As fanfiction, Super Smash Bros. takes bits and pieces from many different Nintendo games and weaves them together into a uniquely chaotic patchwork. It remains faithful to its source material, but only to a point. Some of the most interesting stuff the newest Smash repurposed came from Mario Kart, of all places.
Mario Kart's presence is felt in the 3DS and Wii U versions of Super Smash Bros. in a number of ways—in a few different stages that play with the concept of hosting a melee match inside and on top of a racetrack pulled from the iconic kart racer.
And then there are the items. The game has standard fare from the Mario Kart inventory that works similarly to the way it does in Super Mario games: the green shell, super star, fire flower, boomerang, etc. The three items I find particularly fascinating in the new Smash are also uniquely idiosyncratic and controversial ones from Mario Kart: the lightning bolt, Bullet Bill, and, most notably, the blue shell.
None of these items are novelties. They've all appeared in countless Nintendo games over the years, and only one (the lightning bolt) debuted in Mario Kart. While the blue shell is new to this Smash generation, the other two have both been in previous installments—though bullet bills were strictly environmental hazards in Melee and Brawl.
Lore qualifications aside, I would argue that Mario Kart is the series that turned the three items into proper video game icons. Ok, maybe not bullet bill. That guy is perfectly recognizable as a stock enemy from many Mario platformers. But there's a reason Smash took the bill players know and love (and sometimes hate) from Mario Kart. Like the lightning bolt, he acts as a great equalizer in that game—giving stragglers a chance to catch up after they've fallen behind in a race by rocketing them forward at a breakneck pace a short period of time. That's a great dynamic to transport from a racing game to a fighting game—especially when both are idiosyncratic riffs on their respective genres.
The lightning bolt has a similar effect to bullet bill in Mario Kart 8, though it takes the opposite approach. Rather than speeding one racer up and making them invulnerable to environmental hazards, it zaps everyone else on the track. A lightning strike minimizes all of its victims temporarily, stripping them of their items and coins, and making them slower and more vulnerable to opponents' attacks. It's also impossible to avoid a lightning strike unless you're shielded with a super star.
Both of these items work fine as equalizers in Mario Kart 8. What makes them frustrating is that's all they do. There's no interesting way to counter a lightning strike. You just have to wait it out. The best you can do when a bullet bill is approaching? Try to get out of its way. They're both wild cards, and ones that are damn near impossible to trump. Dorkly hit the nail on the head when it said the lightning bolt ends up making the game "less fun for a few seconds at random intervals." And while bullet bill might be an effective way to gain some ground on your opponents, it's still "a confidence destroying confirmation that you were losing so badly [that] the game needed to pick you up and carry you to the rest of the players."
Smash reworks both items by introducing an element of danger to their use. This makes using them and trying to evade them an equally invigorating challenge. Bullet bill rockets you across a stage, sending anyone in your path flying. See here:
But there's a risk in doing so. It's hard to control the trajectory of the bullet, so you can easily shoot yourself straight to your own demise—especially on small stages. It's a perfect recipe for accidental self-destructions. Like Charizard's flare blitz, using it is always a gamble.
The lightning bolt, meanwhile, changes the power dynamic in a given Smash match at, erm, a daunting speed. Picking one up usually makes all your opponents tiny and very easy to boot off a stage. Usually. Sometimes, it has the exact opposite effect. When it does work as intended, though, the zap of a lightning strike means you have to start running away from whoever just activated it. Of, if you're that guy, race after the little buggers to try and catch them in time.
As for the blue shell? Mario Kart's "most hated item" is a tad more complicated. Similar to Kart, Smash's spiky shell acts as a homing missile. But it doesn't target the person in first place. When thrown, it hovers above a single target for a few uneasy moments before plunging downwards.
A direct hit from the blue shell can be devastating in Smash, especially when it's damage is amplified by other environmental effects. Lobbing a blue shell right after a lightning strike, for instance, is a surefire way to KO an unlucky friend. Of if you grab an opponent to make extra sure that it hits them, like I did here with Peach:
But it's hardly a game-changer like it is in Mario Kart. You can dodge the blue shell, and doing so is much easier than it is in any of the Kart games, which require masterfully precise timing and great deal of luck. All you have to do in Smash is jump or roll to the side at the right moment. Heck, you can even shuffle around to make the thing hit someone else instead—like I did here by accident thanks to Yoshi getting in the way:
(Sorry Yoshi. I'm not actually sorry.)
I haven't totally made up my mind about the blue shell's value in Mario Kart versus Super Smash Bros. On one hand, it totally sucks to get hit with one in Mario Kart. And it's annoying how it undermines any degree of skill one brings to the racetrack as a result.
But on the other hand...that's what makes it the blue shell! Mario Kart isn't supposedto be some dry racing game where everyone just barrels headfirst to the finish line. Unpredictability and chaos is what makes the game so special. And there's no better symbol for Mario Kart's wonderful erraticism than this spiky reminder that yes, sometimes, life really isn't fair. It's dispiriting, then, to see the single-most memorable item from Mario Kart be transformed into a standard ranged weapon in Smash Bros.
But on the other other hand, the blue shell only exists as a single item in the humongous jumble of Smash's panoply. It might seem unremarkable if you play a match with blue shells as the only items turned on. But if its one of many? Like many things in Smash, the blue shell works best when it's attack is amplified by any number of other factors: concurrent strikes, sudden changes in the environment, what have you.
The blue shell makes for a perfect extra dash of chaos. And since it's easy to use, it's quickly become one of those items that triggers a crazy dash-towards-the-item-before-anybody-else-gets it feeling I previously reserved for smash balls and hammers. Most importantly of all, however, is that the game continues to be fun even if you don't end up being the one who grabs it. Ending up in its sights adds a momentary challenge to the already shaky ground of any great Smash match. In Mario Kart, on the other hand, seeing a blue shell creep up on you usually just leads to you throwing your arms up in exasperation. Unless you have a boost or super horn handy. But how often does that actually happen?
Items don't get much attention from the Smash community, since they're left out of the competitive game entirely. Nintendo considers them so essential to Mario Kart, meanwhile, that the developers have repeatedly denied fans' requests to make a "no items" mode for that game. It will be interesting to see how the latter game will handle the blue shell going forward, now that the company has given it a surprisingly new life in the former.
At the very least, I hope that Mario Kart will take some inspiration from Smash Bros. items and consider how it might make being on the receiving end of a lightning strike or blue shell shot as much fun as it is to be the one giving it. Plus, who knows—there's always hope for a better battle mode in Mario Kart 8. Fingers crossed.