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You wouldn’t normally associate a mushroom with speed, but just look at Toad with his white and red polka dot head – he’s always zipping about. Clearly he’s got a need for speed after excessive use of the mighty mushroom out on the track. Actually, it’s hard to imagine what’s even under that toadstool of his. It’d be like asking Professor Layton to reveal what’s under his hat – you just don’t go there. Whatever does make the high-pitched Toad a speed demon out on the track – it works. Without digressing any further, and following on from shells, today we’ll be taking a look at the highs and lows of Mario Kart’s mushroom, including how the item has adapted to survive and fought to remain relevant out on the circuit. So without further ado, let’s get right to it.

Like various other items integral to the Mario Kart experience, the mushroom’s début was in the 1992 Super Nintendo original. At the beginnings of its life, the mushroom was a wild beast – completely untameable. This item wasn’t designed to be friendly. Back then, it was a rebel without a cause. An item best left to experienced racers, rather than the first timers still learning the ropes. Incorrect use of this and you’d find yourself up against a wall, in the drink, or flying off the edge of a course into oblivion. If timed well – out on the open road – this high powered item offered players an incredible boost. Believe it or not, but the original mushroom was actually less of an assist and more of a threat to the player, with a fine line between being in control, and out of control.

Super Mario Kart Poison Mushroom

This wasn’t the only threatening shroom in Super Mario Kart though. It’s easy to forget nowadays, but the Poison Mushroom also made a cameo appearance in the game as an item exclusive to the CPU controlled drivers, Toad and Princess Peach. The Poison Mushroom was able to shrink racers – slowing movement, and making them more vulnerable to karts in the surrounding areas, with a risk of being squashed. One less known fact is the ability for players to return to their normal size with the assistance of a second Poison Mushroom. The same applies if a player has been struck by a Thunderbolt. In the 2005 game Mario Kart Arcade GP, and the 2007 sequel Mario Kart Arcade GP 2, the Poison Mushroom reappeared as one of Toad’s special items. The item had the same properties as the Super Nintendo original, although it was now able to be thrown either in front or behind, with a chance of a landing a direct blow on rival racers.

Mario Kart Aracde Poison Mushroom

The mushroom’s involvement with the arcade series didn’t end there, either. In the 2013 release, Mario Kart Arcade GP DX, the Mini Mushroom was added to the item roster. The oddly blue-coloured mushroom is borrowed from the New Super Mario Bros. series, and originally made its début in the 2002 game Mario Party 4; it can be shot forward in a similar fashion to a turtle shell, but with the added assistance of a crosshair. The item has essentially the same effect as the Poison Mushroom but with more control. The arcade series has also seen the introduction of many other mushroom themed items such as the Toad Hammer, the Invisible Mushroom, the Metal Mushroom, the Slimy Mushroom, the Heavy Mushroom, the Invincible Mushroom – and weirder sounding ones like Mushroom Paper and Powder – a lot of them replicating existing items.

As the main Mario Kart series progressed over time, so did Mario's favourite power-up. Mario Kart 64 in 1996 managed to tame the beast, harnessing the true power of the item. Players now also had the chance to score a single, Triple Mushroom combo, or Golden Mushroom. All three items have been a part of the series since, with a few interesting facts here and there – particularly in regards to the Golden Mushroom. The item started out in Mario Kart 64, and then appeared as the one-time exclusive “Super Mushroom” (with a gold crown and jewel crest to boot) in the 2003 game Mario Kart: Double Dash!! for the characters Toad and Toadette (and Petey and King Boo). By the time Mario Kart Wii was released in 2008, Nintendo even had themed trading cards encouraging players to cut corners with the impact item:

Golden Mushrooms generally show up in the Item Windows of racers near the back of the pack. It's an awesome tool for those unfortunate enough to be in that position as they can use it to catch up to those in front. Unlike other Mushrooms, however, you can tap the Item Button as many times as you'd like to maximize your boost. Be sure to cut corners where possible with this item.

Golden Mushroom - GBA Unused

Although the Golden Mushroom successfully made it into the majority of Mario Kart games, including the latest entry, Mario Kart 8, it fell short of inclusion in the original 2001 handheld entry, Mario Kart: Super Circuit. The Golden Mushroom was meant to carry across from the Nintendo 64 version, but was reportedly unable to be completed in time for the game’s release. The item can however be accessed with a GameShark and the respective code.

Mega Mushroom EDIT

Following the success of the Golden Mushroom, Mario Kart Wii in 2008 introduced the Mega Mushroom. Drawing inspiration from the New Super Mario Bros. series — theme music and all — Nintendo threw the retro-coloured shroom into the latest batch of item boxes to see how it would fare. When activated, the item increased the size of the player, giving them an added speed boost and invincibility to all items minus the Star, Bullet Bill, Blooper, and items already on the course. If the player was hit by a Thunderbolt while this item was in use, they would be shrunk back to their regular size. Mario Kart isn’t the weirdest place this mushroom has been spotted either, the Mega Mushroom also makes an exclusive appearance in the Wii U version of Tekken Tag Tournament 2.

Of course, Battle Mode added a whole other dimension to the mushroom. In Double Dash, players were able to boost into their rivals with mushrooms and steal their items, or make the player drop them. If a player was hit whilst holding the Triple Mushroom, they would drop two mushrooms and keep one. Later on in the series, Nintendo allowed players to use the mushroom to steal coins and balloons in battle mode – a tactic which became considerably popular as a recovery method. Time Trial is arguably the big stage for the mushroom. Without mushrooms in this mode, who knows if it would still be around? The inclusion of the mushroom in Time Trial is yet another defining feature of the Mario Kart series. With the ability to cheat entire sections of a track, or add some extra speed to an already perfect three lap session, the raw power of the mushroom really shines through here.

At the end of the day, the mushroom is the item you’ll never say no to. It’s not doom and gloom like the shell, or even the banana peel, there’s just something about the mushroom that can put a smile across your face like no other. It’s for those couple of seconds you feel invincible, soaring past rival racers to the front the pack; on that note, this brings us to the end of the evolution of the mushroom within the Mario Kart series. In the final part we’ll be focusing a mixture of items including the forgotten, the reinvented, and even a few well-known heroes fans all know and love. Until then, in the words of Mario himself: See you next time!