Since its inception the Super Mario Bros. series has allowed its hero to pick up powerups that grant him new abilities. They’ve varied across the games over the 30 years since the first entry. The criteria for this list is that the item must grant Mario new abilities for a certain amount of time. So you won’t find 1ups or coins in this list. With one notable exception, I also avoided items Mario ‘rode’ in. In composing the list I considered each item’s usefulness in the context of its game(s), the lasting impact, and nostalgia. So let’s get to it!
Honorable mentions: Super Mario 3D World has a few blocks and items that I left out since 1) they’re mostly used in 1-2 instances and 2) the list was getting pretty long as it is. The best of them was probably the Cannon Box, that when worn allowed Mario and others to fire shots horizontally. It also could damage other party members so you had to be careful in multiplayer (or not). SM3DW also has Ice Skates, the Light Box, and the Propeller Box.
40. Mini Mushroom (New Super Mario Bros.): The only item on this list that will make Mario more vulnerable, the Mini Mushroom is its own kind of hell. Besides reducing Mario down to a one-hit wonder, it makes his jump floaty and forces him to butt stomp to take out even the weakest enemies. Worse, you needed to hold onto it through an entire fortress to get two of the worlds in NSMB.
39. Spring Mushroom (Super Mario Galaxy): Unwieldy and frustrating, the Spring Mushroom is the least intuitive part of an otherwise excellent Mario game. It’s not difficult to get the hang of, but it’s never a good time either.
38. Blue Shell (New Super Mario Bros.): The concept of bowling through enemies as a Koopa seems like it has a ton of potential, which makes the scarcity of Blue Shells so baffling. They’re also difficult to use when precise jumping is key, reducing their versatility. A missed opportunity for NSMB.
37. Carrot (Super Mario Land 2): A lot of items give Mario the ability to float, but the Carrot is the only one that doesn’t confer on him any other powers. The platforming in SML2 isn’t even particularly challenging, making them largely unnecessary.
36. Red Star (Super Mario Galaxy): Granting Mario the ability to fly, the Red Star is used to collect exactly one Star in SMG. It also appears in the hub world.
35. Superball Flower (Super Mario Land): Initially the Superball sounds like an excellent weapon. It bounces off walls and collects coins! Unfortunately in practice it didn’t prove to be very useful. Enemies had to be either directly in front of Mario or sitting at specific angles for the Superball to prove its worth. And it’s coin-collecting ability was only useful in a few spots.
34. Power balloon (Super Mario World): As the Mario series matured, Nintendo frequently threw in temporary powerups designed for specific levels and scenarios. The Power Balloon was one such item, only appearing a few times in SMW, most memorably in the controller-smashingly hard Tubular level.
33. Turbo nozzle (Super Mario Sunshine): Rather than exclude SMS from the list entirely, I decided to count each nozzle type as a different powerup. The weakest of these was the Turbo nozzle, which was only useful in certain situations. Firing the Turbo Nozzle allowed Mario to travel quickly across the water, but on land there were better ways to get around quickly. Worse, Mario lost the hover function when the Turbo nozzle was equipped, a bad tradeoff.
32. Vanish Cap (Super Mario 64): Of the three caps in SM64, the Vanish Cap is easily the weakest. It boasts neither the invincibility of the Metal Cap nor the mobility of the Wing Cap, instead merely allowing Mario to pass through certain walls.
31. Invincibility Leaf (Super Mario 3D Land): Conferring invincibility and additional life-saving measures for an entire level, the Invincibility Leaf would be the ultimate Mario item, except it’s only offered when Mario loses too many lives on a single level. To inexperienced players this might feel like an olive branch, a way of the game saying “Let’s get past this part so you’re not stuck here”. To a seasoned Mario veteran it’s a taunt, chiding them for sloppy play and questioning their mental fortitude.
30. Boo Mushroom (Super Mario Galaxy): The Boo Mushroom doesn’t overstay its welcome, appearing only a few times in SMG and SMG2. It lets Mario fly through the air and pass through walls. Not terribly exciting, but you can play as a Boo! Pretty cool, right?
29. Bee Mushroom (Super Mario Galaxy): Besides being absolutely adorable, Bee Mario can hover in the air and cling to certain surfaces. It’s not the most versatile powerup — Mario actually loses a lot of his moves– but the novelty of the outfit and its sparse use keep it from getting old. Annoyingly the stinger is just for show.
28. Rocket Nozzle (Super Mario Sunshine): While more useful than the Turbo nozzle, the Rocket Nozzle still never made a great case for itself, only being useful in vertically-oriented stages. Its most interesting use was allowing skilled players to access SMS’ later levels early with some creative acrobatics.
27. Spin Drill (Super Mario Galaxy 2): One of three new powerups introduced in SMG2, the Spin Drill is used to solve simple puzzles and a clever boss fight. Like most Galaxy items it’s only used a few times but feels satisfying.
26. Rock Mushroom (Super Mario Galaxy 2): The Rock mushroom gives Mario the ability to roll through obstacles and launch off of ramps. It makes a few appearances in SMG2 requiring players to deftly maneuver it through an obstacle course or use it to knock over bowling pins.
25. Mega Mushroom (New Super Mario Bros): Looking back on NSMB, it feels like the developers were looking for marketable ideas instead of things that will enhance gameplay. Make Mario become HUGE! Or small. Or a Koopa! The Mega Mushroom is certainly a fun item, turning Mario into a gigantic wrecking machine that demolishes everything in his path. However, it could also destroy pipes that possibly lead to Star Coins, NSMB’s collectible for unlocking secret worlds. The fear of missing secrets put a damper on the otherwise-fun Mega Mushroom.
24. Cloud Flower (Super Mario Galaxy 2): Out of all the new SMG2 powerups, the Cloud Flower fares the best, complementing Mario’s moveset by allowing him to form clouds beneath his feet. Those clouds can be pushed by the wind.
23. Metal Cap (Super Mario 64): Boasting his own theme, Metal Mario has persisted the longest of all SM64’s powerups, appearing as a racer in Mario Kart 8 DX and even an item in Smash Bros. Being invincible and able to sink in the water, it’s a neat temporary boost, even if the metallic texturing is laughable by today’s standards.
22. Frog Suit (Super Mario Bros 3): The ultimate swimming accessory, the Frog Suit allows Mario to glide effortlessly through the water. Unfortunately, it’s not nearly as useful on land, as Frog Mario can’t run and jump normally and only hops awkwardly.
21. Propeller Mushroom (New Super Mario Bros Wii): The Propeller Mushroom can propel Mario, Luigi, and Toad upward, even in mid-air. It’s handy for reaching out of the way places or correcting a misplaced jump.
20. Kuribo’s Shoe (Super Mario Bros 3): Featured in only one level in one Mario game (at least until Mario Maker), this item holds a special place in old-school gamers’ hearts. The bouncy bit of footwear can stomp spiky enemies and walk on munchers.
19. Wing Cap (Super Mario 64/Super Mario Galaxy): The first cap in Super Mario 64 is also its best. Players found they could soar through the air, quickly reaching remote parts of the level. .
18. Gold Flower (New Super Mario Bros. 2): The Gold Flower has the ability to turn almost any enemy or block into coins. This works great for clearing a path through enemies while racking up a few coins along the way. Unfortunately Mario loses the Gold Flower at the end of the level, limiting its usefulness.
17. Double Cherry (Super Mario 3D World): The Double Cherry makes a copy of your character that mimics the original’s actions. The clones have the same abilities has the original, meaning four Fire Marios can rain hell upon all in their way. In multiplayer each player can have their own clones and steal others’, making for a chaotically hilarious time.
16. Boomerang Flower (Super Mario 3D Land): Similar to the Hammer Bros suit, the Boomerang Flower lets Mario cosplay their boomerang cousins. It can be used to attack and pick up items. It’s only the projectile on this list that will fly out in a straight line in front of Mario.
15. Ice Flower (Super Mario Galaxy): Although it originally appeared in a Mario & Luigi game, the Ice Flower made it into Mario platformers. In NSMB games Ice Mario can freeze enemies to make stepping stones or projectiles, making it handy in a variety of scenarios. But in Super Mario Galaxy he really shines, skating across lava and spin jumping through the air.
14. Super Acorn (New Super Mario Bros. U): With it’s floating and air boost mechanics, the Super Acorn feels like a retread of other, more memorable powerups. Squirrel Mario can also cling to walls, but it’s rarely needed. Still, it proved useful for traversing the worlds of NSMBU.
13. Hover Nozzle (Super Mario Sunshine): One of the two default functions of the FLUDD pack, the hover function was a lifesaver when a misplaced jump was about to send Mario plummeting to his death. It was also used for a few clever boss fights.
12. Squirt Nozzle (Super Mario Sunshine): The only nozzle that can’t be replaced, the Squirt Nozzle is also the most essential. Mario used it for everything from cleaning up sludge, pushing around fruit, and taking down that @#$%^$#@ Shadow Mario.
11. Penguin Suit (New Super Mario Bros Wii): Penguin Mario combines the best parts of the Ice Flower and Frog Suit, swimming quickly and shooting slightly nerfed iceballs. He can also slide on ice, making freezing levels a delight. The fact he looks adorably silly is just a bonus.
10. Super Bell/Lucky Bell (Super Mario 3D World): Despite the annoying “meow” he insists on torturing me with, Cat Mario proves his worth from the very first level of SM3DW. He can climb walls, claw enemies and dive bomb at an angle. The Lucky Bell adds the ability to transform into Lucky Cat Mario, a statue that generates coins when Mario does a butt-stomp.
9. Star Man/Super Star (Super Mario Bros.): Granting invincibility for a few seconds, the Star Man was your cue to go hogwild, plow through your enemies, possibly perform some bad-ass flips and then fall in a pit because you were a kid hopped up on sugar. Fun bit of trivia: There are a few levels in SMB3 you can play nearly the whole way through while invincible, collecting Starmen along the way.
8. Hammer Suit (Super Mario Bros 3): The Hammer Bros Suit earned its high placement here almost purely based on hype and nostalgia. In the original SMB Hammer Bros were the bane of my existence, especially if you didn’t have a Fire Flower. The gaps to sneak by their hammers were small and their behavior was unpredictable. Worse, if you took too long to make a move the Hammer Bros would charge toward you!
So 10-year-old me’s jaw hit the floor when Nintendo Power teased that you could get a Hammer Bros suit in SMB3. Weep puny Koopas, the hunted have become the hunters! Mwahahaha… ahem. And the Hammer Bros suit proved itself more than just a bit of fan service. The hammer’s arc changed with Mario’s momentum and ducking in the Hammer Bros suit shields Mario from fireballs. Best of all, it could take down Bowser in four hits!
7. Super Leaf/P-Wing (Super Mario Bros. 3): An iconic milestone of the 8-bit era, the Super Leaf took Mario to new heights. Raccoon Mario could soar through the air, accessing upper parts of the level. He also could swing his tail to attack enemies and hit blocks on the ground. The P-Wing granted Mario infinite air time, making even the most difficult level a breeze.
6. Tanooki Suit/Statue Leaf (Super Mario Bros. 3): Tanooki Mario manages to one-up Raccoon Mario adding statue transformation to his moveset. As a statue Mario became temporarily invulnerable and could stomp spiky enemies. Nearly 20 years after his first appearance Tanooki Mario returned to SM3DL and what initially felt like a cute, playful character had become a subtle nod to the furry community. Not that there’s anything wrong that, just that pose to the left reads differently now. Or maybe that’s just me.
5. Cappy (Super Mario Odyssey): Cappy stretches the rules of this list, since Mario rarely is without the sentient dome topper in SMO. Still, the list would be incomplete without noting its ability to possess enemies and objects, allowing Mario to inhabit Goombas, Bullet Bills, power lines, birds, and even a T-Rex. Cappy also helps Mario to traverse his surroundings. He can use the hat as a springboard, shoot it out to hit enemies and pick up items.
4. Cape Feather (Super Mario World): The Cape Feather takes Mario to the skies once again, but ups the ante by placing no limits on Mario’s time in the air. As long as nothing gets in his way Mario can fly with the Cape indefinitely. But players looking to breeze by the hazards will find that the Cape requires more dexterity to stay in the air. Cape Mario also can also float and spin-attack enemies, similar to Raccoon Mario.
3. Yoshi (Super Mario World): Unquestionably the star of SMW, Yoshi grants a host of new options to Mario. Yoshi can eat most small enemies and walk on spiky hazards. He also breathes fire and flies temporarily when he eats red and blue Koopa shells, respectively. Recent games gave Yoshi a flutter jump, further expanding his utility. Also this one time they made him dissolve when he touched water, but let’s pretend that didn’t happen.
Unlike most powerups, Yoshi isn’t instantly lost upon taking a hit, running off instead. As long as Mario can catch up to the dino, he can hold onto him forever. And if he’s falling towards the dark abyss Mario can even hop off of Yoshi, saving himself.
2. Fire Flower (Super Mario Bros.): The Fire Flower has appeared in nearly every 2D Mario game, a testament to its enduring usefulness. Sniping grounded enemies from a safe distance, Fire Mario provides a level of security from hazards. In the original SMB losing the Fire Flower was a huge setback, sending Mario back to his regular form and forcing him to find two more powerups to regain his firepower.
1. Super Mushroom (Super Mario Bros.): As the first line of defense, the Super Mushroom is peerless. In addition to letting Mario take an extra hit, it allows him to break bricks. Facing down an enemy in a tight passage? Break a hole in the ceiling and make a new path. And most of the time the Super Mushroom must be collected before Mario can grab stronger powerups.
But there’s a psychological benefit to the Super Mushroom too. As long Mario as has a Super Mushroom, players are free to run through levels and charge into the fray. But once Mario is no longer is Super they’ll want to play a bit more cautiously, lest they take a hit and be sent back to the beginning of the level.
The amazing header image came from here