Mario Kart 64: Switch Controls Guide and Tips for Beginners

Revving up the engines again in Mario Kart 64? Here are the controls and tips to help you win the gold in every cup on the Nintendo Switch.


One of the initial release games for the Nintendo 64 with the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pass, Mario Kart 64 zooms in with the same charm that made it one of the more endearing games of the N64 generation.

Below, you will find all of the Mario Kart 64 controls on the Switch systems and N64 controller accessory, with some additional gameplay tips further down.


Mario Kart 64 Switch Controls

  • Accelerate: A
  • Rocket Start: A (between the second red light changing to the blue light)
  • Steer: LS
  • Brake: B
  • Reverse: B + LS
  • Hop: R
  • Spin Turn: A + B
  • Stop Roulette/Use Item: ZL (hold to keep item behind you)
  • Change Camera: RS (up)
  • Pause/Options: +

Mario Kart 64 N64 Controls

  • Accelerate: A
  • Rocket Start: A (between the second red light changing to the blue light)
  • Steer: Joystick
  • Brake: B
  • Reverse: B + Joystick
  • Hop: R
  • Spin Turn: A + B
  • Stop Roulette/Use Item: Z (hold to keep item behind you)
  • Change Camera: C (up)
  • Pause/Options: Start

Note that the left and right analogue sticks on the Switch are denoted as LS and RS, while the directional pad is denoted as D-Pad.

Mario Kart 64 driver classes explained

The eight selectable characters in Mario Kart 64 are classified into three different weight categories: light, medium, and heavy.

  • Light: Peach, Yoshi, Toad (lightest)
  • Medium: Luigi, Mario (heavier than Luigi)
  • Heavy: Donkey Kong, Wario, Bowser (heaviest)

Light drivers have the quickest acceleration and top speed. However, because of their speed, they have the widest turning radius, lose the most speed off-road, and have the worst handling. The biggest disadvantage is that they can be bumped and spun out by heavier racers – Toad in particular. However, outside of Battle mode, the disadvantages are negligible.

Medium drivers are your standard generalists or jack-of-all-trades types. While they actually have the worst acceleration in the game, their acceleration tapers off at a consistent pace as they reach their top speed, as opposed to the drastic shifts with the other two classes. They will only be spun out by the heavier drivers, with Mario having the advantage in a collision with Luigi. Medium weight characters have probably the best handling, able to take corners at faster speeds better than the other two groups


Heavy drivers actually have better acceleration than medium drivers, but their top speed is the slowest in the game. They cut the tightest corners, but without the same speed as medium drivers. Their big advantage is that they will bump away smaller drivers when making contact, suffering little recoil.

How to get the Rocket Start in Mario Kart 64

A mistimed Rocket Start results in spinning out!

The Rocket Start is a staple of the Mario Kart franchise, with each game having a different mechanic to trigger the boost. In the N64 version, you press and hold A between the second red light changing to the blue light, signalling the start of the race. If you time it correctly, you should jump ahead of the pack.

Avoid mistiming your Rocket Start attempt or holding the A button for too long. Otherwise, you will end up spinning out and begin several seconds behind the leader, working most of your three laps – especially at 150cc – to obtain the lead rather than maintain first place.


How to recover with the mini-turbo and triple tap in Mario Kart 64

The mini-turbo is another function in the franchise actually introduced with this iteration of the game. As you are drifting, if you tap LS/Joystick in the opposite direction and then back in the original direction, you should see a small yellow burst appear behind your racer. If you successfully continue it, it will turn orange. You will need to snake the directions continuously to maintain the turbo.

The triple tap technique is employed to recover more quickly from a spinout. When spinning out, quickly tap A three times, holding A on the third tap. If pressed correctly, you should speed out of your spinout more rapidly and smoothly than waiting until you lose all of your speed.

Capabilities and probabilities of each item in Mario Kart 64

It’s time to boost!

Here is the entire list of items that you can gain from the question-mark boxes.

  • Mushroom: Gives a short speed boost.
  • Triple Mushrooms: Gives three short speed boosts.
  • Super Mushroom: Unlimited speed boosts for a short period of time.
  • Fake Item: Appears like a regular item, nut causes a rider to be launched into the air when contact is made.
  • Banana: Drops a peel that causes a spin out and a decrease in speed of the rider who makes contact.
  • Banana Bunch: Provides five bananas behind the player
  • Green Shell: Summons a green shell that bounces off of barricades; causes a racer to flip over multiple times on contact.
  • Red Shell: Summons a red shell that acts like a homing missile to the nearest racer; the shell will fail if it hits an obstacle before contacting a racer.
  • Triple Green and Triple Red Shells: Summons three shells of either colour that revolve around the racer; each shell can be fired individually.
  • Boo: Will cause racer to turn invisible for a short period thanks to Boo appearing, making the racer impervious to damage; will also steal an item from another racer if one is available.
  • Super Star: Makes the player invincible for a short period time; able to drive through active obstacles (like vehicles) and will cause other drivers to flip over multiple times if contact is made.
  • Thunder Bolt: Unleashes a thunderbolt that causes every other racer to miniaturize and slow; mini-racers will be flattened if contacted by regular-sized racers, but will not affect racers using Super Star.
  • Spiny Shell (Blue Shell): Summons a special shell that locks onto the first-place driver; any driver who contacts it while it makes its way to the front will be launched into the air.

Your position in the race affects what items you will obtain when hitting an item box. If you are in first, you will overwhelmingly be given a banana, bunch of bananas, a green shell, or a fake item. The middle positions will give you a better chance of obtaining red shells, Boo, and Super Star. The Thunder Bolt and Spiny Shell tend to be obtained when in seventh or eighth place.

How to defend in Mario Kart 64

If you are at the front of the pack, always prepare yourself for potential ruin. There are several ways to play defence in Mario Kart 64 that will help mitigate the amount of tribulation that you may encounter.

It is advisable to, whenever possible, hold an item behind you (hold ZL/Z) if possible. One reason is that if any other racer gets too close and contacts the item, they will suffer the effects. Another reason is that if an item from behind you makes contact, it will be blocked and negated by your item.

So, always have a second item in reserve, even if this means that you pass a set or sets of item boxes. As soon as your item is destroyed or used, place another behind you immediately to defend your blind spot.

Lastly, if you have the three shells, leave them to revolve around you. Not only will this take care of items approaching from your rear, but the revolutions make it more likely that the shells will take out any obstacle that you contact to the side or in front of you.

Be strategic with your items in Mario Kart 64

It might be very tempting to use those three Red Shells right away, or to spam the ZL button with a Super Mushroom, but those are not necessarily the best strategies.

Beyond having the three Shells as a defensive tactic, should you fall behind, those shells could come in handy. Further, think about where you are shooting the Shells. Red Shells need a little bit of space to lock-on and head toward the target. If you are in first, maybe the best idea is to shoot a Green Shell backward: avoid shooting Green Shells ahead in cramped areas where the shell can bounce around like a bowling ball on bumpers.

Maximizing the Super Mushroom means hitting ZL as your boost is dissipating, not immediately after pressing ZL. The same applies for the three Mushrooms, though it might behove you to be judicious with those three, considering that they are not unlimited, but are easier to deploy than the Super Mushroom.

The Fake Item box can be a game-changer if you place it in the right spots. Do your best to set these right next to or before a set of item boxes. Particularly when playing against other players locally or online, this could be a fantastic way to gain the advantage while sticking it to your friends. Just remember where you placed it so that you don’t suffer the damage!

How to set-up online multiplayer races and battles on Mario Kart 64

Lastly, one of the most memorable aspects of Mario Kart 64 – and the N64 in general – was its revolutionary ability to have four players.

With internet capabilities now that just did not exist over 20 years ago, you can play your friends regardless of their location. Of course, they will also need to have both the Switch Online pass and the Expansion Pack to play Mario Kart 64 online.

Once that is settled, have the host (who could be you) head to the N64 menu on the Switch. From there, scroll down to ‘Play Online’ and hit A. From there, you can set-up a room and invite the friends who you would like (up to three). You can then set a passcode or forgo one. The intended recipients should receive an invitation, allowing them to join you. Now, you can test your mettle as the top racer or best battler with your friends around the world!

There you have it: all the things that you need to know to be successful in Mario Kart 64. Earn those gold trophies and race your friends for supremacy on this revived N64 classic!


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Bruce L

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