Mario Kart has blessed the world for 25 years now. Since its first game released in 1992, Mario Kart has become immensely popular and helped make Mario the highest grossing video game franchise. There are 8 games now make up the Mario Kart franchise with a list of iconic items. Whether they appear throughout the franchise or only in a single game, these items make Mario Kart a chaotic but fun racing franchise that won’t be leaving the gaming world anytime soon.
Most of the items on this list are usable by all players, although your position in a race influences what items you receive. Some of the items below are Special Items from Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, a game where characters are split into pairs. Each pair has its own Special Item: Mario and Luigi unleash dangerous Fireballs while Peach and Daisy wield defensive Hearts.
This list covers items from the 8 Mario Kart games released on Nintendo consoles. We did not include the Arcade GP spin-off games. After all, not even Nintendo treats the Arcade GP games as real Mario Kart titles: if they did, Mario Kart 7 and 8 would be 9 and 11 respectively. With a massive number of bizarre items, the Arcade GP trilogy doesn’t fit into the Mario Kart universe.
Since Mario Kart revolves around victory and defeat, players love the best items in the franchise and hate the worst. After racing through 8 games with dozens of items at our disposal, we’ve determined these are the 10 best and 10 most useless items in Mario Kart.
20 Best: Mega Mushroom
The Mega Mushroom is one of the best power-ups in Super Mario, and it’s just as useful in Mario Kart. Once you’ve grown to enormous proportions with the Mega Mushroom, you can drive over any terrain, plow through almost any item, and crush your enemies. You drive much faster while slowing any players you hit, making the Mega Mushroom one of the most powerful items in the franchise.
A few items can still harm you: anyone using a Star or Bullet Bill will harm players with a Mega Mushroom and end the item’s effects. Lightning will shrink you back to regular size but will not harm you. Since so few items can affect you, you’ll likely make your way to first place with a Mega Mushroom.
19 Useless: Spiny Shell (aka Blue Shell)
While the Spiny Shell (known by fans as the Blue Shell) terrifies racers in first place, the item is absolutely useless for the people who use it. Only players in the middle or back of the pack receive Spiny Shells. Instead of helping you move forward, the Spiny Shell attacks a player far ahead of you. The front player is slightly hindered while you remain exactly where you were before.
The Spiny Shell is, fortunately, more useful in its first games, Mario Kart 64 and Mario Kart: Super Circuit. Instead of flying ahead to only hit the first-place player, the Spiny Shell rolls across the ground, hitting anybody in its path. Still, the Spiny Shell is unlikely to harm many players due to its small size.
18 Best: Giant Banana
Bananas would have made this list if we didn’t have the Giant Banana. As one of the most common items in the game, Bananas are wonderfully strategic weapons. Leading players try to find great places to put Bananas, and their followers avoid the Bananas. A fun challenge for all players, Bananas are great obstacles—but their size makes them far less effective than the Giant Banana.
The Giant Banana is exclusive to Double Dash!! as Donkey Kong’s and Diddy Kong’s Special Item. If you’re a defensive player who wants to stay in first place once you get there, you should play as the Kongs. In addition to taking up a large amount of space, the Giant Banana splits into three Bananas once hit. You could hinder up to four players with a single item.
17 Useless: Thunder Cloud
Few items are more disappointing than the Thunder Cloud. Successfully grabbing an Item Box is satisfying, and awaiting a new item is exciting — unless you end up with a Thunder Cloud. After a few seconds, the Thunder Cloud strikes its user with lightning and shrinks them. You can pass the Thunder Cloud to other players by hitting them, but other players know when someone with a Thunder Cloud is approaching them.
You use most items at your own pace, but the Thunder Cloud activates as soon as you pick it up. Even though you drive faster with the Thunder Cloud, you need to get rid of it as soon as possible. The Thunder Cloud wonderfully adds to the chaos that makes Mario Kart so fun, but players who receive a Thunder Cloud will probably fall behind.
16 Best: Golden Mushroom
The Golden Mushroom is one of the most thrilling items in Mario Kart. Once you activate the Golden Mushroom, you have infinite boosts for a short period of time. Whether you use those boosts strategically or as quickly as possible, the Golden Mushroom will launch you from the back of the pack to the front.
Appearing in almost every Mario Kart game, the Golden Mushroom is essential to the franchise and to any players who fall behind in a race. Only Toad and Toadette may use the Golden Mushroom in Double Dash!!, so you should play as the Toads if you want to move to the front quickly. Unfortunately, you can lose the Golden Mushroom in certain circumstances, so it isn’t quite as valuable as invincible items.
15 Useless: POW Block
The POW Block initially seemed useful. Targeting anyone in front of the user, the POW Block seemed like a more balanced version of Lightning. The POW Block only affects you if you’re on the ground, forcing players to strategically time jumps. Unfortunately, Nintendo included another escape from the POW Block —an escape that makes the POW Block almost completely useless. If you perform a wheelie at the right time, you’ll lose your items but continue moving as if nothing happened.
The POW Block could have been a powerful, interesting item, but it became useless when players figured out how to avoid it. Fortunately, the POW Block only appears in Mario Kart Wii as the game’s rarest item, so we don’t have to endure the item very often.
14 Best: Super Horn
When it comes to defense, the Super Horn is the greatest item in Mario Kart 8. The Super Horn unleashes a circle of sound that harms players and destroys items in range—including Spiny Shells! Few items defend players from Spiny Shells, and most of them are acquired at the rear of the pack. You can acquire the Super Horn in any position. The Super Horn is useful in all ranks but particularly in first place, where the Super Horn guarantees protection from all projectiles.
Nintendo perfectly balanced the Super Horn with a short duration. After a single, short blast, the Super Horn disappears. The Super Horn is extremely useful—but only if you use it at the right time.
13 Useless: Bob-omb
While the Bob-omb can be extremely useful, it’s extremely difficult to aim and can easily backfire. You may either drop the Bob-omb behind you or chuck it ahead. If the Bob-omb doesn’t touch anything, it’ll bounce for a second before blowing up; if it touches an item or enemy, the Bob-omb immediately explodes.
With precision and patience, you can harm multiple players at once. However, you may hit nothing with the Bob-omb, or you could accidentally hurt yourself. Since the Bob-omb blows up as soon as it touches something, you might be part of a “protective” explosion that blocks an item behind you. A misplaced throw will cause the Bob-omb to bounce back at you. If somebody knocks out your items, the Bob-omb ticks beside you and explodes before you can drive away. Though it occasionally helps, the Bob-omb is usually more harmful than helpful.
12 Best: Red Shell
The Red Shell may not seem powerful compared to the other entries on this list, but well-timed Red Shells are often the key to victory. When in the front of the pack, you usually only receive Bananas, Green Shells, or Red Shells, and Red Shells are the most powerful of the three items. If used offensively, Red Shells act as homing missiles that target the player in front of you. Though avoidable in some early games, Red Shells are lethally accurate in current Mario Kart games.
Red Shells also serve as a defensive shield, particularly when you get Triple Red Shells. They protect you but can be used offensively at any time, making Red Shells one of the most versatile weapons in the series.
11 Useless: Green Shell
While Red Shells always benefit you, Green Shells rarely help. Green Shells perfectly represent the chaos of Mario Kart: if they don’t hit the target you were aiming for, Green Shells bounce around the map until they hit something — including you. Although they disappear after a little while, Green Shells move so quickly that they usually end up hitting someone or falling off the map.
Like Red Shells, Green Shells are extremely common. They function well as shields but are pretty useless as offensive weapons. Only Triple Green Shells are somewhat effective; since Green Shells endlessly spin around you, you can destroy enemies by simply driving next to them. If you’re stuck with only one Green Shell, however, the item won’t do you much good.
10 Best: Piranha Plant
The Piranha Plant is brilliant. Once you’ve activated it, the Piranha Plant sits in front of your kart and eats any items or players close to you. Anytime the Piranha Plant eats something, your kart boosts forward. The Piranha Plant simultaneously protects you and launches you into the front ranks. If you’re lucky enough to get a Piranha Plant during a race, you’ll move ahead and destroy your competition along the way.
Introduced in the most recent game, Mario Kart 8, the Piranha Plant expands Mario Kart in a completely new direction. Mario Kart has always been designed to steer you away from items in the road; the Piranha Plant overthrows that formula, influencing players into hitting as many items as possible.
9 Useless: Blooper
While CPUs truly suffer from a Blooper’s blinding ink, players don’t even flinch. The Blooper only obscures part of your screen, so seeing the stage beyond the Blooper’s ink really isn’t that difficult. Experienced players have stages well-memorized, making the Blooper completely useless. New players may not be familiar with stages, but even they suffer little when attacked by a Blooper.
The Blooper debuted in Mario Kart DS and has appeared in every game since. While we appreciate the new approach, we can’t believe Nintendo’s kept the Blooper. Nintendo obviously believes the Blooper is a greater visual obstacle than it actually is. In order to make the Blooper a formidable item, its ink must cover most —if not all— of the screen.
8 Best: Bullet Bill
The Bullet Bill is one of the most useful —and overpowered— items in Mario Kart. Once activated, the Bullet Bill carries you down the center of the track at an incredible velocity. You move quickly, you’re invincible, and you don’t have to do anything: the Bullet Bill travels in one direction regardless of what buttons you press.
Many players dislike the Bullet Bill because of its effortlessness, but nobody can deny its usefulness. Only players at the back of the pack receive Bullet Bills, and they always appreciate its help. The Bullet Bill offers a nice counter to the Spiny Shell: while the Spiny Shell prevents fast players from getting too far ahead, the Bullet Bill keeps slow players from getting too far behind.
7 Useless: Chain Chomp
The Bullet Bill actually replaced the Chain Chomp, a similar item that only appeared in Double Dash!!. Although the Chain Chomp is much more exciting than the Bullet Bill, the Chain Chomp is far less helpful. Attached to your kart via a chain leash, the Chain Chomp rushes down the track’s middle and pulls you with it. Only Baby Mario and Baby Luigi can receive a Chain Chomp, and they can barely hold onto the massive monster.
Riding behind a Chain Chomp is extremely entertaining until the end. When you detach from the Chain Chomp, you have no idea where you’ll end up: the Chain Chomp launches you in a random direction and continues on its way. You’re as likely to land in the middle of the course as off the course. You’re also vulnerable to regular items while riding a Chain Chomp, so you may lose the item as soon as you use it.
6 Best: Boomerang Flower
Green Shells may move quickly, but they’re slow enough to miss your target. The Boomerang Flower, on the other hand, moves at an incredible speed. The Boomerang launches forward and curves back toward you, harming anyone it touches on the way. You may throw the Boomerang up to three times, giving you far more destructive power and precision than the Green Shell or even the Red Shell.
Because aiming works more often with the Boomerang Flower than with any other item in the series, the Boomerang Flower is one of the most strategic and satisfying Mario Kart items. The Boomerang Flower debuted in Mario Kart 8, and we hope it becomes a recurring (and consistently powerful) item in the franchise.
5 Useless: Fake Item Box
Though it’s become useless in recent games, the Fake Item Box is quite useful in its first game, Mario Kart 64. In the N64 game, the Fake Item Box is difficult to distinguish from regular Item Boxes — unless, of course, you have the courses and Item Box placements completely memorized. That’s what makes the Fake Item Boxes so much fun: in order to trick players, you have to place the Fake Item Boxes alongside real Item Boxes.
Unfortunately, the Fake Item Box has become increasingly worse since its debut in 1996. From Double Dash!! onward, Fake Item Boxes are a completely different color than Item Boxes. This interesting item quickly devolved into another obvious obstacle, making Fake Item Boxes more useless than they should be.
4 Best: Lightning
There’s no item quite as devastating and evilly satisfying as Lightning. Lightning shrinks every player except you, allowing you to drive by tiny enemies as they scream in cute, high-pitched voices. The Spiny Shell may enrage whoever’s in first place, but Lightning will ruin friendships across the board. Almost nobody can escape the wrath of Lightning — particularly if you decide to hit your small, vulnerable friends and knock them off the stage.
Only players in or near last place receive Lightning, so the item benefits slower players and keeps racers together. A lot of players dislike Lightning for slowing the pace of the game, but whoever uses Lightning will appreciate how instantaneously they’ll dominate a race they were previously losing.
3 Useless: Egg
As a homing missile, the Egg imitates the Red Shell but is far less useful. Eggs are much easier to dodge than Red Shells, and they break after a short amount of time (Red Shells only break when they hit an item or player). Nintendo tries to counter the Egg’s fragility with bonus items that pop out of the Egg. Like a piñata, the Egg releases random items when broken. Three items fall out of the Egg: each item could be either a Green Shell, Star, Fake Item Box, Banana, Mushroom, or Bob-omb. While the surprise is fun, the items usually act as obstacles that threaten the player who threw the Egg.
Players can only use Eggs in Double Dash!!, and we’re glad the Egg hasn’t appeared since then.
2 Best: Star
The Star is the best item in Mario Kart because it grants multiple benefits without any drawbacks. With invincibility, increased speed, and the ability to harm any player you touch, the Star gives you a few seconds of absolute power.
Other fast items like Piranha Plants and Golden Mushrooms leave you vulnerable, and invincible items like the Bullet Bill force you down a single path. The Star protects you while giving you complete control. Since Stars allow you to drive over any terrain at an increased speed, you can take all kinds of shortcuts. Experienced players are deadly with Stars; whether they’re hitting competitors or finding the best shortcuts, these players can dominate any race with a Star in hand.
1 Useless: Coin
Coins are wonderful additions to racetracks. By spreading Coins throughout stages, Nintendo rewards strategic drivers. Coins give you a tiny boost and increase your maximum speed—although you can’t have more than 10 Coins.
Since you find Coins throughout stages, there’s absolutely no reason for Nintendo to turn the Coin into an item. You gain two Coins when using the item, which does you little good — particularly if you’re already maxed out at 10 Coins. Even with two more Coins, your speed barely increases, and there are plentiful Coins to collect on the course.
Nintendo wisely avoided the Coin item after their first game, Super Mario Kart, but they mistakenly brought it back in Mario Kart 8. No matter what place you’re in, you’ll be disappointed when you get the Coin. Any other item would be much more useful.