Monster of the Week: Lakitu

Lakitu brandishes a spiked ball from his floating cloud on high

This week’s post is not about spine-chilling terror or the existential monsters that live within us all. It’s about game mechanics.

Anyone who has played an unhealthy number of Nintendo games (like myself) will recognize this little bastard. Maybe you recognize Lakitu as “that jerk who says I’m going the wrong way in Mario Kart” or “the weird, fourth-wall breaking camera man in Super Mario 64.” But those roles didn’t put him in the hall of fame.

Let’s take it back to his debut.

This weird little guy is exactly what he looks like: some kind of turtle riding a cloud because, I don’t know, why the hell not? His first appearance was in Super Mario Bros., where he established his classic role of RAINING DEATH FROM ABOVE.

He looks pretty cheery in that picture, but don’t be fooled. He’s about to belt you with spike balls. And he’s smiling about it. 

What. A. Jerk.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the moment those spike balls hit the ground you’ll find out that they’re actually eggs. Eggs that hatch into baby… turtles…? Which also have spikes all over them.

So if Lakitu breezes his way onto your screen, here’s what you have to look forward to:

  • spike balls falling out of the sky
  • spiny turtles covering every inch of available ground
  • I don’t know, maybe that guy will even crash into you or something, what an asshole

If you’re playing as classic Mario with no power-ups, there’s nothing you can really do about the spike balls. You just have to dodge them. Now, there are a few power-ups that can help you out—you can knock them out with fireballs or eat them as Yoshi, because apparently dinosaurs love to eat spikes—but your real nemesis here is and always will be Lakitu.

Why?

Fighting this sucker is a classic case of risk and reward. The easiest way to deal with Lakitu is to just barrel through and try to avoid his attacks, but if you’re willing to tackle him head on? Whoa, man is the reward worth it.

Knocking out Lakitu won’t just stop the spiky hell raining down from the sky. For you see, young padawan… whoever kills Lakitu… BECOMES Lakitu.

Okay, not exactly, but you can get a taste of Grand Theft Auto: Mushroom Kingdom and nab that bastard’s cloud.

I’m not gonna lie, stealing Lakitu’s cloud and riding it around the sky is some of the best fun I’ve had in the Mario Bros. games. You have total control of where you’re going, unlike the flying cape available in some games. Often it can take you to secret areas or extra goodies that you couldn’t get any other way.

And, really? There’s nothing like the feeling you get when you break the system. Go ahead. Sail right over all those monsters. You don’t have to fight a single one. You don’t have a care in the world.

You’re riding a fucking cloud. That’s against the laws of physics! Who cares.

Not this guy.Wind_Cloud

The key thing is that Lakitu works as a game mechanic because he’s challenging, but defeating him yields a genuinely fun reward. He’s different from a lot of the other enemies—his attack is multifaceted, his movement is unusual—but not in a way that takes you out of the game. He’s just different enough to fit into the game and still be a breath of fresh air.

Any other Nintendo junkies in the back? Who’s your favorite enemy, and what makes them work in terms of game mechanics? Sound off in the comments!

Prompt: Pick a video game that you already know and like, one with an established set of mechanics. Now come up with an enemy that fits in with the game’s existing rules but stretches them enough to be new and interesting.

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