Mario Kart sticks out amongst other established Nintendo series. Like Mario, Zelda, or Metroid, certain constants have persisted over the years. Cartoonish characters, drifting, and wacky items have all become its distinguishing characteristics. But it’s the last example, the items, that best illustrate Mario Kart’s unique qualities.
They represent a chance, unexpected upsets, and straight up dumb luck that doesn’t exist in the clockwork levels of Super Mario (there will always be a goomba on the ground traveling from right to left on World 1-1). Zelda’s steady accumulation of items build out a consistent internal logic that governs that game’s world. For example, torches can be lit, the boomerang can spread fire, and therefore the boomerang can be used to spread a flame to multiple torches. Metroid is similar. Ongoing success is determined by the tools you find, which are discovered through testing your existing skills. In all these games, failure is the result of a lack of knowledge or execution: you either haven’t learned how to succeed or you screw up the implementation.