In Defense of Mario Kart’s Blue Shell

In Defense of Mario Kart’s Blue Shell

There are players in Mario Kart 8 who will consistently win against other Mario Kart players. Match after match, they come in first. These players can very safely argue their Mario Kart prowess, but would they have enough confidence in their skill to wager anything of significant value on the outcome of their race? Probably not, because as fans of the series will tell you, Mario Kart is a franchise where shit happens.

But that’s all part of its charm, really. Pinball is another game that relies on a considerable amount of luck with experts commonly estimating a 70/30 split between skill and chance. Despite the 30%, the truly talented will consistently make it to the yearly IFPA World Pinball Championship. And their passion for the game will ensure that they enjoy themselves throughout, rarely deeming any element of the machine “bullshit.”

The Blue Shell is infamously perceived as bullshit. It is an item that viciously hunts down the leading player and just obliterates him. Every time a new Mario Kart is announced, one of the first things a perky young journalist will ask the developers on behalf of their audience is whether or not the blue shell will rear its thorned carapace. And sure enough, the answer is always a stern yes. But why keep an item that is so vocally hated?

For one, Mario Kart isn’t Forza and its multiplayer is a hell of a lot more fun for the differences. In Forza , the better player with the better car is pretty much guaranteed a victory.  The only thing they really have to contend with is the course itself. But in Mario Kart , how players interact with one another determines the outcome. Measures are taken so that conflict with other players is present throughout a race’s entirety.

The way items are distributed in Mario Kart is based on an algorithm that gives stronger items to the racers who are trailing behind, the ones who truly need them. As the player moves through the pack, they begin to see an increase in defensive type items like horns and bananas. This allusion to Nintendo’s secret communist agenda amounts to two different types of gameplay that one must overcome.

While in the back of the pack, racers typically fire off their items rapidly, allowing them access to new items in addition to the explicit reaping of chaos they bring upon the tightly grouped opposition. Navigating this chaos is possible, but it requires a degree of skill. And as the player moves up in the ranks, they begin to need items less and less because, simply put, they have less in front of them to contend with and they’re in no desperate need for an advantage. If they were in last place, however, an item that instantly transforms their Kart into a Bullet Bill, effectively putting them back in the race, makes a bit more sense. And it also ensures that they won’t give up the hope for victory that is needed to enjoy pretty much any game.

In first, though, player options are limited. There is nobody in front of them to shoot at. Realistically, only the 2 nd place racer can have much of an effect on them. The choice they are offered is almost binary: Use an excess of unwieldy bananas to impede the progress of the opposition, or hold onto their items to fend off red and blue shells. In my experience, people tend to the latter.

In Defense of Mario Kart’s Blue Shell

Having the knowledge that you’re not definitively safe makes the race more exciting, though. If one were to remain in first the whole time, then their human friends would feel no different from computer operated racers since there would be minimal interaction there. The result is that instead of dominating one’s friends, it feels a lot more like running from them. Which, in every way, is more exciting. Cornering and boosting feel more important as the player nurses every advantage in an attempt to offset the inevitable Blue Shell.

When the Blue Shell does hit, and if it puts you back into the pack, there is no need for frustration. The skilled player who was once in first has the same odds of working their way back to that enviable position as they did before. Their friends will just hate playing with them less. There’s also the added hilarity of a first place player and a second place player hitting the brakes because neither wants to be the designated target of the items wrath. It doesn’t happen often, but it sure is fun when it does.

Then there are the times when the Blue Shell explodes near the finish line. In those cases, the whole mechanic becomes much harder for me to defend. Good spirited people will laugh at their misfortune. Others will curse the game. But if the entire point of Mario Kart is to have fun with friends rather than exercise your virtual dominion over them, then I fully support the presence of the Blue Shell in Mario Kart .

Its presence in Smash Bros. , though? Well, we’ll see.

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