Basic gameplay in the Mario Kart series has players racing on a variety of tracks, using power-ups such as shells and banana peels to gain an advantage over opponents. Each game has a variety of game modes, such as series staples Grand Prix, Battle, and Time Attack.
In the Grand Prix mode, characters compete against each other on sets of 4-5 tracks called Cups. Each cup can be played in any of the four difficulty settings. At the end of each race, a number of points are awarded to players depending on which place they finished, the player with the most points at the end of the cup wins. In later games, a letter/star grade is awarded based on things such as performing mini-turbos and avoiding items.
In dedicated multiplayer modes for earlier Mario Kart games, individual tracks can be selected as opposed to racing against computer controlled opponents. In Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart 64, obstacles are placed on the track to hinder the other racers on the track. In Mario Kart Wii and onward, rules can be specified to point accumulation or wins, split players individually or in teams, set item balance and more.
In Battle Mode, racers battle against each other in either free-for-all or team based modes. The most popular mode; Balloon Battle, has players start with a set amount of balloons.
The objective is to pop opponents balloons using items, the last player with balloons left wins. Other modes have appeared in later games, such as Shine Runners, which has players trying to collect the most Shine Sprites in a certain amount of time and Coin Runners where teams collect coins within three minutes.
The goal in this mode is to set the fastest single and three-lap times. Players are provided with a set amount of mushroom power-ups to use at any point during their run. Once a time has been set, a 'ghost' of the player's is provided to compete against. In later games, it became possible to trade ghosts with other people, both locally and over the internet, as well as compete against ghosts set by Nintendo staff.
Each game in the Mario Kart series includes a number of power-ups to aid players. Mainstays of the series include the mushroom, which gives a temporary speed boost, the banana peels, and the Green and Red shells, which all serve as weapons to use against opponents. Other items include the Blue shell, which automatically targets the first place racer, the fake item box, which damages players who run into it, and the star, which temporarily makes the user invincible.
A major staple of the Mario Kart series is the diversity of the tracks. There are many track themes that return from game to game, including:
These are purpose-built circuits meant to resemble actual raceways. These are paved tracks, sometimes with grandstands full of onlookers, and billboards and signs advertising imaginary racing products and brands.
Tracks set on roadways with traffic to avoid. These make an appearance in every 3D Mario Kart game. Traffic always drives on the left side of the road, matching the roadways in countries such as Japan, the United Kingdom, and Australia, though this is reversed in Mirror mode.
These tracks are formed by beaches, and typically incorporate tides and moving hazards such as fish and crabs.
Each of the 3D Mario Kart games features a track set in a Jungle locale, usually associated with Donkey Kong. These tracks are mostly offroad tracks with dirt, mud, or grass surfaces.
Nearly every game in the series includes a track with a spooky theme. Tracks of this type in the earlier games were typically flat and wood-based, haunted by several Boos. Another track of this type is Luigi's Mansion, based on the game of the same name, set in a haunted house and in the courtyards and swamps surrounding it.
These snow-filled tracks usually incorporate low-grip surfaces such as snow and ice and include hazards unique to each track, such as rolling snowballs in DK Pass, or penguins in Sherbet Land.
Resembling an indoor motocross track, these tracks are set in large stadiums with a dirt surface and are associated with Wario and Waluigi. Common features include jumps, sharp turns, mud, and fire.
Each game has contained one or more tracks set in Bowser's Castle. These tracks feature stone racing surfaces surrounded by lava, fire hazards, Thwomps, and multiple sudden 90-degree turns, which cause them to be very technically demanding. This track is always the second-to-last track in the Special Cup.
Always featured as the last track in the final cup, Rainbow Road is always suspended in outer space on a rainbow-colored track. These tracks typically feature few to no guard rails to prevent racers from falling off the sides of the track. Versions of Rainbow Road early in the series included sharp 90-degree turns, and Chain Chomps. 3D versions of Rainbow Road are usually significantly longer then other tracks.
Games in Franchise
Super Mario Kart
The first game in the franchise debuted for the SNES in 1992. This game introduced the franchise to the world with 8 playable participants in the first racing tournament. The game used the SNES' Mode 7 capabilities to make Mario Kart possible.
Mario Kart 64
In 1996, the Nintendo 64 introduced the second game in the franchise with all new tracks, two new racers, and three official soundtracks. This is the only game to have an official soundtrack.
Mario Kart: Super Circuit
The third game in the franchise for the Game Boy Advance in 2001. In this edition, the playable racers from Mario Kart 64 return with twenty new tracks and twenty Super Mario Kart tracks.
Mario Kart: Double Dash!!
The Nintendo Gamecube edition of Mario Kart introduced a new way to race in the franchise: playing as a team. Mario Kart: Double Dash!! is the fourth game in the series. In this game, players can now compete in teams in an all-new tournament and, only for this game, there is a special 16-race tour that allows the racers to play all of the courses in one cup. The Double Dash!! Technique is also introduced in this game too and this time, there are 20 playable participants instead of the traditional eight.
Mario Kart DS
The fifth game in the series and the second game for a handheld in 2005. In this game, racers can now play in all new tracks and tracks from the first four games. This game also marks the return of the single racer in a kart and in addition, the game has online multiplayer. This made Mario Kart DS the first game in the series to have an online mode. Twelve playable participants can compete in this game.
Mario Kart Wii
The sixth entry in the franchise and the second game to have an online multiplayer mode. For this tournament, up to twelve racers can race in each track. It is also the second game to have returning tracks from the previous installments. Twenty-four playable participants take part in this tournament.
Mario Kart 7
The seventh game in the main franchise, the third game for a handheld, and the first for a 3D handheld console. This is the third time in the entire series to have Retro Tracks from the past six games and for the first time in the series, players can now race on land, sea, and air. Also, players can see the race up close for the first time in first-person mode.
Arcade GP Sub-Series
Mario Kart Arcade GP
The first Mario Kart game in the arcade series includes characters from the Namco series like Blinky and Pac-Man. It takes place before Mario Kart DS.
Mario Kart Arcade GP 2
The sequel to the first Arcade GP installment that takes place between Mario Kart DS and Mario Kart Wii. In that game, there are more characters in all new races.
A special boost that is used to get a head start in a race. To activate it, wait for the signal light to turn green, then hit the gas. If successful, then a rocket start will occur.
Named after the fourth game in the franchise, this boost will raise the speed even faster when the green light goes off. Just hit the gas and you'll get a double dash.