A piece of multi-coloured road in space
Image: Nintendo EPD/IGDB/Mario Wiki

The joy of ‘Rainbow Road’

Recently, the third wave of booster packs for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe were released, and they’ve been broadly well-received among players. There’s not a dud in the bunch, but there have been two tracks singled out for particular praise. The first is Merry Mountain, a Christmas-themed circuit from Tour that has landed at exactly the right time of year. The other, perhaps surprisingly so, is the 3DS version of Rainbow Road, one of the greatest iterations of the course and the one which feels appropriately epic when benefitting from honed console graphics.

Rainbow Road is the pinnacle of Mario Kart games – each instalment features one, and it’s meant to be the hardest track in each entry, coming as the final race in the Special Cup. There have been eight mainline Rainbow Roads, plus two more in the Tour games. It takes place in space and, in all but one of the courses, there are no or very few guardrails to prevent you launching off into the void if you misjudge a corner (and I for one have certainly done that a lot).

In many courses, getting a Mushroom is a huge plus that could put you back in the race – on Rainbow Road, there’s an air of jeopardy as to where you use it, especially if there’s a tight turn coming up. And if you get a Golden Mushroom on the SNES version of the track, I sincerely wish you luck, because you need skills far greater than mine to use it a lot and remain on the road. It’s a course that sorts the casual players from the seasoned pros, especially when you start increasing the ccs – if you can consistently come first on Rainbow Road at 200cc, then I doff my cap.

I love the experience of racing around space

However, as a player who tends towards easier games and modes, there’s so much more to Rainbow Road than just the challenge of the toughest course in the game. I always find it one of the most visually spectacular tracks – it may not have the character of, say, Tick-Tock Clock, but it always feels like a grand race, as you’re flying around the stars or a giant space station, looking at the Earth down below. The fans are right to praise the 3DS course, because it’s the most exciting of them all, taking cues from Mario Galaxy to see you race around planets and on moons. The introduction of long courses (like Mount Wario) has opened the door for thrilling races, and it’s no surprise that Rainbow Road should prove one of them.

The games’ soundtracks are particularly underrated, and Rainbow Road boasts some great ones – they’re sci-fi pieces, often employing the same rising chord sequence to give them a real sense of grandeur. As the race builds, you feel the music building with it, and it really amps you up. I wouldn’t necessarily listen to them in their own right, but they’re perfectly suited for the experience of facing your opponents on the cosmic racecourse.

Everyone has their favourite Mario Kart tracks, of course, but for me, it has to be Rainbow Road. I love the experience of racing around space, knowing that I have to get the lines and the drifts right or I’m essentially out of the game, and feeling the scale that few tracks manage to generate. The addition of the 3DS version – the greatest version of the course – to Deluxe just lifts up the game even more.


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