The Mario Kart franchise has always seemed, at a glance, quite simple. Go-kart racing with the colorful, friendly cast of Mario characters? Just hold down the accelerator, spam items when you get them, and try to stay on the track! How could it be any more complicated than that?
Well, as anybody who’s played them knows, there’s so much more to it than that. Sure, anybody young or old could pick up the controller and have fun straight away. But for those who stick with it, the depth that Nintendo has always layered just beneath the surface of the series is significant.
Mario Kart 8 was no exception to this trend when it released on the Wii U in 2014. That became even more the case when it came to the Switch in the form of the greatly expanded and improved Mario Kart 8 Deluxe shortly after the system launched. With its expansive roster, finely tuned gameplay balance, gorgeous visuals, gigantic selection of tracks both new and classic, and silky-smooth online play, it’s hard to deny the game’s position as the best Mario Kart title ever produced.
This legacy of hidden depth has accumulated over the course of the series. This means players new to the series jumping into MK8D for the first time have a surprising amount of learning ahead of them if they want to be able to earn trophies in the higher engine classes, or hold their own in the highly competitive online kart racing scene.
That’s where we come in. Read on for High Ground Gaming’s best tips, tricks, and advice for becoming a racing force to be reckoned with, from Mario Circuit, to the Rainbow Road, to the most recent Booster Course DLC tracks, and beyond.
The first step of any expert racer’s victory happens at the character and kart selection menus. Fortunately, High Ground Gaming has you covered with our extensive Kart Setup Guides.
Our Best Karts Guide breaks down the stats and basic terminology that form the foundation of every racer’s performance. Consult this guide anytime you need a refresher on the myriad ways the various stats (even the hidden stats not directly referenced in-game!) impact every aspect of what plays out once a race begins.
Once you’ve mastered the lower engine classes, our 150cc Kart Setup Guide and 200cc Kart Setup Guide will help you hone your selection for those advanced racing classes. And as always, the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Builder is a fantastic tool to use in building your ultimate ride.
Longtime Mario Kart players know that you can always begin the race with a major boost by hitting your Accelerate button at just the right moment as the race begins. The timing has changed over the years throughout the various MK incarnations, but it remains as helpful as ever. In MK8D, watch Lakitu’s hand as they count down “3… 2… 1” at the start of each race.
When Lakitu brings their hand down for ‘2’, press and hold the gas the instant it reaches its lowest point and begins to go back up. This is also the instant the second red light appears.
If you hit the timing perfectly, you’ll get a major turbo to start. You still get a minor turbo if your timing isn’t perfect, but be careful. If you’re off by more than just a few frames, your motor will backfire and sputter to a start. This leaves you scrambling to catch up to your rivals from the very beginning.
Basic Racing Strategy, aka Find Your Line
Mario Kart doesn’t have that much in common with real-life races in high-performance sports cars. That said, many of the foundational techniques that real-world drivers have developed over the years still hold major value when racing through the Mushroom Kingdom.
The most important concept to be aware of is the idea of a Racing Line. Broadly speaking, the Line refers to the optimal path through a given turn or other section of track. Usually, this means taking each turn as widely as possible so you lose minimal speed and acceleration in the process.
This is a subject with decades of research from racing scholars the world over. Feel free to dive as deeply as you like in pursuit of Mario Kart perfection. For the rest of us, though, it largely boils down to a pretty simple process:
Practice a track, learn the turns, and figure out how best to position yourself through each one so you can come out the other side revved to the max.
Generally, this means approaching the turn from the outside (the side of the track opposite the direction of the curve). Come close to the inner side of the track as you cross the middle of the turn. Finish the turn close to the outside once again.
Following this ideal path through each curve, however, is complicated in Mario Kart. By the other racers and their items, of course. But also by one of the most vital techniques every expert kart racer must master…
In everyday driving, if you break traction and your vehicle begins sliding, it’s probably unintended and possibly even an emergency. In racing, it’s an extremely valuable and often-used tool in a driver’s toolkit of racing techniques – drifting.
Put simply, drifting is skidding or sliding your vehicle in a controlled way. This allows you to conserve momentum and exit curves with maximum velocity maintained. This, as stated above, helps you adhere to the ideal Racing Line. It can allow a driver to take a given turn much more tightly than normal. This can give you an advantage over drivers who are turning traditionally.
Press the R Button to hop your kart. Press and hold R while turning to initiate a Drift.
During a Drift, you’ll find that your kart (or ATV or bike) controls differently than usual. Broadly speaking, as long as you’re holding the Accelerate and Drift buttons down, your vehicle will automatically follow an arcing path in the direction you began turning.
Your character’s Weight stat and your kart’s Handling stat largely determine the path and width of this arc. Turning left and right will widen or tighten the radius of the arc. Releasing the Drift button will end the drift.
Nintendo, of course, amplified the advantage drifting already grants in races with the addition of the Drift Boost. This incentivizes MK drivers to drift at every possible opportunity. Shortly after you begin drifting, your kart’s tires will start to emit blue sparks. Continue drifting, and those sparks will turn orange, and eventually, the longest drifts will see pink sparks. When the Drift button is released, the Drift Boost will activate, rocketing your kart straight forward along its current trajectory. There are three levels of Boost possible, corresponding to the three colors of sparks.
Release the Drift button when your kart is generating blue sparks for a small Boost, release when you have orange sparks for a medium Boost, and release with pink sparks for a large Boost.
Your current facing will be largely “locked in” for the duration of the Boost. Turning capabilities while Boosting are severely limited. This means that timing and positioning are essential when deciding the moment to release your drift and activate the Boost.
It does no good at all to go for a longer drift to earn pink sparks if it means that you overshoot a cliff edge when your Boost kicks in. Sometimes, a small Drift Boost is more appropriate for a given turn than a large one. As always, practice on the track is essential. Over time, you’ll develop a feel for the right moment to begin a drift, and the right moment to end one.
Finally, a word about Inward Drifting. When Mario Kart Wii introduced bikes to the series, they differentiated them from karts mechanically by having their drifts behave completely differently. This kind of drifting is called Inward Drifting. It’s characterized by a sharp turn beginning a drift, followed by a wide arcing path as the drift continues.
In Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, only five bikes use Inward Drifting. These are the Comet, Sport Bike, Jet Bike, Yoshi Bike, and the Master Cycle. They’re heavily favored by tournament players and speedrunners for their ability to take corners incredibly sharply. That said, it’s among the most challenging ways to play Mario Kart, particularly at higher engine classes. If you decide it’s for you, it will certainly require a large amount of practice.
In racing, drafting refers to taking a position directly behind another racer. Due to the aerodynamics of moving quickly through space, this spot provides small but valuable extra forward momentum. Marathon runners utilize the technique to conserve stamina, and stock car racers similarly employ drafting to reduce fuel consumption.
Drafting represents yet another mechanic where Nintendo looked to a real-world racing phenomenon, and thought to themselves “what if doing it well gave the player a Boost?”. In MK8D racers can earn a Draft Boost from any rival, turning every opponent into opportunities for extra speed.
Position your kart directly behind a rival racer for a few seconds to activate a Draft Boost.
Speed lines will appear around your screen when you’ve correctly positioned your kart to take advantage of drafting. Remain directly behind your opponent’s kart long enough, concentric speed lines will emanate from your kart as Draft Boost fires. This Boost is only moderately powerful, but has a much longer duration than most other Boosts.
Employing drafting is always a high-risk maneuver, due to the many items that can easily hit someone following closely behind. If the racer you’re drafting has a banana peel or shell, you’re in trouble if they drop it. When the Draft Boost activates and you overtake them, they have a perfect opportunity to hit you with forward-firing items.
That kind of trick cuts both ways, though. You can Draft Boost to get around a rival then immediately wreck them by dropping an item in their path. You can be sure they’ll be cursing you as they plummet, and you ascend, through the rankings.
Mario Kart Wii introduced tricks to the series, and they’ve only gotten more elaborate, and more valuable, since then. Every ramp, and any other part of a track that sends your kart airborne, is an opportunity to perform tricks. Upon landing from the trick, you’ll get a short but valuable speed boost.
Tap the R Button at the edge of a ramp or other jump to perform a trick; you’ll get a Trick Boost when you land.
The biggest challenge to becoming a trick master is learning to recognize the many and varied bits of each course that allow you to trick off of them. Some of them will be straightforward and obvious, like designated ramps and boost pad jump spots. Others are easier to overlook.
Many tracks have spots where the road suddenly drops lower, small cliff edges that karts have to drive off. You can trick off these spots just like ramps. Some tracks have places where powerful gusts launch karts up into the air. You can pull a trick the instant it blasts you up. With careful timing, you can even perform a series of tricks off of the waves in the track that emanate from some Thwomps, the giant jumping music notes in Music Park, and the giant Bowser statue’s fists in Bowser’s Castle. The best rule of thumb is this:
If your tires are leaving the ground for any reason, you can probably pull a Trick there to get a Trick Boost.
Like all Boosts, using a Trick Boost isn’t without risk. Your heading is locked in briefly when the Boost fires. Take care not to carelessly Boost yourself straight off a cliff, or into the path of an item.
It’s also completely possible, and often useful, to transition directly from a Trick Boost into a Drift. Hold the Hop/Drift button and Left or Right while you’re landing from tricking. Your Trick Boost will fire and you’ll begin drifting immediately. As always, practice the track and look out for these kinds of opportunities.
Speaking of looking for opportunities as you practice each track – shortcuts! They’re all over the place if you’re paying attention, and utilized properly, they can shave crucial seconds off your time. There are a couple different kinds to be on the lookout for.
Find and employ Shortcuts as often as possible to gain an edge over your rivals.
First are the alternate paths. These are all over the place, and not all of them are shortcuts. Frequently, when the track splits into two or more options, they’re roughly equivalent in length and difficulty. These can be great for getting some breathing room by splitting off from aggressive rivals. That said, they don’t really help you improve your time.
Sometimes, though, there’s a clear main way the track progresses, then a smaller or more difficult to access alternate route. These side paths are usually risky or tricky in some way, often with more hazards or more opportunities to fall. They also frequently feature one or more Boost Pads or Ramps. These grant a huge advantage to any driver skilled enough to navigate their perils.
Ramps positioned far off-road are another common type of shortcut. These let you leap past entire portions of the track. Often they launch you up into Glider mode so you can soar over huge distances – and hopefully, your fellow racers.
The catch, of course, is that going off-road reduces your kart’s speed and maneuverability so dramatically that you’d lose as much, if not more, time just driving to them normally as you’d gain from taking the shortcut. Therefore, you’re best able to take advantage of these when you’re able to Boost your way there at high speeds. Drift, Draft, and Trick Boosts aren’t enough here – they sputter out as soon as you go off-road. No, to be able to successfully use these ramps, you need a more powerful Boost.
Use the large Boost from Items like Mushrooms or Stars to take advantage of off-road shortcuts.
The final kind of shortcut to look out for are the literal short-cuts, when two sections of track are near each other but separated by obstacles, except for one specific location where a clever driver can cut across. Like off-road ramps, these shortcuts almost always require you to do some heavy off-roading. This means you’ll need to have an item that grants a large Boost to use them effectively.
Mario Kart 7 introduced gliders to the series, allowing racers to float gracefully over huge swaths of track. Some courses have points where all racers will by necessity deploy gliders. But just as often, the Glider Ramps are optional. These are essentially vertical shortcuts, and can allow you to skip past difficult terrain, hazards, and your rivals alike.
Deploy your glider by hitting certain specially marked Glider Ramps.
The first gliding tip ties back to an earlier one. Since gliding is always initiated via ramp, you can begin with a trick for quick Boosts right at the start. It probably goes without saying at this point that you should be tricking as often as possible. but getting in the habit of doing it to start glider segments is extremely helpful, particularly since air segments give you plenty of space to maneuver around all your rivals.
Once you’re up in the air, gliding itself is pretty straightforward. Your glider remains engaged until just after your wheels touch ground again. While in the air, you can turn, though with less nimbleness than when on the ground. Your kart will turn in wide swooping arcs, with the glider leading and the kart being carried along behind. This means you’ll need to take any in-air cornering extremely carefully. It can be easy to over- or under-shoot your intended landing spot.
Another hazard to be aware of is the increased danger items can represent when you’re gliding. Any item that would cause you to spin out on land will immediately knock you out of the sky. That’s bad enough when you’re just using the glider to fly over the competition. But those mandatory glider segments are often in the open air. Take a hit when you don’t have track under you, and you’ll go from soaring majestically to plummeting to your doom faster than you can say “Mamma mia!”
To make matters worse, each of these pits has an invisible threshold about halfway across. This dictates where Lakitu will take you if you crash into them. If you’re lucky, the item will hit you on the far side of the threshold. Lakitu will swoop in to soar you safely across to the next section of track. If you’re very unlucky and take a hit before you’ve crossed that threshold, you’ll lose time falling into the abyss, then lose more time when Lakitu flies you back to the last safe patch of track prior to the Glider Ramp.
Fortunately, this is another one of those tricky quirks of Mario Kart mechanics that you can use to your advantage once you’re caught on to it. If you know a big glider section is coming up and you get any kind of auto-targeting items like Red Shells or Lightning, save them back and fire them when your rivals are still early in the flight for maximum devastating impact.
One nice aspect of the glider mechanic is the slight delay between your tires touching down and your glider disengaging. It only lasts for a couple of frames, but that’s long enough to allow for a neat technique.
When gliding, land on the very edge of any ramp and immediately perform a Trick. You’ll launch back up into the air without losing your glider.
If a track has a series of ramps in a row following a glider segment – as some, like DK Jungle, do – and if you can manage the timing, you can do a series of tricks to keep the glider going much longer than usual, with Trick Boosts in between. Master this maneuver to dazzle your fans and leave your rivals stunned at your style, speed, and skill.
Alongside glider racing, Mario Kart 7 introduced underwater racing to the MK formula. This works pretty much the way you’d expect. Dive beneath the waves, and your kart will gain a tail propeller to continue the race submersible-style.
Underwater steering is far more, pardon the pun, floaty than driving on dry land. You’ll also find that underwater bumps and ramps give more height, and it takes longer to come back down. This adds up to make underwater segments tricky, even dangerous, until you get a good feel for the altered physics.
They can also be opportunities to leave your fellow racers eating your wake. Because underwater jumps are bigger than usual, you can cover huge distances with the extra shove given by Trick Boosts. Some tracks, like Dolphin Shoals, have huge underwater sequences with tons of ramps and air gust-spouting pipes. You can trick off all of these, even if you don’t touch back down in between, leading to massive speed boosts and time gains. So basically, just…
Take advantage of the floaty physics and frequent Boost opportunities to gain an advantage during underwater sequences.
Mario Kart 8’s big innovation to the series was its anti-gravity racing sequences. Hit certain points in the track, and your tires seamlessly rotate horizontally and become hover-bumpers. The track will ascend, drop, and flip with abandon during these segments. This lets races expand in all directions like never before and provides plenty of jaw-dropping scenery throughout.
Like Gliding and Underwater sequences, Hover sections of a track grant karts an altered version of racing mechanics and physics to contend with. Compared to the two previous types of alternate racing conditions, Hover racing has a far more subtle effect on the game’s core mechanics. The most notable change is a slight glide-y aspect to all of your movements, almost like a puck on an air hockey table.
A unique element to hover-racing is the way it alters collisions between racers. Generally, any collision during a race will see the heavier racer shunting the lighter one aside, with some momentum lost on both sides. While hovering, however, hits between karts lead to both karts doing a quick spin and getting a small Boost. Because both karts get a Boost, this can lead to hover segments having quite a high overall speed. You’ll notice it especially during tight passages where all the racers will be knocking into each other again and again.
And it’s not just other racers. Elements of the track, like large flashy bumpers that are scattered throughout the hover segments, will also grant your kart this special Spin Boost if you collide with them. Aim for a glancing hit off the side of the bumper. A direct head-on hit can cost you speed as you get stuck on the object for a brief moment. Be on watch for other conspicuous elements out in the middle of the track, too. Some courses have mid-track guardrails that look like an obstacle, but are actually a series of posts that can each give this Spin Boost.
During anti-gravity segments, steer your kart into your rivals and track objects to gain a Spin Boost.
A common trick MK8D likes to pull is to have the main path of a given track follow along the ground like normal, but to have one or more side paths that lead into a hover segment. Whenever this appears, consider trying for the alternate hover path. They’re usually full of Boost pads and item boxes, and can often give you an edge over your land-bound rivals. They also often finish with a Boost pad or a Glider Ramp, extending the potential for extra speed even further.
Almost every track has some form of hazards, and they can rob your victory just as easily as any opponent. There are a variety of types, with effects ranging from “annoying” to “brutal”. If there’s one thing you can say for them, they hold no allegiances and pose equal threat to all racers. This makes them fair, if no more pleasant to have to deal with.
Learn each track’s hazards, and be prepared to contend with them even under pressure.
The most common type of hazard is each track’s off-road zones, which slow your kart to a crawl (usually – a high Traction/Grip stat mitigates this effect somewhat). Going off-road is the most common penalty for taking a curve badly or other minor driving mistakes, so anyone who plays Mario Kart for any amount of time will become well-versed in the frustration of spinning your tires trying to get back on-track while a crowd of rivals rushes past. There’s not much you can do beyond just steering back onto the track as quickly as possible. Prevention is key.
If the borders of the track aren’t surrounded by off-road zones, they probably drop off entirely. Falling off the track leads to a small but painful delay while Lakitu fishes you back up onto the road, taking 3 coins with him as payment for his services. Falling can be severely detrimental if you’re racing in a tight pack of rivals. However, at times it can be a less severe consequence than off-roading. When you fall, there is at least an automatic recovery guaranteed. If you get into the deep rough, nobody’s going to save you except you.
Another common hazard are patches of slickness (usually depicted as oil slicks, though sometimes visually represented as things like mud, icy patches, or even melted candy) that cause you to spin out if you hit them. These are essentially permanent Banana Peels, which can make certain segments tricky to navigate, but are usually not a major nuisance. If you drive a heavy kart, be on the lookout for opportunities to shunt a rival into them if possible.
Wild creatures are also frequently present on tracks as hazards. Whether they’re classic Mario enemies like Goombas or random real-world animals like a herd of cows, these wandering hazards will spin you out if you run into them, and they will move around from lap to lap. This means you should always be aware and attentive when approaching segments of track where you know they’ll appear.
You’ll also find large smashing objects on many tracks. Often, these are Thwomps, but just as often they have an appearance unique to their track’s theming, like the huge bouncing musical notes in Music Park or the Bowser statue in his Castle. These can easily crush you if you mistime your approach, flattening you like a pancake for a short but agonizing period of time and significantly reducing your speed and handling.
Any track that features traffic to contend with is more hazard-heavy than most, simply because colliding with a car, truck, van, or bus will launch you into the air in a massive, spinning crash. Again, these represent a massive opportunity for heavy racers to knock lighter racers into traffic and take them out temporarily. On the flip side, if you’re using a light kart, you can try a sort of feint tactic – by zipping between cars, you may be able to goad larger, less maneuverable rivals into following you into a dangerous situation. You can also elude items coming your way by darting in front of a car, so it hits them instead of you.
Wooden Barrels, as seen in the Donkey Kong Country series, make the occasional appearance as hazards on certain tracks. These won’t wreck you if you hit them, just stop you for a sec as the barrel breaks. Randomly, a barrel could contain a Mushroom or a Banana Peel, tossing the item slightly ahead on the track when you break it open. It could also contain nothing at all.
Many tracks have unique traps and hazards not listed here, like the many clockwork parts that can knock you off course in Tick-Tock Clock, or the flying molten rocks and breakaway sections of track that make Grumble Volcano such a white-knuckle ride. As always, the only way to learn the ins and outs of each one and become adept at avoiding them is to practice.
The classic Mario collectible has sporadically appeared in Mario Kart over the course of the series, and returns in 8 Deluxe. You’ll find coins scattered across each track, often in small clusters or patterns. Collecting a Coin gives a very tiny boost immediately, and grants a small bonus to your maximum speed.
This effect increases with each additional Coin, up to a maximum of 10. You lose Coins when items or hazards hit you, generally three at a time. They’ll pop out of your kart onto the track around you, to be re-collected if you’re quick, or snagged by a nearby opponent if you’re not.
Grab every Coin you can.
It can be easy to disregard Coins at first. The boost and top speed bonus they give are each so small as to be hard to notice, and they can be easy to lose when a chaotic race has items flying in every direction. But on the contrary, they’re often vital, and can easily swing the final results in your favor.
Even if you’ve got 10 Coins and have the maximum top speed increase possible, snag each and every one you can. Every little boost helps, and just as importantly, every Coin you grab is one fewer little boost every rival behind you can use to catch up. Since Coins take several seconds to regenerate after being collected, anybody in your immediate vicinity will have none to grab if you’ve already scooped them up.
Claim Your Trophy on the High Ground
So there you have it, racers – High Ground Gaming’s ultimate guide to becoming a Mario Kart expert. Got a favorite technique you picked up here? Found a neat trick we overlooked? Let us know in the comments below! And be sure to subscribe to the HGG Newsletter to make sure you’re always up to date on all of our guides for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and all your other gaming favorites!