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Mario Kart 8 Deluxe beginner’s guide

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is better than ever on Nintendo Switch. While returning vets may be able to find success from just jumping in and racing, there are a few notable changes from the Wii U version that might trip you up, whether you’re a newcomer or expert.

Seeing as how Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the bestselling Nintendo Switch game, it certainly has a massive audience — some of whom might be struggling to get a grasp of playing the game. In this guide, we’ll teach you about many of Mario Kart 8′s mechanics, offering tips to shave time off your laps — hopefully getting you closer to first place. Here’s our list of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe tips and tricks.

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Starting Boost

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A long-standing Mario Kart mechanic, a well-timed starting boost — triggered by revving the gas right before the start of the race — can propel you to the front of the pack right out of the gate. To get the perfect boost, press and hold the gas (the A button) directly after the numeric countdown hits two or when the middle light turns red in Lakitu’s sign. In our experience, it’s easier to focus on the lights when executing this move.

Be careful when timing your boosts, though: Pressing the accelerator too early will cause your engine to overheat, which will leave you spinning your wheels at the start of the race. In this case, it’s better to be late than early — you’re still likely to get a smaller boost as long as the countdown hasn’t advanced to one.


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When you are stuck in the middle of the pack, there’s a proper technique for passing your opponents. When gaining on a kart, moving directly behind it for a second will create a “slipstream,” a mild boost signified by a gust of wind, that will help you slingshot past them. It’s a particularly good tool to use when you are in a neck-and-neck race to the finish as well. On the other hand, if someone is lining up behind you trying to pass, swerve a little to shake your opponent and prevent them from blowing past.

Drifting do’s and don’ts

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Drifting or “powersliding” around turns has been an essential art in Mario Kart for a long time. These hard turns trigger boosts, called mini-turbos, which can help you use every turn in the track as an opportunity to gain ground. Best of all, they aren’t particularly challenging to pull off, especially when rolling around a big bend. Simply press and hold R as you are turning to initiate a drift and move the analog stick back and forth horizontally as needed to stay on course.

When you let go — ideally after you are headed back into a straightaway — you’ll receive one of three tiers of boosts that correspond with the sparks beneath your tires. There are blue, orange, and pink sparks — the last of which, dubbed the ultra mini-turbo, is new to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

Achieving the ultra mini-turbo takes some forethought. You should start your drift before the track actually begins to turn to let the sparks fly from blue to orange to pink, and release the R button at the height of the turn to send your kart flying into a straightaway. Ideally, you should drift at every turn, but don’t get greedy. Trying to squeak out a higher tier boost just for the sake of it may send you right off the track.

Also, unlike previous games, drifting excessively doesn’t give you an edge, and it can actually be a hindrance. To combat snaking (a popular technique in past Mario Kart games that allowed you to use drifting to achieve a near-constant boost), drifting in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe slows karts down in a straightaway.

Use drifting consistently, but use it in moderation. Don’t overextend yourself.

Look behind you, too

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Just like in real-world driving, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings, including what’s going on behind you. Press X every so often and take a quick glance in your rearview. You don’t want to look back for too long, but if you snap back periodically, especially when in first place, you can maintain a better sense of your position relative to your competition. Looking back will also help you aim when you’re flinging green shells, fireballs, and banana peels back at karts on your tail.

Turn off smart steering, auto-accelerate, and tilt controls

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Mario Kart 8 Deluxe introduces a new feature for inexperienced racers called Smart Steering, which prevents you from running into walls or falling off ledges. When coupled with the auto-accelerate feature, you are virtually watching Mario Kart instead of playing. These options are turned on by default. Most players will want to press pause and disable Smart Steering right away by pressing L. You can also toggle Auto-Accelerate off by pressing R, although those who find their thumbs getting sore from constantly pressing down the A button during long sessions may appreciate this option.

Accelerometer-based “tilt controls,” which the series has offered since Mario Kart Wii, are also available in the pause menu. You can turn tilt controls on by pressing Y on that screen. 

In our experience, it’s much more intuitive to play the game with all three of these options turned off.

Pump the brakes almost never

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In Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, B is the brake button, and you should avoid pressing it at all costs. If you are going around a sharp turn, drifting is your best friend. If you find yourself getting dangerously close to walls, pulling off the gas is usually enough to avoid a collision without fulling coming to a stop. Even if you are about to fly off the track after an ill-timed, frantic boost, Lakitu picks you up and drops you on the course much quicker than in previous iterations, so you may as well accept your fate rather than prolong the effect of your mistake.

If you brake, you often have to reposition your kart by turning slowly, which can result in losing even more time than you would have if you had just plunged into the abyss. That being said, if you play on the game’s hyper-intense 200cc mode, you will need to use the brake function to keep yourself from running into wall after wall after wall.


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Stunts and tricks have been featured in the last few iterations of the Mario Kart franchise. In Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, they offer easy ways to get a plethora of additional boosts and shave off some valuable time. Each time you hit the top of a ramp — or a drop in elevation in general — make sure to press R as you take off to perform a stunt. When you land, you’ll get a small boost. While it’s most important to perform stunt boosts off of ramps  — since otherwise, the landing slows you down a smidgen — stunt boosts can be used in many other situations. Perform a stunt when driving over a pad to get a little extra juice.

Essentially, any situation where the course’s elevation changes in an opportunity for quick flourish and a jolt of extra speed.

Collect coins (up to 10)

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You always want to take the shortest route and cut turns as tightly as possible to minimize the amount of ground you have to cover, right? Not exactly. Yes, the quickest route is generally best, but it can be worth it to go slightly out of your way to pick up coins on the track. Each coin you collect (up to 10) increases your maximum speed. You will drop your coins when you’re hit by a shell, so be careful and make sure to replenish your stock when you have to. When you knock someone else’s coins loose, make sure to run through the wreckage to snatch up the spoils.

Get aggressive in anti-gravity

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In Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, portions of some tracks feature anti-gravity segments, which alter the rules of the road. These sections trigger when you pass over a blue pad, which causes the kart to transform into a hovercraft (as seen above).

Unlike on the ground, running into other racers and some objects is highly encouraged in hovercraft mode: You can get spin boosts by running into other racers, as well as the little posts with sideways spinning wheels scattered throughout tracks. Pressing the stunt button when colliding with small objects like cones also earns you a small boost.

Picking up and using items

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For the first time in the series, you can hold two items in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. When coming up on a line of item boxes, try and snag the double box, which will fill both slots at once. Since you can hold twice as many items, you should feel even less attached to what you’re carrying: Don’t hesitate to use them right away, particularly when you are not up in front. However, when you are in the lead, it’s often smart to hold your items. If you have a trio of banana peels, let them circle around you to shield yourself from incoming shells.

As always, Mario Kart 8 has a tendency to restrict the items leading players can get from item boxes, barring them from game-changing items like stars, blue Spiny Shells, and Bullet Bills. If you have one of these items and you are gaining on your opponents anyways, we suggest holding them for when you are close enough to overtake the leader. This is particularly true when in second or third place when you can score a red shell. Instead of firing it right after it’s added to your inventory, wait until you are closer to the final leg of the race to better ensure that you can finish on top before your opponent has time to retaliate.

Check out some driving techniques from the info section of the main menu

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While we cover many of the game’s techniques in this guide, you can also consult the Info section from the Main Menu to check out tutorials that are sure to improve your driving. Here, you’ll find a slew of driving techniques, info on the game’s items, and tutorials on Mario Kart 8 Deluxe‘s many modes. We highly recommend popping in to this menu to check things out, whether you’re a veteran player or a newcomer — as many of these hints are super useful to know.

Take a look at your driver’s stats before making a selection

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Before selecting your racer and kart, there are a lot of stats you should be aware of. The size of your character will dictate your speed, though it might not work as you expect. The heavier racers are actually the fastest, which might seem counterintuitive, but that’s how it works in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. There are three main weight classes: Light, medium, and heavy. Each of the game’s racers falls into one of these main weight classes — each with pros and cons in their racing styles.

For example, Wario, a heavy racer, has excellent speed but low acceleration and traction. You can check the stats of your racer after you select them. On the screen with all the kart customization options, press the Plus Sign, and you’ll get a sense of all the stats, including:

  • Speed
  • Acceleration
  • Weight
  • Handling
  • Traction

Keep in mind that your racer and the kart’s parts will all dictate these stats, so mess around with them to see what works for you. Speed isn’t everything, and it’s important to have a healthy balance for all stats so you’re as well-rounded as possible — especially on tracks like Rainbow Road.

The Super Horn can deflect Spiny blue shells

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While in first place, you’ll likely be on the receiving end of a flurry of items like various shells, Lighting, Bullet Bills, and the infamous blue Spiny Shells. A lot of items can be avoided, but the blue Spiny Shell in particular is tough to dodge, as it automatically makes a beeline for the person in first place, exploding on top of them to stop them in their tracks. You can slow down so the second-place racer passes you, leaving them to take the hit for you, or you can even run off the side of the track to avoid the Spiny Shell, but one method is easier than all of the above.

Use the Super Horn, an item introduced in Mario Kart 8 for Wii U. This item (pictured above) can be triggered to totally decimate the Spiny Shell without even needing to stop. While in first place, you have a chance to collect Super Horns from the item boxes, so make sure you do your best to drive through them and hold onto the item for when you need it.

Hold items behind you to deflect incoming attacks

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It’s inevitable. When you’re in first place, your opponents will hurl a variety of shells and items at you. Some are easier to avoid than others, but a pro tip for totally blocking any shells and other attacks is to hold an item of your own behind you. To do so, simply hold down the L button, and as long as you do, the item will be stored behind you. Now, when an enemy throws a shell or banana at you, the item you’re holding will completely block it. Once it does, you’ll lose the item, so do your best to grab another to repeat the process. Keep in mind that this technique doesn’t deflect all attacks, but most.

Steven Petite
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Steven is a writer from Northeast Ohio currently based in Louisiana. He writes about video games and books, and consumes…
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