The Toughest Levels to 3-Star in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe + Bonus Tips

If you’ve been following my Twitter account recently, you may have noticed some mildly frustrated posts with screenshots pertaining to my 3-Star quest in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

Starting with Mario Kart DS, players have been awarded a star rating following the conclusion of each Grand Prix. Generally speaking, earning a 3-star rating means that you placed 1st in all four races. Earning this elusive 3-star rating has changed in difficulty from game to game – for example, Mario Kart 7 on the 3DS required you to not only place first in all races, but also to maintain a commanding lead for the duration of each race. Merely sandbagging the race by coasting in second place and boosting into the lead to nab a first place trophy wouldn’t be enough to get that 3-star rating.

In fact, figuring out the criteria for a 3-star rating in Mario Kart 7 was so confusing that there’s no shortage of questions asking for details, and receiving nothing but pure conjecture!

Luckily, with Mario Kart 8, the star rating system has been simplified yet again. For a perfect 3-star run, you need to place first in all four races. That’s it. If your points at the end total 16, yielding 15 from each first place finish, you win 3 stars. Simple, right?

Anyone who’s worth their salt in Mario Kart games has 3-starred every game they’ve played. And up until the release of Mario Kart 8, 150cc was the worst of the worst – tough as nails AI who would completely destroy you, gank you with a Blue Shell at the worst possible moment, you name it. But there’s a new beast in town. And that beast is 200cc.

Geting back to the original point of this post, I have been spending a great deal of time lately honing my Mario Kart 8 Deluxe skills on my Switch. My strategy has been to bang out dozens of laps on a specific course until I have it down, and then give Grand Prix a shot. So far it’s worked relatively well – I’ve slowly been 3-starring all of the 200cc GPs. Currently I am still five GPs away from 100%’ing the game, and it’s been quite a journey

As of this point, I have almost 30 hours logged in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and I believe at least half of those hours alone is my quest for 3-stars. It’s really that tough. You carry so much speed, and you need to constantly be drift-boost-canceling and switching lean directions as to not fly off the track. It’s also an absolute blast and makes you amazing at Mario Kart!

Today we’re going to take a look at some of the courses from Mario Kart 8 Deluxe that have driven me up the wall. There are some courses that are simply not built for 200cc of go-kart engine displacement.

Bowser’s Castle

With several hairpin turns and tons of fire death traps to dodge, Bowser’s Castle proved to be too much for my psyche to take. While I eventually took it down, there were plenty of frustrations to be had in this level.

Right off the bat, one of the issues is that you are off the ground a lot. There are tons of jumps and drops. Normally, the issue with being off the ground in the world of racing is that you can’t accelerate if you’re off the ground. This is exactly the opposite problem here. Being off the ground too often means you need to take off perfectly, because you can’t be decelerating. No traction = no brakes, and brakes are your golden ticket in 200cc.

One of the techniques that really shines here is where you initiate a drift while you are still in mid-air, so that you can immediately lean into the next turn. There are very few times in this level that you can not be drifting.

All of the hairpin turns, laser beams, are nothing when compared to the most pain-in-the-neck feature. And it’s right at the end of the track.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Bowser's Castle
Even this image enrages me. Going to the right doesn’t work because you get stuck in the mud. The trick is to drift around the left of the boulder and slingshot over the gap to the finish line!
There is a single rolling boulder that drops on to the track in the final turn. I cannot tell you how many times this thing got me good right as I looped around the last lap. It’s absolutely enraging. Taking the outside line is definitely faster, and taking the inside forces you to run the risk of riding off course and murdering your speed. Classic tough decision.

Neo Bowser City

Well surprise surprise, #2 on our list is also the brain-child of our feared oversized turtle! This one is tough, but the slick road and constant turns definitely contribute to making it a bit of a nightmare in 200cc.

Mario Kart 8 Neo Bowser City 1
The beginning of the end…
The trick to Neo Bowser City seems to be drift-canceling. Unfortunately when you are constantly flipped lean directions, this can get very, very tricky. And of course, the one time you miss the cancel and blast off, you’re going to a bad place. By the time Lakitu picks you back up, you might as well just quit and start over.

I haven’t exactly figured out the ideal method for this one yet, and haven’t managed to pull off a 3-star in the cup. But I am getting closer.

Normally, jumping with the right trigger button on the lip of a jump will give you a speed boost that helps you shoot ahead of the competition. Unfortunately, in some 200cc levels, more speed is the last thing that you want! Neo Bowser City has a minor skip near the beginning of the track that you can take advantage of, providing you skip the ramp-boost and time it right. Unfortunately capturing footage is difficult, but this screenshot should give you an idea.


If you can manage to pull this off, you may have a shot at catching up if you got dropped a few places. It’s risky because of hitting the following pillar, but it can be helpful.

The toughest place where you need to drift cancel is right at the end of the track when the curves get dangerous and there aren’t any walls. Here is where you need to go hard on the brakes to kill your drift-boost, or quickly release and tap accelerate. This is all finesse and practice – Time Trial mode is your friend!


Dragon Driftway

So far, this has been my biggest white-whale. This track is a perfect example of when many bad things come together to make something terrible. It’s not even necessarily that hard as soon as you get your 200cc drifting under control, but there are two parts that can and have caused me much trouble and frustration.


Once you get to this point, you’ll find lots of those blue pillars that act as mini-turbos. These are bad, mmkay? You have one thing in abundance: speed. You want to avoid these like the plague, because they will blast you into walls while all the perfect AI cruises around you effortlessly.

If you can manage to get around the previous obstacles, then you will find yourself at the last pain in the neck part: the random patch of grass at the end of the level. This patch of the grass cost me at least 15 first place finishes.


This grass will bring your cart to a grinding halt, letting everyone else pass right by you! Coming into this last turn is all feel, and a couple of stress-free practice rounds in Time Trials will surely help. Good luck! This one felt great when I finally beat it.

Tips and Tricks

While writing this and foolish around in Time Trials, I realized that I have come a long way in my Mario Kart 8 Deluxe racing career. Here are some stray tips that have helped me, and that just may help you.

  • Drift-canceling: while you are in a drift, sometimes you are going too fast and would like to cancel the pending boost. To do this, quickly let go of and tap A. You should very briefly stop drifting, but long enough to cancel the boost.
  • Drift-braking: if you’ve gotten this far, to 200cc, you’ve probably already figured it out, but it’s worth noting. Did you know you can brake while you’re drifting, to further increase your turn sharpness? Position your right thumb over the A button so that your finger tip is resting on the B button. This also greatly raises your drift-boost bonus. Have fun cutting corners!
  • Drift-switching: this isn’t so much a “move” as it is a technique. Right after a drift-boost, slam down that right-trigger button and switch directions. You immediately switch to a drift in the other direction. It takes precious milliseconds out of your turn, milliseconds that can be the difference between a sweet drift and coming to a complete stop with the help of a wall.
  • Using drift-boosts strategically, you can easily launch yourself over sections of map. I mentioned this technique up in Neo Bowser City, but it’s worth talking about it again. You can get some serious air by merely slamming into an angled surface. The little plots of land at the end of Moo Moo Meadows. Tons of little bumps in Grumble Volcano. The possibilities for skips are endless, and they’re all fair!
  • Using motorcycles is key in 200cc, I am convinced of it. The turn radius may take a second to fully kick in, but you turn so sharply that no other kart can compare. I use a Sport Bike with Roller tires. They have tons of handling but not the best speed. Since the AI is going to rubber-band you anyway, speed is irrelevant.
  • Don’t always try to boost off of ramps in 200cc. You have plenty of speed already. They can frequently send you complete out of contro. Really – don’t wory about being the fastest, worry about being consistent.
  • Don’t pick the fastest cart combination. Again – the AI will catch up to you regardless.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Enter Time Trials mode and run solo races to perfect certain parts of the track. There are many harder levels in 200cc (I didn’t even mention any of the Rainbow Roads due to how obvious they would be on this list), but one you figure out the right line, you’re golden.
  • Sometimes, luck is not on your side. Mario Kart is only 50% skill, with the other half coming from pure luck.

I hope these tips for 200cc were helpful! So far, 200cc has been leagues harder than I ever expected, but the payoff to 3-starring each cup is incredible. Practice!

What’s your least favorite level in Mario Kart 8? Did you manage to pull off 3-starring every Grand Prix, or still trying? Let’s talk about it in the comments!


  1. […] Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Cave Story+ were among the only physical releases that interested me for a good long while – my summer gaming time being mostly consumed by Ever Oasis, Hey! Pikmin, and Urban Trial Freestyle 2, also motivating me enough to complete a trifecta of long-form 3DS game reviews as the newest member of The Well-Red Mage crew. Interestingly enough, nothing really grabbed me on the Switch, however, and so it pretty much sat there for the most part, trickle charging for months. […]


  2. Awesome stuff! I’ve seen your progress 3-starring courses through Twitter and I’m super impressed! I’ve been able to do about half of 150cc and none of of 200cc, but I kind of stopped. I didn’t want to stress myself out with the crazy AI and random items. Still love the game, but I had to accept not being able to perfect everything. I wish you the best of luck in your own race though!

    P.S. I think your last sentence was cut off?


    • Lol, must have thought I typed it!? Weird! It was supposed to say, “but the payoff to beating them is incredible”. Ah well, so much for checking my own work!

      200cc seems pretty much impossible at first. When you go back to it, practice just makes perfect. Braking technique is key, and drift controlling is up there as well.

      I was considering doing a mini-series about technique on YouTube, but I don’t have a capture card, and there are plenty of other tutorials doing just that! 😉

      Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

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