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Basically every time I play Mario Kart 8 - at least after having played anything else - I have to pause immediately after starting the first race to change everyone's settings.

I get that part of that is sort of an unavoidable function of how the switch needs to be re-taught which controllers are doing what after you've switched them around. But it'd save a lot of hassle if there's a way to at least set "defaults." (Like, for example... oh, I dunno, say... "Never ever EVER assume tilt steering is what anyone wants here, kay?")

Is there any way to set steering and assistance defaults, or to otherwise reduce how often I have to reset everyone's settings at the start of each new session?

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    You should be able to toggle these off at the kart selection screen. You can on the Switch at least. At least you won't have to pause the race right when it starts. – Timmy Jim May 30 '17 at 14:37
  • In the case of player 1 whatever your last settings were in this regard should will be remembered for player 1. Now I'm not too sure about this next point but this should apply to each respective player. P2's settings should be set to whatever the last person who was P2 set it to. This should apply to P3 and P4. My source on this is my P2 still remembers that last kart someone I played with picked. – BlueBarren May 30 '17 at 14:52
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    @BlueBarren In my experience, only player 1's settings save regularly for me between play sessions (game closed, reopened). All other players have to manually set their cart, auto steer/tilt control settings each time. Each subsequent race in the same session (game remains open) will save the settings for p2-4, but it doesn't stop the fact that we need to set it for those players each time we start the game up. – king14nyr May 30 '17 at 15:26
  • @king14nyr I've witnessed the same on my Switch. – Timmy Jim May 30 '17 at 16:37
  • @king14nyr could it possible be a coincidence of using the same controller with the same player? Because thinking back to my experience I always happened to use the same controllers for the same players. – BlueBarren May 30 '17 at 17:02
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You can deactivate the tilt commands and auto-drive from the kart selection screen (in it, press + then you should be able to see the commands to deactivate them, Y and R if I remember correctly)

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