Skip to contents
Video Games

Mario Power-Ups, Ranked

Mario Bros figure is seen in a Nintendo store in New York City, United States on October 22, 2022. (Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto)
Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto

Mario! It’s the name on everyone’s lips. You see him everywhere these days. Multiple friends of mine went as assorted Marios for Halloween. Mitt Romney, who is not my friend, went as him for Halloween. He (Mario, not Mitt) has a new game out, which is fun, where he has a gun, which is kind of weird. He also has a movie coming out, which because I am an adult I will not be seeing. Everyone loves Mario, and no wonder: Who doesn’t want to be a little guy from Brooklyn?

But there are many Marios, and we must determine which Mario is the best Mario. So after an exhaustive process, below I have ranked Mario’s power-ups. While this ranking is definitive, it is not exhaustive, as I have not played all the games. But that’s OK; if those games’ power-ups were worth ranking I would have played them. QED. Let us begin!

12. Shoe.

Extremely stupid. Lets you jump on spikes. Why you would want to do that is beyond me.

11. Metal Mario

I have this recurring dream. In it, I’m on a ship—usually a big, ocean liner–type ship—in the middle of the Atlantic—do not ask me how I know it’s the Atlantic, but it is; dream logic is unassailable—when all of a sudden, for reasons that are never spelled out, I become incredibly, unsustainably dense and heavy. I immediately collapse to the deck, unable to move, as the force of gravity pulls me down. I struggle but can do nothing. I can feel the deck’s planking giving way, and I am sure that I will fall through to the next deck, and the next, and the next, until I plunge through the ship’s very hull and sink like a stone to the bottom of the ocean. I do not get that far; I invariably wake up in a cold sweat. For this reason, I do not care for Metal Mario.

10. Balloon Mario

This is obviously a fetish thing and I shan’t be acknowledging it.

9. Hammer Suit

Being able to throw stuff at stuff is a useful skill, in video games as in real life. Being able to throw hammers at turtles is moderately less useful in real life. At least Hammer Mario gets a cool helmet, all the better to not actually prevent concussions.

8. Frog Mario

Intermittently helpful, but do you know what would be even more helpful? Not putting water levels in your games in the first place, you monsters.

N/A. Yoshi

Yoshi is not a “power-up.” He is a living creature, with a soul, and hopes and dreams and a mortgage.

7. Tanooki Suit

You might think that the power-up that gives you the same ability as Raccoon Mario, plus an additional, entirely separate power, would rank higher than Raccoon Mario. Wrong. Because the Tanooki Suit’s statue power gets Mario grievously, fundamentally wrong. Mario is forward motion. Mario is an unstoppable force of nature, moving forever rightward. He is a Nietzschean, Randian super-man, being the world to his will, and seizing what he wishes as if there no distinction between desire and action. Above all else, though, Mario is a little guy who runs around. Turning into stone and waiting for danger to pass is a betrayal of the entire Mario mythos. I spit on Statue Mario!

On the bright side, this taught a generation about raccoon dogs. I like them.

6. Raccoon Mario

The power of flight is a wondrous thing, and it is thrilling to flap your little raccoon tail and sail off into the blue yonder (it is unclear who at Nintendo associated the notoriously rotund and earthbound raccoon with flight, and why, but we will not quibble). And when Mario does slip the surly bonds of earth, it feels like true freedom … for roughly 0.75 seconds until you smash into an enemy you didn’t see coming and become regular old flightless Mario. This would rank higher if not for the constant disappointment. Perhaps the lesson in Icaran hubris makes up for it.

5. Cape Mario

Beats Raccoon Mario on style points.

4. Super Mushroom

You are crawling through the wasteland, and death is at your heels. You are weak, and tiny; you are nothing. You are a flimsy protoplasmic sack, infinitely vulnerable to those who would do you harm, and to the elements themselves. You are so hungry. But there, in the distance, you see it. In the gracious shade of a severed, rotted stump, beside a dried-up stream bed, a perfect red-and-white cap; a single, solitary mushroom. Manna from heaven! You shall live. You shall have safety, and security, and confidence. Let us praise the humble fungus that makes us strong and gives us another lease on life.

3. Star

Mario is a game of the mind. Because you can not directly confront your persecutors—you must stomp them from above, or break them from below—you must use finesse, and planning, and physics to plot your course through the turtles and plants and wind-up walking bombs that would see you dead, eliminating them only at the exact angle and in the exact moment that they are vulnerable. It is every bit as intellectual a pursuit as chess or Go. That is, until you get the star. Then you are invincible. You are a bull and the entire mushroom kingdom is your china shop. The star is your ultimate power fantasy made tangible, and it comes with its own little theme song. Let all tremble before you. Your reign will be neither just nor merciful.

2. Fire Flower

They beg for compassion, and they will not find it in you. You are an avenging angel, incinerating the wicked and the innocent alike. Who can stop you? Can the gods? Or have the gods fled before the wrath of their own creation? You are Prometheus, but you bring not civilization but destruction. In the end, all shall be aflame.

1. Luigi

Search your feelings, you know it to be true.