Mario Kart turns 25: In defense of the Blue Shell
The only reason that people haven’t been arguing about the Spiny Shell a.k.a. the Blue Shell a.k.a. the great equalizer a.k.a. the friendship ruiner for the entire 25-year history of Mario Kart is because the most controversial item in gaming history debuted in the series’ second installment.
Since Mario Kart 64, there has been an ongoing debate. The Spiny Shell is a power-up only ever available to players outside of first, second, and third. Once thrown, it won’t stop until it hits the racer in first place. The latest iterations of the game have introduced ways for players in first to defend against the Blue Shell, but these evasive maneuvers require precise timing.
While the specifics of the item have changed from game to game — no doubt because of how powerful it can be — the general idea behind it and main complaint about it have both remained the same: Is the Blue Shell only a tool to be used by losing losers, who are just bitter because of how badly they suck? (ThisgameisunfairIquit.) Or is it an ingenious mechanic meant to keep races interesting?
The argument has raged on because of the highs and lows that come with the shell’s usage. It can blow a hard-earned, narrow lead, landing you in last place. Or it could be just the edge you need to come back from the bottom. There are compelling arguments on both sides, and opinions mostly shift with the holder’s current position in the race. When it really comes down to it, though, there is only one truth about the Blue Shell and its role in Mario Kart.
The Blue Shell is good because life is the Blue Shell.
Think about it. You’ve found yourself in first place. The way character speeds and power-ups work, it’s very possible for you to coast, unchallenged, to an easy victory. But why should that be? Because you caught a couple mushrooms in a row, and Waluigi loses the lead by missing a turn? The Blue Shell begs to differ.
Like life, Mario Kart is not a meritocracy. There are cheats and bad luck and freak accidents around every turn. What makes you the best is how you deal given those circumstances. If you want to win in the game of Mario Kart, you can’t just win once over the course of three laps. You need to continually bat back all the people in your way, the people gunning for you for the simple reason that you’re on top. That means picking yourself up after a Blue Shell.
And this is a great thing. The Blue Shell makes Mario Kart (which, I repeat, is the perfect metaphor for the human condition) a more exciting, exhilarating, and dramatic ride. It means that you can never get comfortable. You always keep pushing, because eventually the Blue Shell is coming for you. Will you be ready?
And if I’m being perfectly honest, it’s still kind of a dick move.