Throughout the series, courses come in many forms depending on its theme.
These courses are the most basic form of racetracks. As the theme implies, these courses resemble typical go-kart circuits with little to no gimmicks and obstacles. They are usually found on Mushroom Cup and Flower Cup. In the early games, circuits usually share the same theme music.
These courses are less common than circuits and made its debut in Mario Kart 64. These courses usually contain several more gimmicks than circuits and often contain ramps to make jumps. Stadiums are mostly featured in the Star Cup or Special Cup, although one in Mario Kart 8 and in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is instead featured in the Mushroom Cup.
These are the most common form of racetracks, a recurring theme throughout the Mario Kart courses. Off-road courses vary depending on the game, ranging from simple, circuit-like tracks to complicated, challenging courses with lots of gimmicks and obstacles. Most courses are in off-road form and are usually found in across all cups.
These courses are basically off-road tracks taking place in a snowy weather. The tracks' surfaces are usually slippery and can make karts spin out or slow down if one is driving carelessly. It is notably also more difficult to drift in these tracks.
Appearing in several of the games, these tracks are typically set deep in a forest and are most often themed after Donkey Kong.
These tracks are mainly associated with Bowser, usually set around lava pits.
Water-themed courses have appeared since the first game of the series. As its name implies, they take place on a shore, near a coast, or inside water-themed places. The water usually serves as a hazard where racers could fall into. However, in Mario Kart 7, Mario Kart 8, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, racers can drive underwater in some courses up to a point.
There are other tracks whose themes include non-Mario courses, borrowing themes from other series, including the Legend of Zelda, Animal Crossing, and F-Zero series.
Every game except Mario Kart: Super Circuit has four cups with new tracks. Its fifth cup, the Lightning Cup, is actually the third cup in that game. In Mario Kart DS, these are known as Nitro Cups.
Mushroom Cup is the easiest Grand Prix cup, with the easiest tracks to complete. It is the first cup in every game. The courses of this cup consist only of a simple layout without a lot of gimmicks.
The Flower Cup is the second cup in every Mario Kart game. The courses are a little more difficult than those of the Mushroom Cup and feature more gimmicks and challenges. All games feature a Mario Circuit in this cup except for Mario Kart DS, which had its Mario Circuit in the Star Cup instead.
The Lightning Cup was only used as an original cup in Mario Kart: Super Circuit, in addition to the standard four. It is the third cup out of the five in the game. Since the release of Mario Kart DS onwards, all games reuse the Lightning Cup as the final cup of the Retro Grand Prix instead.
|N/A||Cheep Cheep Island||N/A|
The Star Cup is the second to the last cup in all Mario Kart games. It contains more gimmicks, obstacles, and challenges than the previous two. Most games feature an ice or snow-themed course in this cup. In Mario Kart 7, this is the only cup to have all four of its courses to have a PAL name.
The Special Cup, before the introduction of retro cups, was the final cup in all Mario Kart games, featuring, unique, long, and challenging courses with lots of gimmicks. In all but the first two games, the second to last course is Bowser's Castle. In all games, the final track is the Rainbow Road, the track to end all races.
Mario Kart 64 is the only game in the series in which the Special Cup is unlocked at the start of the game.
Original Battle Stages
The original battle stages are arenas filled with certain obstacles, such as off-road sections, walls, and hazards like crabs. These can lead to being hit by items. Mario Kart: Double Dash!! is the only game to have unlockable battle courses. Mario Kart 8 is the only Mario Kart to have tracks as battle courses.
- * - Grand Prix track playable in battle mode
** - only available on tournaments
Games from Mario Kart DS onwards feature four retro cups and at least one retro battle course in battle mode. Retro courses and arenas are recreations of those found in older games. Colored squares indicate the original game in which the course first appeared for each course and arena in this section. One must note that the Lightning Cup was first and only used as an original cup for Mario Kart: Super Circuit.
The structure for the tracks used in each retro cup, based on the originating game, is the following:
- Mario Kart DS: As the fifth installment in the Mario Kart series, each retro cup in this game features tracks from the four previous titles in chronological order: Super Mario Kart, Mario Kart 64, Mario Kart: Super Circuit, and Mario Kart: Double Dash!! Retro battle courses, however, are limited to one stage from Mario Kart 64 and another from Mario Kart: Double Dash!!
- Mario Kart Wii: Each retro cup features one track from Mario Kart 64, one from Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, and another from Mario Kart DS. The Shell Cup and Lightning Cup each feature a track from Super Mario Kart, while the Banana Cup and Leaf Cup each feature a track from Mario Kart: Super Circuit. Contrary to the Mario Kart DS retro cups, the track order for each Mario Kart Wii retro cup varies instead of being in chronological order (the only constant pattern is that any cup with a Mario Kart: Super Circuit course has it second). For battle stages, one from each of the five previous games is available.
- Mario Kart 7: Each retro cup features one track from Mario Kart DS and another from Mario Kart Wii. Every cup except the Lightning Cup features a Mario Kart 64 track. The only Mario Kart: Super Circuit retro track appears in the Shell Cup. The Banana Cup and Lightning Cup each feature a Super Mario Kart track. Finally, the Leaf Cup and Lightning Cup each feature a Mario Kart: Double Dash!! track. Cups with a Mario Kart 64 track always start with that. The order varies for the others. Battle stages are from Mario Kart: Super Circuit, Mario Kart 64 and Mario Kart DS respectively.
- Mario Kart 8: Every cup features an Mario Kart 64 course. All cups have a course from Mario Kart 7 except the Shell Cup, which instead has the only course from Mario Kart: Super Circuit in the game, excluding downloadable content. All cups have a Mario Kart DS course except the Banana Cup, which instead has the only course from Super Mario Kart in the game. The Shell and Lightning Cups each have a Mario Kart Wii course and the Banana and Leaf Cups each have a Mario Kart: Double Dash!! course. The course order once again is random, however all the cups have their Mario Kart 64 course last except the Banana Cup which has it third instead. Retro battle courses are not actually courses initially used for battle; however, retro Grand-Prix courses in the game have been slightly adjusted are the ones used for Balloon Battle. The course from Super Mario Kart, both the courses from Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, one of the two courses from Mario Kart Wii, and two of the four courses from Mario Kart 64 appear as playable battle courses in this game.
- Mario Kart 8 Deluxe: A large part of its retro format has been reused again from Mario Kart 8. However, a notable change includes the complete scrapping of the retro Grand-Prix courses slightly tweaked as battle courses, favoring instead the usage of genuine retro courses originally used as battle courses.
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|■ GBA||■ SNES||■ Wii||■ DS|
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Most tracks in the Banana Cup debuted in the Flower Cup. Many, however, originated in the Mushroom Cup: the first track in Mario Kart DS, Mario Kart 7, Mario Kart 8, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, the second track in Mario Kart Wii and Mario Kart 7, and the last track in Mario Kart Wii. Sherbet Land and Royal Raceway come from the Star Cup. DK Jungle and Donut Plains 3 come from the Special Cup, due to how easy both of these tracks are.
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|■ N64||■ GBA||■ SNES||■ SNES|
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The Leaf Cup also gets most of its courses from the Flower Cup. However, the second course in Mario Kart Wii, Mario Kart 7, Mario Kart 8, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and as well as the last course in Mario Kart 7 come from the Star Cup of their game. Another pattern is that the first course in Mario Kart DS, Mario Kart 8, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and as well as the last course in Mario Kart 8 and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe come from the Special Cup.
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From Mario Kart DS onwards, the Lightning Cup is used as the last retro cup. The majority of tracks were originally featured in the Star Cup. However, the second track in Mario Kart DS, Mario Kart Wii, Mario Kart 7, and the last in Mario Kart 7, Mario Kart 8, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe originate from the Special Cup, and the first track in Mario Kart Wii originates from the Flower Cup.
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|■ N64||■ DS||■ GCN||■ 3DS|
|■ GBA||■ GCN||■ DS||■ Wii|
|■ GCN||■ N64||■ SNES||■ N64|
Retro Battle Stages
Nineteen battle stages have been remade throughout Mario Kart DS, Mario Kart Wii, Mario Kart 7, Mario Kart 8, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. In Mario Kart 8, six retro tracks were adjusted to be more suitable for Balloon Battle. The retro battle courses are no different from last time they appeared, having the same course layout as before.
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|N/A||■ N64||■ DS||■ SNES||■ SNES|
|N/A||■ GCN||N/A||■ N64||N/A|
|N/A||■ DS||N/A||■ GCN||N/A|
- * - Grand Prix track playable in battle mode
In Mario Kart 8, the DLC cups are 16 more tracks combined into two packs that are available for purchase. Over half of the DLC courses borrow themes from other game series, such as the Legend of Zelda, F-Zero, and Animal Crossing series. It also brings back some retro courses, making them the first cups in the entire Mario Kart series to combine both retro and nitro courses into one.
In Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, the DLC Cups are no longer presented as DLC content, but are instead merged into the core game.
The Egg Cup is a cup that appears in Mario Kart 8 as part of the The Legend of Zelda × Mario Kart 8 DLC pack. The emblem of the cup is a green Yoshi Egg. Interestingly, none of the tracks in this cup feature any underwater sections.
The Triforce Cup is a cup that appears in Mario Kart 8 as part of the The Legend of Zelda × Mario Kart 8 DLC pack. The emblem of the cup is the Triforce from the Legend of Zelda series. It features two retro and nitro courses. It is the first and only cup so far to feature a Rainbow Road course that is not the final race. Along with the Egg Cup, none of the tracks in this cup feature any underwater sections.
The Crossing Cup is a cup that appears in Mario Kart 8 as part of the Animal Crossing × Mario Kart 8 DLC pack. The emblem of the cup is the leaf from the Animal Crossing series. It also features two retro and nitro courses.
The Bell Cup is a cup that appears in Mario Kart 8 as part of the Animal Crossing × Mario Kart 8 DLC pack. The emblem of the cup is the Super Bell from Super Mario 3D World. It also features two retro and nitro courses. It is the only DLC cup that does not contain a retro course that was used as a retro course in a previous game; GCN Baby Park and GCN Yoshi Circuit were both in Mario Kart DS and SNES Rainbow Road was in Mario Kart 7.
Extra Cups are ports of Super Mario Kart tracks that appeared in Mario Kart: Super Circuit. They are unlocked by having the gold trophy of the Special Cup of an engine class, playing any cup again, and getting 100 coins in the respective cup. For example, upon completing the Special Cup, if a player goes back and plays the Mushroom Cup and collects more than 100 coins, they will unlock the Extra Mushroom Cup.
Each extra track has not been scaled up from Super Mario Kart, remaining the same relative size; this results in the old system of five laps instead of three. Additionally, most hazards have been removed from the tracks, most likely because of game size limitations.
Extra Mushroom Cup
Extra Flower Cup
Extra Lightning Cup
Extra Star Cup
Extra Special Cup