It goes without saying that Mario has been around the block a few times more than the average platformer protagonist. One thing has held true throughout the many excursions into the worlds of Super Mario Bros. lore: it often takes more than some well-placed jumps to rescue the princess in one piece. Luckily, the brothers have had a lot of help over the last two and a half decades in the form of power-ups.
In The Beginning
Super Mario Bros. offered a limited arsenal of a mushroom to make Mario bigger and stronger, a flower that allowed him to hurl fire balls at his enemies, and a star that made him temporarily invincible. For the second installment in the Mario series, Nintendo decided to mix it up quite a bit. Mushrooms didn’t make you bigger, but instead added units to a life meter. As long as more that one unit was filled, the player’s on-screen representative stayed big. The Fire Flower was gone, but the Starman was still available. The fact that even one familiar element from the Mario canon was present was surprising, considering Super Mario Bros. 2 wasn’t originally made as a Mario game.
After Super Mario Bros. 2 the Super Mushroom, Fire Flower, and Starman returned to the roles they previously had, but Super Mario Bros. 3 is a title most noteworthy for it’s new power-ups. The most common of these being the commonly seen Super Leaf was added, which gave Mario a raccoon tail and ears. For some inexplicable reason, these costume changes granted him the ability to fly for a short period, and whack enemies with his tail. Other wonderful and rare power-up newness included, but wasn’t limited to:
-A Frog Suit which made movement underwater a cinch, but bogged down movement on land
-A Tanooki Suit, which not only made Mario look very adorable (or ready for a plushie convention), but granted him the ability to turn into a statue and become impervious to enemies
-Goomba’s Shoe, which allowed for walking on spikes
-The Hammer Bros. power-up, which allowed for an increased jumping height and the ability to throw hammers at Mario’s nemisises
These goodies not only made Mario a more formidable opponent for Bowser and his minions, but they also helped him travel more efficiently and and explore previously unreachable areas. Items in Super Mario Bros. 3 introduced concepts and mechanics that would become a staple of Mario games to come. These changes helped make the game a little less about “What can I stomp?” and a little more about “What can I find?”, which is a theme that carried through in future titles.
The SNES launched a few years later, and with it Super Mario World. Nintendo rolled back things to a simpler time. The player was left with the Super Mushroom, Fire Flower, Starman, and the Cape Feather that gave Mario a cape for flight. The Cape Feather’s flight mechanics were improved greatly over the Super Leaf’s with the addition of a nosedive to drop on enemies and the ability to do a sort of bouncy glide over long distances. Being able to fly farther meant even more exploration was in store for our overall-clad hero.
Let There Be 3D
Super Mario 64 relied on the novelty of 3D platforming to woo players instead of new items. Nintendo followed suit with the power-upless Super Mario Sunshine on the Game Cube console. It wasn’t until Super Mario Galaxy for Wii that a 3D Mario game offered any true power-ups. The Fire Flower came back, as well as the Starman under the new guise of the Rainbow Star. An Ice Flower was introduced, which turned Mario into an Iceman-esque figure and allowed him to skate over any liquid. Other new power-ups included a Bee Suit, a Spring Suit, and a Boo Suit which allowed Mario to walk on flowers and clouds or climb special walls, jump to exceptionally high places, or float and move through solid objects respectively. All of these items were well used in Super Mario Galaxy, and really cemented the idea that Nintendo wasn’t out of fresh ideas for this franchise yet.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii brought Mario and his motley crew back into the “2.5D” (3D game elements confined to a 2D plane) realm that performed so well in New Super Mario Bros. DS. New gimmicks in this entry included:
-A Propeller Mushroom, which grants Mario some flight abilities
-The Ice Flower, which lets the player freeze enemies and use them as platforms or blunt objects that can be thrown
-The Mini Mushroom, which was introduced in New Super Mario Bros. DS, but this was ts first appearance on the big screen
-The Penguin Suit, which let players freeze enemies, swim better, and have more stable footing on ice. It is worth noting that this is definitely the cutest of all Mario power-ups.
With new means at his disposal, Mario once again had a vast new set of nooks and crannies to explore on his perpetual quest to save the Princess. New and improved items made the game feel fresh and new, but it still maintained its nostalgic value.
What The Future Holds
With Super Mario Galaxy 2 looming on the horizon, one question begs to be asked: “Hasn’t it all been done?”. It’s hard to imagine Super Mario Galaxy 2’s developers pulling any new tricks out of their hats, but they have promised a few new goodies such as the Rock Mushroom, which will let Mario turn into a boulder to crush barriers and enemies. Though not necessarily a power-up, there is also talk of a drill item which would be a first in a Mario title. Also, Yoshi returns with a whole new set of abilities to assist Mario.
There aren’t many games that have enjoyed the longevity that the Super Mario Bros. series has, and we didn’t even tackle the handheld games here. Most of this success is likely due to the constant influx of new and fun ways to blast baddies into oblivion, investigate new terrain, find hidden key holes, or collect gigantic coins. This generation of Mario titles has already seen the introduction of power-ups being triggered by motion controls (see: Propeller Mushroom), which has left avid Mario fanatics wondering what he’ll have up his sleeve for his next trip around the block…or galaxy.