for trick-jumps and long stretches of gliding where you must fly through boosting hoops for top speed. Despite these excellent design features… we just don’t like too much space theme in our Rainbow Road! We prefer Rainbow Road to be magic and ethereal, not spacey and scientific. This Rainbow Road would be a lot higher if it wasn’t for that moon section, especially since it kind of slows the track down with bumpy craters.
Mario Kart Wii has maintained a high level of popularity for a long, long time, outlasting even more recent Mario Kart versions. The Rainbow Road in Wii is probably one of the most beloved in the entire series, and for good reason. With the addition of tricks, this Rainbow Road has a huge focus on jumps – large portions of the track undulate to bounce you off, parts of the tracks with railings can be ridden up half-pipe style for big air, and probably most memorable is the “Moon Jump” that allows you to entirely skip the big 90 degree drop at the beginning! Yes, this Rainbow Road is a trick speed runner’s dream, as long as you don’t mind playing as Funky Kong.
This Rainbow Road was also the first Rainbow Road to explicitly be in space, not just the “starry night” thematic other Rainbow Roads had. Your kart even burned up in the atmosphere if you fell off the track!
Mario Kart Double Dash marked the period when Mario Kart came into its own as a series. No longer strictly about go-kart racing, Double Dash added in unique karts, way more characters, and innovative tracks that demanded great skill. Rainbow Road is the most challenging track in Double Dash, and for good reason! The track is the longest in the game by far, going by time (Wario Colosseum is longer but only two laps) and large portions of the track are without railings. This demands careful and precise drifting to accomplish a decent time, especially considering the most devilish chiccanes are without rails on either side! It takes a careful drifter to navigate through this level.
The Rainbow Road in Mario Kart DS is a kind of sequel to the one in Double Dash. It’s very similar in tone, but radically different in execution. Massive swaths of the track are completely without rails, demanding very precise steering to navigate. Mario Kart DS was the final game where the “snaking” style of drift boosting was used, and this Rainbow Road is the perfect track for it. But what we like the most about this track is its willingness to explore in 3D space! This track contains loop-de-loops, corkscrew twists, and a level of verticality other Rainbow Roads don’t even touch. In a sense, this course invented the anti-gravity gimmick well before Mario Kart 8 ever did!