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The Mario Kart series has managed to separate itself from every other game out there and even set a trend thanks to the way the game utilizes items during the races. Well, for the first time in a long time, producer Shigeru Miyamoto explains exactly why they decided to use items in the game.
When we decided that we would be making Mario Kart as a racing game, I thought that we shouldn't make a normal car-racing game, but instead create something based around the fun of competing for position, using karts as the medium. It was a natural development that we would use items so that players who aren't as good could still have a chance to win, or that players who were behind could have something to give them a helping hand.
That makes a lot of sense.
In fact, the major ongoing and consistent element of every Mario Kart game since the old 16-bit days is that Nintendo has also been striving to keep the races interesting, even and entertaining.
I know a lot of people complain about how unfair some of the items are, it's the unpredictable nature of the items that make the races so intense. Some of the items are a bit over-the-top, though. Bullet Bill is a ridiculous item that basically moves someone from the very back of the pack to near the front. The blue turtle shell is one of the most -- if not the most -- devastating item in gaming, completely wiping out whoever is in first-place and anyone unlucky enough to be near them. For the longest the item went unchallenged in the world of Mario Kart racing, so there was literally no way to stop the blue turtle shell... if you were well out in the lead in first-place there was nothing you could do... nothing. Some people would slow down and attempt to move back into second place, but even then that didn't guarantee your safety.
For Mario Kart 8 they included more items to help players thwart some of the more debilitating ones. So it's basically been a game of check and balances over the years as Nintendo, and the rest of the Mario Kart designers add new items, and then balance them out to ensure that players have some way of defending against them. According to co-directors Hideki Konno and Tadashi Sugiyama, they mention that they partook in thousands of play-test in order to balance out each and every item in the game to ensure that everything was as fair as possible.
The items have become a staple feature in how people engage in Mario Kart, and it ensures that people who don't always know how to cut corners and drift to build turbo can at least attempt to catch up and possibly win. Nintendo also adopted a similar method with Super Smash Bros., where the items in the game help give less skilled players an opportunity to defeat the pros.
Now I'm curious what sort of new items they could possibly think up next for the next entry in the highly popular Mario Kart series?