Mario Kart embraces blue shell anarchy with latest update

By Neil Merrett

Regardless of personal preference about the best or worst weapons in Mario kart. The series has long established rules in balancing the distribution of its weapons to ensure an ordered chaos in races.  These rules have been thrown up into the air however, with a new update letting a player fully customise what weapons may be provided in a race.  What then does it mean in a race where blue shells are ubiquitous and first place becomes a form of unrelenting penance?

It is commonly accepted wisdom that the use of weapons in the Mario Kart series – particularly in the more modern iteration of the games – is a way of ensuring order through chaos.

This has been the case whether battling friends and computer-controlled players, or indulging in online racing.

Mario Kart’s decades-long evolution of its menagerie of weapons is very rarely a respecter of a particular player’s skills or their win record.

A characteristic or uncharacteristic perfect lap on a course could still ultimately see a player having their hard work undone in seconds by having a series of weapons unleashed on them as punishment for taking such a lead.

This is not to say that Mario Kart’s weapons serve as purely a means of ensuring unpredictability during races by seeming random blind luck into the equation.

The series’ lasting appeal is arguably built out of the fact that, along with learning how to perfectly power slide or take corners at high speed, there can also be a real skill to using a weapon in a perfectly timed offensive. 

Even considering the pinnacle of human achievements and joys, does anything feel quite feel as spitefully magnificent as destroying an opponent’s first place spot by hurling a banana skin directly onto their character?

As Squareblind has previously noted, all these weapons are not just about player enjoyment, they also serve as a form of ‘rubber banding’ where lower placed racers will be given a much greater chance of getting higher power weapons from item boxes compared to players in the top three positions.

The most obvious and brutally effective of these items is the blue shell that seeks out the race leader and is almost unstoppable unless for a player making use of the somewhat rare ‘Super Horn’.

Nicknames given to the blue shell from Mario Kart fandom has seemingly included the “blue justice” or “the great equaliser”.

It is an infuriating invention that also offers a brilliant bit of game design built around giving an imperfect sense of chaotic order to a race.

For several iterations of Mario Kart, this has been the primary purpose for weapons in the game.

A trip down ‘Shaft-esbury Avenue’

It is fair to say that this rubber banding is not a perfect system and is, in many ways, almost entirely unjust.  Too often in some games, particularly online matches, the algorithm means that players lagging behind get more powerful weapons that are often unleashed directly on players in the middle positions that have had a consistent if unspectacular race. 

While a sixth place racer may be within sight of the leader, they will often be the ones baring the brunt of players sat far behind them than a race leader.

This middling position also gives them a more limited set of items that are less likely to be as effective against top place racers.

This sometimes-cruel form of limbo, which for the purpose of this piece shall be identified as ‘Shaftesbury Avenue’, means that a player can feel as if they are in an almost impossible position as they are brutally set upon by powered up opponents that want to climb to as high a position as possible by any means necessary.

It may not feel fair, and certainly isn’t just, but this is the way of Mario Kart, take it or leave it.

However, after years of Nintendo imposing its will on us, players opting to play Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Switch console this week might be shocked to find the option to introduce complete and utter anarchy into certain race modes played with friends in a living room or online.

While it has been possible in these races to set a preference for certain types of weapons more than others, the latest update to the Mario Kart series includes total customisation for players.

It is now possible to select the exact weapons a group of players may want in the game. This includes the option to solely ensure that every single item picked up from the first to last place racer is the blue shell.

To race through both new and well-established courses in such a mode creates an entirely new form of chaotic race. One where the player must strive avoid taking the lead wherever possible, perhaps even to the very last seconds of a race unless they wish to face near certain assault from every other player.

For some, the option to allow only blue shells in a race will be an amusing novelty that makes the core principles of fast paced Mario Kart races almost unplayable.

Others may love the psycho drama of players striving to avoid taking the leader position for almost the entirety of a race before hoping to sneak into a lead at the perfect last moment.   

To take the lead in this mode is almost penance. 

To put your head above the parapet in a total blue shell race is to invite destruction and doom onto a player. At least, this is the case for a few seconds until the next reckless idiot blasts their way into first place and finds themselves in the crossfires of nearly a dozen players.

Some games writers have this week welcomed the custom item option alongside the release of eight remastered or new tracks provided as DLC.

Ed Nightingale at Eurogamer noted that Mario Kart had finally followed other competitive Nintendo series such as Super Smash Bros by letting players set out very specific rules and restrictions on what items are, or are not acceptable.

He said: “That means blue shells are out, if you want to remove their cheapness. Or maybe you want to embrace them and select only blue shells, turning races into pot luck. Further still, you could remove items altogether and turn Mario Kart into a pure racer for a completely different (if arguably less fun) experience. More than double racers or anti-gravity courses, the custom items option has the potential to drastically change the game – for better or for worse. It’s up to you.”

As the original Super Mario Kart game turned 30 this year, it is good to see the archetypal karting game series has still got new tricks to mix things up.


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