One of the highlights of the Super Mario Bros. Movie is the Mario Kart sequence in which Mario, Princess Peach, Toad, Donkey Kong, and Cranky Kong race across Rainbow Road in karts while being pursued by Bowser’s Koopas in a variety of vehicles. Effectively, this glorious action sequence mixes Mario Kart with Mad Max Fury Road.
From high-speed anti-gravity sections to taking out enemies with a Blue Shell, there are plenty of fan-pleasing Mario Kart references to enjoy throughout this scene. Rainbow Road has also never looked better thanks to The Super Mario Bros. Movie's jaw-dropping animation.
Ranking every Rainbow Road in Mario Kart
A signature Mario Kart track since the first SNES game launched in 1992, Rainbow Road is traditionally the final stage. Don’t be deceived by its brightly coloured aesthetic, though. As it’s set on a floating road in space, it’s easy to fall off the edge. This makes Rainbow Road one of Mario Kart’s toughest tracks.
Although Rainbow Road has appeared in every mainline Mario Kart game, every iteration is unique with different obstacles, layouts, and locations. To celebrate the release of The Super Mario Bros. Movie, we’re ranking every version of the vibrant racetrack from worst to best.
Mario Kart 64
Released in 1996 on N64, Mario Kart 64 marked the first 3D entry in the series. Seeing Rainbow Road in 3D for the first time should have been spectacular. Unfortunately, it was an utter letdown.
One of Rainbow Road’s defining features is its lack of walls. Conversely, Mario Kart 64’s version of Rainbow Road added star-shaped guardrails on the side of the track, preventing you from plummeting off the edge. This removed the sense of challenge that makes Rainbow Road so rewarding and memorable.
To make matters worse, the track design is uninspired. Unlike every other version of Rainbow Road, there aren’t many obstacles, sharp turns, or elevation changes to keep you engaged. It’s also the longest track in any Mario Kart game, making it dull to drive on and leaving you begging for it to end.
Super Mario Kart
Super Mario Kart marked the first appearance of Rainbow Road as the final track of the Special Cup. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best.
With its sharp 90-degree turns, lack of guardrails to save you from falling off the edge, and devious Thwomps trying to crush you, the original Rainbow Road can still test your skills. Unfortunately, it hasn’t aged well. While Super Mario Kart’s pseudo-3D Mode 7 graphics were impressive for the time, the circuit is completely flat, and it feels dated as a result.
If you want to revisit the original Rainbow Road with updated graphics, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe features a remake of the colourful circuit, as well as a remake of Mario Kart 64’s.
Mario Kart: Super Circuit
Released in 2001, Mario Kart Super Circuit let players experience Rainbow Road on the go for the first time on Gameboy Advance, blending Super Mario Kart’s 2D graphics with Mario Kart 64’s character sprites and powerups.
What sets Super Circuit’s Rainbow Road apart are jumping humps that save you from falling. These can also be used to your advantage as you can find shortcuts by skipping track sections. Bowser's Castle from Paper Mario also looms in the background.
But while racing on Rainbow Road on a portable system was fun at the time, the circuit is flat like the original thanks to the GBA’s hardware limitations.
Mario Kart 8/Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Rainbow Road received a radical makeover in Mario Kart 8 on Wii U. This new take on the classic circuit takes place inside the Mario Kart TV space station with conveyor belts that slow you down or speed you up, massive jumps, and shortcuts to discover.
There’s an epic sense of scale and we must commend Nintendo for trying something new. But compared to other Rainbow Roads, MK8’s lacks the atmosphere, challenge, and charm of the classics.
It’s a lot more forgiving than its predecessors, but this will be a blessing for some players. Time will tell how Nintendo changes Rainbow Road in the inevitable Mario Kart 9.
Mario Kart DS
Rainbow Road in Mario Kart’s DS debut was a significant step up compared to the GBA’s Super Circuit. For the first time, players could experience Rainbow Road in 3D on a handheld wherever they went.
This fresh take on Rainbow Road is like a rollercoaster ride, as the new layout introduced crazy loops and corkscrews. No other version replicated this innovation until MK8 added anti-gravity sections. Time a power-up right, and you could make opponents fall off the loop.
Sharp turns and a spiralling helix were also added, but the layout was more forgiving for new players than other versions. It also feels like a cut-down version of Rainbow Road in the next Mario Kart game on this list.
Mario Kart Double Dash!!!
With the GameCube’s release of Double Dash!!! in 2003, Nintendo shook up the tried and tested Mario Kart formula. For the first (and only) time in the series, two characters ride on karts either driving or throwing items at opponents. Every character also has a unique speciality item, giving the racing an extra layer of strategy.
Rainbow Road returned in Double Dash!!! with an intricate new layout incorporating an extended spiral perfect for power sliding along with a warp pipe that fires players up to the top of the track.
It’s one of the trickier tracks to master, but Double Dash’s Rainbow Road is still a delight 20 years on. Let’s hope Nintendo remakes it one day.
Mario Kart Wii
Before Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Mario Kart Wii was the best-selling game in the series. It also offers the most challenging Rainbow Road in any Mario Kart game by a country mile.
Inspired by Mario Galaxy, MK Wii’s Rainbow Road takes place in space on a track above Earth. The steep downward slope at the start sets the tone – you’re in for a wild ride.
With its twisty banked turns, a Launch Star blasting you through a rainbow-coloured tunnel, and a half-pipe that can send you flying off course if you aren’t careful, MK Wii’s Rainbow Road demands precision and takes considerable skill to master.
Despite its steep difficulty, MK Wii’s Rainbow Road is a non-stop thrill ride, though some players may find it too chaotic.
Mario Kart 7
No other Rainbow Road gives you a magical sense of journey like Mario Kart 7’s on 3DS. Rather than a circuit with multiple laps, MK7’s Rainbow Road is a wonderfully designed point-to-point track split into three sections, with a space setting inspired by Mario Galaxy.
It starts like a traditional Rainbow Road but after a few minutes, you’re suddenly racing on the rings of Saturn.
From there, the intensity ramps up. After the first section, you land on the moon, jumping over craters and avoiding Chain Chomps before the final section sees you flying through rings and dodging asteroids.
Its incredible design, variety and atmosphere make it not only the best Rainbow Road but also one of the best Mario Kart tracks of all time. Best of all, it recently had a remake in the MK8 Deluxe Booster Course Pass so more players can experience it.
For more articles like this, take a look at our Mario Kart page.