Over the many courses of Mario Kart's twenty-two-year circuit, almost nothing has been more important than the items. Sure, the characters are cool and the tracks give the game some flavor, but it's always been the items that make or break a Mario Kart release. A few times they've been fairly balanced, giving the game a pseudo-competitive edge that's just right for relaxed party nights with friends. Usually, however, these vessel-bursting beasts are maddening bits of bramble bush mixed into a deliciously foamy root beer float. No matter the game, the items define how it's all going down. From the days when enemy AI had unlimited super stars to the now, when your two-and-a-half lap lead can come crashing down with the death song of the mighty blue shell.
In honor of these game-changing wretches, here's my top five Mario Kart items that need to return.
Mario Kart: Double Dash introduced a concept the franchise hasn't explored since: signature items. The Marios brought their fireballs, the Kongs their giant bananas, and the Koopa Kings their behemoth backsides. While the spiked fortress never amounted to much more than a radioactive green shell, watching this baby rush your rearview mirror will make even the biggest of bad dudes reach for a Depends.
The unimaginative have considered this to be merely banana peel 2.0, but in truth the false item block is one of the more tactical weapons in the savvy racer's arsenal. Make your friends exes by plopping one of these bad boys just behind a genuine box! For whatever reason the Mario Kart 8 team decided this series staple (much like Battle mode) had no place in their totally balanced new game. Go figure.
This one just barely fits the criteria--some people might even call it cheating! Let me explain: I was a little disingenuous when I said that Double Dash was the first game to introduce signature items. In truth, Super Mario Kart featured signature weapons for the AI controlled opponents. Some of these items (banana peels, Koopa shells, and super stars) could be found in item blocks, but others (poison mushrooms, fireballs, and Yoshi eggs) were the exclusive property of their particular holders. In that sense, I guess the poison mushroom doesn't really count as an item because it's not something the player has ever been able to use before. But boy, do I wish I could.
In Super Mario Kart Princess Peach and Toad can toss or drop these yellow-capped porcini on the track, much like banana peels. Unlike those, however, the poison mushroom serves a far more devious purpose: any player that has the misfortune of running one down is shrunk in size! Not only are they slowed, but they can be squashed beneath the tires of any malevolent driver. It's like a personal lightning bolt, waiting--waiting to pounce.
And it's just perfect for the modern Mario Kart titles. It could keep its distinct coloration, it could conform to the more traditional poison mushroom purple, or it could take the Super Smash Bros. route and disguise itself as its speed-boosting counterpart, confusing those who don't watch closely. The lone-shrinking concept was attempted in Mario Kart Wii with the hot potato thunder cloud, but that item is a huge nuisance. The poison mushroom has the opportunity to balance the roadway without being overly destructive while offering a fair chance at avoidance or backfire. It can be used defensively or offensively, and more importantly, its use can be planned, considered, and coordinated.
Above all, though: the Princess really has this coming. Payback's a bitch.
The history of fair Princess Peach is an interesting one, filled with improv and stereotype. This has given her the benefit of possessing some of the more unique items and abilities throughout the various Super Mario franchises, and placing just seconds ahead of her foul fungus is the gal pals (that is, Daisy partially owns this one) signature item from Mario Kart: Double Dash: the heart.
I'll be honest, I kind of forgot this item existed. Its place on the list was almost given to the ring barriers from Diddy Kong Racing. Actually, it's pretty strange that this would escape my mind, since I've been a loud proponent of using it in place of Toad for the Super Smash Bros. games. Regardless, the item is simple and unique at the same time and in all the right ways. When unleashed a pair of hearts circle the player's vehicle. Ultimately, they become a defensive shield breakable only by blue shells, lightning bolts, super stars, and Bullet Bills. Anything else these hearts hit, on the ground or thrown, are immediately bounced into the hand of their charge for personal use. The shield is good for two defenses, so it's a great way to hold the lead!
One of the more interesting items available in the original Super Mario Kart, the super feather offered no offensive capabilities. In fact, it was seen by many as a useless item; all it does is allow the player to perform a spin jump high into the air. This might seem senseless, but it actually serves a lot of great purposes, and I think the modern iterations of the game are more equipped than ever to illustrate this. Imagine being able to hop over red shells, watching with glee as they careen into the next player up. Imagine being able to hop fence posts to invent your own shortcuts on the track. Imagine being able to pop up at any moment and down gliding opponents from below. Heck, with the mechanics of Mario Kart 8, this item could probably be used to initiate a glide anywhere on the track. How cool would that be?
That's right. Pretty damn cool.
It's been a long while since I've submitted any blog posts to ScrewAttack, and now I remember why. This entry field is just super hell to work with. I told myself that I'd get back into game blogging at least once a week, and I'm determined to hold myself to that. The way things are shaping up in the industry, with Nintendo in particular, my opinions and thoughts are just absolutely everywhere. I can't make them stop, and listening to other people go on about this stuff is only going to satiate me for so long. With any luck, I'll be back every weekend to talk about things you don't even want to hear!
But on the off-chance that you do want to hear things from me, you should check out my book Adolescence. It's available as a paperback and also for Kindle. You should order the paperback though--because if you do, you get the Kindle copy for free! Then you can give the paperback as a gift to somebody else! Just keep it going, people.
And if you're a cheapskate (like me) you can read most of Adolescence at its own little webspace by clicking here. Just keep in mind that updating that blog really is not a priority for me, so it might be a while before the whole book is up there. I mean, it's all going to be up there--it just might take fifty years!
Ha, that's enough about me, let's talk about you! Are there any items you guys would like to see revived for a future Mario Kart 8 update or, heaven forbid, Mario Kart 9? Leave your thoughts in the comments!
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