Credits: Nintendo/IGDB

Why ‘Mario Kart’ should bring back special items

Every time Mario Kart 8 seems to be in a little bit of a lull, Nintendo find a way to revitalise it and get the excitement flowing. The game initially struggled to get traction because it was released on the Wii U, so Nintendo made a Deluxe version and made it a Switch best-seller. Then, as people were inquiring about a potential Mario Kart 9, Nintendo started releasing DLC for the game, and suddenly the anticipation was high again. The most recent wave brought us both Birdo and the return of Waluigi Stadium, both of which first featured in Double Dash!! on the GameCube – surprisingly, the 2003 game is back on the mind of fans of the series.

However, there’s one innovation that the game employed that I’d love to see return, and it’s not the double-driver mechanic – no, it’s the decision to give each character a special item. In the game, characters came in pairs, and both drivers in that pair had access to a special item that only they could use. If you were one of the Mario brothers, you might have the option to launch a row of fireballs, and Peach and Daisy could generate a heart shield that would absorb a few hits and actually catch the items thrown at them.

It would be the kind of mad-cap excitement that only Nintendo knows how to deliver

It was a fun gimmick, but one that never returned to the series. Why was this the case? Well, in part, some of the items were too good or too bad, leading to imbalance – it was pretty easy to ignore Donkey and Diddy Kong’s giant banana (which split into three bananas when hit), but being chased by the big Bowser shell or the babies’ Chain Chomp presented a different challenge. Like in the modern game, a good combination of kart, racer and special item could skew the race in your favour even before you crossed the starting line.

It’s also the case that a number of the items have actually been subsumed into the item roster, becoming essential items in their own right. The Golden Mushroom was once exclusively the purview of Toad and Toadette, but now any player who has fallen behind can access the item. Likewise, the Bob-omb and the Triple Shell were special items in Double Dash!!, but they’re now part of the general selection – I think it tells you all you need to know that some of these items are in every game, and some were put right in the bin.

Still, I’d love to see a return, but with some caveats. I think Mario Kart can be chaotic enough, and having twelve racers with their own special items in the fray would probably be a little too absurd. There are two ways to play it. If the items were to return in Mario Kart 9, the gameplay would likely be balanced around it, but the sensible approach would be to cluster the items in groups of characters. Double Dash!! gave items to pairs, but the roster is so much bigger now, you’d probably need some bigger groups – the Koopalings sharing a special item seems an obvious start, for example.

But what if they could make a return in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe? Adding them to the races is a bit much, but how about a mode featuring the special items? Imagine Bob-omb Battle, but Bowser shells or Yoshi eggs flying at you – it would be the kind of mad-cap excitement that only Nintendo knows how to deliver. And with twenty more years of games to play with, there’s more scope than ever for new, stranger items. No one knows where the franchise can go next, but maybe looking back to its past a little could point the way forward.


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