Being Your Best Mario: Ranking the Power-Ups in Super Mario Bros. 3

Since I’m currently in the midst of a crushing run through Dark Souls, I decided I needed something to level my gaming mood out. Inspired by my recent ode to Luigi, watching a speed-run in person, and my undying love of Fred Savage’s 1989 opus, The Wizard, I opted to revisit perhaps the greatest 2D Mario of all time – Super Mario Bros. 3.

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If you let the wand hit the ground, it doesn’t really count as beating the boss

I tore through this iteration of the Mushroom Kingdom over the course of about 4 days thanks to some extremely short and inspired levels that still hold up almost 30 years later. What stood out the most to me, though, was just how amazing each different Mario transformation was (as I was doing this single player, I sadly could not choose my beloved Luigi). Having just played all of New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe and being fairly meh on all the power-ups, I found it especially impressive that the first real try at an expanded set of powers (previous entries only had the mushroom, flower, and star) probably succeeded greater than any of the follow-ups did. So, without further ado, here are my 100% accurate and definitive rankings of the power-ups in the game.

Note: only power-ups that transform Mario are included, so my apologies to the music box, magic flute, and cloud

10. Mushroom (Super Mario)

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The greatest gaming question of all time is how Mario’s creators decided eating a mushroom would make you bigger.

You’ll often find yourself breathing a sigh of relief when the block you just smashed your head against reveals a mushroom, giving you a valuable second hit and the ability to break bricks. Plus, the mushroom is a gateway power-up that leads you to even cooler and trippier ones. Still, the whole thing is fairly blah compared to all the other possibilities out there.

9. No Power-Up (Small Mario)

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Me with every doorway ever

While there’s a lot to love about transforming into the titular Super Mario, I dare say the game is more exciting when you’re but a wee lad. At this point, even the slightest mistake could be your last. Additionally, much like in my real life, you don’t have to duck to get under anything in your power-up-less state.

8. Star (Invincible Mario)

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Star power does not photograph well

Being invincible would seem to be a far more desirable state to be in than some of the later entires on this list, but the extremely fleeting nature of this power-up holds it back. I feel like later games in the series greatly expanded the duration of this power, which would have been greatly appreciated here.

7. Magic Wing

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Not pictured, me powered-up by the magic wing avoiding the hell out of all the dangers in this level.

This is a souped up take on the leaf power-up that appears a little further down. In this incarnation, Mario’s power meter is constantly full allowing you to fly whenever you want for however long your heart desires throughout a single level. While this is fantastic for essentially skipping an entire stage that you continue to fail at, it also means you have to hear the full power noise the entire level, which gets old after about 20 seconds.

6. Flower (Fire Mario)

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No, I did not just randomly shoot fireballs at nothing because I needed a screenshot…

Way back in the days of the original Super Mario Bros., Fire Mario was the epitome of power. In the ensuing years, it’s lost a little bit of its luster in favor of flying, but it also remained overpowered, as it can make quick work of bosses in the game. Throw in the fact that you can now use it to melt ice (which I can only imagine must have been mind-blowing in 1990), and the flower remains a go-to power-up.

5. Leaf (Racoon Mario)

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I definitely did not google “Can raccoons fly” to double check if this transformation actually made sense

Seeing Raccoon Mario on the cover of Mario 3 immediately tells you that this is an entirely new ballgame and that there is no limit to the fun you’re about to have. Thanks to a relatively bountiful supply, I probably used this power-up the most during my 5 hour or so playthrough. Sure, soaring through the skies to undiscovered areas is a blast, but the true testament to the leaf’s awesomeness comes in the fantastic tail you develop that can be used to attack and slow your falls, turning you into a leaf in the wind.

4. Goomba’s Shoe

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Fact: Home Improvement would have been 500x better if the neighbor’s face was always hidden by a shoe

Although not officially a power-up, the Goomba Shoe is one of the most memorable things in Mario 3 in part thanks to its scarcity, as it appears only in World 5-3. While in the shoe, you can stomp on previously unstompable enemies and walk on dangerous surfaces. But, most importantly, you look like a total badass peering out from under this wind-up shoe striking fear in the hearts of your foes.

3. Frog Suit

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Don’t mind me just creeping here

When utilized in water levels, the frog suit becomes perhaps the most useful in the game, as it turns you into an olympic caliber swimmer. Outside of the water, however, your movement becomes hindered as you can no longer run but rather lightly hop from place to place. I like to think this thoroughly creeps out enemies on those land encounters, which earns it some bonus points.

2. Hammer Suit

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Again, as a short person, I greatly appreciate the ability to hit things above me

For a while, I thought this might end up as number one on the list. By turning you into a mustachioed hammer bro, the Hammer Suit manages to improve upon the already awesome Fire Mario in every way. Your hammers travel upward instead of down, which is extremely useful given plenty of the levels have a certain level of verticality to them, and your shiny shell isn’t just aesthetically pleasing, it also allows you to protect yourself from the treacherous fire projectiles of your enemies. Unfortunately, the suit suffers from a major flaw. While wearing it, you CANNOT SLIDE down hills, nullifying what is probably the most fun thing you can do in this entire game.

1. Tanooki Suit

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Get you a man that looks at you the way I look at the Tanooki Suit

I audibly shouted “Yes!” when I found the first hidden block producing this precious gift from the Nintendo gods, as I had spent the entire game waiting for that exact moment. It features everything you love about Raccoon Mario in an even more adorably cuddly form that can further transform into a freaking invincible statue at a moment’s notice to save your ass. Three decades later, the Mario series has yet to top the perfection of Tanooki Mario.

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It’s important to protect the precious Tanooki Suit

In summary, stop what you’re doing now and go replay the all-time great Super Mario Bros. 3, so you and your inner child can enjoy all the wonderful power-ups contained within it.

3 thoughts on “Being Your Best Mario: Ranking the Power-Ups in Super Mario Bros. 3

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