Mario Kart 8 - tips, tricks, fire hopping, drifting, slipstream, stunts

From mastering drifts to holding onto first place, we've got some essential tips and tricks for winning more of your Mario Kart 8 races.

Before getting stuck into the finer details of each course and learning how to zip through the secret shortcuts peppered throughout the track collection, there are some important basics which are worth mastering. From Mario Kart 8's two-tier drifting system, to making sure you get off the stating grid with a flash, we've pulled together a dozen or so tips which will help you get ahead of the competition in no time.

1. Master the drifting system

You won't make much of a dent on the leaderboards if you don't take advantage of the drifting mechanics in Mario Kart 8. If you can sustain a drift for a certain amount of time, you'll trigger a speed-boost effect which is applied as soon as you take your finger off the drift button.

There are two different types of boost available. When you've drifted far enough that you see little blue sparks fly out from underneath your vehicle, that means you can initiate the first stage boost. If you can hold onto that drift long enough to ignite orange flames beneath your kart, you'll instead benefit from a bigger speed boost when you finally let go.

2. Maintain first place in a race

To keep things either balanced - or outrageously unfair, depending on your current perspective - you'll receive weaker power-ups the further ahead in the race you are. That doesn't mean the tools you receive for being first are useless though - far from it.

Don't be tempted to throw that green shell away too quickly if you're leading the pack. If you spot a red homing shell coming your way, keep the L trigger held down. This will place your green shell to the rear of your kart, and it'll take the full brunt of the homing missile headed your way.

3. Use the slipstream system to get ahead

Align yourself just-so with a kart up ahead of you, and after a few seconds you'll start benefiting from a speed-boosting slipstream. As long as you can see little wisps billowing around your kart, you'll remain under the influence of this handy boost.

4. Use all of the game's ghost data

If you're struggling to make a dent in one of your Time Trials, select More Ghosts after you've selected a track, then download a high-performing player ghost from the leaderboard. Now select Race Against Ghost from the menu, navigate to the one you just downloaded, then hit the + button on your Wii U controller.

You can now view the character and kart type, as well as the wheels and glider options that helped the player get that super-slick time. Select View Ghost to see their clever shortcuts in action, then do your best to emulate them.

5. Pick up plenty of coins

Try to grab as many coins as you can in the early stages of a race. Each coin you grab gives your engine a little bit of a tune-up, and a little extra maximum speed. You can only benefit from the extra engine power that a total of 10 coins provide though. Any you pick up after this point simply give you a gentle temporary boost before being added to your tally. You'll unlock new collectible items as your overall coin collection increases.

If you're brought to a complete stop by an opponent at any point, you will lose a handful of your coins as an extra penalty. Very often you can grab at least one of them as you regain speed though, so do your best to pinch one of them back as you pull away. Keep an eye out for when other players crash as well - you can snatch some of their lost coins from them as you whizz past!

6. Find out where the shortcuts are

Every track in Mario Kart 8 has a shortcut or two for those willing to experiment and seek out special ways of shaving a few seconds off their lap times. Take some time to enjoy a leisurely tour of each course in the single-player mode so you get to know where each of the secrets are. Many of them pass through rough terrain, and so require a speed-boost of some kind if you're to gain a net benefit. Easy when you've got a stack of mushrooms to play with in Time Trial mode, but you never know when you'll pick one up in competitive races either.

If you'd rather just get a quick reference to all of the shortcuts available in Mario Kart 8, take a look through our guide to cutting a few corners off the retro and the new tracks in the game.

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A race is never over 'til it's over in Mario Kart. You never know what item you'll get next.

7. Use the boost start trick to get off the grid quickly

As with previous Mario Kart games, there's a way to get off the starting grid with a super-fast start, but timing is everything. When the countdown begins, hold down the accelerator a fraction of a second after the number 2 has appeared. Keep it held down throughout the remainder of the countdown and you'll shoot off like a rocket.

There's a risk associated with this starting boost though. If your timing's either a little too early or a little too late, your racer will spin his or her wheels instead for a short amount of time before pulling away. Despite this risk, with even a little practice you should find yourself able to pull off this essential technique every single time.

8. Gain speed using stunt boosts

If you shake your controller or tap the R trigger the very instant you leave a ramp, you'll perform a snazzy stunt and receive another very welcome speed-boost immediately afterwards. Just be careful that you don't hop too early, otherwise you'll just flub your take-off. The only penalty for hitting the button late is to miss out on the boost itself.

Don't restrict your stunt performances to the most obvious ramps and ledges in the game either. Plenty of environmental objects will provide the opportunity to initiate a stunt, so play around with tree roots, fallen pillars and anything else that comes into play during the course of a race.

9. Use the gravity-defying blue zones

Another way of picking up a little speed is to smash into other players while you both have your blue anti-gravity wheels out in use. The gentlest of touches will give both of you a little boost, but try not to hit the other player on one side as you're overtaking or you'll simply shunt them forwards.

As well as hitting other players in the anti-gravity sections, keep an eye out for any neon-blue-tinged objects. Tapping these will likewise put you into a spin and send you racing ahead just a little faster.

10. Be clever with your power-ups

If you're lucky enough to find yourself in possession of the Crazy 8 power-up - which grants you successive use of eight power-ups in total - get them fired off as fast as you can if there are any other players nearby. Otherwise you risk them stealing a mushroom from you, or worse, the invincibility star.

Another great tip for dominating the opposition is to hold onto your projectile weapons until your target is up in the air and sailing over a big chasm. If you can take them out mid-flight, they'll suffer a much longer animation as they respawn, allowing you to race even further ahead of them.

11. Learn how to Fire Hop

One rather controversial technique for extending speed-boosts has emerged recently. If you initiate a drifting boost, then repeatedly tap the R1 button while pointing your wheels left and right, you'll dramatically extend the period of time the boost remains active.

While this sounds a little like an exploit, it's firmly rooted in the game's physics system, where the boost duration is based on the time your wheels spend in contact with the ground. It's a divisive technique amongst players, but unless Nintendo patches it out you'll want to master it if you're to be competitive on the Time Trials leaderboards. It's much less useful in multiplayer races, however, due to the much more unpredictable nature of gameplay.

You can find the rest of our Mario Kart 8 guide from the first page of this article.

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