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Mario Kart 8 Deluxe: Nine tips to give you a head start

From training wheels to slipstreams and new ways to use items

What’s not that old is new again: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is hitting the pavement on the Nintendo Switch, and just about everything you knew and loved from the original Wii U edition is back. Naturally there’s a few other surprises, so here’s a rundown of some of the most useful advice.

Hold items, especially if you’re ahead

In the original Mario Kart 8, holding an item behind your kart wouldn’t remove it from your currently held arsenal. That has not changed in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, but there are now two active item slots, so you have more wiggle room and can make more liberal use of your items regardless of your current standing.

One of the oldest Mario Kart tricks is to hold an item like a shell or banana behind you to block shots or automatically hit someone who’s tailgating you. Upon impact, the item will be consumed — its job is done, and you can grab a new item. Get in the habit of cycling through objects or putting them in situations where you can use them instead of hoarding them. There is one exception: the super horn, which you can use to blow up a blue shell when you’re in first place.

Check your rearview mirror

One thing a lot of players overlook is the dedicated rearview mirror button. On the Switch, all you need to do is press X and you look behind you as long as you hold the button down.

Get in the habit of doing this often when you’re ahead. Even if you’re just looking back when you have an item in your possession that you can hold or throw backward (bananas, shells, bombs), swapping constantly will help you better aim your power-ups and stay in the front of the pack.

Also keep in mind that boxing out enemies that are behind you isn’t always a good thing, especially when you consider slipstreams (which we’ll talk about momentarily). Try to stay away from enemy karts that are behind you at all times.

If you’re behind, get a slipstream boost

Introduced very early in the series, a slipstream (or draft) is a slight speed boost when tailgating directly behind an opposing racer. After roughly one second, a wind effect will appear (it's really faint, especially if you're playing split-screen) and provide a small increase in speed.

If you’re not in first place, always look for opportunities to slipstream. You can identify players who don’t make use of their rearview, and thus aren’t aware of your presence. Combining a slipstream boost followed by the use of an item (right as you’re about to pass them and lose the boost) is one of the best ways to get a major lead on someone. And it prevents them from reacting with their own item.

Perfect your start of race boost timing


Getting that massive jump start at the beginning of a race is a Mario Kart staple. For some, it’s muscle memory. But if you aren’t consistently getting that initial boost, keep in mind that there is a science to it.

Everyone has their own formula, but the easiest way we found is to focus in on Lakitu on the right side of the screen. Right as he turns on the second light (or directly after the second chime sounds), press the A button and hold it. Even if you’re a little late, you’ll obtain a small boost, though there is a maximum boost if you can nail it perfectly.

If you aren’t confident in your abilities yet and don’t have time to practice, just don’t use the boost at all. Time it incorrectly, and you’ll just spin out in place and be worse off than if you had just never tried to boost.

Memorize double item box locations

As we noted above, Mario Kart 8 introduces double item boxes and double item slots for all modes. The placement of these boxes is deliberate, but you may not want to go for them every time.

Take Wild Woods for example. On the second set of item boxes, the third box over will always be a double item box. It’s advantageous to go for them if you can, as two items are clearly better than one. However, if there’s a large crowd of opponents around you (especially at the start of a race), you can bet that they’ll all be fighting over it.

Sometimes aiming for the side that’s on the opposite side of the double item box will ensure that you don’t get a box snatched from you at the most inopportune moment.

Hit your stunt boosts on every ramp

The R button isn’t just for drifting, as it can trigger stunt boosts roughly every 10 seconds on any given track. The easiest locations to enact stunt boosts are ramps, whether they’re short ones marked with a caret symbol (^) or obvious ramps that are glowing and allow your kart to sprout wings.

You don’t need to have the timing down perfectly. Just press R right before you leap off of an edge, and you’ll get a small boost. It’s obvious when it happens — your character will turn and face the camera, the controller will rumble and you’ll get a sound effect.

We can’t stress enough how often you can and should use this ability. Even if it’s the tiniest ramp or the smallest ledge, try pressing R to see if it triggers a stunt boost. Make a mental note of it, and repeat it every run. It seems tedious at first, but it’ll soon be second nature.

Aim for the shortcuts if you can hit them consistently

Unlike many other entries in the series, Mario Kart 8’s shortcuts are generally more nuanced. Most of them won’t outright win you the race, but will shave several seconds off your run in each instance, saving you precious time in a heated competition or in a time trial.

A perfect example is the last corner in Cloudtop Cruise, right before the finish line. You could take the bend all the way around, or hop right onto the two giant leaves (with a stunt boost, of course). Another common shortcut is to use a boost item to shoot past a gravel off-track area that would normally slow you down. Typically this design is found in more traditional racetrack courses like Mario Kart Stadium, so save your mushrooms or stars (or burn off items if you’re in first place to get them) for these bends.

Just like anything in Mario Kart, ramming your kart against the wall to try and nail a shortcut in a versus environment isn’t the best way to spend your time. Practice each individual track on your own, and build it into your memory.

Use Deluxe’s training wheels if you need them

In addition to tilt controls, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe introduces two new mechanics intended to ease newcomers into the fray: smart steering and auto acceleration. You can check to see if these settings are enabled by pressing the + button while choosing a kart before a match or by pausing in the middle of a race.

Smart steering will not let you drive off of the track, even if you try your hardest. Think of it like a smart car steering system and an invisible bumper (like kiddie bowling lanes) at the same time. You can see the effect by way of a vibrating antenna that comes out of your kart. As a downside, you cannot use the new level of boost when smart steering is on. It should get you through lower difficulties against CPUs just fine, but its efficacy against other more experienced players is another matter.

Smart steering is especially useful when drifting around tight corners at high speeds (when everyone else will be forced to slow down) — especially in the hyper fast 200cc mode. When playing solo, you can swap between smart steering and standard steering in the middle of a match. Since you can swap at any time, it can be beneficial to do so depending on where you’re at on the track — take the sharp corners of Rainbow Road, for instance. Again, outside of losing a boost level, there’s no penalty for doing so.

Although it’s less of a game-changer, auto-accelerate will handle everything related to the A button. This mechanic has no inherent downside outside of taking control out of the player’s hands. With both features on, all you need to do is steer, drift and use items.

The only major unlock is Gold Mario

Veterans will be pleased to hear that, outside of collecting coins to unlock a handful of vehicle parts, there’s only one primary unlock — Gold Mario. As another take on Metal Mario, you'll need to clear every 200cc difficulty cup in the game to unlock him.

You’ll need to score a gold medal (win) in all 12 cups, which includes all of the original and DLC cups. If you’re up for the challenge, select Grand Prix mode, then 200cc and any character you want.

To clear 200cc (the fastest speed setting in the game), you’ll need to actually use the brake, which you’ll likely never use anywhere else. It can get really frustrating if you don’t practice that simple concept. If you don’t pop it consistently, you can fall off a cliff and doom your entire run.

A lot of patience is required for a full 200cc cup clear, but the tips below should help you cruise your way past the challenge.

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