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I don't think it's a secret that I'm a fan of the Mario franchise. I've played every iteration, including the Game Boy versions, and I've loved each and every one of them. Super Mario World remains my favorite game of all time, and I'm absolutely devouring the recent New Super Mario Bros Wii.
Through the series' history, many unique power ups have made appearances. From the oft-maligned Frog Suit to Mario Galaxy's Bee Suit, Mario has swapped out his signature overalls for countless weird and useful costumes throughout the years. Some were more useful than others, and these five are our picks for the best and most useful Mario power ups of all time.
Before we begin, a short note: the Mega Mushroom, Starman, and the Hammer from Donkey Kong were all excluded from consideration due to their limited duration. Yoshi was also excluded, as he is not a power up per se, but more of a vehicle. The Fire Flower and basic Mushroom also didn't make the list because while they are the most common, they are far from the most useful or fun.
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Helicopter Hat: New Super Mario Bros Wii
Probably my favorite power up from Mario's latest adventure (though the penguin suit has an almost Tanooki-like appeal, as well), the Helicopter Hat is incredibly useful in many situations. Whether you're trying to reach a secret hidden above or save yourself from a mistimed jump, the Helicopter Hat can keep you in the game.
Unlike most of the flight power ups in the Mario universe, the Helicopter Hat is so easy to activate it almost feels like cheating. No runway or cannon launch is necessary to take flight, all gamers have to do is shake their controller.
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Tanooki Suit: Super Mario Bros 3
No self-respecting Mario gamer should be surprised to find the Tanooki Suit on this list. This multipurpose, upgraded version of the standard Raccoon Suit gave Mario not only the ability to fly, but also allowed him to transform into a statue at will. The transformation wasn't terribly useful (you could drop on most enemies for an instant kill or allow them to harmlessly walk by when transformed), but I've never met anyone who would not choose Tanooki over Raccoon any day.
The Tanooki Suit remains one of the most revered power ups in Mario's arsenal. Just thinking about it makes me long to play Super Mario 3 again.
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Wing Cap: Super Mario 64
This one was honestly a tough decision. I'm a big fan of the Metal Mario power up from Mario 64, but I think the Wing Cap actually comes in handy in more situations in the game. I still remember frantically searching for a place to triple jump so that I could launch myself skyward in Mario's first 3D adventure. In a game so loaded with secrets at high altitudes, the Wing Cap was a true Godsend.
Of course, the best way to get airborne with one of these babies was to launch yourself out of a cannon. I spent hours finding different targets to launch myself towards, just to see what I could reach and what I couldn't. In a truly revolutionary game, the Wing Cap was a nod to Mario games of old that provided the advantage gamers needed to navigate in 3D for the first time.
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P-Wing: Super Mario Bros 3
If using the Helicopter Hat feels like cheating, using the P-Wing makes you feel like you wrote the test yourself. These overpowered items were few and far between in Mario 3, and when you got one you held onto it until you hit a level you just couldn't beat any other way.
The P-Wing allowed you to fly through any level for an indefinite amount of time. You didn't need a runway to take off, you simply coasted through the entire level. It was extremely useful for those levels requiring careful jumping, but it really shined when you were out to find secrets in a level. There were some hidden items you simply couldn't reach any other way.
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F.L.U.D.D.: Super Mario Sunshine
I know I'm going to catch some flak for this one, as Mario Sunshine isn't one of the series' most beloved iterations, but there really aren't many power ups in the Mario universe that can compare with this talking, water-squirting backpack.
F.L.U.D.D. was absolutely loaded with great abilities. Mario used it to clean up after Shadow Mario, spray enemies and stun them, and turn birds into coins or extra lives. F.L.U.D.D. could also equip various nozzles, giving Mario the ability to hover in place, extend his jumps, receive a run speed boost, run across water, and launch to great vertical heights.
In terms of overall usefulness, this is the one power up I want to be able to use in other Mario games. F.L.U.D.D. also offered in-game hints and the occasional bit of comic relief.
F.L.U.D.D.'s major disadvantage was that it needed to be refilled occasionally by jumping into water. Fortunately, water supplies were abundant on Delfino Isle, though they would be less so in other games.
Most of the power ups on this list offer some kind of flying advantage, and that is no accident. Mario's various missions usually require a fair bit of vertical movement and jumping, and anything that enhances these abilities is going to come in handy the majority of the time.
These are my personal picks for the 5 best Mario power ups of all time. What would you add or remove from the list? Please let us know in the comments section.