I’ve always been fascinated with the dramatic transformation that platformers undergo when players are given a powerup. It started in my first playthrough of Super Mario on the Game Boy, but more recently, it’s been Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time that has shown me just how far these items push the genre. In a way, I think that platformers with powerups are more tactical. I’d even go as far as saying that they’re in their own genre entirely. However, that’s not entirely fair when you start to count almost every item as a powerup. This article will explore this concept and explain why it’s now so necessary for a platformer to have powerups.
Mario is the undisputed king of platformers. Other contenders like Crash Bandicoot have come along with their own unique take, but Mario was always the progenitor. In the early titles, players had two powerups, the mushroom, and the fire flower. A mushroom gives Mario the ability to jump higher, run faster, and take a hit without dying. The fire flower does the same, but it also adds an offensive weapon to the player’s arsenal. Each one totally changes how you approach the level, but without them, the level is completely different once again.
Depending on how good you are at a platformer, you may shun powerups or opt to get them at every opportunity. In Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, there are rail sections that you need to actively take damage on if you want to get 100% completion for that level. Here, you can see the games using powerups in a tactical manner. Powerups didn’t always work like this, though. Mario games today still give you the option to complete a level without using powerups. That lofty goal of 100% completion is locked behind the mastery of the powerup system, though. Learning bit the most basic and advanced tactics to grab the final Star or Moon.
Think back to when you first played any platformer. Your only goal was to complete the level. You had no concerns for the collectibles in each mission and no cares for the additional paths you could take. At that point in time, the platformer was just that, a platformer. Afterward, though, once you’d mastered the level and wanted more of a challenge, the powerups come into play. These additional items give you the option to open new paths, take down more enemies, or get hit and enter a new area that you couldn’t before.
This is where tactics enter platformers, and it’s all because of powerups. It’s a theme that’s become so synonymous with games that businesses like PowerPlay have built themselves based on the names of these items. It’s more than a household name now. It’s a saying. If you’re thinking about taking your career to the next level, you’re using a powerup or are leveling up. The concept is the same. You’re adding a skill that makes you better, improving your base stats. All of this started with Mario and other similar platformers that completely change when you pick up a powerup.
Powerups are still as relevant today as they were in the original Mario games. They’re a game mechanic that improves the protagonist’s abilities. Sometimes they’re hidden, but they’re always there. Developers have crafted clever ways to disguise them, such as the system in Cities Skylines that opens up more buildings as your population grows. These will never disappear from games. They’re too intrinsically linked. The next time you play a game, even if it’s the next Call of Duty, think about how powerups change it for you the moment you obtain them, and then think about Mario.