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“The Blue Shell and the Party Element” – Sakurai’s Famitsu Column Vol. 538

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In the Mario Kart series, there is an item called the Blue Shell. Everyone likes this item, right? Or maybe they don’t.

As someone who plays games, I’m honestly not a big fan of the Blue Shell. However, for the type of game Mario Kart is, it’s an essential item, so I accept it. If that’s the way it has to be, then I guess it’s fine.

The Blue Shell is an item that players who are trailing behind can obtain. During a race, it automatically tracks down the driver in first place and is pretty much a guaranteed hit on them. Your options are pretty limited when it comes to avoiding one so once you’re targeted, you’re in a tight spot. There isn’t much you can do about it.

Having the Blue Shell used against you takes away some of the significance of reaching first place. It might even be better to hang back in second place until getting close to the finish line. One top of that, the item doesn’t even require any effort or skill to use. Just press a button and unleash an unavoidable weapon on the leader of the pack.

I think this item is a good representation of the party game nature of Mario Kart though.

The racing genre is one that inherently has a severe skill gap. Rather than rewarding players for performing well, it’s better described as penalizing players for making mistakes.

In a serious racing game, where there aren’t handicaps based on position, if the car in front of you isn’t making a mistake then there isn’t a way to close the gap. Once you get beyond the intermediate skill level, if players aren’t making mistakes, it starts to look like drivers are going across a tightrope on the same line.

This type of play is well suited for time attack modes, but I don’t think it fits well in head to head competition. Players don’t really have to adjust their strategies or techniques based on what position they’re in.

On the development side, the vehicles could be enhanced to make climbing out of lower positions easier, but simply doing that isn’t adequate. Increasing the speed could even have the reverse effect and cause the player to make more mistakes.

Mario Kart’s solution is to give players further back preferential treatment with items. In other words, tripping up the players in front! The Blue Shell plays an important part in that.

These items aren’t aimed at players looking to test their true abilities against each other in a heated competition. But for a game like Mario Kart, I think the items play a big role in enhancing the party game factor.

Momotaro Dentetsu is a great example of a party game. It’s a game where bad things unexpectedly happen to players. However, this does serve a purpose. For example, when one of the four players meets a terrible fate, it becomes more fun for the other three. So when it happens to you, will you grin and bear it?

When I’m playing games with small children or beginners, I tend to go easy on them. There’s nothing better than others getting to have fun too. I want everyone to have fun winning and losing. The best part is sharing what’s great about games.

That doesn’t really apply to online games though, does it? It’s not really important to take it easy on people you don’t know. Games that are meant to truly test players’ abilities against each other in competition tend to be fairer. But, there is something to be said for the element of chance though, and the maniacal laughter it can cause.

I think it’s important to have games where players that aren’t at the same skill level can still compete with each other.

  1. I’d argue that only the grounded version of the Blue Shell serves its intended purpose. The winged Blue Shell is given to players in the lower half of the rankings, and will exclusively target the leader, which really only benefits those near the leader rather than the user. The grounded version, however, remains on the track and will hit anyone who happens to be in its way as it goes towards the leader, which can allow the user to advance in rank. I’m not sure why they ever gave the Blue Shell wings, since it defeats its purpose of helping the user.

    Nintendrone on November 19 |
    • Historically the grounded blue shell has been known to be avoided. As far as I know the airborne variant is unavoidable. I agree with your assessment, however. If there was a way to make the grounded version magnetic and invincible until it hits 1st place, actively tracking any vehicle it comes near on its way to the front, I’d think that would be better than one that flies above the track in super speed landing on the 1st place player.

      Sylar on November 20 |
  2. the official name is spiny shell

    It’s an interesting piece of thought, however.

    Superstarxalien on November 19 |