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Special Items Are Evil
Special items look nice, allowing funny things to happen, but are still evil and should be avoided for most part. The reason for this is that they make gameplay actually more monotone, not less. This is due to the fact that they are less predictable, making it hard for the level designer to design situations in which the special items will be actually useful instead of just toys. For example I can't design a way-blocking-puzzle for a fireflower, because the player might already have used up all fireflowers in the level or I can't design a challenging level if the player might still have a special item from a previous one rendering the level completely challenge-free.
This doesn't mean that there won't be special-items, but they should be limited to stuff that respawns and is only usable for a fixed section in the level, so that the level designer can much more specifically use them and build puzzles and levels around them, without having to worry if the player will have the item at all.