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September 18, 2015

Top 12 Power-Ups in the Mario Series

Like I said last week, the Mario series is gigantic. With over 20 platformers, over 10 Mario Party games, 9 RPGs with another one on the way (Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam), quite a number of edutainment games, ports, re-releases, spin-off sport series (such as Kart, Golf, Sluggers, Tennis, Hoops)… and don’t get me started on all the supplementary material, like the Super Mario Bros. Super Show and its sequels, the large number of comics, and the movie! And since the 30th anniversary of the franchise was last Sunday, I decided to dedicate a second week to the Mario series.

A gigantic franchise like this means a lot of characters, a lot of enemies and bosses, and thus a lot of items… that is, a lot of power-ups. The Super Mushroom and the Fire Flower are incredibly popular. But there’s always going to be power-ups that are overlooked. Or some that become forgotten over time. Some are recent, others are old. They're all supposed to be useful, though some of them may be more difficult to master. Today, I’m counting down what I consider the 12 best power-ups in the Mario series!

Keep in mind that this is MY list. MY opinion. You’re free to disagree with it all you want. And if you were to choose different power-ups for such a list, I’m all ears; just don’t be all superior about it. Okay, we’re counting down!

12. Flight (Multiple items)
Always getting a little closer to Asterix.
I believe I can fly; all I need if a whole bunch of power-ups. Flight is one of Mario’s most common abilities, though unlike the Fire Flower, our hero can choose among many objects that let him soar the skies. It’s like it changes in every game. The Super Leaf gives Mario a raccoon tail that can also be used to attack enemies. The P-Wing is a “Skip Level” power-up, a rare item to use when you find a level way too difficult and you’d prefer to just fly over it. The Cape Feather, as I said in Super Mario World, can be used to “bounce” in the skies and skip portions of certain levels. It also allows a slower descent when Mario jumps down from a high ledge. The Wing Cap doesn’t give an additional ability, and activating flight may be tricky if you can’t triple jump. Thank goodness there are cannons all over Super Mario 64. The Red Star from Super Mario Galaxy is pretty cool too, but it doesn’t do much. The Propeller Mushroom puts the Bros (and some Toads) in jumpsuits and propeller hats. It’s not quite flight, but it’s useful to reach very high ledges, and pressing down while in the air causes the character to ground pound. Of course, those are not the only power-ups that allow flight, but the other ones that appear later on this list have something more that makes them stand out.

11. The Goomba Shoe (Super Mario Bros. 3)
It's a one-size-fits-all.
Big shoes you can jump into! Well, alright, more like boots. While not exactly a power-up, it is an item that can be equipped to Mario. Oh, sure, it appeared only in one level in Super Mario Bros. 3… But it counts! The Goomba Shoe is the first object in the Mario series that allows Mario to walk jump hop over certain hazards, such as spikes and Munchers. It’s not a very common power to be able to cross freely across dangerous ground. Sure, it’s useless everywhere else, which is probably why Carrie from Super Paper Mario offered this and kept her speed and jumping talent no matter who was riding her platform. But unlike other power-ups, those things are found in the level, worn by Goombas, and you need to defeat the shoe’s inhabitant before you can claim it as yours. And even then, that’s a pretty neat idea, neat enough that a similar concept was used recently; giant ice skates. Hey, gotta adapt to the environment, am I right?

10. Double Cherry (Super Mario 3D World)
I'm seeing double... am I drunk again?
I think I’m a clone now, and those cherries are to blame. When any playable character picks up the Double Cherry, a clone of that character appears, with the same power-up, and the clones do everything that the character does. It sounds kind of silly, but hey, if you know how to play it right, you can use that second Luigi over there to stomp a baddie you couldn’t get! Even better, you can pick up more Double Cherries, to the point where there can be five of the same character running around. And that’s pretty great, but you know what’s even better? Remember that all the clones will gain the power-up that you had when you grabbed the double cherry. If you were Fire Mario, you can now shoot multiple fireballs at once! The only downside is that the clones go down as soon as they get hit, so you got to play carefully… and as a result, the clones are less on the offensive side and more on the puzzle/defensive side, but otherwise, I’m all for this power-up! It’s awesome!

9. Rock Mushroom (Super Mario Galaxy 2)
It looks... kinda uncomfortable.
Both Galaxy games introduced a lot of new power-ups. However, I feel like the power-ups introduced in the first Super Mario Galaxy were interesting in concept and design, but most of them had rather painful drawbacks that didn’t make them nearly as interesting as they could be. Bee Mario would lose his power in water, and could fly but would only stick to beehive walls. Boo Mario could only go through certain walls and would revert to Mario when struck by light. And Spring Mario was a pain in the ass to control. The Ice Flower was cool, I guess, though its power was implemented better in the 2D platformers. Just my opinion, though.
The Rock Mushroom, from Super Mario Galaxy 2, sounds like a pretty fun idea; Mario basically steals something Bowser did in the previous game, coats himself in stones and rolls around, crushing enemies and crystals. He’s even more resistant to damage! Of course, you probably need to steer it with great precision, so there might be control issues. But it still sounds like a pretty clever idea. Next I wish we get a Bowser Mushroom that causes Mario to gain a Bowser form!

8. Super Bell (Super Mario 3D World)
Look out. They're not declawed.
The much advertised new power-up in Super Mario 3D World was the Super Bell, which caused Mario and Co. to wear catlike suits. With all the abilities that come with it: being able to climb to walls and poles, pouncing on enemies, running on all fours like an animal… So, basically, increased agility and claws. Sounds like it’s little compared to other items on this list. But it’s actually very interesting how all the qualities and abilities of cats are translated into the game. One can make jokes about the cat suits and how sweaty every character must get in there (unless it’s ventilated in there, which I doubt), but I guess it’s neat that every playable character has a different Cat Form color and design. My only real issue with this power-up is that Bowser decided to use it too… and sorry if you disagree, but I think Meowser looks utterly ridiculous. He doesn’t even look threatening. He lost all the edge his regular design has. Oh, alright, he may have the same abilities that the Cat Form heroes have, plus the Double Cherries… but that won’t change my opinion of the design. You can have a memorable/tough/complex final boss fight, but if said final boss’s design is ridiculous, you can’t change that. …Right, Dimentio?

The cuddliest-looking Bowser ever.

7. Tanooki Suit (Super Mario Bros. 3)
He's ready for the next convention!
Yet another item that gives Mario or Luigi the ability of flight. Instead of just having a raccoon tail, Mario is now wearing a full body raccoon costume. He can still defeat opponents by whacking them with the tail, and he can still fly, but there’s another pretty cool ability with this costume, one that I think makes it better than some other power-ups on this list. At any moment, Tanooki Mario or Luigi can turn into a statue when you press Down. This makes the character temporarily invincible; the enemies in the level cannot hurt the statue. Perfect to avoid damage. The only question I can’t answer is: Why is Statue Mario a balding man holding out his hand? Is he meant to turn into a statue from a temple about a religion or something? And where does that pole come from? Whatever. This ability, combined with the tail whip attack and the flight, make this suit a must-have for multiple levels.

Even the Koopa isn't sure that this is Mario.

And sure, a variant of the Super Bell, the Lucky Bell, gives Cat Mario that ability as well… but hey, you gotta love the classics.

6. Fire Flower (Super Mario Bros.)
Yet another classic, one that has been there throughout all of Mario’s history! Well, except in Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Mario Bros. and Wrecking Crew… you get what I mean. Mario’s overalls turn a bright red, his shirt and cap become white, and now he can shoot fireballs! This makes him much more dangerous than before, as the fireballs can defeat most enemies that couldn’t be stomped in the first place, like Piranha Plants and Spinies. And, thankfully, this method of attacking doesn’t leave burning carcasses behind. It has more upsides than that, too; instead of leaving shells behind, Koopas will be completely defeated with a fireball. But it does have a downside; it’s useless against the enemies with tougher shells, such as Buzzy Beetles. But hey, you can still stomp them. The Fire Flower is a staple of the Mario series, and fan reception to it won’t get colder anytime soon.

5. The Metal Cap
Can someone guess which SM64 stage he's in?
Instead of mushroom power-ups, Super Mario 64 used Caps. Mario would put on a cap and gain an ability. On the other hand, there were only three difference caps in this game: The Wing Cap, which allowed Mario to fly; the Vanish Cap, which made Mario invisible and intangible; and the Metal Cap, which made Mario nigh-indestructible, much stronger than usual, and so heavy he would sink underwater. He didn’t have to breather underwater, and he couldn’t get poisoned by toxic fog, either! This power-up had many uses, which is why I wished it reappeared in more Mario games. In fact, in the remake of Super Mario 64 on the Nintendo DS, only Wario is allowed to use this power-up! The guy is already strong and heavy, and somehow he’s the one who gets to be stronger and heavier? Bullcrap. Mario and Luigi should have been allowed to use it too! …well, it’s true that there were plumber caps in all the levels, allowing the player character to take on the physical appearance of any other (unlocked) character, so I guess there’s that… Still, I wished the Metal Cap was more present in Mario games.

4. Mega Mushroom (New Super Mario Bros.)
Just look at the expression on Mario's face.
Clearly he loves this power-up too.
When eaten, Mario or Luigi will grow gigantic, break everything and defeat every enemy on their way, even the flagpole if necessary, and get rewarded with some 1-Up mushrooms, more extra lives if they did more damage. Oh, sure, it only lasts a few seconds, but who doesn’t like to cause this much destruction? Hell, just pull the Mega Mushroom out when facing a boss and just stomp that critter to oblivion! However, there are major drawbacks to this item; as I said, its use is temporary, and you revert to normal size after the effect is gone. You can hardly control where the 1-Up mushrooms will fall, so it’s entirely possible that your reward, earned for breaking 103 blocks, stomping 8 Goombas, 5 Koopa Troopas, and ripping apart 12 pipes, just falls into an endless pit. Oh, also, this thing can only be activated in places where Mega Mario can stand up. Sorry, you can activate this anywhere, and if you try to use it in a smaller place, the item will just go back into your inventory. And of course, getting to use it against a boss is tricky, as you end up having the sole space in your inventory for this one-use weapon of mass destruction, leaving you helpless if the challenges of the Fortress or Castle are too much for your current Mario form. But hey, I still rank this as one of the best power-ups, because hey, it’s not every day you get to go all Giant-Man and just steamroll your way across a dangerous field. The awesome factor redeems this item.

3. Super Star (Super Mario Bros.)
The first one who makes a Rainbow Dash joke...
...will get some sarcastic applause.
I'm not exactly a violent guy, am I?
One of Mario’s earliest power-ups, and the rarest back then (the 1-Up mushroom doesn’t count), the Super Star (then known as Starman) granted temporary invincibility to the plumber brothers. Sure, it wasn’t entirely foolproof; it doesn’t matter how many seconds are left to your invincibility if you fall in an endless pit. You’re still falling. Another issue with the Super Star is that it may end just as you’re about to hit a baddie; the effect is gone but it’s too late to go back! That’s a problem mostly in underwater levels, though. Either way, who doesn’t like to be invincible for a few seconds? All things considered, this power-up is similar to the Mega Mushroom, excluding the growth and many of the issues that come with it. However, I first wanted to include on this point all invincibility-inducing items, but then I learned about the invincibility leaf, which appears in Super Mario 3D Land, New Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario 3D World, but only if you lose five lives in the same level. It’s like the Super Guide from New Super Mario Bros. Wii: If you activate it, does that means you can never get all the completion stars on your save file? Whatever. That’s why I talk about the Super Star here exclusively.

2. Penguin Suit (New Super Mario Bros. Wii)
I believe I can slide...
In the “difficult to master but so rewarding once you do” variation, the Penguin Suit combines the powers of the Ice Flower, the Frog Suit (the worst power-up in Super Mario Bros. 3) and the Blue Shell (a rare item in New Super Mario Bros.), with the slick look of an animal of the cold lands that everybody loves to see. Penguin Mario has plenty of upsides; for starters, underwater levels become a little easier, as Mario’s movements become quicker. Second, he can throw balls of ice just like Ice Mario, but the thrown ice is weaker, and any enemy encased on Penguin Mario’s ice will free itself faster. Last but not least, when running while in this form, Mario can run over water for a short amount of time, and on an icy field, he will start sliding on the ice on his belly, which allows him to destroy brick blocks and reach secret areas. The only major downside is that it’s not easy to learn to use this power-up to its fullest extent, but once you do, so much can be done with it that you’ll wish Mario would never take that costume off. …Alright, that’s a bad idea, he can’t do plumbing dressed as a penguin…

1. Hammer Suit (Super Mario Bros. 3)
If being able to pull out and toss an endless stream
of hammers isn't awesome, then I don't know what is.
Ending with what is probably an odd choice… here is the Hammer Suit! Mario takes a page from Bowser’s elite hammer-tossing mooks, dons a strong shell and a helmet, and can now toss hammers at will. Very useful against a lot of enemies located just a little further. The hammers are stronger than fireballs, and can kill many baddies that cannot be defeated any other way. Also very useful to avoid getting damaged in certain cases, as Mario can crouch and hide in the shell, which is impervious to fire. Huh, maybe this is not a Hammer Bro’s shell, but a Buzzy Beetle’s… Whatever. The downside is that despite apparently protecting Mario, this suit will disappear as soon as Mario gets hit, as is the case with almost every other power-up. So it protects from fire, but nothing else. Next, although Mario hides into the shell, he cannot run, hide into it, and start rolling left and right like the Blue Shell power-up (from New Super Mario Bros.) allowed him to. On the other, that would probably make him overpowered. Oh well, I remember that, among the late-game power-ups from Super Mario Bros. 3 (namely, the Tanooki, Frog and Hammer suits, which only start showing up by World 3), the Hammer Suit is my favorite. It could be even better, but it’s already awesome the way it is.

And this concludes my list! Do you agree with all of my choices? Probably not. What items do you disagree on? Feel free to talk about it in the comments!

Next week… the beginning of a new themed month. Take a guess.

♪♫~I wanna be... the very best...~♪♫