Mario Kart is the reigning king of kart racers. Back in 1992, Nintendo created the popular mascot kart racing genre with the original Super Mario Kart on the SNES. Fast forward 30 years later, and Mario Kart is the best-selling racing game franchise of all time with over 152 million units sold.
Despite releasing in 2017, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe still regularly appears in the weekly UK game charts. Its unwavering popularity has made it the best-selling Switch game of all time.
With the Booster Course Pass adding 48 classic tracks to MK8 Deluxe until the end of 2023, Mario Kart 9 isn't coming any time soon. However, there are plenty of other kart racers without the Italian plumber you may have overlooked that are worth playing. These are our picks for the five best Mario Kart alternatives.
Diddy Kong Racing
As developers tried to capitalise on Mario Kart's monumental success, the market was saturated with mascot kart racers in the 1990s. Many were terrible, but 1997's Diddy Kong Racing stood out from the crowd. Rareware’s cutesy kart racer was arguably Mario Kart’s first true rival. In some ways, it was better than Mario Kart 64.
DKR featured an innovative Adventure mode with a story, boss battles, and a free-roaming hub world encouraging exploration. Mario Kart, on the other hand, has never had a story mode.
Notably, DKR also had more vehicle variety than Mario Kart. Not only could you race on land in karts, but you could also fly planes and race on water in hovercrafts. Powerups were upgradeable mid-race too, making the gameplay more strategic than Mario Kart.
Sadly, the only way to play DKR is by dusting off your N64 console. Let’s hope Nintendo adds Diddy Kong Racing to the Switch Online + Expansion Pack soon. Like the recent F-Zero X port, a re-release of DKR on Switch would benefit from a smoother frame rate and online multiplayer support.
Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled
After Diddy Kong gave the Italian plumber some competition, Sony wanted a Mario Kart rival on the PlayStation. The result was Crash Team Racing. Released in 1999, some fans still regard CTR as one of the greatest kart racers of all time - and it’s easy to see why.
Developed by Naughty Dog, CTR rewards skill, with a focus on drifting to fill your boost bar. Tapping the opposite shoulder button at the right time gives you a speed boost. With practice, it’s possible to drift and boost for the entire race. Chaining boosts together is immensely satisfying, giving experienced players an advantage in heated split-screen battles.
In 2019, CTR received a high-definition remake by Beenox with the release of Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled. With updated HD graphics, modern controls, and an expanded track roster combining circuits from CTR and Crash Nitro Kart, Nitro-Fueled is the best version of CTR to date. It's backwards compatible on PS5 and Xbox Series X|S, but Nitro-Kart deserves the full next-gen treatment.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
Mario and Sonic have been rivals since the early ‘90s. But it wasn’t until Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed released in 2012 that Sega came close to dethroning Mario Kart.
Developed by Sumo Digital, vehicles in Transformed switch from karts to boats or planes mid-race as the track layout changes dynamically. Each vehicle type feels noticeably different, requiring different techniques to succeed.
Starring alongside the titular hedgehog is over 20 playable characters from other Sega franchises like B.D. Joe from Crazy Taxi. You can also race in locations inspired by OutRun, Panzer Dragoon, and After Burner among others. Since then, Nintendo has added characters and locations from other franchises to Mario Kart, but Sega’s fan service is on another level.
2019’s Team Sonic Racing may be a newer game, but it didn’t quite live up to its predecessor. It’s still a fun kart racer, but the transforming vehicles were removed. The new team racing system adds an element of strategy, allowing you to share weapons with other team members to help them and gain speed boosts when following your teammate's slipstream trail. but we miss the variety Transformed offered.
Thanks to backwards compatibility, the Xbox 360 version of Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed is playable on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S. On modern hardware, it looks and plays even better than the original release.
Released in 2010 exclusively for the PlayStation 3, ModNation Racers was Sony’s answer to Mario Kart in the seventh console generation. As the name suggests, the game's focus on modification set ModNation Racers apart from the pack.
Customisation is limited in Mario Kart, but ModNation Racers let you create your own characters, karts, and tracks, with a plethora of options.
Inspired by LittleBigPlanet’s Play Create Share tagline, these creations could also be shared online. In its heyday, the community created some crazy tracks that could be downloaded.
A big part of ModNation Racer's appeal was seeing what the community would cook up next. Sadly, online content is no longer available as the servers were shut down in 2018, but the single-player story campaign, fast-paced kart racing action, and powerful track creator still hold up.
A successor to 1999’s Chocobo Racing on original PlayStation, Chocobo GP is the newest entry in this list. Nintendo’s latest kart racer features a huge cast of unlockable characters from the Final Fantasy universe, including Vivi, Cactuar, Terra, and of course the adorable Chocobos.
Choosing the right character is important as each character has special abilities that can influence the outcome of the race and unique vehicles with different handling characteristics.
While microtransactions sour the experience, Chocobo GP’s vibrant visuals, terrific track designs, and fun story mode make it a worthy alternative to Mario Kart, particularly for younger players. If you want to give it a try before you buy, you can download a free Chocobo GP Lite demo on the Nintendo eShop.