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Mario Kart Month: A Brief History Of Mario Kart Item Evolution: The Shell

Posted by Liam Doolan

When spiny blue shells grow wings

If you thought Donkey Kong’s banana-throwing antics were foul play out on the circuit, Koopa Troopa is probably worthy of mention as well – no doubt coming under fire from various animal rights groups for the exploitation of his own species. Although shells have been one of the many foundations of Mario Kart since the series’ beginnings, it’s hard not to question how turtles throwing turtle shells even became a thing in the first place. No doubt Nintendo itself drew inspiration from previous Mario platformers – but still, the whole concept of it all is just a wee bit alarming in the context of Mario Kart.

If that thought alone wasn’t disturbing enough, to further instil fear in racers the shell itself has always had quite an oppressive nature out on the track – being able to deny racers of success with a swift and sudden blow. It’s certainly one of, perhaps the most aggressive projectiles available in the Mario Kart series, disrupting the flow of individual racers or even the entire race. Quite simply, it makes the rules. Despite this, the shell’s evolution has unfolded in a very similar fashion to our previously discussed item – the banana – with a lot of ongoing tinkering to the intricacies of this absolute weapon over the years.

From the series’ beginnings, the 1992 entry Super Mario Kart featured a single shell firing system, which was then followed with Mario Kart 64’s triple shell combo. From there on out, Nintendo made subtle modifications to the item, with the fundamentals always remaining intact. One particularly interesting pathway taken was during the 2003 experimental phase with Mario Kart: Double Dash!!. Much like the Giant Banana, Bowser’s Shell was the first of its kind; intimidating, destructive and exclusive to a few select characters. These racers included Bowser, Bowser Jr. and, of course, King Boo and Petey Piranha. When thrown at the right time, Bowser’s Shell would leave a path of destruction, obliterating anything that got in its way with its sheer size. In many cases, Bowser’s Shell was completely immune to certain other items.

A less commonly known fact about Bowser’s Shell was its scheduled appearance in Mario Kart DS, in the game’s 2005 release. Although it never did make the final cut, the sprite for the shell is still hidden within the game’s files (pictured above). The item did however qualify for Namco’s Mario Kart Arcade GP 2. Interestingly, there was also an unused texture in the DS version of Mario Kart for a purple Koopa Shell. Its inclusion within the game’s files remains unknown, much like information regarding Bowser’s Shell and if it is modelled after his own, or actually one of his spares.

Refocusing on the harsher realities of the series, the slightly less glamorous Green Shell and Red Shell is where the whole turtle shell phenomena in Mario Kart all began. Whilst both shells deliver the same blow to rival racers, each has a considerably unique trait – with veterans often preferring to test their skills with the manual lock-on thrills of the green shell in preference to the auto-tracking predictabilities of the red one. Double Dash!! once again paved the way in terms of any serious differences when it came to this base item – depriving the majority of racers of the reliable shell trios. These items instead became exclusive to Koopa and Para Troopa (and Petey Piranha and King Boo on the side). In Double Dash!! the shells no longer rotated around karts, either. The characters instead balanced the items whilst dealing with the pressures of the race – although this was the same for other items.

In contrast, Mario Kart DS’s Wi-Fi mode completely removed the triple shell combo to enhance online stability and performance. In the 2001 Game Boy Advance title Mario Kart: Super Circuit, red shells also took on a slightly different nature for a short time, being able to be laid behind a player, acting as a sort of land-mine, and chasing after a kart passing by – including the user who had originally placed the shell.

This brings us to what is arguably the most iconic item within the Mario Kart series – the Spiny Shell (though commonly referred to as the Blue Shell). Call it what you want, it’ll still deliver the same devastating blow to each and every racer out on the track. For racers who have been muscled to the back of the pack, the blue shell is the perfect item to unleash hell on the often impressive competition. Whether it’s the speedy ground type, or the agile aerial version, the spiny shell goes down as one of – if not – the most feared items in the Mario Kart series. It might seem unfair for players in first, but if they are too often displaying super-natural qualities, the blue shell can be the ideal weapon to bring them back down to earth.

The spiny shell first popped up in item boxes during the Nintendo 64 iteration of Mario Kart, and had absolutely no issues swiftly navigating itself through each course seeking out its eventual victim. Later on in the Mario Kart series, not only did the spiny shell grow wings, but it also was gifted an explosive surrounding perimeter – a blue orb as such. The player targeted would be launched upwards when hit, whilst surrounding racers would spin out if caught in the blast zone. At key points during a race – or in particular, the dying seconds of a final lap – this item has always been able to deliver a devastating blow. It’s amazing how many times players of Mario Kart will tell you they’ve held first place for an entire race, only to be completely knocked out of it within seconds due to an explosive blue shell attack metres out from the line. As the spiny shell developed over the years, so have ways to counter it – with each entry in the Mario Kart series often including either a special manoeuvre, trick, or exploit allowing the player in first to avoid the bad blue shell.

Based on the recent Mario Kart 8 Direct, it appears Nintendo has put an end to the blue shell’s tyranny. Whether this is a good thing or not, we’ll soon find out, but it’ll be sad to know there is a chance of the player in first escaping the once seemingly unstoppable item. The item being referenced here is the Super Horn. It’s able to blow away “everything around you” with a powerful shockwave, according to Nintendo. This includes protection against shells, and even the infamous Spiny Shell. Much like past games, there’ll probably also be some other workaround, but for now, we’ll all just have to wait until the wider community gets its hands on Mario Kart 8.

And on that note, this brings us to the end of part two. The shell continues to be a significant part of the Mario Kart series to this very day, and it would honestly be hard to imagine the games without it. Even if the shell does originate from a bit of a weird concept – much like the beloved banana — it's become an integral part of the Mario Kart experience over the years, often highlighting why the series is so much fun. Join us next time for a full-throttle breakdown of the mushroom. So until then, in the words of Mario himself: See you next time!

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User Comments (35)

Whopper744

#2

Whopper744 said:

Interesting articles. Just adds to my hype.

By the way, does anyone else call the Spiny Shells, First Finders? I'm not sure why I have, but I've always called them that since Mario Kart 64 came out, and I believe many others I've played with since then have too.

brewsky

#3

brewsky said:

A well timed mushroom boost goes a long way, as in far, far away, from the Blue Shell's destructive power.

The Blue Shell was most unfair in DS and Wii, where it flies over everyone and only targets the person in 1st. I'm glad they changed it back to make it a bit more fair.

NintyMan

#4

NintyMan said:

Spiny shells don't bother me much unless I'm first and just a few feet away from the finish line. Otherwise, I'm typically so far ahead that I don't really lose that much ground and can still be in first, at least in computer races.

Normal red and green shells actually bother me more. The sporadic green shells are tricky to keep an eye on when they're bouncing all over the place like pinballs, and red shells when I don't have bananas or other shells behind me as protection make me loss quite a bit of ground in the middle of a race.

Xiao_Pai

#6

Xiao_Pai said:

According to reviews, it seems countering Blue Shells can still be a pain since 1st placers usually just get coins. :c

brewsky

#7

brewsky said:

@Mizore I think the idea is to get the Super Horn when you're close to last place, and then work your way to 1st with the item in hand. Destroying the blue shell is your reward for working so hard to get in first using no items.

Pit-Stain

#10

Pit-Stain said:

I wanted to skip this article, but I had to read it. Oh Blue Shell! Why'd thee always have to hit me!?

Rob_mc_1

#11

Rob_mc_1 said:

The blue shell on the n64 was more balanced and useful Since it traveled along the ground it could actually be stopped and disappear on some maps due to jumps. Also it would hit any player along the path.

As a person in 8th, I cant really see the use in hitting only the guy in first as it has no bearings on my current position but only serves to annoy the first place person. When you got it on the n64, when it hit any player along the way to first it actually was more useful to the guy in 8th since he was able to plow the road a head of him and actually gain a position instead of hoping for a more useful item next item box if he gets one.

camerica1618

#12

camerica1618 said:

While the blue shell definitely is extremely annoying when you're in first, I love being the one to get the item. It's so fun to unleash onto friends.

FritzFrapp

#15

FritzFrapp said:

A bit early for this article, isn't it? Would have expected it right at the end of Mario Kart Month just as we were going round the last corner in the lead.

GamerZack87

#16

GamerZack87 said:

Ah, Mario Kart...the one game series which lets you get away with wasting fresh food and clothing* in order to thwart your fellow racers.

(*=Koopa shells are removable, revealing an undershirt and boxer shorts underneath)

Intrepid

#17

Intrepid said:

I feel the same way as @Rob_mc_1 I just don't see how hitting the person in 1st is helpful to the person in last place. I pretty much consider it a waste of an item whenever I get one, as I could have gotten something else that would have been more immediately helpful to me.

PvtOttobot

#19

PvtOttobot said:

@Joshers744 Everyone has a different name, we called them 'first bombs'. I've heard: Blue shell, spiny shell, homing shell, first bomb, spiky shell and now 'first finder'. I think it was a neat touch to leave such an iconic item's naming to the players, shame it's commonly known as Spiny Shell now :(

Kaine_Morrison

#20

Kaine_Morrison said:

Blue Shells are a HUGE Pain-in the-Arse!
Mario Kart 64 had them and they hit everybody.
Mario Kart DS and Wii had them and they hit only the first player.
Mario Kart 7 has them and they only hit the first player, rarely do they hit anybody else.
The Blue Shell needs to lose the flying ability!
Red Shells also need to be able to go back to what they were on the older Systems where they follow you on a path but if you make a tight turn around a corner, they will hit the wall instead of following you no matter what.

Nintendo_Ninja

#22

Nintendo_Ninja said:

Am I the only one who loves how the blue shell on the ground in Mariokart 7? It makes it so much more useful.

Einherjar

#27

Einherjar said:

The blue shell turns a "race to the top and stay there" competition to a "race to the top and brak occasionally to stay at second place abd pray that youll be able to overtake at the last second" race, which is all kinds of annoying.

Sure, its extremely cool that the Mario Kart series gives you all kinds of chances to recover from the last positions, and that the races are never over before they are over. But frankly, im way past the point of lingering in the last places. For any slightly skilled player, these games have become more and more unfair. MK Wii was the iceberg that sank the boat for me. Its rubberband AI was so frustrating, that i never bothered to finish that game. Luckily, MK 7 was much more enjoyable though.
Lets hope that MK 8 further improves on the whole AI and ballance thing.

Mida

#28

Mida said:

Why not just remove blue shells altogether! They serve no purpose other than to piss off the only people that actually deserve the lead. Plus it has no impact on the user's current position anyways since they are so far back. If a person is winning because they were skillfully drift boosting and using tricks and shortcuts, then they deserve the win. Why punish the good players that are actually trying hard to get a fair win! If a person sucks at the game, they should lose! Not given god items that would make them get a bullpoopoodoodoocacapoopledoopledoggiepoop, unacceptable win and give them false hope that they are good at this game. So many times where victory was rewarded to noobs and the good players get blasted just a few feet from the finish line...

LavaTwilight

#29

LavaTwilight said:

My proudest moment (in Mario-karting) was in the MK:DD Bowser's Castle Mirror Mode. I was first, final lap, just jumped over the lava and began my ascent up the spiraling tower only to hear the dreaded sound of a blue spiny on my tail. I was done for. My enemies were approaching but I refused to give up. I was drifting up the tower and saw the shell approach. I released the turbo and accelerated out of the tower only to hear the blue shell crash into the barrier behind me. I have no idea how I survived but to this day my children are telling tales of this heroism to their children.

Seriously though I'm glad that it runs along the floor now. Makes it more exciting for other players!

Sandro89

#30

Sandro89 said:

@LavaTwilight Nintendo should bring back the Double Dash blue shell. It was the only one you could evade. At least if you were skilled enough. My proudest moment was dodging 2 blue shells in one race. My friends were pissed. Aaah good times...

Giygas_95

#31

Giygas_95 said:

@Pinemeowth I never seem to get them myself...but I've often been hit by them right at the finish line, and so has my dad when he plays. It's irritating to lead an entire race only to lose because of something that wasn't your fault.

Mida

#32

Mida said:

@Pinemeowth Getting punished for being actually good at the game is NOT FUN. Fun is having a good and fair game. Losing purely by a lucky item sure the HELL is not fair, not the other way around. If people don't want the other players to keep winning, they need to stop sucking and get better at it. Only skilled players will be able to understand this anyways... Casuals just think it's just fair because they will never understand how it feels

JoeBaker

#33

JoeBaker said:

Sometimes blue shells makes me so annoyed so i stop playing the game for a while! 0_o

Rawk_Hawk

#34

Rawk_Hawk said:

Blue shell in MK Wii was overkill. Not a bad item it just interrupted the race too much

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