Super Mario Kart is a kart racing game featuring several single and multiplayer modes. During the game, players take control of one of eight Mario franchise characters and drive karts around tracks with a Mario franchise theme. The goal of the game is to either finish a race ahead of other racers, who are controlled by the computer and other players, or complete a circuit in the fastest time. There is also a battle mode in which the aim is to attack the karts of the other human players.
Tiles marked with question marks are arrayed on the race tracks; they give special abilities (power-ups) to a player's kart if the vehicle passes over them. Power-ups, such as the ability to throw shells and bananas, allow racers to hit others with the objects, causing them to spin and lose control. Computer players have specific special powers associated with each character, that they are able to use throughout the race. Lines of coins are found on the tracks in competitive race modes. By running over these coins, a kart collects them and increases its top speed.