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Mario Kart 8 guide: Tips, tricks and everything you need to know about the Deluxe edition on Switch

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.

Mario Kart 8 is one of the Wii U's best games, and it's been given a new lease of life on the Nintendo Switch, compiling all previous DLC and adding new features - including a fully-fledged Battle Mode - in one definite package.

Whether you're digging into the game for the first time, want an refresher on the essentials or are still playing on Wii U, this Mario Kart 8 guide, tips and tricks page will explain anything you need to place better in any race, from online to Time Trial and beyond.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe - everything we know on what's new

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a Switch exclusive game that comes three years after the Wii U's 2014 outing, and offers the following features and additions:

Characters and courses:

  • The previous 32 courses and 30 characters from the original Mario Kart 8
  • DLC updates, including 16 extra tracks (a mixture of old and original courses, some inspired by Animal Crossing, Legend of Zelda and other Nintendo franchises), six DLC racers (Tanooki Mario, Cat Peach, Link, Villager (boy and girl), Isabelle and Dry Bowser), and new themed vehicles
  • Five Deluxe-only characters - Inkling Boy and Inkling Girl from Splatoon (each with three palette swaps), King Boo, Dry Bones, and Bowser Jr.
  • A sixth unlockable character, Gold Mario, for completing every cup at 200cc
  • Palette swaps for Yoshi and Shy Guy for those who bought both DLC packs on Wii U
  • Three Deluxe-only vehicles; the Koopa Clown and two inspired by Splatoon
  • New amiibo costumes for the Mii racer based on Splatoon figures
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Features and mechanics:

  • New Battle Mode returns with five modes and eight arenas
  • Ability to carry two items at once
  • Two new items - the item-stealing Boo (during races) and jumping Feather (in Battle Mode)
  • A third, pink-coloured 'tier' when corner drifting for an extra level of boost
  • Fire hopping technique removed
  • 200cc race class (including in Time Trial) from Wii U's DLC update
  • Smart Steering feature for novice players
  • Improved visuals - 1080p60 on TV, 720p60 on handheld - up from 720p only on Wii U
  • Up to 8 friends local multiplayer, 12 players online, with the added ability to change carts and characters in online lobbies
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Mario Kart 8 guides

As well as tips and tricks below, here are other guides on other aspects of the game whether you're playing on Switch or Wii U, including shortcuts, unlockables, amiibo costumes and more.

Mario Kart 8 Shortcuts list for standard, retro, DLC courses and cups
We've got the location of every single shortcut in Mario Kart 8, so that you can destroy the competition and shave seconds off your lap times.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe characters, weight classes and the best kart combinations on Wii U
Piece together the best kart body, tires and gliders to lead the pack.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe unlockables, including how to unlock Gold kart parts and Gold Mario
Prepare to play a lot of tracks to get everything you need.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe amiibo list for every Mii racing suit costume
How to dress your Mii like Sonic, Mega Man and other famous faces.

Mario Kart 8 tips and tricks

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 (now three-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.

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 three different types of boost available on Switch, compared to the standard two on the Wii U edition. 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. Continue going and you'll get a third pink tier for an even longer boost.

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Every extra bit of speed helps in Mario Kart 8. We'll help you get over the finishing line first.

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.

Switch's new double item set-up allows you to have two sets of defences on you too, giving you an extra wave of protection.

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.

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.

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.

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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 kart parts 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!

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. If you can't find some of them, or want some inspiration, our shortcuts page can help.

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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The Switch version has a new Battle mode

After the divisive take on Battle mode in vanilla Mario Kart 8, the Deluxe edition takes things back to the franchise's roots with dedicated enclosed arenas and modes. These are:

Modes:

  • Balloon Battle (burst opponents' balloons)
  • Bob-omb Blast (burst opponents' ballons only using Bob-ombs)
  • Renegade Roundup (one team attempts to capture the other using Piranha Plants)
  • Coin Runners (collect as many coins as possible)
  • Shine Thief (attempt to hold the Shine Sprite for 20 seconds to win)

Eight courses:

  • Battle Stadium
  • Dragon Palace
  • Luigi's Mansion (GCN)
  • Lunar Colony
  • Sweet Sweet Kingdom
  • Urchin Underpass
  • Wuhu Town (3DS)
  • Battle Course 1 (SNES)

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.

Here's a quick run down of what's available:

Power-upDescription
BananaPuts riders who collide with it into a temporary spin
BlooperReduces visibility for all riders, and traction is temporarily reduced
Bob-ombDetonates after a short amount of time, knocking over all karts in its vicinity
Boomerang FlowerCan be used to hit racers when thrown and returned up to 3 times
Bullet BillGrants invincibility and boosts the racer through the course on auto-pilot
CoinBoosts speed with each coin collected, up to a maximum of 10
Crazy EightCreates eight power-ups that circle around the kart
Fire FlowerGrants the ability to fire off kart-spinning flames for a short period of time
Golden MushroomProvides extended bursts of extra speed
Green ShellFires in a straight line, knocking over any riders it collides with
LightningDestroys all collected power-ups, then shrinks and slows down the other racers
Piranha PlantChows down on items and racers, granting a slight speed boost to the owner each time
Red ShellZeroes in on the nearest player ahead and knocks them over
Spiny ShellHomes in on the kart in first place and knocks over other karts as it travels
StarGrants temporary invincibility and boosts speed
Super HornObliterates other riders and items within a short radius
Triple BananasGives the player three Bananas to drop. Provides a barrier if left orbiting
Triple Green ShellsGives the player three Green Shells to fire off. Provides a barrier if left orbiting
Triple Red ShellsGives the player three Red Shells to fire off. Provides a barrier if left orbiting
Boo (Switch only)Steels an item from another player, and makes you invulnerable during the stealing process
Feather (Switch and Battle Mode only)Leap high into the air to reach higher platforms and avoid attacks

Learn how to Fire Hop - unless you're on Switch

One rather controversial technique for extending speed-boosts on the Wii U version has 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, and perhaps in the end Nintendo perhaps decided it was too much, and has removed it from the Switch version altogether.

Additional reporting by Matthew Reynolds

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