Super Mario Kart was one of my favorite Super Nintendo games growing up. I replayed it endlessly by myself, or with friends, even past the point of relevance well into the PS2 era of consoles. That said I never continued on with the series past it, but for good reason. When I adopted into Sony’s gaming family with the original PlayStation it took a long time for me to jump back on the Nintendo train, because PlayStation was catering more to what I wanted in video games. Sure I still played Nintendo stuff at a friend’s, or relative’s house, but those experiences never made me want any of them until Chrono Trigger got ported to the Nintendo DS in 2008 wherein I finally caved and bought a Nintendo DS.
Suffice it to say I missed out on a bunch of Mario Karts in that time period, but it wouldn’t be until 2012 that I would catch up. That year marked the series’ 20th anniversary and it was also my second year as a video game journalist. With the anniversary at hand, I decided to research and play them all for a little retrospective and that was one of the first instances where diving into older games became my career’s passion. They were all pretty good, but in that process I discovered a lot of kart clones. So instead of writing about the series again for its 25th anniversary, I wanted to highlight how these games outdo the originals in one way or another. Before you jump down my throat on some of these entries, know that I value Mario Kart as the founder to the mascot racer or kart genre. That said I think it’s safe to move on without fear of retaliation.
20 Mega Man Battle and Chase
Weirdly enough, this Mega Man spinoff released only in Japan and Europe with the initial PS1 debut. It was later bundled with the Mega Man X Collection nearly a decade later for the U.S. Launch. History aside, this Mega Man racer has a few additions that stand out above other copycats smartly utilizing mechanics from the franchise. Characters range from the early Mega Man games to the most recent entry at the time, Mega Man 8, and use abilities similar to their mainline counterparts. Unlike a lot of other clones, this one kept the map of the racetrack from Super Mario Kart, which helps with navigation although it takes up precious screen space. It retains that classic Mega Man feel albeit on a smaller, and easier scale.
19 Saru Get You: Pipo Saru Racer
That name may look unfamiliar, but Saru Get You is actually the Japanese title for what we Westerns know as Ape Escape. Saru Get You: Pipo Saru Racer is then the name for this racing spinoff, which was also a Japanese exclusive for the PSP. Now if you’re familiar with the series, you’re probably imagining a bunch of cute monkeys riding around in little go-karts and tossing banana at each other right? Well sort of, except the monkeys have been turned into cars with parts artificially grafted onto them, which is oddly disturbing when you think about. Horrific monkey experimentation aside, it's a smooth experience on the PSP and a wonderful, cheap spinoff for Ape Escape, which consists mainly of side projects actually. Of those, though it's one of the better entries.
18 Charinko Hero
This has Japan written all over it and I mean both literally as the GameCube box has Japanese text, but figuratively as well. Charinko Hero is based on the Kamen Rider and Ultraman franchises. It’s not like those two series are unheard of in the West, but in terms of everything else, yeah, it’s pretty Japanese focused and I can definitely see why it never released overseas. The characters aren’t recognizable, the courses are kind of bland, and it visually doesn’t look great, but there is one aspect that makes me love it. Instead of go-karts, or other miniature motor vehicles, most characters ride around peddling tricycles. Combine that with their abnormal head sizes and it’s pretty hilarious. So it has that to lord over Mario.
17 SD F-1 Grand Prix
Most clones for Super Mario Kart came out during the next generation of consoles, i.e. the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation. As evidence would point out from this list, the PS1 had a flood of copycats. It’s kind of insane. Anyway there was actually one on the Super Nintendo too. This F1 Grand Prix spinoff uses cartoon sprites to represent real life drivers. It looks identical to Super Mario Kart, but with slightly better textures as it came out in 1995, three years after it, so the developers had more time to harness more power out of the Super Nintendo by that point. Strangely there’s a lack of music, which instead is replaced by F-1 announcers. Even though I couldn’t understand a word, it was technically miraculous to play.
16 Walt Disney World Quest: Magical Racing Tour
By this point in 2000, Disney had so many amazing hits like Aladdin, Mulan, and Hercules to have developers base a game on, but they went with their park instead. Why they decided to do this with a roster of characters I didn’t recognize aside from Chip and Dale is beyond me. Drivers aside, the courses are actually pretty cool with rides such as Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion represented and it captures that magical Disney appeal with vibrant environments. What really interests me though is that it was developed by Crystal Dynamics in-between Soul Reaver games. They also worked on one other Disney game afterward based on 102 Dalmatians. Now that we know they’re working on a new Avengers game for Square Enix, maybe it’s not far off that we’ll see them tackle another racer for Disney too. Here’s hoping.
15 DreamWorks Super Star Kartz
You know a game is cool when they replace the S with a Z right? Jokes aside, DreamWorks is always trying to catch up to Disney with films for children. Critically Disney is still probably the best in the biz, but DreamWorks has a lot of popular works as well. Whether Shrek or Madagascar are good is another story, but tastes aside it was only inevitable that they tried their hand with a set of compilation video games and it’s actually not bad especially when it comes to Mario Kart, which is what I should be comparing here anyway. The big thing it has over Mario Kart is its multi platform range past Nintendo. Mario Kart sells well for them, but imagine the sales it’d do on the PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. Maybe one day Nintendo will go third party, but until then we have Penguins driving oversized go-karts. Sorry, I mean go-kartz.
14 Cartoon Network Speedway
I remember getting Cartoon Network in my area as clear as day. My father and I went to pick up our new cable boxes and on some of the demo stations Cartoon Network was on with Cow and Chicken. Until this point, I primarily grew up with Nickelodeon so getting a whole other series of cartoons was amazing to me and this kart racer collects my golden years with Cartoon Network including shows like the aforementioned Cow an Chicken, Johnny Bravo, and Courage the Cowardly Dog, just to name a few. Admittedly some of those don’t stand the test of time and while it may be easier and not technically as sound as its GBA counterpart, Mario Kart: Super Circuit, Cartoon Network Speedway is a fun distraction filled with nostalgia.
13 Nicktoons Racing
Cartoon Network is great, but Nicktoons are a more treasured part of my past since they were around for a lot longer. I genuinely think this era, represented in the game, holds up better too like Angry Beavers, Hey Arnold!, and SpongeBob SquarePants. Nicktoons Racing implemented an early form of cel-shading, which made everything pop and fit more in line with the realm of cartoons. Great tracks from the cartoons they’re based on and weaponry pays great homage as well. Interesting enough, the PS1 version holds ties with another game from another list I wrote. Software Creations also developed Silver Surfer on the NES, which was one of Marvel’s many awful video games. It seems as though the company was capable of good stuff after all. Plok is also pretty good on SNES.
12 Looney Tunes: Space Race
We end our cartoon binge with Bugs Bunny and his crew smashing things up on the PS2. Similar to Nicktoons Racing, Looney Tunes: Space Race also uses cel-shading, but to a more familiar and polished degree thanks to the power of the system. It looks stunning on the PS2 and the use of rocket-powered machines gave the game a different, more vibrant and fast based feel, compared to both Mario Kart and the other clones on this list. As these cartoons were more violent, their use of gadgets also fits in well for a racing game. The one thing that doesn’t fit is the more poppy, techno-like music. I would have preferred something zanier and instrumental to fit in with the world of Looney Tunes more.
11 Star Wars: Super Bombad Racing
Like Charinko Hero, the sheer goofiness of this game makes me love it. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace already trashed the franchise, so why not release a whacky kart racer with chibi characters from said trainwreck? What did they have to lose? You think Jar Jar Binks was annoying in the film, ha, you haven't seen anything yet. Jokes aside, I do think the locations are great representations from the movie and their vehicles are pretty cool. My favorite character/vehicle combo is Yoda who uses a floating chair. If I could use Yoda in every track with Duel of the Fates blaring in the background, this game would be the best kart racer ever, but sadly that track is missing. What a shame.
10 Crazy Frog Arcade Racer
If memory serves, this character appeared in the early 2000s as a ringtone, created in Europe where the popularity of Crazy Frog, or to be more precise, The Annoying Thing, was more popular. Of all the things to make a kart racer from, this had to be the most bizarre. It beats out the Mario Karts on its sheer volume of insanity. I had no idea The Annoying Thing had so many other “great” characters to draw from including Grim, The Annoying Drone, or the ever classic Bobo. Oh yes and there’s a plethora of popular pop tracks from the era, remixed with the frog, to make it sound even better. Yes I would like to listen to The Final Countdown with a ringtone going off in the background. How did you know? I’m not sure what inclusion on this list is going to fetch me more hate. Star Wars: Super Bombad Racing or Crazy Frog Arcade Racer? I’m anxious to see.
9 Bomberman Fantasy Race
This may be the biggest stretch to a kart racer on the list, but Bomberman Fantasy Race falls in line with the themes of the rest. It’s an iconic character, Bomberman, thrown into a racing game spinoff with his pals, but instead of vehicles everyone rides atop rabbit dinosaur things, Louies, or fluffy rhino things, Tirras. Bombs, unsurprisingly, are your weapons of choice, but there are other items to snag as well. As these creatures are kind of big and hulking, they perform as such, so it’s a more awkward and slow paced racer compared to the rest. Winning races earns coins, which can be used to buy items and other unlockables like courses. Mario Kart has since implemented systems like this, but, by my count, Bomberman Fantasy Race predated any Nintendo efforts.
8 Pac-Man World Rally
Another old school character finally got a racing game. It’s not weird Pac-Man is the star, but there are several Bandai Namco icons throughout various iterations and ports of the game including Pooka from Dig Dug, The Prince from Katamari Damacy, and Mappy from Mappy. At that point, it’s strange not to just make a Bandai Namco kart racer when other third-party companies have tried it, as we’ll see later. I’d give anything to see Heihachi from the Tekken series throw a bomb at Kratos from Tales of the Abyss. This is still a pretty great kart game and it actually puts Pac-Man’s key powers to good use. While there are random items to use, collecting power pellets will transform you into a giant Pac-Man and everyone else into blue ghosts. It’s a pretty amazing thing to see, although giant powerups like this aren’t new to the genre.
7 Chocobo Racing
I can’t believe Square Enix never made another racing game past Chocobo Racing. Bomberman Fantasy Race actually feels like it should star Cloud and the other Final Fantasy heroes riding atop Chocobos. Why hasn’t that been made? Anyway the roster is weird though comprised of iconic monsters and classes from the series, but with no special guests worth mentioning. As dull as some of these entries are, the vehicles in which they ride are rather clever. The Chocobo has rocket powered roller skates, the Black Mage flies on a cloud, and the Moogle has a fairly simply, but somehow speedy scooter. It’s adorable at the end of the day, looks good for a PS1 title, and has a decent array of courses. Still baffled at how the king of milking franchises to death, Square Enix, hasn’t made a console sequel to this or one starring the mainline heroes as I suggested.
6 Konami Crazy Racers
We’re now entering a legitimate, honest to goodness; amazing set of kart copycats now. Stepping up first is Konami Krazy Racers, the one and only clone representing an entire company, at least in the title. It again begs the questions why Bandai Namco, or even Capcom, hasn’t tried this because it’s really, really good. Sadly though, the roster is shamefully empty and filled with some pretty obscure characters. That said Cyborg Ninja from Metal Gear Solid makes up for that as weird as he looks driving a go-kart. Fun fact, it actually came out on the GBA before Mario Kart: Super Circuit, so in a way you could technically call that a clone of Konami Krazy Racers, but let’s not get into that. As a final note, check this intro music to the game. Pretty dang catchy Konami, or should I say katchy?
5 ModNation Racers
Very few of these games actually innovated the kart-racing genre that Super Mario Kart established, but ModNation Racers did, or at least tried to. I remember watching Sony’s E3 2009 presentation when United Front Games came out to announce ModNation Racers as another game that promoted creation and sharing in a gaming community like LittleBigPlanet. I was intrigued to say the least. By and large, the editing software on both the PS3 and PSP versions of the game are very easy to use. Tracks can be as simple, or complicated, as the player wants and there were near endless customization options for both drivers and vehicles. It had all the makings of becoming a great new franchise for Sony, except everything learned within was ported to our next entry.
4 LittleBigPlanet Karting
Sony’s SCE San Diego Studio, Media Molecule, who created LittleBigPlanet, and United Front Games, joined together to make a semi sequel to ModNation Racers called LittleBigPlanet Karting. Again, ModNation Racers took a giant leap forward and made great engine for players to make their own tracks, but there were some downsides. I would target brand recognition and their ugly choice of design to blame. The environments looked drab and more realistic while the characters were vinyl based making their juxtaposition, again, ugly. Sackboys, on the other hand, are totes adorable and the yarn/papercraft world of LittleBigPlanet is more imaginative and captivating. LittleBigPlanet Karting also has some bumps, as their editing tools weren’t as clean as ModNation Racer’s, but overall it’s the better game of the two. To add onto this and my other company bewilderment, why hasn’t there been a sequel or a kart game akin to PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale?
3 Diddy Kong Racing
There are actual clones within the Nintendo universe as well and some may call Diddy Kong Racing better than its predecessor, Mario Kart 64. It was the first to truly one up Mario’s empire in myriad of ways. For starters, it had a story campaign with a semi open environment to explore in-between races. Not only that, but it allowed players to race not only in karts, but hovercrafts and planes as well. Tracks could be navigated in different ways depending on what you chose, so one track became three technically. These changes weren’t drastic, but it was a nice step forward nonetheless. Diddy Kong Racing isn’t the only game that trumped Mario on the Nintendo 64, as Banjo-Kazooie is way better than Super Mario 64. Rare was in their golden age at this point, unlike today, but that tale is too sad to tell so let’s just move on.
2 Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
No developer tried to ape Diddy Kong Racing’s three vehicle mechanics until 2012’s Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. More than that, Sega evolved what Rare had started. Instead of choosing a car, boat, or plane to pilot in each track, the vehicle would transform midway through races thus creating actual new paths to explore. I cannot believe there’s an actual Sonic game that I am definitively calling better than a Mario title, but here we are. I’m someone indifferent to the blue blur too ,so much so that the trailers to this didn’t excite me as I thought it was going to be another mediocre clone, but I was dead wrong. Not only that, but it’s a Sega racer too including AiAi from Super Monkey Ball, Beat from Jet Set Radio, Ulala from Space Channel 5 and many others. It’s a great list of both drivers and courses. Seriously don’t let Sonic’s terrible track record sway you. Get this game now!
1 Crash Team Racing
As I said in the introduction, I became a Sony kid post Super Nintendo and the Crash Bandicoot series became my Super Mario 64. I loved every game, but somehow missed Crash Team Racing when it first came out. Thanks to the power of PSN’s PS1 Classics, I finally bought it and was amazed. It has a story and open environments to explore like Diddy Kong Racing, but I thought both of these aspects were better with Crash. Chalk that up to nostalgia just like I mentioned with cartoons, but it cannot be helped. It doesn’t have altering vehicles, but I don’t care. It stands above all others as a pure honest to goodness kart racer. I reflect as fondly on it now as I did with Super Mario Kart as a kid and that’s saying something.