Mario Kart's Most Hated Item Is Actually Its Best

Mario Kart's Most Hated Item Is Actually Its Best

There's nothing worse than fighting tooth, nail and banana peel for first place in Mario Kart, only to lose it because a blue shell decided to saunter up and explode on your parade. Would you believe, though, that it's actually one of the best things about Mario Kart?

This video by Extra Credits does an excellent job of breaking down why the blue shell is so integral to, well, pretty much everything about Mario Kart. Most obviously it's The Great Equaliser -- the soaring blue embodiment of pure carnage that gives players at the back of the pack a fighting chance -- but that's only the tip of this spiky, 'splody iceberg.

The blue shell handily takes care of one of Mario Kart's biggest problems: being in first place is actually really boring. No longer are you hurling items and butting heads with rivals. Instead you're probably holding onto a weak item to guard your position and trudging ever onward while very little actually, you know, happens.

The blue shell introduces an element of struggle to maintaining the lead, but not in such a way that, say, the second place player can nab a blue shell and take a huge lead by sheer luck. It's all about those way in the back. It appears only (well, mostly) when it's needed.

That's all well and good for players just looking to have harmless fun, but what if you're a Serious 'Karter with a tattoo of Luigi's death glare emblazoned on your heart? Doesn't that take away an element of true skill from the game? Yes and no. Avoiding the blue shell is a skill unto itself, often a matter of perfectly timed item usage or strategic maneuvers to, say, back into other people or train the shell on whoever's in second.

The short version? Nintendo puts a lot of thought into this seemingly reckless force of nature, and it shows if you're willing to dive just a bit below the surface.

I still hate it, though -- at least, when it happens to me. I don't think I've cursed at a single item in any other game more. Well, unless you count the whole of Mario Party (and really just everything having to do with Mario Party).

If you can't get enough blue shell elucidation, I also recommend this crazy history/existential thought piece/epic poem by Ian Bogost. He says things like "This is the Blue Shell of collapse, the Blue Shell of financial crisis, the Blue Shell of the New Gilded Age" and "The Blue Shell is the cruel tax of gaming, the welfare queen of kart racing." It's... yeah, just read it.


Comments

    Being in front is boring? That's when I find it's at its best, especially in a hotly-contested online match. Even if you're not jockeying with rivals, maintaining that lead becomes more stressful than trying to attain it.
    Every corner becomes crucial, and every time you see the attack indicator bleeping at the bottom of the screen your heart stops. Being hit by a blue shell when you've raced perfectly and some twat in eighth who's out of the race anyway just happens to pick one up and ruin it all for you? Yeah, that's about as infuriating as waking up to find your cat has shat on your chest.

      Ah, but what joy it brings the player in 8th place!

      Avoiding the blue shell is a skill in itself, and there is nothing more satisfying that avoiding the blue shell just as you cruise across the finish line in first place.

      I think it is the best thing in the game, nothing else causes more anguish, controversy and tension.

        That's true. And at least you can avoid it in MK8.
        But still! Gah!

        I hate getting the blue shell in 8th place. Unless all 8 players are super close together and a few people get hit in the blast radius, it does nothing to help your position because it doesn't affect the people immediately in front of you, and the person at the front who got hit by it will recover before you can overtake them.

        In 8th, give me a bullet bill or lightning bolt any day over the blue shell.

          But in MK8 it can, because the behaviour of the shell has changed from flying above the track until it hits the player in first place, to sliding along the track until it's close to the leading player. What this means is, played at the right time, you can effectively hit a number of racers in front of you with an unexpected blue shell. Still not as good as getting the lightning bolt or Bullet Bill, sure, but it's a much more useful item in MK8 than it was in previous games.

            i believe the spiked blue shell and the winged blue shell are two different items. the spiked shell goes along the ground and can pick up unwary bystanders (byracers?) and the winged one is the old school one.

            I've lost 2nd place to getting hit by a spiked blue shell ;-;

              There's only one type of blue shell (in MK8 anyway). It runs along the track until it nears the lead player, and then it moves up into the air, ready to drop down on first place. The shell goes up into the air and it has no wings (as seen in the video).

      Being hit by a blue shell when you've raced perfectly and some twat in eighth who's out of the race anyway just happens to pick one up and ruin it all for you?

      Yup.... pretty much why I no longer play MK. Skill isn't a component at all, in fact you are punished for it in a pathetic 'everyone get's a ribbon' mentality.

        At least you can put together custom tournaments where items are turned off. There's a public one you can jump in and out of and the competition is all the better for it. Including the customization options to put together the type of race you want actually makes this the most friendly MK to purists yet. If you've stopped playing because of the items, just strip them back and you'll find the game infinitely more enjoyable.

        If skill wasn't a component at all I wouldn't get destroyed every time I play online :p

      Yeah, that's about as infuriating as waking up to find your cat has shat on your chest.
      Are you... are you speaking from experience?

        No, I just liked the couplet of "cat" and "shat".

        She actually pissed on me.

    I don't think blue shell is powerful enough, it should also inflict a communication error and maybe even a reverse direction bullet bill if you get hit by the resulting blue blast.

    Being in front by a mile is boring. Getting slammed with a cheap lock on item in a tight race right before the finish line doesn't help that. They've never hid their use of AI cheating to balance the game on the fly, so I've always wondered why they don't make it so that NPCs don't use items that will clearly knock you back two spaces when you don't have enough time or space to recover.
    It's also a bit of a rough solution because the player at the back using it doesn't see any advantage. It's not like a Star, Lightning or Bullet Bill items where they get the chance to gain ground on every other player. They just hit the first player putting second and third ahead with the first player recovering before the the rest can overtake them.
    The only good thing about it is that it causes better players to show restraint on item use, but they don't usually get the good boost items anyway. If you know you're going to be ahead and you get a speaker box you hold onto it.

      "It's also a bit of a rough solution because the player at the back using it doesn't see any advantage. "
      This. When you're losing and fire off a blue shell it probably won't advance your position at all. It won't help you come from last to middle or anything like that, it just might swap the leading 2 players.
      On the other hand when you're at the front you have a random event either give you or lose you the lead.

      Things like the rare horn that can beat the blue shell also do nothing to help the situation, as you're still generally left in a situation you had no control over.

      Maybe if the blue shell hovered over your head for 2-3 seconds and would move over to any player taking the lead during that time. That way if you have plenty of time to either set up second place to take the blast or just accept it knowing you'll still be winning.
      But even then I don't think it's a great solution.
      The should be trying to make first place a reactive spot where you have increasing pressure to hold your lead, instead of putting you in a situation you have no control over.

    This idea that it is an advantage to players coming last to have a blue shell doesn’t make any sense to me. There’s a chance you might bump other players but the only real person you’re effecting is the guy coming first who is probably miles ahead of you. All you’re really doing is shuffling around who might come 1st/2nd/3rd and you probably won’t be gaining on the guy ahead of you at all due to this item. If you’re coming last I can think of 4 or 5 items that would be way more useful.
    I guess it might just be a moment for the guy coming last to be all “fuck you guys!!” I suppose.

    Being in first in Mario Kart is hard, but not so hard as being in second. The player in second has to protect themselves in a manner similar to the person in first, but also has to be the aggressor to prevent the player in first gaining a massive lead. Unless you are playing with 'tournament players' the rabble will invariably hit the player in second with whatever is in their arsenal basically creating a divide between the racer in pole and the rest of the pack. The blue shell serves not the racer who shot it but the game and the poor bastard in second place.

    the thing that shits me to tears in Mario Kart, is the sling shotting\ catch up for those not in 1st.
    today a friend and i were doing 2 player on mirror mode, i was in first, he was in about 6th, hit 5th place with 2 red shells and they still took off a head of him.

    then in another instance, he had 3 mushrooms, an was chasing someone down a straight while he had 10 coins, but in 4th i think, and couldnt catch 3rd because they were and a catch up advantage trying to catch me in 1st.

    fix the brokenness damn it.

      looks like you have some fixing to do yourself too

        how so? not being in 1st all the time?
        ha ha

    Was playing MK8 after a long break with other games (brought back by multi-coloured Yoshi) & was racing in the Dry Bone track when I heard the dreaded noise of the blue shell approaching.
    Yet, just before it hit me, Toadette overtook me to claim first & the shell stopped targeting me just before impact & hit her, allowing me to avoid the AoE.
    Sweetest moment playing so far. :D

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