Shell Shocked in the Mushroom Kingdom

A sad tale of victory from Mario Kart Wii

The battle had raged on for what seemed like an eternity but the most epic race of my life was nearing an end — and i was going to loose. It had been three exhausting laps of hair pins turns and he bested me at every one. I kept my pace and matched up with him at times but I had to accept it, I was beat and I couldn’t care less because this race was the best gaming experience I had had in years. But just as I came to this realization, from the back of the ranks a spiked blue turtle shell flew above my head, it’s path set straight for my worthy opponent who was about to claim his well deserved spot in first place. The shell crashed on his head and his little cart flew in the air as if in slow motion… it was my opening. I unleashed a burst of speed from a power slide I had been working into and drove right past him… I won… but I didn’t feel like I deserved it. My win had been tainted by a horrible problem which effects gamers across the world, I call it the “Blue Shell of Doom” — original right?

Dramatics aside you’ve probably already guessed by now that I am talking about Mario Kart Wii, or more importantly a fatal flaw in an otherwise excellent game. As many of you who have played Mario Kart on Wii have noticed, the game has an omnipresent handicap system which gives powerful items to racers in the lower ranks of the race. It makes sense for the most part, help a less skilled player keep pace with veterans, but when the handicap decides the winner of the race based on pure luck as opposed to overall skill… then we have a problem.

The issue arises when these handicaps no longer benefit the racer in the back of the pack but rather they simply become an annoyance for those who are fighting for 1st through 3rd place. Case in point, the offender in my very true story above, the Blue Koopa Shell. The most likely racer to get the Blue Koopa shell is typically the person in last place (in most cases 12th place) however, if this person truly is playing against racers of a much higher skill level than themselves than an item which will only effect 1st place when they are in 12th and too far behind for it to help them catch up, is pointless. But lets remember the Blue shell has been a staple of the Mario kart series since the Nintendo 64 version and it never proved to be an annoyance before. As a matter of fact, the Blue shell had a lot to do with the fun me and my friends had playing Mario Kart 64 back in the day… but that’s because it was a rarity to ever see one.

Aside from those that chose to be that guy — and you know who you are, who always blasted off the ramp in Koopa Troopa beach to get a guaranteed blue shell, hardly anybody ever got to use a blue shell in the course of a regular race in Mario Kart 64. That’s because the blue shell was an X-factor, something you lucked out in getting when you were in second or third place fighting hard for first. Now, the blue shell is probably the most common item a front runner can expect to be pummeled with moments after pressing their way into first.
Now, I know some of you at this point may be thinking, “well the blue shell helped you win the race so why are you bitching,” and you’re right, I did benefit from this handicap — once; but it made my win feel cheap, I didn’t think I deserved it and I imagine my opponent who had bested me in skill was quite upset that he lost because of it. But, it has also been a source of frustration for me. In the course of one race on DK Jungle Parkway I was hit with no less than 3 blue shells while in first place. 3 blue shells was about as many as I saw randomly appear in a week of playing Mario Kart 64, so why does Nintendo feel it needs to be so present in the race now?

Situations likes this have already, in the span of a few days, caused me to throw my controller on my bed in frustration and damn the game — never to play it again. But, because the core game is so good I find myself back and playing 20 minutes later anyway, only to be made frustrated again and then finally decide to instead start playing some time trials since GP’s and online races both have this issue.

Now, to be fair, you can beat a Blue shell by using a mushroom boost right before the shell lands on you. This, aside from launching of a ramp that takes over your kart (like on DK Jungle Parkway or Maple Treeway) is the only effective way of dodging a Blue shell. The only problem is that you need a mushroom to do it, and due to the item handicap, getting a mushroom while in first, and even second place is very rare.

I think for future entries in the Kart series Nintendo needs to realize something, in Mario Kart there is and always has been a race for the bottom and middle positions — especially in an online mode. Not everybody is a 1st place or even second place contender in every race and there is nothing wrong with that. Casual gamers will get there lucky break every now and then; but winning is not necessarily going to be in the cards for everybody so the best thing they can do is level the playing field in the back of the ranks. In other words, Nintendo should get rid of the Blue shell, not entirely, but at least in the form it is in now. Racers in the back would benefit much more by being able to make a difference in the race they are involved in, a race to make it into 4th place so they can rank. By providing these racers with more red and green shells, stars and bombs, they will be able to fight for the positions they have a legitimate chance at winning, not just ruin the chances of the person fighting to stay in first place.

Another great example of how this is sapping the fun out of Kart is the strategies racers have formed online
in order to avoid the issue. For instance, if I don’t want to become the victim of a blue shell I will actually avoid first place… seems like an odd strategy to have to resort to in a racing game but it makes it so I am less likely to fall victim to the Blue shell of doom. Often I will hang as close to first place as possible but I will save items for later in the race so I can basically rob first place from the person in front of me… I feel so cheap doing it but it is effective — if not a legal way of cheating. But I’m not the only offender of these types of shady strategies, as a matter of fact I feel what I was doing was perfectly fair compared to what I saw two players pull off during my first few days with the game.

You see MK Wii allows for you to have a guest playing on the same Wii system with you, while that guest is playing they are not ranked, meaning they do not accumulate points for winning or loosing. Now, on occasions, what will happen is the guest player will remain in last place — simply going fast enough to keep up with the crowd. Naturally, as mentioned before, since they are in last place they have the highest chance of getting the Blue shell. Meanwhile, the ranked player on the same console may be having a tough fight for first, popping in and out of second with another player. When the two front runners are nearing the end of the course if the ranked player, with whom the guest is associated with, is not in first than the guest player will unleash the blue shell ruining the opposing racers chances of taking first. I call this move the “Back of the Pack shell Hack” (Yay! I can rhyme) and it really is something that needs to be dealt with.

I am not in any way making these complaints to deter someone from buying or playing Mario Kart Wii, because aside from this flaw and some funky AI issues in 150cc GP’s the game is excellent and a whole lot of fun. The online mode is incredible and really shows that Nintendo has a legitimate online strategy, they just have to put their minds to it. I do however, want to make this issue known because it seems to have only gotten worse with each entry in the series since MK 64 and its starting to ruin the fun.
As for my unfortunate opponent from that day, I just want to assure you that
if your reading this, though my Koopa Troopa was waving his arms in the air with glee during that victory lap, I was crying on the inside for you…. no really.


3 Responses to “Shell Shocked in the Mushroom Kingdom”

  1. I couldnt agree more, ruining the game for me. I am regularly 1st place for the entire 3 laps only to be hit with a barrage of blue shells (7 in 1 race) only to end up 12th. How can nitendo justify that? Maybe if it was a one off? Problem is it’s not, in fact it happens to me more often than not.

  2. gamewhisperer Says:

    Same problem here PK, That’s actually why I’m glad the tournaments are based on time trials and not your place in a race, it gives racers who get cheated into loosing by this handicap a chance to show their real skill.

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