Since Mario’s earliest romps through the Mushroom Kingdom, Mario has always taken advantage of the fantastical power-ups strewn across the land to save the Princess. Nowadays, Mario seems to have a power-up or item for practically any situation – but it was not always this way. There was once a time when Mario had little more than a couple of mushrooms and some fireballs to gain headway. Since then, the Italian plumber’s array of power-ups has grown and evolved to an unexpected degree. Let’s take a look at how Mario’s special pick-ups have changed over the ages.
From the outset of Super Mario Bros., mushrooms changed very little only until New Super Mario Bros. introduced two new mushroom types. This story changes depending on what part of the world you live in.
In the first Mario Bros. game, Mario could nab a Super Mushroom, which turned him into Super Mario, of course. As Super Mario, the player gains quite a lot from the height and size increase. More importantly, though, Super Mario can take two hits from enemies before dying, whereas regular Mario loses a life with just one touch. To regain lives, the game also provided 1-Up Mushrooms, which increase life count by one.
These two mushrooms were then the only mushrooms available in most Mario games that followed the original. The 1-Up Mushroom made an appearance even in Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine, both of which removed the Super Mushroom and the one/two-hit system with a health gauge. However, in the Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2, players were introduced to the Poison Mushroom, which had the opposite effect of a Super Mushroom. The Poison Mushroom would appear in The Lost Levels as part of Super Mario Bros. 2, but would not again appear in a non-spinoff title for a long while.
New Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo DS would finally invigorate the eventual burst of specialized mushrooms now found frequently in new Mario games. Mini Mushrooms, allowing Mario and Luigi to access tiny areas of a stage and tiny pipes, as well as Mega Mushrooms, which turn Mario and Luigi into devastating giants capable of tearing up whole portions of the stage, joined Super and 1-Up Mushrooms as the Mario Bros. source of special power. While becoming a giant helps rack up points, many special coins and secret areas are only accessible with a Mini Mushroom.
When Mario then returned to consoles with Super Mario Galaxy, we found mushrooms taking up specialized roles normally fulfilled by non-mushroom special items. Mario can modify himself with different abilities and looks thanks to the Bee Mushroom, Boo Mushroom, and Spring Mushroom. These fungi were some of the first to completely change Mario’s form without having him don a suit of some kind. Super Mario Galaxy 2 capitalized by including all of Galaxy’s special mushrooms while also adding the Rock Mushroom, which does pretty much what you think it does. The Galaxy series became the first time Mario could alter his entire identity by becoming an enemy since Super Mario Bros. 3.
Meanwhile, New Super Mario Bros. Wii followed its predecessor with the Propeller Mushroom which, you guessed it, plops a big propeller on Mario’s head for higher jumps and increased jump distance. With four players running around with propeller heads, grabbing coins becomes effortless.
After several games of sometimes ridiculous mushrooms, Super Mario 3D Land spun the Mario series in a unique way while dialing down the amount of available mushrooms. Mushrooms became non-specialized again, as individual special items were introduced to fulfill specific needs. Instead, the super mushroom and 1-Up mushroom were joined by the poison mushroom, more commonly found in Mario Party than in a game of Super Mario Bros. Just like in The Lost Levels, the poison mushroom knocks Super Mario down a notch and regular Mario into his grave.
When the New Super Mario Bros. series returned, however, so too did some of the less specialized mushrooms. New Super Mario Bros. 2 brought back both the mega and mini mushrooms while simultaneously adding the Golden Mushroom, an exotic mushroom that grants coins and lives. Despite its lucrative output, it has yet to be seen since, except in the Mario Kart series, where it gives racers a temporary round of multiple boosts that can be used to cut corners and pass-up opponents. Interestingly, this rare mushroom was intended to be in Super Mario World as a means to get more lives than found in a 1-Up Mushroom, but it was cut before the final release.
Following the Galaxy series, mushrooms seem to have lost much of their specialized breeds. Both New Super Mario Bros. U and Super Mario 3D World did not introduce any new kind of mushroom, instead creating new power-up items outside the mushroom family tree.
Like mushrooms, the various flower power-ups found in the Mushroom Kingdom changed very little in the early days of the series. After the Fire Flower, which gives Mario the power to cast fireballs from his palms, made its first appearance in Super Mario Bros., it was the only breed of power-up flower in the entire series until the introduction of the Ice Flower in New Super Mario Bros. Wii. The fire flower did not show up in the Super Mario Bros. 2 released outside of Japan, but it was included in the Japanese version (and, therefore, in The Lost Levels). Super Mario 64 had absolutely no flower power-ups present whatsoever until Super Mario 64 DS, which introduced the one-time Power Flower. The power flower granted each playable character (Mario, Luigi, Wario, and Yoshi) their character-specific ability for a limited time.
While the fire and ice flowers operate exactly the same, despite being different substances, the Cloud Flower introduced in Super Mario Galaxy 2 proved to be much more unique. As Cloud Mario, clouds can support the plumbers footsteps, while Mario himself can create three cloud platforms if need be.
Now an iconic, and frequently troublesome, item addition to the Mario Kart series, the Boomerang Flower made its debut in Super Mario 3D Land on the 3DS. Most enemies collapse under the mighty power of Mario’s boomerang, which can be slung far distances to knock out Bowser’s henchmen. Though 3D Land released around the time of fellow 3DS title Mario Kart 7, the Boomerang made by the Boomerang Flower would not appear in the Kart series until Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U, although the flower itself doesn\’t make an appearance.
The last known flower power-up can be found in New Super Mario Bros. 2, where Mario can grab a Golden Flower that turns enemies into coins with a well-placed shot.
When Mario needs a job done, he needs the right tool. Although, for a time, special mushrooms became Mario’s way of getting many unique, ability-modifying power-ups, most special powers come from specific special items found through the series. Mario’s rich and plentiful assortment of items in today’s games may be useful in different and sometimes specific contexts, however the Italian’s original special item fulfilled his fantasy of running through enemies like an indestructible tank.
The Super Star, first found in Super Mario Bros., has become a mainstay of the Mario series, appearing in a majority of Super Mario Bros. games and in their spinoffs. With a super star, Mario can barrel through enemies without taking a hint of damage until the power-up fades. This invincibility went unmatched until Mario gained some new tricks in Super Mario Bros. 3.
The third Super Mario Bros. installment increased the number of special items by introducing suits, each one delivering specific abilities and stat increases. For traveling in the air, Mario can don a Tanooki Suit, which not only grants the powers of a super leaf but allows him to turn into a statue. For traveling on the ground, Mario can stack his offensive prowess with the Hammer Suit, which offers hammers that do much more damage than a fireball. And, for a nautical excursion, Mario can slap on the Frog Suit, giving him ample movement in the water and a higher jump. Even spike traps and spike fields weren\’t enough to stop Mario, who could grab a Kuribo’s Shoe to keep himself safe.
Super Mario 64 tossed away the suits in favor of cap variations. The aforementioned wing cap was joined by the Vanish Cap, making Mario temporarily unnoticeable to the naked eye and allowing him to pass through certain fences and walls, as well as the Metal Cap, turning Mario into a walking metal man with a lot of extra weight to throw around. The Metal Cap would spawn the rise of Metal Mario, who would go on to appear as an enemy in Super Smash Bros. 64 and a playable character in both Mario Kart 7 and Mario Kart 8. Who would\’ve guessed that?
New Super Mario Bros. would then harness the power of the Koopa shell. Known as a menace in the Mario Kart series, a new kind of Koopa shell surprised Mario as a power-up. The Blue Koopa Shell is the first time a Koopa shell can be used as a stand-alone item (in Super Mario 64, Mario can get a green shell off the back of a Koopa, but can only ride the shell like a surfboard rather than wear it). Just like a normal Koopa shell kicked around a stage, Mario can turtle up and ricochet around a stage when using the blue Koopa shell. This made this new special item one of the most satisfying new item entries to the series, and its a shame that it hasn\’t reappeared sooner, as there’s nothing quite like taking out a line of Goombas and bouncing off boxes just like a Koopa would.
Super Mario Galaxy would facilitate the return of the super star, but not to confuse these invincibility-granting items with the collectable Power Stars, they were renamed Rainbow Stars. This would be the first and final star item found in the Galaxy series.
The rest of the New Super Mario Bros. series was rather light on new, non-mushroom special items, as well as Super Mario 3D Land. New Super Mario Bros. Wii introduced a new outfit in the Penguin Suit, allowing Mario to slide on his belly just like an actual penguin. This would help continue the trend of animal-based power-ups first started in Super Mario Bros. 3 and extending into Super Mario 3D World. Super Mario 3D Land reworked the propeller mushroom into the Propeller Box, while New Super Mario Bros. U introduced the Boost Star, a one-of-a-kind power-up that allows the player to destroy boxes and other targets with the GamePad’s touch screen.
Then, as the most recent Mario series title, Super Mario 3D World decided to bust out the special item extravaganza. Around a half dozen special items joined the fray for the first time, offering never-before-seen abilities to the Mushroom Kingdom. The most well-known has become the Lucky Bell, turning Mario into a wall-climbing, dive-kicking, ferociously feline hero named Cat Mario. To get some invincibility with a side of catnip, Mario can grab a Super Bell which turns Mario into an unstoppable cat for a brief time.
But if Mario doesn\’t want to wear the whiskers, 3D World goes far beyond the pawed powers of the lucky and super bells. A variation of the Kuribo Shoe, dubbed the Ice Skate, helps Mario and friends traverse icy terrain and dodge figure-skating Goombas. To deal heavier damage, Mario can stick his head in a Cannon Box to fire off damaging rounds, while wearing a Goomba Mask will help maintain a low-profile. Of course, if you don\’t care about that at all, grab a Double Cherry. Mario will multiply, allowing you to kick butt with helpful copies right at your side, mimicking every move. In the land of 3D World, the original line-up of items simply would not have cut it.
Mario spends much of his time stomping Goombas and jumping over Piranha Plants, but that isn\’t to say that he is unfamiliar with taking to the air. In many Super Mario games, Mario gains the capacity to glide short distances or even soar across the entire stage without hesitation. These abilities tend to be derived from specialized mushrooms or otherwise unique special items.
Super Mario Bros. did indeed introduce the very first special item – the Super Star – and the unmistakable tune that plays when you get one, but it wouldn\’t be until Super Mario Bros. 3 that Mario would take to the skies. Grabbing a Super Leaf gives Mario the ability to temporarily glide, as well as sock opponents with a fluffy tail, while obtaining the P-Wing allows Mario to fly indefinitely.
Super Mario World decided that Mario flying indefinitely may not be the best idea, so they introduced the Cape Feather, which more or less allows Mario to fly just as many ridiculous distances. Donned in a cape, Mario can also damage enemies with a spin jump, while his overall descent speed is lowered. If he’s looking just for a simple float instead, taking a P-Balloon will help, but it may not get you any farther than a Cape Feather will.
Arriving in a strange, yet familiar dimension in Super Mario 64, the plumber still couldn\’t go without his wings. Traversing certain parts of Mario’s first 3D adventure absolutely require the Wing Cap, which allows Mario to catch some air and access normally unreachable areas or pick-ups. And, though he gained a health gauge, Mario also began to lose his hat here and there, which isn\’t particularly helpful when most power-ups in this game are caps.
Though we can find many breeds of mushrooms becoming specialized items, every flying item in the series is a non-mushroom item except for the Propeller Mushroom. In Super Mario Galaxy, we were then introduced to the first and only star capable of inducing flight – the Red Star. Mario can fly about on a planet, but is unfortunately barred from exploring the galaxy using this item, making it a rather disappointing pick-up filled with a lot of potential. Super Mario Galaxy 2 was less than keen on flying items, it seems, as the only other similar item to appear would be the Blimp Fruit, which isn\’t even utilized by Mario but eaten by Yoshi and, as the named suggests, turns him into a blimp rather than a flier.
After a long hiatus, leafs would return to Mario’s arsenal in Super Mario 3D Land. Joining the Super Leaf from Super Mario Bros. 3, the Statue Leaf and Invincibility Leaf are variations of the Super Leaf with some extra additives. Along with granting Mario with limited flight, the Statue Leaf can turn Mario into a statue just like the Tanooki Suit, while the Invincibility Leaf works like a Super Leaf that negates all damage. Even the P-Wing returned in Super Mario 3D Land, giving this title the largest amount of flying items in a Mario game in quite some time.
Finally, in New Super Mario Bros. U, Mario can grab a new species of items – acorns – which work similar to the Super Leaf. A Super Acorn turns Mario into Flying Squirrel Mario, granting him a glide and a secondary jump, while a P-Acorn grants indefinite second jumps.
Yet, without the original mushrooms or the lone Fire Flower, we wouldn\’t have the crazy power-ups that we have today. The likes of Cat Mario, Propeller Mario, Boo Mario, or Tanooki Mario would not exist without first grabbing a Super Star in World 1. And now, what will the future of Super Mario hold for the family tree of power-ups?