Kart Fighter follows many of the rules and conventions already established for the fighting game genre by the time of its release. The player engages opponents in one-on-one close quarter combat. The object of each round is to deplete the opponent's vitality before the timer runs out. Because it is an adaptation of Street Fighter II, the game controls resemble those of the Street Fighter series. The player uses the D-pad to move the character towards or away from the opponent or to jump. The A and B buttons perform punches and kicks, as well as jump punches and jump kicks when combined with movement. Additionally, each character has a selection of special moves performed by inputting a combination of directional and button-based commands.