I know what you’re saying. “All of Mario’s power-ups are necessary and awesome, and there’s no way you could possibly whittle away such goodness to come up with a top 10 Mario power-ups list.”
To which I would reply nay, you are incorrect — there are certainly many, many useless and easily forgettable power-ups, and truly there are ten amazing ones that deserve a list.
That list, my friends, is as follows — from least amazing to most amazing:
10. Metal Cap (the Green block)
This one’s on here more for the look, sound and feel it gave to Mario and Super Mario 64 than anything else. It made Mario heavier and therefore more maneuverable underwater, which was cool, but out of water things slowed down and became kind of annoying. The t1000 shine was awesome for the system it was on, and the metal footfalls sounded like a massive armored knight coming to tear off your head. Plus, it makes fights in SSBB all the more frustrating. That’s good enough for the bottom spot in my book.
9. Mega Mushroom
Go big or go home Mario. This mushroom gave our hero big ups, and allowed him to basically run through entire levels (pipes, blocks, enemies, you name it), and accumulate points that turned into 1-ups. Pretty nifty. It showed up occasionally in New Super Mario Bros., and was a welcome escape from the hard to control blue shell and the next to worthless mini mushroom. Plus New Super Mario Bros. as a whole was one of the games to demonstrate that the DS had the audience and innovation to become the incredible system it is today.
8. Mario Plane/Submarine
Staples from another era in gaming. An era of newfound portability and monochrome graphics. An era when the Game Boy was king (wait, it still is) and Super Mario Land was a completely new, completely foreign land for millions of gamers around the world. These power ups were given to you, not earned, making them more akin to the FLUDD pack than a mushroom, but they were far cooler. Since they are basically the same play mechanic, but with different levels as backdrops, I included them both. They allow you to move freely around the entire screen for forced scrolling levels, a la Life Force or some other shmup, firing missiles, bullets, torpedoes or whatever it was you pretended they were since the Game Boy’s graphics were, well, what they were.
7. Fire Flower
In Mario’s world, flowers equal heat. Makes perfect sense, right? Actually, if you criticize a Mario game for making sense please check yourself out of video game town immediately.Â These games were never about real world physics, crossing the Uncanny Valley or mapping 100 commands to 100 buttons. Instead, they were all about grabbing hot tamale floral arrangements and tossing some serious fire balls at talking turtles and walking, angry looking mushroom men. Again, we could revisit the psychedelic drug reference here and wonder what Miyamoto was thinking, but what’s the point? Fire flower = fun, fiery death for your enemies.
6. The Super Mushroom
I don’t know what kinds of psychosomatic drugs Shigeru Miyamoto was on when he invented Super Mario Bros. back in the 1980s, and frankly I don’t care. In addition to creating one of the most beloved video game franchises — and characters — of all time, he also invented a power up, in the form of a yellow and red mushroom, that made an Italian plumber grow to double his size. Does Mario really grow when he eats a Super Mushroom, or is it really an acid trip? We’ll never know for sure, but what we do know is getting hit by an enemy whilst big knocks you down a peg and kills whatever buzz you were riding. The Super Mushroom is definitively worthy of this list and this position because it is the base from which all other power-ups have sprung. To keep this list varied and diverse, this is one of only two mushrooms that made it! Yep, that means the Poison Mushroom, Mini Mushroom, 1-up shroom, SMB2 alternate universe mushroom, etc., have all been cut! Maybe next year!
5. The Red Shell
The red shell from the Mario Kart series is like winning the lottery. When people win the lottery who aren’t you, you hate them. You talk about them and how much they suck, how stupid they look, and how foolish you “just know” they are going to be with their money. You despise them. You tell everyone you know that wealth isn’t important and you don’t need the lottery. Then you win the lotto and you become a hypocritical douche bag. Sorry, that’s science, and it’s also what happens with the red shell (or the rotating shield of three red shells). In Mario Kart, a red shell can give a win to anyone. Unskilled noobs can save one and fire it at the last second, spoiling a record breaking win for a seasoned, snaking expert. There’s almost no escaping a well timed red shell attack, and only a sharp right angle heavy stage like Bowser’s Castle can save you. You hate the red shell when you don’t have it, and you conveniently forget all those nasty things you said about the person who DID have it once you secure one for yourself. It’s ok, that’s the nature of the red shell. Embrace it.
4. Kuribo’s Shoe
Mario has received very few mechanical or extra-body power-ups in his travels throughout the Mushroom Kingdom and beyond, but the ones he has managed to slip into have been memorable, to say the least. Like a big, wind-up shoe that he steals from hapless Goombas in Super Mario Bros. 3. The shoe grants Mario a weird kind of invincibility: you can walk on piranha plants and enemies to your heart’s content, but don’t walk into them — you’ll lose your shoes and my respect. The Shoe also makes this list because it’s only available in one stage in one Mario game. Very rare. It’s the Shivan Dragon of Mario games! (if you got that reference, I feel for you…) The other power-up in this category is the FLUDD pack, but that blows and we shall never speak of it again.
3. The Tanooki Suit, Frog Suit, Hammer Bros. Suit
Ugh. Three great suits from the greatest platform game ever conceived by man (that is, if you consider Shiggy to be a mortal man). I was leaning towards the Tanooki Suit for its out of the blue “turns you into a frickin’ invincible statue” goodness, but then my eyes wandered to the uncanny frog suit, which can turn a water stage into a cakewalk. And then, SMACK, a hammer hits my head and the klepto in me starts yearning for a Hammer Bros. special powers. In the end, no suit stood out to me, so they all get it. Sure, the frog suit sucks on dry land and the Tanooki suit’s statue power is largely worthless given the slow speeds of your enemies, but they’re still both pretty rare, ingenious and wildly out of place in a game where you control a mustachioed high jumping plumber. Wait, did I say out of place? I meant perfectly in tune.
2. The Donkey Kong Hammer
KICK. ASS. With the advent of Smash Bros., this power-up started to transcend time. First featured in Donkey Kong as a way to bust rolling barrels, this sucker now populates game of the year contender Super Smash Bros. Brawl (and previous games in the series) as a way to launch some serious butt across the screen and into oblivion. Not only that, but the iconic DK music from yesteryear begins anew when you pick this puppy up and doesn’t stop until you’ve sent every opponent off the screen to their doom. Or get your attack countered by a tricky dicky Smash Bros. pro opponent. In that case watch out.
1. Cape Feather
I think this may be where I branch off from the mainstream. I believe the Cape Feather is the greatest of all the “flying power ups” provided to Mario throughout the years. That’s right; it’s better than the Raccoon Leaf (SMB3), the Flying Cap (Mario 64) and event the quirky Bee or Boo Suits (Galaxy). Sure, the Leaf came first, and granted Mario short spurts of flight thanks to the raccoon tail that sprouted from his overall covered ass, but the cape is a frickin’ cape. Bright yellow and unforgiving, the Feather Cape could attack enemies, allow Mario to float to safety, spin attack and, of course, fly. However, once airborne, the cape could become inflated with air currents, and Mario was able to skip entire stages if the player controlling him was skillful enough. As a bonus, really skilled players could change direction mid air and keep their capes inflated. It was good for collecting missed mid-air coinage and revisiting missed pipes or secret keys.
So, why is the feather the numero uno on my list? It’s a variety of factors. One is timing. Super Mario World launched at a time in my life when I was entering my early, early teens and my young malleable mind was ready to soak up video games like a sponge. Two, I don’t read instruction books, so stomping on that flying Koopa with the flashing cape was a complete and awesome surprise. Taking to flight with Mario was done in SM3, sure, but with the feather is was smoother, faster and better to look at. That, combined with all the new ground that SMW broke gives the feather the top spot in my book. It is the perfect power up for a perfect platformer. Plus, there’s Yoshi.
What’s your favorite Mario power-up? Do share in the comments.