Even though a Mario Kart game has never graced our noble PC towers, I know you’ve heard of it. It’s only to establish our parameters for this list that I’m going to remind you anyway.
Mario Kart takes Nintendo’s famous first-party characters, such as Donkey Kong and the titular Mario, and puts them in go-karts equipped with weaponised turtle shells. Players race said characters around physically impossible tracks, jostling for victory and cheating with that f**king blue shell when they’re not good enough to win clean. Each instalment is a compulsive, competitive racing game with the added spice of collectible powerups, implausible environments, and a deceptively wholesome aesthetic, and is considered a crucial system seller for every Nintendo console.
Over the years Mario Kart has become a staple in the gaming world – it’s difficult to find anyone who hasn’t had a go at one of the games at some point. Which is all the more remarkable given that it’s very much a Nintendo property, and we all know what that means – no PC port. Devastating.
Even while many of us will have taken it for a spin at a friend’s house, it’s tragic, really, that we’re not able to do so at home. Or can’t we? Well, no. We can’t. But we can come close. I’ve found some awesome automobile alternatives that you can play right now on PC.
Is Mario Kart on PC?
Sadly, Mario Kart isn’t on PC. You see Nintendo is Nintendo and its first-party IPs stay on its first-party platforms, with precious few exceptions. So unless you’ve got a Switch or one of Nintendo’s older consoles, you’re not going to be playing Mario Kart any time soon – but that’s where I’m here to help. Keep reading if you want to know the best PC alternatives.
We’re leaving this one here as a little footnote because it isn’t technically out yet. KartRider: Drift is the successor to Crazyracing KartRider, a free-to-play online multiplayer combat racer that became a sensation in its native South Korea after its release in 2004. Clearly inspired by Mario Kart, with go-kart cars, powerups, wacky tracks, and a cartoony aesthetic, KartRider has supposedly been played by one in four of all South Koreans. Drift was announced at Microsoft’s X019 show with its release due sometime this year.
Team Sonic Racing
Mario might not appear on PC, but his Olympian mate Sonic certainly does. Team Sonic Racing is all about the characters that you know and love from the Sega universe, pitting them against each other in a very similar fashion to Mario Kart.
Frankly, if you’re looking for the closest equivalent we have on PC, look no further. This is an arcade racing game with powerups, a family-friendly cartoon aesthetic, with a roster of iconic faces you already know and love. Except Metal Sonic – no one likes Metal Sonic. If you can’t play with Mario, then Sonic is a great alternative. I do wonder why he needs a car at all though – I thought he was already pretty quick. If you’ve ‘gotta go fast’ then give Team Sonic Racing a try. Here’s the Steam page.
F1 Race Stars
Released in 2012, this is an ageing and frankly bizarre experiment in which real Formula One stars, officially licensed, are interpreted in stylised bobblehead form and plonked into a very Mario Kart combat racing game.
And it’s brilliant. Made by Codemasters, an expert developer of ‘proper’ racing games, it’s a robust racing experience with the added equaliser of powerups that’s also family-friendly and adorable to look at. Check it out on Steam here.
If you fondly remember the ‘90s combat racer Rollcage, went to a lot of Pendulum or Prodigy gigs back in the day, or are just a bit of an edgelord whose problem with Mario Kart is it’s ‘for kids’, then look no further. Grip is a hardcore combat racer that trades blue shells for homing missiles and machine guns and describes itself unironically as ‘high octane’. It features both cars and Wipeout-style antigrav racers that can shoot each other while driving upside down, or on walls and ceilings, and has just got a surprise VR mode if you’d like to test your stomach strength.
With an intense dubstep soundtrack and fast-paced, challenging tracks, Grip is one of the more demanding entries on this list – just the thing for the Mario Kart fan who’s all grown up. Get to grips with its Steam page here.
If Grip seems a bit grim and combative for you, Trailblazers might hit the spot. A rather more colourful sci-fi arcade racer described by the devs as “F-Zero meets Splatoon,” Trailblazers has a clever gimmick: you paint the track in your team’s colour as you drive, and all team members get a speed boost when driving over their paint. So as you jostle for the lead you’re also competing to set down the best racing line for others to follow. Antigrav Chevrolet-inspired lowriders and bright sci-fi scenery are the icing on a saccharine-sweet visual cake – feast your eyes via Steam here.
If nothing is tickling your fancy so far, you may be after something a little different. Wreckfest is a terrific antidote to the recent trend in ‘proper’ racing sims towards driving clean: essentially, it’s a demolition derby game, though it also features more traditional track racing modes if you’d like to try something more boring.
Featuring soft-body damage modelling and sophisticated driving dynamics, Wreckfest can match thoroughbred sims on car handling, yet outpaces all of them when it comes to fun. You can even race camper vans and lawnmowers. Go batter some bodywork via the Steam page here.
Rocket League is for those that really enjoyed Mario Kart for the competition – for those that took pleasure in crushing your opponents, even your kid cousin who cried after falling off Rainbow Road for the tenth time. Weakling. If that’s what you miss about Mario Kart, this might be your game.
Rocket League isn’t about racing though, it’s about football (or soccer to you Americans out there). You’re driving these cars not to lap anyone, but to steer a ball into your opponents’ goal on the other side of a massive, high-tech stadium. In the sense that you’re outmanoeuvring other cars in an arena, it does bear a passing resemblance to Mario Kart’s battle mode, so there’s that. Here’s the Steam page if you want to shoot your shot.
This is us dipping our toe in the water of ‘proper’ racing games, one for those Mario Kart fans who crave its competitive racing aspects but could do without the powerups and cartoon characters. Grid strikes a nice balance between high-contact street racing and purist track racing, so you get a bit of both arcade racer and racing ‘sim’ – the two competing sensibilities of the racing genre. If you’re familiar with Race Driver: Grid, this 2019 reboot is its slick younger brother.
The big gimmick for Grid is its Nemesis System. The more aggressively you play against the AI drivers – bumping their cars, for example – the more aggressive they get in return. This at least gives you the feeling that you’re really playing against your mates in Mario Kart. I can almost hear them telling me to sod off now. Here’s the Steam page.
Burnout Paradise Remastered
The original 2008 Burnout Paradise went for an MOT and came out with some new graphics while retaining its core appeal: fun, ferocious, freeform racing, with an emphasis on stunts and wanton destruction, in a beautiful sun-kissed setting.
Where games like Grid at least nod to realism, Burnout Paradise tells you to drive in the fastest and most downright stupid ways possible, to throw caution and seatbelts to the wind, and go wherever and do whatever you want. It’s a lawless domain, much like Mario Kart. If you want to check it out, here’s the Origin page.
And that’s about it! Those are the best games you can play on PC that are at least a little like Mario Kart here or there. If you’re a ‘proper’ racing fan, all about cutting your lap times and counting sponsor stencils, you’ll be after a list of the best racing games on PC.