Like other games in the series, in Mario Kart 8, players control characters from the Mario franchise and participate in kart racing on various race tracks, using items to hinder opponents or gain advantages. While incorporating game mechanics originally featured in earlier Mario Kart games, Mario Kart 8 introduces anti-gravity sections that allow players to drive on walls or ceilings. The game features multiple single-player and multiplayer game modes, and incorporates Miiverse functionality and online multiplayer supported via Nintendo Network.
The game continues the traditional gameplay of the Mario Kart series, in which characters from the Mario universe race against each other in go-karts, attempting to hinder their opponents or improve their racing performance using various tools found in item boxes. In addition, the game includes four different difficulties, which can be selected before beginning the race to challenge players. Returning features from previous installments include motorbikes, and twelve-player racing from Mario Kart Wii, as well as hang gliders, underwater racing and vehicle customization from Mario Kart 7.
Mario Kart 8’s new features include anti-gravity racing, in which certain parts of a track can allow racers to drive on walls and ceilings. During these sections, players can bump into other racers or special bumpers to trigger a Spin Boost, which gives them an extra speed boost. New characters include the Koopalings, Baby Rosalina, and Pink Gold Peach. New items include the Boomerang Flower, which can be thrown to attack players, the Piranha Plant, which attacks nearby racers and obstacles, the Crazy Eight, which gives the user eight items, and the Super Horn, which can be used both to attack nearby opponents and defend against items, including the previously nearly unavoidable Spiny Shell. The game features 32 tracks, with an additional 16 later released as downloadable content (DLC).
Along with local multiplayer, Mario Kart 8 supports online multiplayer for up to twelve players, with voice chat support outside of races. Players are able to set up tournaments with fully customizable rules and schedules, download ghost data from friends or top players, and receive stamps for use on Miiverse by beating staff times and completing Grand Prix races. Mario Kart TV lets the player view replay data from other players, including rewind and slow-motion playback functionality, and upload highlights to the video sharing platform, YouTube.
The Wii U version is compatible with the Wii U GamePad, Wii Remote and Nunchuk, Wii U Pro Controller, Wii Classic Controller and Wii Wheel, while the Switch version can be played with a Joy-Con turned on its side, the Joy-Con grip controller, the console pad or the Switch Pro controller. Players can also use Amiibo figures to unlock Nintendo-themed costumes that can be worn by Miis.