You’ve been playing Mario Kart 8 for a few weeks now and have been having a great time. The 50cc races were a piece of cake, and the 100cc races weren’t too challenging, but the 150cc trails were tough. Harder yet, securing top honors while playing online seems near impossible with some players clocking in nearly 30 seconds ahead of you! I know; I’ve been there. Without a doubt I’m still there, but I have been steadily getting better with each passing day. Practice most definitely makes perfect, even in the world of Mario Kart 8, but there are some bonus tips you can use to better your odds of winning in every scenario.
Drifting is absolutely essential to victory.
Easily the most fundamental method to winning races, drifting (or power sliding, or simply sliding) is a delicate art that’s tough to master but will become a lifesaver once understood. To drift, you need to jump and turn your kart in the direction you want to turn. After you land, keep holding down the jump button. Your kart will continue to move forward, but will also favor the direction you turned while jumping. Here’s the key: while in your drift, moving your kart in the direction you initially moved when you jumped will make your kart take a very sharp turn in that direction, but moving your kart in the opposite direction will turn your kart in that initial direction still, but in a much wider arc. This is important to understand, because it allows you to drift around both wide and short turns while retaining the highest speed and avoiding crashing into walls. I recommend simply hopping into a course (I suggest Mario Circuit from Mario Kart 8) and trying it out until you master it. Just remember: you turn more dramatically (i.e. sharper) when you drift and hold the direction of the turn after you land.
Speed boosts from drifts.
Going hand in hand with drifting around corners are the speed boosts said drifts grant you. Notice the sparks that come off your kart when you start to drift. Once the sparks turn blue you can get a small boost when you let go of the jump button (thus ending your drift). If you hold the drift longer the blue sparks will become red/orange sparks, which will net you an even longer boost after ending the drift. To generate sparks you need to be in your drift and turning in the direction you initially turned when you started the drift. So if you are drifting around a right turn, you will create sparks as you drift and hold right. The longer you hold the direction you are turning during the drift, the faster you will get sparks. Also remember, you don’t have to get all your sparks at the same time. Start by drifting and turning a bit in the direction of the course, then evening out by nudging your kart the other direction, then go back to turning into the drift again.
Jump off every bump, ramp, or platform.
If you’ve played Mario Kart Wii then you already know why this is important. When you are about to launch off a ramp, hit the jump button. Your character will do a little stunt and get a small speed boost when they land! You can get these boosts from anything that naturally sends your kart flying: ramps, hills, bumps in the track, and any terrain that causes your kart to hop (like the mole tracks in Moo Moo Farm). Timing can be tricky, but with practice you can boosts off every single ramp in each stage.
Find a kart customization that works for you.
One of the coolest features Nintendo added to the series in recent entries is kart customization. You can pick your kart (or motorcycle, or ATV!), wheels, and, in Mario Kart 8, glider to create a racer that fits your play style. Generally, go-karts are all around, standard vehicles, motorcycles are fast but trickier to handle, and ATVs are the easiest to control but slowest on the road. Depending on how you as a player like to race, you’ll need to adjust your kart’s specifications accordingly: if you can’t handle turns well, you should stick with karts or ATVs, and if drifts are tough you should boost your traction stat. Speaking of which, here’s a handy guide to stats:
Speed: this stat measures your kart’s top achievable speed
Acceleration: this determines how quickly your kart can reach its top speed
Weight: this stat determines how much other karts push you off course when the hit you,and how much your kart will move when drifting (also note that your character choice affects total weight as well: the babies are lighter weight than, say, Bowser)
Handling: this affects how well your can take general turns
Traction: this determines how well your kart sticks to the road, and how much you slow down when off course
Experiment with different karts, bikes, and ATVs and see what works for you. As you unlock more content, start tweaking your general ride and eventually you’ll come to a combination that works for you. Don’t neglect a stat either: they are all important to some degree.
Knock into opponents when hovering for a boost.
When your wheels do that cool thing where they invert and your kart starts to hover, it’s time to bump into other players. Every time you hit someone else while hovering, you receive a small speed boost! Also look out for those weird little posts in the ground during hovering sections: bumping into those also grants a speed boost. Leave it to Nintendo to reward you for creating chaos on the racetrack!
Get to know the tracks.
This will simply come with experience, but you’ll quickly start to remember where each item box, shortcut, and boost pad is located on each stage with repeated playthroughs. What’s old is new again however, as even the retro tracks have been revamped to incorporate new features like hovering, so don’t expect each track from the past to be exactly as you remember it. Most tracks have a not so obvious shortcut that you can take advantage of if you’re skilled enough: most of them require precise turning/drifting and/or timing to reach, but they do shave off a few more seconds.
Create your own shortcuts with mushrooms.
It’s a Mario Kart game afterall, so you’re bound to get some items that you can use wisely to jump ahead of the group. Mushrooms offer a speed boost when used, which is fine and dandy, but use them in specific places to maximize your races. Try to use a Mushroom to boost through corners or between rough terrain to reach the track faster and shave off precious seconds each lap. Some areas are easier to see than others, but with repeated races on tracks you’ll remember where the boostable areas are located.
Tailgate behind someone to boost past them!
Sensing a pattern in tips here? Mario Kart 8 just dishes out the bonus speed boosts! This one has actually been present since Mario Kart 64 and seems even more impressive this time around. If you tail right behind another racer for a few seconds, you’ll be given a large speed boost that you can use to launch right past them! You’ll know you got it when white wind lines appear around your kart and you suddenly start going faster. It’s a nice trick to jump past other racers that have the same speed as you!
Pick up coins!
This one might go past a lot of players, as there are two unique features of Coins. Once you collect the maximum 10 coins on each race, your top speed will slightly increase. More interestingly however, and unknown to many other racers, for every coin you pick up you’re given a teeny, tiny speed boost. These boosts still occur even after you’ve collected the maximum 10 coins. You’re first goal should be to snap up at least 10 coins in each race, and after that you should be trying to pick up coins when convenient.
Boost Pads aren’t always the best route.
Here’s one I’ve learned after playing the series for over a decade: the allure of speed boost pads can be wholly misleading. While a boost of speed from the pads is certainly a plus, oftentimes these pads are located on the far edge of the stage. In some instances, drifting around corners and staying close to the inner track is much better than taking the outer track and landing on the speed boost pads. You’ll have to judge it for yourself, but on many occasions taking the path less traveled can lead to victory.
Watch replays of players to find shortcuts and learn the course.
I’m really not all that into watching replays of other players, but by doing so you can find some interesting shortcuts or options that you may not otherwise have known. Better yet, if you’re playing online and you’re waiting for your match to start, you can spectate the current race that players are competing. Cycle through the participants and find whoever is in first: watch what they’re doing and learn a thing or two. By doing this you might actually discover something you didn’t know about a course, like an alternative path, or Mushroom creatable shortcut!
Don’t use tilt controls.
Unless you’re incredibly talented at moving the Wii Remote accurately, just grab the GamePad, a Nunchuck, or any other control option than tilt.
With these above tips you should start seeing your results creep higher and higher on the list. Better yet, you will start seeing your ranking points go higher when racing online. You likely already knew some of these, but hopefully there were a few that you can use to improve your Mario Kart 8 skills. Are there any other tips that you have to offer? Until then, enjoy one of the best side effects of Mario Kart 8’s replay mode!