It’s been awhile since I’ve done a video game post. In the spirit of the season, being Halloween, I decided to dive into…Mario power-ups? All right, hear me out. I’ve more or less exhausted The Misfits and everyone and their mother will have posts this month about horror themed movies, games, and TV shows. And what is a Mario power-up? It’s a costume! Sure, a costume with often magical properties and no real horror element, but a costume is a costume and not everyone gets dressed up as something spooky for Halloween.
Since the Mario franchise as we know it truly launched, power-ups have almost always been a major feature in the games that followed. The only outlier really is Super Mario Sunshine since the gameplay of that one focused on the user of a water pack. The other outlier is Super Mario Odyssey, but there’s a good reason there as Mario was gifted Cappy for that one which basically turns every enemy into a power-up of their own! A ranking of the various things Mario can turn into in that game is a ranking all its own, so I’m going to ignore that one. I’m also ignoring the power-ups removed from the main Super Mario Bros. franchise (like the RPGs) and the ones trapped in Super Mario Maker. I’m also ignoring the temporary accessory items Mario has been able to pick up, like the shoe or the blockhead thing in New Super Mario Bros. 2. I also excluded the intentional game-breaking power-ups like the Invincibility Leaf which gets offered to the player when they die too much. And lastly, I decided not to treat Yoshi as a power-up so he’s not included, nor all of the Yoshi-specific power-ups. What I’m left with was 34 power-ups, so since this is going to take awhile, we might as well get started. And we’re starting with the worst:
34. Power Balloon – The Power Balloon, or P Balloon, first appeared in Super Mario World and will forever be associated with the bonus level Tubular, the level most cite as the worst in the game (and one of the worst in general). It’s actually not that bad, and Nintendo has put far more annoying levels in its games since, but the P Balloon, which simply inflates Mario like a balloon for a short amount of time, is annoying to control. It’s not particularly enjoyable, and just the sight of it is anxiety-inducing. Sort of like an under water level in a Sonic the Hedgehog game since its effects are temporary and when it wares off there’s a good chance Mario is plummeting to an early death.
33. Spring Mushroom – This little power-up first showed up in Super Mario Galaxy, a game that unofficially brought the power-up back into style for Mario and oddly made them all mushroom-based. It, like the P Balloon, is ranked so low because actually getting the power-up is done out of necessity, not want. No one wants to control a spring-loaded Mario, just as no one wants him to control like a balloon. The Spring Mushroom sequences in Galaxy were, by far, my least favorite.
32. Light Box – The Light Box was brought into the universe via Super Mario 3D World and it serves one singular purpose: to thwart ghosts. And it’s good for that, but nothing else. It works, but it’s boring and honestly I almost didn’t include it.
31. Frog Suit – The Frog Suit was one of the many power-ups found in the classic Super Mario Bros. 3. Getting it in World 3 was pretty exciting, until you actually used it. If underwater, the Frog Suit is great as it allows Mario and Luigi to swim faster and with more precision. On land though, it’s a nightmare and you’ll be searching for an enemy to knock you out of it. Maybe if Mario had been given a tongue attack or something it would have worked better.
30. Rock Mushroom – Another Galaxy addition is the Rock Mushroom. It basically turns Mario into a Mario Golem that can roll around and smash stuff. It’s not particularly fun, but since Mario is nigh indestructible in this form it’s not as annoying to control as the Spring Mushroom.
29. Cloud Flower – Introduced in Galaxy 2, the Cloud Flower turns Mario into…Cloud Mario! This allows Mario to create cloud platforms to assist him in reaching new heights. It’s useful, just not particularly sexy. Unless you have a cloud fetish, then it’s very sexy.
28. Canon Box – Mario has always lacked the fire power of Bowser and his minions, but the Canon Box evens those odds to a degree. It turns Mario’s head into a literal canon and he can blast anything in his way. It’s not particularly refined or cute, but it is pretty damn effective!
27. Metal Cap – The signature power-up of Super Mario 64. That game was a revelation when it came out, but one thing that it always lacked from the start was interesting power-ups. The Metal Cap turns Mario into Metal Mario, which is basically just good for letting him walk on the bottom of a sea floor without the need to swim. And swimming for the first time in 3D was quite the challenge so the Metal Cap was certainly welcomed, it’s just not particularly fun.
26. Double Cherry – In Super Mario 3D World, Mario gained the ability to split in two, or more, copies of himself. He’s always had the ability to gain extra lives, but never to live them simultaneously! It’s an interesting concept, but it’s less a power-up and more a method for puzzle solving or to get a star coin or something.
25. Life Mushroom/Life-Up Heart – A very useful power-up without really any “fun” component, the Life Mushroom in Galaxy just doubles Mario’s health. It’s something I’ll go out of my way to get when playing a level, but it doesn’t give Mario a fun ability or cool, new, look. It just makes him stronger.
24. Penguin Suit – The Penguin Suit from New Super Mario Bros. Wii is the opposite of the Life Mushroom. It’s really fun and silly looking, but kind of a pain in the ass to maneuver in. It’s not as bad as the Frog Suit, and it gives Mario the ability to slide on his belly and to fire ice balls. It’s also the type of power-up that gets in the way and you may blame a death or two on this one before the level is over.
23. Wing Cap – Mario had flown before, but the Wing Cap in Super Mario 64 was the first time he flew in 3D. And it was pretty cool to do so the first time, even though controlling Mario was a bit tricky and the level it’s available in feels more like a Pilot Wings demo than anything. It would have been a lot cooler if Nintendo could have integrated it into other levels like a more traditional power-up, but there was just no way to do it without breaking the game. I rank it as low as I do for that reason as it’s mainly just a diversion.
22. The Red Star – Basically the Wing Cap, but in Super Mario Galaxy. It drops the wings and just lets Mario fly like Superman. By Galaxy, controlling such a thing was far more refined and thus more fun, but like 64 it’s basically just a reward for players who stick with it and doesn’t feel like a true power-up.
21. The Blue Shell – Introduced in New Super Mario Bros., the Blue Shell is basically the Hammer Bros. Suit without the hammers. Instead, Mario can run and do a slide attack. It’s functional, doesn’t intrude on Mario’s basic controls, but also doesn’t impart much in the way of special abilities. It’s fine.
20. Mini Mushroom – The Mini Mushroom was also introduced in New Super Mario Bros. and it felt like a longtime coming. We had the traditional Super Mushroom that makes Mario big, so why not have a small one that does the opposite? The Mini Mushroom makes Mario tiny and hard to hit while also seemingly boosting his running speed. He’s also light and floaty which makes him more challenging to control, but does let him run across water. It’s another power-up that has a very specific application usually in order to access secret areas. It’s fun to use though and adds a bit of challenge without making things too frustrating.
19. Vanish Cap – This one from Super Mario 64 renders Mario intangible. He can’t be hurt and can pass through certain things. Since it’s from 64 it has very specific applications, but it’s cool. It’s just not exciting to look at since it’s just regular Mario only he’s now transparent.
18. Boo Mushroom – The Boo Mushroom lets Mario become that which he fears most: a ghost! He gets to float around and pass through fences and read a dead language reserved for ghosts, so it has a puzzle component to it. And it looks cool! What more could you want?
17. Bee Mushroom – The “big” power-up, I suppose, from Super Mario Galaxy turned Mario into an adorable honey bee. It grants temporary flight, the ability to walk on certain surfaces, and grip to others. It’s actually pretty fun and there’s definitely a rush of excitement when a Bee Mushroom is spotted in a level. The only thing that sucks is it’s from Galaxy, so once the level is done you can’t take it with you.
16. Super Star – The venerable Super Star, around since the beginning and a staple of 2D Mario gaming. It makes Mario invincible for a short amount of time and in some games augments his jump or running speed. Everyone loves a Super Star and it’s one of those power-ups you’ll run after when it pops out of a block, sometimes recklessly. And the best power-ups are the ones you don’t want to get away when they show.
15. Mega Mushroom – Like the Super Star, the Mega Mushroom makes Mario invincible briefly, but only this time he grows to gargantuan proportions and can smash through pretty much anything. The only downside really is that once you’ve seen it and experienced it once a lot of the fun is removed since you literally just go right the whole time. And yet, if I see a Mega Mushroom pop out of a block I’m going all out to make sure I get that damn thing!
14. Super Mushroom – The venerable Super Mushroom. What’s not to like? It turns Mario into Super Mario bestowing a precious extra hit point to Mario while often granting him an extra ability or two, like the drill jump in Super Mario World. It may be unsexy, but the Super Mushroom is undeniably useful and it has no negative side effects other than a larger hit box, but that’s hardly a trade-off since it makes Mario stronger.
13. Superball Flower – Super Mario Land was the first Mario experience on the Game Boy and it brought along the flower power-up. Only since the Game Boy lacked a color palette, Mario couldn’t easily be depicted tossing fireballs so Nintendo chose to go with Superballs! They do work a bit differently as they fire at an angle and bounce around. It’s the main power-up of Land and Super Mario Maker has given it a new lease on life.
12. Boomerang Flower – Way back in 1988 we got the Hammer Bros. suit in Super Mario Bros. 3 and we had to wait until Super Mari 3D Land in 2011 to get the logical complement, the Boomerang Flower which grants Mario the Boomerang Suit. It’s the same thing, only Mario gets to toss a boomerang instead of a hammer. It’s pretty cool, but no hammer.
11. Ice Flower – Another one that took awhile, we’ve had the Fire Flower since the beginning, but the Ice Flower took it’s sweet time in making it to a game as it first appeared in Super Mario Galaxy. In that game, it was a temporary power-up like a Super Star, but it’s since become a permanent power-up in the New Super Mario Bros. series. It gives Mario the ability to toss ice balls which freeze enemies on contact turning them into blocks of ice which also have their uses. It’s not as good as old reliable, the Fire Flower, but it’s pretty fun to have ice powers and it doesn’t come with the limited movement of the Penguin Suit.
10. Super Acorn – One of the most recent power-ups, the Super Acorn was introduced in New Super Mario Bros. U and is basically the logical evolution of the Super Leaf. It grants Mario the Flying Squirrel Suit which allows him the ability to glide with a one-time height boost per flight to reach high places. He can also flutter slowly, but he descends quickly when compared with the Super Leaf. He can also cling to a wall when in this suit which has its uses. It’s a fun item to get ahold of, but also kind of terrifying as gliding is really tempting and blindly gliding over a level can end badly, especially if Mario loses his power mid-flight. It’s propensity for introducing trouble is why I don’t rank it higher.
9. Propeller Mushroom/Propeller Box – The flying item for New Super Mario Bros. Wii was the Propeller Mushroom which grants Mario the Propeller Suit. Basically, when wearing this Mario can do a double-jump that rockets him high into the air and allows for a slow descend. It’s a simple way to integrate a flying component into the game that’s not game-breaking, but it’s lack of an extra attack limits its use. The Propeller Box in the 3D games essentially functions as the same thing, only without the cool suit.
8. Super Bell – Introduced in Super Mario 3D World, the Super Bell lets Mario live out his dream – as a cat. It’s a simple power-up, but one that is always welcomed as it lets Mario run faster, climb walls, perform a dive attack, and gives him a claw attack as well. It’s awesome! And who doesn’t love Mario and his companions in an adorable cat costume?
7. Carrot – The somewhat forgotten power-up of Super Mario Land 2 is the Carrot. Not Super Carrot, just Carrot, and it gives Mario…bunny ears? Yes, like the Super Leaf, it gives Mario the power to fly without making much sense, but who cares? Mario can fly! He flaps his new ears to clear large gaps. He can’t go up, but can travel horizontally in the air indefinitely and also slow his descent when falling. It is kind of game-breaking, like a lot of the flying abilities during this era, but undeniably fun to use and the signature power-up from that game.
6. Fire Flower – Old reliable! The Fire Flower has been a mainstay and it’s never not useful. It lets Mario shoot fireballs at enemies and most of those enemies are not interested in taking a fireball to the face. It’s certainly been overshadowed over the years by flashier power-ups, but it still remains a hard power-up to pass-up when it shows itself in any given level.
5. Gold Flower – Everything that is good about the Fire Flower, only it also turns enemies (and a lot of other stuff) into coins and who doesn’t love money?! Sure, New Super Mario Bros. 2 probably went overboard with the whole coin focus, but the Gold Flower certainly fit in and it’s the Fire Flower, but better, so it’s ranked here.
4. Super Leaf – The Super Leaf gave Mario a raccoon tail and ears and changed the series forever. For the first time, Mario could fly! It was all anyone wanted to talk about when we first started getting a look at Super Mario Bros. 3. Since that game, the Super Leaf has resurfaced in a neutered form as it often just retains the ability to hover and tail-attack. That original one is still the best as the flying was easy to use and made exploring the levels a lot more interesting than they had been previously.
3. Tanooki Suit/Statue Lead – It’s the Super Leaf, only it makes Mario both more adorable and more destructive! Mario goes full tanooki with the costume and never looked better giving him the same abilities as the Super Leaf. It also has the added ability to allow Mario to turn into a statue making him invulnerable to attack and able to smash stuff. It doesn’t get much better than that which is why it’s at number 3.
2. Hammer Suit – The most illusive power-up in Super Mario Bros. 3 is the game’s best. It gives Mario the ability to essentially be a Hammer Bro. His hard shell makes him impervious to fireballs when ducking and his hammers do massive damage. If you manage to hang onto the thing all the way through Bowser’s castle you’ll be rewarded with a really easy final battle. If you put it on though and then immediately lose it you’ll be left wishing that old game had a save feature and you could reload. The Hammer Suit is awesome, and if it only had a flight component it would be the ultimate Mario power-up.
- Feather – No power-up for Mario is as powerful as the simple Feather. It gives Mario a bright, yellow, cape and in a video game a cape can only mean one thing: flight. And unlike the Super Leaf, this cape can keep Mario airborne indefinitely once the user gets the hang of it making it the most game-breaking of all the power-ups. It’s probably the reason why power-ups like the Red Star are reserved for just certain areas in its games. And not only can Mario fly, he also gets a cape-attack which is incredibly useful throughout Super Mario World. Useful attack plus unlimited flight? Yeah, the Feather is the ultimate power-up.