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Our Favourite Power-Ups in Gaming

Who doesn’t love a bit of a boost?

We’re sure that there isn’t a single person among us who hasn’t wished, at some point in their life, that they could just pick something up off the ground and immediately learn a new skill, become stronger, or just make life a little easier. Synonymous with gaming since the very beginning, power-ups — in all of their weird, wonderful forms — help us complete a puzzle, get out of a bind, equip ourselves a little better for what’s to come… or just allow for some mindless fun. Here’s a selection of the Doublejump team’s favourite power-ups throughout the years! 

Amelia: Super Mario Galaxy’s Bee Mario

Power-ups have been a part of the joy of Super Mario games since the very beginning, but Super Mario Galaxy really brought them to life (as it did many other things). Super Mario Galaxy is all about discovery: discovering new planets and galaxies, discovering new rooms in Rosalina’s observatory, and discovering new power-ups! The first of Mario’s new-found powers is Bee Mario, granting him the ability to fly, stick to walls, and most importantly, giving him a cute little bee suit. It’s the perfect introduction to the game’s new power-up system, and it is accompanied by the perfect level. 

The Honeyhive Galaxy is one of the first levels in the game, introducing the player to the new mechanics and the new atmosphere. Among other things, the level is perhaps most memorable for its funky marimba-centric soundtrack, and for Mario having to crawl around on a giant bee. Sure, the power-up might not make Mario more “powerful” necessarily, but it sure as hell is fun. Flying in games is often difficult to get a feel for — this is exemplified in the same game with Flying Mario, which is almost impossible to control — but Bee Mario simply hovers around as he pleases, putting his tiny little wings to work for as long as he can (which is not very long).

Is Bee Mario the most powerful power-up? No. Is he really cute and fun? Yes. Did I just want an excuse to talk about Super Mario Galaxy? Also yes. I remember playing Super Mario Galaxy with my father for the first time and being blown away by how amazing everything looked and felt — granted, I was seven years old at the time — but this game has stuck with me ever since. The proof of how well the game has stood up is apparent in the fact that it was essentially the basis for Super Mario Odyssey. That said, I’ll always be in Super Mario Galaxy’s corner. TL;DR: I miss Bee Mario, when are we getting a Switch port?

Ben: Titanfall 2’s Smart Pistol

Titanfall 2 had a criminally underrated campaign and, quite frankly, if you haven’t played it, you should go and do that. It twists and turns, experiments with a whole bunch of unique and interesting settings and mechanics, and has a fantastic story to boot. Go and get EA Access or just buy the game and give it a run through — you won’t regret it.

One of the most incredible moments comes as you’ve seemingly hit your lowest point: your Titan friend is down for the count, and it looks like you have no way out of a building that’s burning down around you. After grabbing the Titan core and equipping the SERE kit — that’s Survive, Evade, Resist, Escape — you’re given the Smart Pistol Mk6. For most of the campaign, you build your movement skills, learning how to most effectively parkour past enemy gunfire to turn the tables on them. You’re always outnumbered and outgunned and fighting desperately to accomplish your goals, but the Smart Pistol inverts that dynamic allowing you to lock on to enemies and take them out with a single shot as you dance past them. In a lesser game, this could feel cheap or unwarranted; in Titanfall 2, it serves as the ultimate expression of the game’s synergy between movement and combat, and echoes the game’s core structure: recovering from your weaknesses to turn the tide of a seemingly hopeless situation. It’s a moment I remember as one of the best power-ups of all time… and it’s not even the best part of the game it’s in.

Eduard: Super Mario’s Super Stars

Nothing says “power-up” to me more than invincibility, and there’s nothing quite like the invincibility granted by Super Mario’s Super Stars. 

Despite being present since the very first Super Mario Bros. game released in 1985, to this day, there’s still something special about the thrill of picking up these anthropomorphised, flashing stars given the infectious Koji Kondo theme that kicks in and in part due to seeing how Mario — or any other playable character, really — flickers a myriad of rainbow colours. It helps that in some entries in the franchise, too, Super Stars may increase speed and mobility, which, combined with the incentive to keep a point chain going, makes for a frantic but extremely fun gameplay sequence.

I also greatly enjoy how ubiquitous the Super Stars are. It’s very comforting to me to know that no matter if I’m exploring a haunted hotel as Luigi in Luigi’s Mansion 3, or even slugging it out with friends in Smash Bros. — sometimes it’s great fun to play with items, I promise! — there’s always the possibility that one’s laying hidden somewhere close or being right around the corner. 

Just make sure to grab it before it slips away or someone else gets it!

Jake: Altered Beast’s… Altered beasts

Even considering its 1988 release date and the platforms it released on, the Sega Genesis’ pack-in game, Altered Beast, was not a very good video game. It wasn’t a bad game, either, but its controls were janky, its graphics were average and its story was repetitive… and yet, somehow, given that I’ve covered it in two previous Multiplayer releases as well, I’m pretty sure it’s one of my favourite games of all time. That’s in equal parts because I was far too young to understand that it wasn’t very good — let’s face it, five-year-old Jake would have enjoyed E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial if you’d put it in front of him, simply because it was a video game — and because I’ve got a library of happy memories that somehow revolve around it. In fairness, many of those involve impersonating the characters’ rare voice lines in various situations, but one of my fondest Altered Beast memories revolves around becoming the beast.

You start Altered Beast as a fallen centurion (strange choice for a game based around Greek mythology), who Zeus revives, empowers and sends on a quest to rescue his daughter Athena from the underworld and its ruler, Neff. Obviously, considering the fact that you died in battle against humans, you’re not going to be much good fighting demonic monsters, but Zeus levels the playing field: every now and then you’ll come across a two-headed wolf that drops a Spirit Ball when you defeat it. The first two Spirit Balls power your centurion up, basically giving him a bunch of extra muscles, less clothing and a bit of range on his punches and kicks, but the third one unleashes the beast within. Depending on the stage, your run-of-the-mill centurion transforms into a werewolf, an electric weredragon, a werebear, a weretiger, or a golden werewolf, ready to fight Neff — who transforms into a monster as well, albeit considerably more disgusting — in order to clear the stage.

Considering the number of times Neff shows up when you’re not transformed just to tease you, that transformation is one of the biggest middle-fingers you can give someone in a video game… no, welcome to your doom!

John: Spelunky’s Jetpack

Spelunky is a game that puts you firmly at the mercy of its procedurally generated whims. The joy of playing it is in gradually learning its vast web of interconnected mechanics, letting your budding knowledge of the game’s many systems take root until it grows into genuine intuition and muscle memory. At a glance, you start to understand what you can and can’t do: will that block crush you? Will that arrow trap fire from here? Will that enemy trigger? Should I hold onto this rope, or this bomb? Could I take out that shopkeeper without dying? (Probably not.)

Then, amidst all that ingrained skill, comes the jetpack. Strap those two blue cylinders on your buddy and the game is yours. It’s like a game-sanctioned noclip mode. Ropes no longer matter. Neither do the insta-kill ghosts, or almost any enemy. Fuck off, Yeti, I can fly.

Wearing a jetpack cracks those slim gaps of potential progress open into canyons, and the game is so masterfully designed that finding one doesn’t break the game nearly as much as I’m suggesting, especially when you’re going for a time-limited run into Hell. Still, there isn’t much else as liberating as getting a jetpack in Spelunky.

Liam: Diddy Kong Racing’s Speed Boost

[Image via Nintendo Life]
Picture this: you’re go-karting, and you’re sitting in second place. There’s an orange-boost in your back pocket, but it won’t get you by the leader. You’re behind, but you’re not beaten. You slide through a blue balloon and your orange boost is suddenly something else — something faster. It’s an upgrade, but not enough. You need that purple boost. You need one more helium-filled blue ball. As a wall of balloons greets you over the distance, you spot the one you need, wedged between the other colours. You know it’s now or never. Turns out, it’s never. You slide right by the blue balloon and grab a yellow instead. Your boost is now a shield. Nice job, loser.

Jokes aside, this is the beauty of Diddy Kong Racing’s item system. In Mario Kart, items are an equaliser, a way to let less-experienced players be competitive by giving the worst racers the best stuff. It’s what helped make Mario Kart the party franchise it is today, but Diddy Kong Racing doesn’t like to party. Racing is a blood sport for Rare, where it’s kill or be killed. There are no random item boxes, instead, you get coloured balloons: a blue balloon’s always a boost and red means a missile no matter what. This system gives players the opportunity to strategise, to outwit and outwork your opponents so much more than Mario Kart ever allows. That’s already good enough, but Diddy Kong Racing’s real beauty is in the way you can upgrade your power-ups by popping balloons of the same colour consecutively. Pop any other balloons, though, and it’s back to square one, which adds another layer of skill you won’t find anywhere else, and another layer of strategy: you can choose to use your item early and hope for the best, or you can take a chance on becoming overpowered. Diddy Kong Racing gives players agency, and that means one thing: the better racers are the ones who’ll dominate. You earn your power, and no late-race chain-chomp is going to be there to stop you.

I do love Mario Kart, but Diddy Kong Racing does its boosts — and every other power-up — better.

Lucas Gogos: Gears of War’s Hammer of Dawn

Yes, yes, the Hammer of Dawn is just a really (really, really, really) powerful gun and it’s not considered a “power-up” in the traditional sense — whatever that may be — but merely holding the Hammer of Dawn is more of a power-up than anything else in Gears of War. What you hold in your hands, the thing looks like a gun, isn’t the weapon, though: it’s merely a targeting system for the real weapon, the golden beam of absolute ruin that comes down a couple of seconds after you’ve chosen its target. You can only use the Hammer of Dawn at certain points during the story, but it helps you take down some of Gears of War’s toughest enemies, including Lambent Gunkers and Locust Berserkers. 

The Hammer of Dawn might be capable of levelling entire cities and turning enemy forces into ash, but it comes with a number of conditions. The chief condition is also the weapon’s greatest drawback: since it’s laser-targeted and satellite-guided, you can only use it (effectively) when you’re outdoors and have a clear view of the sky. On top of that, you’ve got to keep the laser trained on whatever you want to obliterate until the beam of destruction comes down — and it’s not instantaneous; you need to stay focused in the midst of whatever action’s happening around you, so chances are that you’re going to die a few times before you can actually call in the strike. 

All of that’s a small price to pay, though, for the ability to point a finger (well, a laser) and vapourise whatever’s there.

Matt: Crash Bandicoot’s Aku Aku

If this iconic image doesn’t remind you of the countless times Aku Aku has saved Crash from certain death, I don’t know what will. That’s right, my favourite video game power-up is Aku Aku from the classic Crash Bandicoot series. Sure, there are plenty of awesome video game power-ups out there, but like most of my favourite things in video games, it’s the memories that drive this selection.

First appearing in the original 1996 classic Crash Bandicoot, Aku Aku is not only one of my first gaming memories, but one of my first experiences with a video game power-up. I had already witnessed the awesomeness of Super Mario and his Super Mushrooms, to which Aku Aku bears many similarities. Much like Mario, Crash goes down in one hit — unless he’s got Aku Aku by his side; in that case, Aku Aku will take the hit for him. Of course, he’ll explode after taking that one hit, but that extra hit point is something that you’ll always be thankful for. 

To make things better, smashing an Aku Aku crate while he’s already by your side “upgrades” the mask, allowing it to take two hits before it explodes… smash another Aku Aku crate, and the spirit inside the mask will grant you complete invincibility for a limited amount of time. This sounds totally overpowered, and it is, but the original trilogy is so intensely (and unexpectedly) difficult that Aku Aku proves to be an invaluable ally. Plus, we can all remember the “ooga booga” that plays whenever you retrieve the mask — I remember it so clearly that I can hear it as I type, and now I know you can hear it too.

Max: DOOM (2016)’s Berserk

DOOM (2016) is my favorite first-person shooter so far. Nothing relaxes me more than rampaging through its stages, tearing demons limb from limb or blasting them into a fine red mist with an arsenal of weapons. There’s one tool of pure destruction that stands out from the rest, though: the power-up called Berserk, which allows you to execute a Glory Kill — which usually requires a mêlée weapon, and for your unfortunate victim to be staggered — with your bare hands, just as long as the enemy is close enough. 

Nothing beats the savage satisfaction of ripping demons in half with my bare hands while I’ve got the Berserk power-up, turning the world into my own bloody canvas and liberally applying gory paint with my fist-shaped paintbrushes. Special shout-outs go to literally tearing an imp demon in two, and just clocking one of the basic zombies over the head… so hard that its head just falls into its body. It’s brutal, but it’s oh so much fun.

Ruby: Mario Kart’s Red Shell

When thinking of friendship-ending, rage-inducing, controller-through-the-TV-screen-causing moments in Mario Kart, there’s two things that usually spring straight to mind: someone picking Rainbow Road, and the use of the Blue Shell. Sure, the Blue Shell has that pure nuke shock-factor, turning runaway leads into crushing 11th-places in the blink of an eye, but a good race is built on more than relying on a sapphire Hail Mary raining hellfire from above. It’s the Red Shell that does the real leg work. Better than the unpredictable Green Shell, which more often than not bounces straight back into its user in an impressive display of instant karma, the Red Shell locks on to the target ahead, flying truer than a Bullet Bill. It’s great at levelling the playing field and giving you that brief window of opportunity to make a move into the lead — or at least giving those at the bottom of the pack a delicious taste of revenge. That said, it’s also not completely unbeatable, and so it brings balance to the inherent chaos of having a dinosaur and literal skeletons driving go-karts underwater.

The Red Shell is so good, in fact, that it’s been included in every Mario Kart title thus far, only improving on perfection when you manage to get three of them circling your kart at once, taking hits for your motorcade like they’re the Secret Service. You can even use them defensively, holding a shell behind your kart as a kind of bumper that negates another players’ attack. There’s no greater satisfaction than negating someone else’s Red Shell with your own. Can your Blue Shell do that?

The fact is, that when it comes to taking out the competition like a pro, and separating the men from the Baby Rosalinas, the Red Shell is the weapon you want to draw. Those Luigi death stares are totally worth it.

Tom: Super Mario Odyssey’s T-Rex

Screenshot provided by Simon Churcher

Super Mario Odyssey was a smash hit immediately upon release, an absolute triumph of respect and love for all previous entries to the Super Mario franchise and just a damn good platform adventure game to boot. Power-ups and transformations are a key mechanic in the Mario-verse (as this Multiplayer article clearly shows!) for opening up new areas and optimising traversal techniques, and Super Mario Odyssey sets the core gameplay around possessing enemies and items dotted around the game world by method of a sentient, soul-swapping headgear known as Cappy.

Perhaps as a commentary on the hyper-realism of AAA games today or perhaps because Nintendo simply thought it was funny, but with the throw of a cap you can become a highly detailed T-Rex! Even better you maintain Mario’s sexy moustache and sport the demon parasite known as Cappy upon your scaled head as you rampage across the various worlds. The invincibility of the Super Star fails to match the roar (get it?) power of T-Rex Mario. The stark contrast with the toon-like environments and the dinosaur’s detailed design add to the ridiculous enjoyment that Odyssey provides. As an added bonus, the first time you encounter — and subsequently possess — this marvellous lizard…  there’s also a trampoline! Not only can you become a prehistoric vessel of destruction, but you can flap those tiny little arms as you sail majestically through the skies!

Ty: DOOM (2016)’s BFG

DOOM has been synonymous with video gaming for as long as many of us can remember. It was a landmark for the industry and it set the standard for an entire genre to come, but the one thing that always comes to mind when I think about DOOM is just the absolute carnage it lets me inflict on Hell’s numerous monstrosities. Although you get a massive variety of tools with which to blast demons into oblivion, none stands out more than id Software’s crowning achievement of death-dealing insanity, the BFG — an abbreviation that needs no explanation. 

Although every game in the DOOM franchise features a variation of the BFG, the 2016 version is easily the best one. The BFG 9000 only holds three shots, but that’s really all you need. Acting less like a Big Fucking Gun and more like a Big Fucking Nuclear Weapon of Mass Destruction, the BFG 9000 wipes everything except the bosses out of existence entirely. On the face of it, it’s really nothing more than a Serious Sam-style screen clear, but the way it’s presented, with enemies exploring into little giblets… even the most pacifistic of us couldn’t help but smile. 

I’m not a huge fan of the way DOOM Eternal implemented the BFG, but it’s understandable given that it shares an ammo pool with the superior Unmakyr. Nonetheless, 2016’s take on the BFG taps into a more primal part of my psyche that’s buried deep in the back somewhere, and boy does it feel good.

Zack: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night’s Bat Form

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is a game all about upgrades. You scour Dracula’s castle, searching high and low for every weapon, companion, and ability that helps you unlock more and more of the world. Of these, the bat manages to stand out as one of the most useful, and most importantly fun, abilities in the game.

The Soul of Bat, as it’s known in the game, allows Alucard to transform into a bat and fly around, an ability that makes sense for a half-vampire. This was the transformation that made me fall in love with this game: what had previously been impossibly tall towers were now completely explorable; areas filled with enemies that were previously a death-trap could be freely flown over; and any platforming challenges I simply couldn’t be bothered doing became completely obsolete.

Then you unlock the Wing Smash. Allowing you to speed through enemies while completely invincible, this spell turns the bat from an amazing travel option into an attack in its own right. Adding an extra layer of utility to the bat transformation helps it stand out even more from the myriad of upgrades found in Symphony of the Night, and it’s this utility that makes it one of my favourite power-ups from gaming in general.

See what we mean? Power-ups are just… so much fun! Pop into the comments below, or join our various communities, and let us know what your favourite is!

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