With Mario Kart 8 - the Wii U's latest installment of the ever popular multiplayer racing franchise - penned for release on May 30th this year, with more information revealed on the track design and characters, and now with Nintendo's fantastic "buy MK, get another game free" package deal, it's high time we started getting serious about our favourite plumbers latest kart outing.
And with the recent announcement of some new and interesting items we'll all be using in Mario Kart 8, I've decided to pull together my top ten items in Mario Kart history, giving particular preference to those that changed the way we play, or indeed the outcome of races. Hopefully this will serve to whet your appetite before the game's release at the end of the month.
So strap in, watch the lights, and prepare for that turbo start!
Now I know this first entry feels like a con, but hear me out. First showcased in the original Super Mario Kart on the SNES, the coin was an additional pick up to your regular items, that increased your overall speed the more you picked up, upto a maximum of 10 coins. When you get hit by items, you lose time and coins, and start the jolly process all over again. Up until now the coin has been limited to it's initial release, and handheld Mario Kart versions, but I'm pleased it's back in Mario Kart 8.
The reason I love coins in Mario Kart is because I believe they bring a new tactical dimension to the racing. It might be more prudent to move off the racing line to net a few coins, to give you a speed advantage in the long-term. There's the fact that you can pick up more than 10 (in Super Mario Kart at lest), just to prevent other people from getting them, and also the added bonus of nailing a successful shell hit or banana drop, will cause other racers to lose their speed advantage.
It adds another level of spice and tactics to the racing, and that's why it makes the list.
9. Fake Item Box
First introduced in Mario Kart 64, the Fake Item Box has been causing frustration for players ever since. In a game like Mario Kart, getting hold of items is key to success - if it wasn't, this article would be pretty redundant - and so having an object that looks like an item box, albeit with certain distinct differences creates a new interesting dynamic. Your natural Mario Kart instincts tell you to collect item boxes, and avoid obstacles such as banana skins. So to have a dangerous item that looks like an item box, requires drivers to be ever on their toes, evaluating the item box in front of them for any signs of foul play before they commit. And when you consider that there is so much else for a karter to consider when driving on this franchise's crazy courses, sometimes that can be enough to put off your rival just enough to give you the edge.
Play it sneaky and place the item box in a patch of regular item boxes, or in a tight spot or blind corner, and you've really nailed the potential of this item for causing confusion and frustration in equal measure.
8. Triple Shell (Red or Green)
It may seem strange to include this item, given it's now a staple of the Mario Kart franchise, but Mario Kart 64 first saw it's inclusion to the series, and at that time it was a game changer. Previously shells were very much an offensive item, shot out in front of the car to attack a fellow racer. And whilst this is still the main use of a shell in any Mario Kart game, the introduction of the triple variant of shells present the driver with options.
Using them puts the shells in rotation around the kart, offering great defensive options, as they work rather effectively at deflecting things that would normally result in you spinning out and losing times and positions. It also acts as an offensive forcefield for karters as well, as if opponents get too close, the shell will hit them, meaning you will emerge victorious from crowded situations too.
It means that this subtle change to such a simple item, creates so many more options for racers, both at the front and at the back.
This is the only item on the list that hasn't been seen since Super Mario Kart, but that's mainly due to the movement to 3D on cosole Mario Kart games, rather than it being a dull item. The Feather allowed your character to do a significant jump into the air whilst maintaining the forward momentum of the kart at the time.
As such is was an item that was mainly used to navigate over obstacles such as holes or dangerous items on the track. However if used properly it presented the driver with some really interesting opportunities to utilise a shortcut trick on certain tracks. More obvious options like on Ghost Valley 1 were almost designed for rewarding clever Feather use. However it was on tracks with subtler options, and arguably bigger rewards where the Feather comes into it's own. Choco Island 2 was the best example of this where a player could use a feather to effectively skip out the majority of a lap by jumping over a barrier. Sure it's cheap, very, very cheap, but try saying that to the guy whose had the worst luck, and been hit with shell after shell, only to receive one of these to put themselves back in contention.
It's rarity and it's true usefulness restricted to only a handful of tracks prevents this from moving further up the list, but whichever way you look at it the Feather had the capability to truly change a Mario Kart race.
6. Golden Mushroom
Another new addition to Mario Kart 64 was the Golden Mushroom. Like most mushrooms in the Mario Kart family it gives the driver a speed boost. However unlike their one use only counterparts, Golden Mushrooms operate over a longer period, in which you can boost as much as you like until they expire.
The benefit of a sustained period of boosting is an obvious one - you're faster than your rivals, meaning you can either catch up or extend your lead, either way it puts you in a better position than before. And as such it is a truly game changing item.
It's position at only 6 in this list may surprise some who value the dramatic burst in speed that this item gives, but it's the time restriction element to this item which restricts it from being one of the true greats. Constant boosting can be difficult to control effectively, especially on windy courses, or tight spots, but the limited time of use once initiated means you almost feel the need to spam the boost button to eek out every last drop of speed you can. This speed / control paradox can sometimes make this a double-edged sword of an item.
But veterans of Mario Kart will know the true power of this item, get it on an open, straight piece of track and watch yourself shoot up the track and the positions too.
5 Triple Mushroom
Having just seen the Golden Mushroom at number 6, you may be surprised by my inclusion of the Triple Mushroom above it at number 5. But no I haven't gone mad, the is method in my rankings. Fundamentally the boost benefit from both items is the same, but for me, the Triple Mushroom gives you much more options in a race than it's Golden counterpart.
You see, with the Triple Mushroom you aren't restricted to using them all at once, you can save that burst of speed for when you really need it - whether it's escaping a projectile or attempting a lucrative shortcut. The Triple Mushroom gives you options, choice and more importantly control of when to best utilise your speed boost, and that makes them incredibly useful when kart racing. And controlled speed boosting is one of the most beneficial things you can have in your favour when playing Mario Kart
4. Ghost / Boo
Being sneaky is oh so much fun in Mario Kart, and nothing quite says sneaky than an item that not only turns you invisible, and therefore invulnerable, for a brief while, but also allows you to move through racers and you don't suffer speed loss from bad terrain either. All in all a pretty nice little package.
Oh yeah, and then you steal the best item from the people in front of you.
All in all this makes this item a force to be reckoned as the boons given to your character can be used to your advantage, and the additional item you receive normally leaves you with additional preferential opportunities. Plus there's nothing like the look on the face when your mate has just lost their prize item. The randomness of the item (or indeed any item at all if no character has one) reduce the effectiveness of the item and prevents it from reaching the podium on this list, despite being an incredibly useful item to pick up, however your race is going.
Now we're getting serious, for me the top 3 items in Mario Kart are head and shoulders above all the rest in terms of their uses, and abilities to truly change Mario Kart races if used correctly. And nothing perhaps sets the tone for that more than this next item - the Star.
It's an item that is as synonymous with Mario games as the mushroom, but unlike Mario's fungal best friend, the Star maintains it's ability from our plumber's platform adventures in that it makes your kart temporarily invincible. And just to be clear on this, it makes you invincible to any item, even ones further up this list, and so is not to be sniffed at.
In addition to this you also get a significant boost to your speed whilst the Star is in effect, and any contact with any other player causes them to spin out. It means that not only can you take advantage of slower terrain and shortcuts, but you can also carve through the field by hitting players as you pass by. It makes the star a great item both in terms of offensive and defensive terms, making it one of the most reliable items in the game to surefire your way up the standings.
Making all of your enemies spin out is cruel. Making them all slow for a time is despicable. Making them all shrink to a tiny size as well is downright evil. In comparison to them you become a virtual behemoth, capable of running them over, flattening them like a pancake, giving them another virtual spin-out before they return to normal again, with you long gone over the horizon.
It really is a beast of an item, with so much going for it, no wonder it's usage is limited to those squarely at the back of a race. But this item can be improved further with a few tactics. For example, using it whilst karts are jumping over a gap, will cause them to end there jump in mid-air and plummet to their doom. Use it in such memorable places as when opponents are tackling the big jump in Wario Stadium in Mario Kart 64, and you can effectively end their race by sending them back half a lap.
It's this bullish initial power, and additional tactical potential that makes the Lightning Bolt the most significant in Mario Kart.
1. Blue Shell
So here we are, at top spot. If you've made it this far, you'll probably have already guessed this was coming, but to put it bluntly this is the greatest item in Mario Kart history. The Blue Shell can be fired by anyone, and will fly off in search of a certain target in particular - whoever is in first place. It tends to hit from above, and so can't be dodged by normal evasive means like a banana skin or shell held behind you. It can be dodged if you have the right item, such as a mushroom, and time it to perfection, but for the most part, if you're in first place, and someone lets a Blue Shell fly, you're going to get hit.
It is easy to label the Blue Shell as a cheap item, one that punishes the skilled driver who has managed to get to the front, simply because someone at the rear isn't as good, and gets lucky with an item box. But this is missing the point entirely. The Blue Shell isn't a cheap shot, it's a balancing mechanic that works very well. And the reason it works is because of what Mario Kart is all about. And it's about being an all-inclusive experience, one that is accessible to anyone. And the Blue Shell is an enabler to the that end in that it allows for people of different abilities to play together and successfully compete against each other. All Mario Kart items are aimed at leveling the playing field to keep things exciting and fun, and the Blue Shell is the epitome of that mantra. It's inclusions means last place doesn't mean it's over, and it means achieving first place suddenly means something more. And any one item that single-handedly does that deserves to top this list.
Sure the reveal yesterday of the Super Horn may provide race leaders with protection in Nintendo's latest installment, but given it's rarity, I still believe the Blue Shell item will remain the biggest game-changer on Wii U as well.
Over To You
Missed an item you love? Would you have put another item on top spot? Let us know in the comments section below people!