Mario Kart 8: Tips for defying gravity

By Steve Watts, May 20, 2014 11:00am PDT

Mario Kart 8 is coming soon, the eighth entry in the long-running series that has been often imitated but never duplicated. Though the core structure is still mostly in place, it introduces quite a few changes that long-time fans and series newcomers might like to know before they take it for a spin. Fortunately, that’s just what we’re here for. Check out some tips below, and read our review for more details.

It Rewards a Challenge

Mario Kart 8 doesn’t make you grind your way through the easy 50cc races just to get your collection of shiny gold trophies. Instead, placing in a higher speed automatically also earns you the trophy for the same cup at the lower speed as well. Think of it as finishing a game on “Hardcore” and automatically getting the “Normal” mode achievement. The retroactive awards also apply to stars, which are given for just how definitively you rout the competition. To get three stars, you need to not only place gold in a cup, but also have come in first place in each of the individual races.

Each speed will always keep the highest trophy and stars earned--so if you gold in 50cc and silver in 100cc, you won’t get knocked down a rank in the 50cc cup--but you can feel free to skip the lower speeds if you find them too easy. And that’s a good thing, because…

You Should Start with 100cc

If you have any level of experience with Mario Kart, 100cc is the right starter speed for you. Frankly, 50cc is too easy. It might be useful for younger players to learn the tracks, but most players will probably find it an appropriate challenge that isn’t too frustrating. 150cc, on the other hand, is very difficult even after you know the tracks, so only jump in there if you’re ready for some pain.

You Can’t Double-Up

The new item management system will take some getting used to for long-time fans. Rather than triggering an item like a banana or shell to hold it behind you while you pick up another, this one keeps those items in your queue even as they’re being dragged behind. That means you can’t play a defensive item and have another one already in the can, which has a pretty profound impact on strategic play for high-level Mario Kart aficionados.

I recommend playing defensively regardless, since the warning prompt of an approaching red shell can come up suddenly, and there is no such prompt for green shells or boomerangs. It’s a little less rewarding holding an item behind you without picking up a spare, but it pays off more often than not. If you’re in the lead and the item you have is useless defensively, like a coin, use it right away to prepare for the next item box.

Know Your Weight

Mario Kart 8 has quite a few characters from the start, and then almost doubles that number with a series of unlockable characters. However, it doesn’t always communicate which characters fit into which weight class, which impacts your base stats. Refer to this table for a complete guide. As a handy rule-of-thumb, though, just remember that the babies are all lightweights, the main Mario cast tend to be Medium, and bigger characters like Bowser and Wario are Heavy. You can’t judge everything by appearances, though, since the metallic versions of both Mario and Peach are also in the Heavy category. Base stats aren’t everything, of course, since you can also adjust the variables with…

Swappable Parts

A slew of kart bodies, wheels, and glider types are unlockable, and you’ll have to do a lot of experimenting to find the one that feels right. None of them seem terribly imbalanced, so it mostly comes down to personal preference. If you’re having trouble finding a kart combo that suits your style, race against one of the pre-set Nintendo ghosts in the Time Trials. Seeing how they perform might inspire you to imitate their set-up, and it helpfully tells you exactly what specs they were using to race circles around your best times.

Race parts are unlocked by earning coins, which can be gained up to 10 at a time during each individual race. Rather than buy parts from a shop, they simply unlock automatically when you reach a certain coin level.

Try Some Online Tournaments

If you get tired of the other standard modes and want some more customized competition, check out the online Tournaments feature. Mario Kart Wii featured these, but they were created and maintained by Nintendo, and limited to only a couple per month. Mario Kart 8, by comparison, lets anyone create their own tournament with special rules and variables. You can disallow motion or GamePad controls, set some items to be inactive, and even set player ratings to rope off certain levels of skill.

Finding a tournament to fit your wants is a breeze. You can find some of the most popular, search by the variables, and mark favorites to go back for more later. If you don’t find one that strikes your fancy, you can always just create your own. Creating it will make a special 12-digit code to give to your friends so they can find you without sifting through search results.

Avoid Frustration with Teams

All of the online modes and the single-player VS Mode lets you mark your match as a Team Game. This sorts players into red Mario or blue Bowser teams, and tallies their points collectively. It’s a great way to keep the match competitive in the midst of one or two dominant players, since they’ll need the rest of their team to pull their own weight too. And when you create your own Online Tournaments, you can set them to Team play.

Strategic Use of the GamePad

Mario Kart 8 faced some much-deserved derision for its unimaginative use of the GamePad at preview events. It was a steering device, and touching it simply honked the horn, but it’s a little more useful in the full release. Not only can it do the standard off-TV play, but one of the functions enables a detailed map of all the racers, complete with info on what all of them are holding. If you’re savvy enough to glance down once in a while, you’ll be better prepared for the threats their items pose.

Any Questions?

I’ve gone over what I think are some of the most important tips before heading off to the races, but I definitely haven’t covered it all. What burning questions about Mario Kart 8 do you want answered before you hit the starting gate? Let us know in Chatty!

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