Go fast. Drift hard. Keep riding. Don't let them hit you.

Where many racing games are all about understanding the track and appreciating your vehicle, Mario Kart has always included a lot of things that have nothing to do with traditional racing. Understanding these little things can frequently be the difference between struggling to complete a Cup in the top five and guaranteeing first place almost every time, especially in the new Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

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This guide is going to walk you through all of the little tips and tricks you need in order to maintain a competitive edge, especially when racing online. Ready? 3,2,1, GO!

The basics

Mario Kart 8

There are a couple of things that are true for every Mario Kart experience, so if this is your first time behind a Kart, you may not be aware of how things work.

  • Tap the right trigger when you hit the top of a ramp to get an extra speed boost and a little flourish
  • You can hold shells and bananas behind your Kart to defend from Green and Red Shell attacks. Just hold down the left trigger, and don't let go until you want to fire.
  • Fire Flowers can fire forwards or backwards, depending on where you point with the left joystick
  • Triple Red Shells and Triple Bananas float around and protect you from Shell attacks and can strike nearby players.
  • Nothing but a Super Horn can stop a Blue Shell. Fire it once you see the Blue Shell hovering above you, and it will shatter.
  • Boost Pads and Mushrooms will get rid of ink in your eyes

How Item Boxes Work

Those pretty glowing boxes seem like they drop random items in your lap, but the randomness of those items is weighted. Depending on your current ranking in the race, the kinds of items you are likely to get will be very different.

  • The last three positions are significantly more likely to get Blue Shells, Bullet Bill, Stars, and Crazy Eights.
  • First place will get mostly Coins and Bananas but occasionally also Green Shells, Bob-ombs, and Super Horns.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe allows you to hold two items in your inventory during a race. The item in your larger circle is what you're going to use next when you press the left trigger, and the item in the smaller circle becomes available to you as soon as you activate the item in the larger circle.

You can gain two items by driving through two different item boxes or by driving through two item boxes stacked on top of one another. If you already have an item in your inventory and you drive through two item boxes, both boxes disappear but you only get one item. You also deprive whoever is behind you the chance to get two items to use against you, so remember to aim for those stacked item boxes as frequently as possible.

Disable Smart Steering if you want to win

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

Nintendo added a kid-friendly feature to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, which adds a handicap to keep you from driving off the edge in most maps. It's a great feature for kids and new players trying to learn the controls, but if you want to access track secrets or perform any of the more advanced maneuvers in this game, you need to disable this feature. Once you leave 50cc races, you should really have this feature turned off.

The good news is you can quickly disable this feature if you haven't already. The bad news is Rainbow Road is about to get a lot harder again. Smart Steering can be disabled in two different ways:

  • Kart Selection: When choosing your Kart, press the + on your Switch controller. Tap the left trigger on your controller to disable Smart Steering. You'll see a red X to confirm.

  • Mid-Race Pause: Press + in the middle of a race to pause the game, and you'll see an option to disable Smart Steering. Tap on or press A over it, and as soon as you resume the race the feature will be disabled.

The easiest way to tell whether Smart Steering is being used is by looking at the Kart itself. Smart Steering adds a little antenna to the back of the Kart, which pulses a yellow light when the AI is controlling the Kart for the driver. If you don't see that antenna, Smart Steering isn't being used.

How to upgrade your Kart

The starting equipment in Mario Kart 8 is enough to get you through the first few races, but you're going to want to upgrade quickly and figure out which upgrades work for you. As you race, you'll unlock new Kart bodies, new Tires, and new Gliders to swap out.

Each of these new parts will offer unique advantages and disadvantages, so you need to mix and match until you find something that works well for you.

Here's how you unlock everything in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

Track Secrets

Almost every track in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has a little shortcut built in. Some of them are very challenging to hit just right every time, but once you figure it out each track shortcut becomes second nature.

Be sure to learn at least a couple of the big shortcuts, because once you hit 150cc racing, you'll find many of the AI racers and all of the online multiplayer racers will be using these same tricks.

How to perform a super drift boost

You can now activate a third stage of drift boosting, and it makes a huge difference if you need to make up a lot of ground quickly. Perfect this technique, and you'll be sailing through finish lines in first place with ease.

Check out our guide on the perfect Super Drift Boost

Get a Pro Controller

Nintendo Switch Pro Controller

If you really want to upgrade your Mario Kart experience, you need to set aside the Joy-Cons and pick up a Pro Controller. Nintendo's Switch Pro Controller is more substantial in your hand, has larger and more comfortable joysticks, and is more ergonomically designed to be used for extended periods of time.

The difference between a Pro Controller and a Joy-Con isn't going to seem like much at first, but the difference once you've started playing the more aggressive AI and online players in the faster races will quickly become evident. You're going to want one of these if you plan to play Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for a while.

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