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Last updated: March 24th 2017

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Kart Tactics

This page details the tactics and techniques of Mario Kart 64 driving.

OVERVIEW


What is an MT?
“MT” is an abbreviation for “mini-turbo”. A mini-turbo is a boost done by drifting, and the term “mini-turbo” usually means both the drifting technique and the boost that come from it.

How to do an MT:
The MT is the backbone of MK64 racing, so you should already know this if you’ve bothered to read. If not, it goes as such: Turn in the direction that you want to turn. Then press and hold R to jump while holding the control stick in the direction of the turn, and white “VVVVEEEEE” smoke will come from the tires. Move the control stick in the opposite direction while holding R, then back in the direction of the turn, and the smoke E’s will turn yellow. Move in the opposite direction then back in the same direction a second time while still holding R, and the smoke will turn orange. Release the R button to get an MT boost.

What is an SSMT?
“SSMT” stands for “straight stretch mini-turbo”. It’s an MT that is skillfully done on a straight stretch of track in a way that is faster than straight driving without it. SSMTs begin to provide benefit when a non-shortcut player reaches the Pro level, and they are a must at the King level.

What is a shroom?
A shroom, short for mushroom, is a boost triggered by Z or down-C. In time trials, you’re always given 3 shrooms. Activating them causes a boost that has instant acceleration to faster speed than normal driving and lasts a few seconds. It holds speed better than normal driving or MTs on uphill and off-road (e.g. grass, sand). On most courses, a 3lap run is fastest with 1 shroom per lap, with a few exceptions. All 3 shrooms are used on one lap for a 1-lap, or fastlap (“flap”) effort to get the fastest lap time. The rocket start also acts as a shroom.



MT TECHNIQUES


MT basics (easy)
The part of an MT when R is held down and smoke shows up is called the “slide”. The speed boost is called the “glide” and doesn’t look any different from normal driving. The slide turns around curves better and saves distance, but the driving speed is slower. The glide is not really any good for turning curves, but the speed is faster. Good MTing is balancing slide with glide. Most of the time, focus in short slides, long glides. Do the slide part as quickly as possible without losing control. The glide should last as long as possible without waiting too long and running out or driving too long of a distance.

Line (easy)
In normal non-Mario Kart driving, line is picking the best driving path around a corner. Since most driving is at fast speed, the turn around a curve is wide; you can’t slow down to take the curve. The angle you come into the curve determines the angle you come out of the curve- if you come in close, you’ll exit far away, and if you approach the curve wide, you can come out of the turn close to it. Line is more important in tighter turns.

SSMT (intermediate)
An SSMT is an MT done on a straight area of a course in a way as to be faster than driving without it. The boost gained outweighs the distance spent. To do it, turn diagonally across the straight, followed by doing an MT as if facing the opposite direction of that initial turn. (For example, turning right, then doing a left-facing MT.) You must do the MT quickly enough that you don’t drive off the road or into a wall.

MT around curves (intermediate)
Around long curves, the best MT technique depends on the size of the curve. On moderately-sized curves, a longer slide is better because the distance saved outweighs the slower speed compared to the glide. On longer curves, the slide and glide are fairly balanced. On very long, gentle curves, such as Toad’s Turnpike, the curve is so long that the staying close to the edge forces you to use long glides, so it’s actually fastest to basically SSMT around it and allow yourself to slide outwards a bit.

SSMT spacing (intermediate)
There is an optimal time between SSMTs. In general, you should space SSMTs about 2 NTSC or 2.4 PAL seconds apart. It can be longer (2.5 NTSC, 3.0 PAL) seconds if you do them SSMTs very quickly, but a less skilled player should use a shorter wait. Doing them too close together results in driving longer distance as well as spending more time on slide, and doing them too far apart means the previous MT’s boost has ended.

The last MT (intermediate)
If performing an MT or SSMT onto a straight stretch about 3.0 NTSC or 3.5 PAL seconds before the finish line on a 1-lap attempt or the last lap of a 3-lap attempt, then doing another SSMT before the line would be slower and should not be done. Normal SSMT spacing doesn’t apply in this case.

SSMT before a curve (intermediate)
When a large turn is coming up, it’s best to drive in the middle or, if you’re better, closer to the wall in the direction of the turn (e.g. close to left wall with left turn coming up). Do the SSMT so the glide leads to meet perfectly with the curve of the turn.

Advanced MT dynamics (advanced)
The anatomy of an MT is more complex than one would think. The glide lasts about 3 seconds but has two parts. The first part is the first 1.0 NTSC second of glide, and the second part is the next 2 seconds. Also, the MT seems to need a tiny bit of acceleration to kick in, so you should wait a tick before jumping a gap or crack. Jumping to finish an MT results in the boost not fully activating. The first part of the glide, if it activates, seems to be unaffected by jumps or turns. However, the second part is weakened by hard turns and jumps in either the first or the second part, which decrease the speed to MT-powered slide speed. Also, in the second part, jumps do not decrease the speed below MT-powered slide speed, but hard turns will decelerate further. Both parts of the glide, as long as at or above MT slide speed, will carry into another MT at slide speed. Doing a second MT near the end of the 3 seconds of the first MT is bad because the boost will fade out during the slide. Because of this, SSMTs should be spaced 2.5 seconds apart at most. 2 is usually best. The exception is the final MT of a run, described earlier.

Boost turn (advanced)
This technique is simply turning hard immediately after an MT. It can only be used for the first second after an MT without losing speed, which is that first part of the MT (Advanced MT dynamics). Don’t do the boost turn if it has been more than one second. It is the same speed as repeated jumps around a turn for that 1.0 second but sometimes more controllable. Never jump before a boost turn.

Boost turn followed by jumps (advanced)
This just combines the boost turn and jumps/hops to go around a hard turns. The first part of MT is more controllable than just jumps, but after that one second, jumps maintain speed better than continuing to turn would.

Advanced SSMTs (advanced)
The purest form of the SSMT slides to one side only. For example, you only drift leftward in a right-facing SSMT and never cross rightward of your original straight path. The timing is very delicate. Using a right-facing SSMT as an example, turn left for the shortest possible time to start a slide, then jump-turn right but turning right as little as possible, then move the control stick hard left exactly when the slide begins, followed by the smoke charging being done as fast as possible. This is more a matter of feel rather than conscious technique.

Wall MT (advanced)
A Wall MT takes advantage of the polygons of the walls, since Mario Kart 64 was made in the mid 1990s. It is an MT where the glide is completely straight but drives parallel along the polygon of wall and also very close to it. This saves a small amount of distance and makes any driving after it slightly easier. This is done mostly by memorization, and you have to otherwise do a good MT, otherwise it’s not worth doing a bad MT but get the Wall MT.



SHROOM TECHNIQUES


Shroomsliding (easy)
A shroom is the same speed as an MT glide and faster than normal driving. However, if you hold a slide while shrooming, the speed actually goes up a few kph beyond the shroom speed. Also, you should release the MT immediately when the shroom ends. Releasing too early wastes shroomslide, while releasing too late results in driving without MT power. The shroom’s boost ends around 0.2-0.3 second before the fire completely disappears. Only in special instances should the slide be started after the shroom or the MT released before it ends. Shroomsliding can be done two ways:
1. Jump into a slide, wait for the slide to stick for a few ticks, then hit the shroom. This has better control and consistency but is a little bit slower.
2. Jump into a slide and hit the shroom the instant you land. It’s harder to control but is a little faster, especially in places where you jump onto grass, as you can jump over the grass and hit the shroom a few feet/metres in, instead of hitting at the edge of the grass.

Ramp shroomsliding (intermediate)
In Royal Raceway and DK’s Jungle Parkway, the boost ramps actually act as shrooms. Hence, it’s best to slide over the ramps, as well as hold the R button while coasting through the air. If the smoke is charged to orange, then an MT boost will happen upon landing. Obviously, you don’t need to (you shouldn’t) use a shroom.

MT-shroom relationship (intermediate)
MT boosts don’t add to shrooms. If you MT right before a shroom, the shroom isn’t any faster, and doing an MT during a shroom is actually slower since you let go of the shroomslide. However, an MT released before the end of the shroom will act like a normal MT when the shroom burns out. Since a shroom accelerates to shroom speed instantly, you can use it right when an MT is about to burn out.

Shroom selection (intermediate)
There are some general rules on choosing shroom spots in certain courses that have many possible areas. However, this does not include courses where the shroom spots are almost universally agreed upon because they are much better and are included in the course strategies. Usually this is a shroomslide. Here are some situations for a shroom:
1. Turns that need MTs with long slides. The benefit of the shroom is stronger here since the slide is the slower part of the MT.
2. After driving a long time without another MT or SSMT. After you drive through an area where you can’t MT/SSMT, you can shroom at the end.
3. After a lot of hops/jumps, since after a point, hops decrease speed, and again, the instant acceleration is good.
4. After being set down by Lakitu in some shortcut situations. This is for the same reason as #2 and #3.
5. Off-roading. Some courses have multiple possible spots, and shrooms lose less speed than MT with or without hops.

Multiple shrooms (intermediate)
While a shroom lasts a full 3 seconds approx. (NTSC, or about 3.5 seconds PAL), it gradually slows down on the grass or sand. Thus, don’t wait a full 3 sec when doing multiple shrooms off-road.

Shroomsliding at the start (intermediate)
The rocket start acts exactly like a shroom. It is best to jump into a slide right at the rocket start to start the shroomslide as early as possible. Don’t release the MT until the rocket start is about to burn out unless you need to do something else.

SSMT-shroomslide/Rocket start SSMT (advanced)
This is simply a shroomslide with a long SSMT and can be done with shrooms as well as the rocket start. The rocket start SSMT is most useful, but SSMT-shroomslide is useful if heavily uphill or right after being set down by Lakitu on certain shortcuts. It’s best if you can do an “advanced” SSMT (only moves to one side) together with the shroom. In this, angle the first part of the slide with white smoke as far outward as possible, and hold the second part of slide with yellow smoke as long as possible, parallel to the straightaway. If you can’t do an advanced SSMT, it’s better to shroom and then jump into an SSMT than to wait for the SSMT to shroom.

Wall boost (advanced)
This is a trickier, flukish maneuver that is not very well-understood. If you hold a charged MT on a shroomslide and the shroom is almost done, you can bump the kart into the wall. This releases the MT, redirects the kart in the right direction, cuts off the shroom, and adds around a 0.10 sec boost compared to releasing the MT normally.



DRIVING TECHNIQUES


0-3-0 (easy)
Some courses have multiple shroom spots that are of roughly equal benefit (see “Shroom selection”). Some people can benefit by driving with all three shrooms on 2nd lap, known as 0-3-0, or all three shrooms on 3rd lap (0-0-3). This lets you try for both 3lap and 1lap PRs on the same run. This saves playing time and may allow more attempts, while not really any slower than 1-1-1 (one shroom per lap). However, 3-0-0 is not as good since normally, first lap is the slowest, so you should only do it if you’re playing a risky first lap.

Snaking (easy)
This is driving the shortest distance possible by staying close to corners and driving in straight paths between then. Normally MTs are done at the corners. Note that staying close to corners just for its own sake is bad, since driving out of the way to approach a corner that’s out of the way may increase distance.

Rev Start (easy)
A Rev Start adds a free headstart that has been proven to be 0.01 seconds and is an easy habit to get used to. To do the Rev Start, hold down A before Lakitu appears, such that the engine is already running when he starts the first light. Keep holding A until halfway (safer) to two-thirds (faster) between the second and third light, then let go. On the third light, hit A like the normal rocket start. This acts like warming up the kart engine. This is formerly known as “Everettstart”, a nickname Everett discourages. It was first observed by Dave Hines in ‘97 and Everett in ‘98.

Triple tapping A (easy)
As the name implies, you hit the A button three times fast while the kart is moving slowly or standing still (except for Transtyle in Rainbow Road). Triple tapping accelerates the kart much more quickly just pressing and holding A. It is useful whenever the kart dramatically slows down, which is normally shortcut driving.

Prejump (easy)
Prejumps are good for hilly courses, where large hills cause you to fly. You press R to jump shortly before the peak of a hill, and it’s a little faster than driving straight over the hill. Jump as early as possible but without hitting the hill. This way you spend less time driving uphill. However, if you just did an MT, it’s better to let the glide continue and not to prejump unless immediately about to do another MT.

Spin-turn (intermediate)
A spin-turn is a turn with a very tight circle- several feet/a couple metres, and this is usually done after a standstill. It’s best on shortcuts after being set down by Lakitu or hitting a wall but can be combined with a rocket start, as will be described later.

Reverse spin-turn (intermediate)
This is doing a spin-turn but also driving backwards (holding control stick backwards and pressing B) at the same time. It’s easier to control since you stay in the same place.

1-lap attempts (intermediate)
Attempts at personal records for 1-lap times are almost always done on 2nd lap. This is because the lap begins at the line, as opposed to starting about 0.20 seconds behind the line on first lap, which is still slower even with shrooomsliding rocket start. You can do 3rd lap, but it’s a waste of time because of having to do two instead of one. Another advantage to 2nd lap is that you can set up before the start line to save distance and/or set up an MT, instead of starting in the middle. Yet another advantage is waiting for predictable course factors. These include water tides, traffic, penguins, and thwomps. Aside from a few courses, you can also do a 1-lap attempt on first lap and try to play it riskier to save time. This is also good for very long courses where restarting is not worth the effort. Sometimes, you can do a shortcut on first lap just to save time setting up for the second lap.

Hops/jumps (intermediate)
Hops and jumps are the same thing, which is pressing R repeatedly. Jumps keep up the speed pretty well, but if you do it after an MT, the glide slows down shortly afterward (see “Advanced MT dynamics”) if you drive normal after a jump. Repeated jumps will lose speed compared to straight driving. However, jumps are faster than normal driving around tight turns. Jumps around turns after an MT are also faster than sliding around turns after an MT. Jumps over grass and sand are faster than driving through, especially if you’re turning, but they’re slower if the straight driving is for a longer distance. The landing spot of a jump is more forgiving, being able to touch walls unlike boost turns, but they are also harder to control.

Jump after MT (intermediate)
Usually, a lone jump on the track after an MT is bad, since it causes the glide to run out more quickly. There are some special cases where it is better though, and in these cases, it’s better to work with what everyone else has tried. One instance where jumping after an MT is fastest is if you need to turn, but a normal turn or a slide would be too slow, and you’re going to do another MT shortly afterward. You can do the jump right after the MT or wait until right before the next one. Another situation is if you need to turn but shouldn’t do another MT afterwards (such as right before a shroom, a ramp, or the finish line) but it has been at least a second after the last MT.

Spin-turn rocket start (intermediate)
Some courses are set that the best path is very much diagonal, and just turning is slower. In this case, holding the B button at the same time while doing the rocket start gives you a spin-turn, saving distance and making setting up an MT or SSMT easier. As soon as B is released after the spin-turn, a spin-turn cannot be restarted (unless coming to a halt). This is useful in some shortcuts.

Reverse spin-turn rocket start (advanced)
This combines driving backwards, a rocket start, and a spin-turn, and it is done by pressing A, B, and holding backwards on the control stick at the same time. It is useful in shortcuts but not in non-shortcut driving. Driving backwards outweighs a mushroom, even when the kart is turning. The shroom from the rocket start kicks in when you stop holding the control stick back, although you can’t start driving backwards again until you come to a standstill. As long as you don’t let go of B, you can continue the spin-turn throughout the rocket start, and you can even use another shroom and still spin-turn. The advantages of this technique are that you can quickly turn around while staying in place, yet instantly accelerate afterwards without needing to use a shroom, and the shroom is more nimble due to the spin-turn. This technique is difficult to do.

Downhill driving/Transtyle (advanced)
Downhill driving refers to any time you stick your tires to the ground on a hill that will otherwise send you into the air, and it’s faster than going over the air or even a prejump. It’s really hard to do and is mostly a matter of luck. You jump coming up toward the tip of the hill and try to land just before the tip while letting go of A at the same time. Clipping the hill slows you down for a second, then press or triple tap A, and you should zoom downhill. This jump is earlier than a prejump. Transtyle is letting go of A for half a second then triple-tapping A to accelerate down the hill in Rainbow Road, but some players refer to all downhill driving as Transtyle. Unlike other downhill driving, this can be consistently done.

Corner clip (advanced)
On some courses, you can clip the corner of a wall in a way that makes you turn much faster than sliding or turning yet without really losing any speed. Similar to downhill driving, it is difficult to consistently land and is more of a matter of luck than a viable tactic. Generally, you pretty much try to jump your right wheels through the corner and hit it in mid-air.

Off-road driving (advanced)
Driving on sand or grass without a shroom is useful if an off-road route is so much shorter than staying on the road that it is still faster. When you’re good enough to gain speed off-roading, you may be able to use the shroom somewhere else if you’re off-roading where you used to shroom. Off-roading is done with well-timed, well-placed MTs and hops, including jumping at the edge of a polygon to stay in the air as long as possible.