Power-up in standby

Power-up

In computer and video games, power-ups are objects that instantly benefit or add extra abilities to the game character. This is contrast to an item, which may or may not have a benefit and can be used at a time chosen by the player. Although often collected directly through touch, power-ups can sometimes only be gained by collecting several related items, such as the letters of the word 'EXTEND' in Bubble Bobble. Well known examples of power-ups that have entered popular culture include the power-pills from Pac-Man and the Super Mushroom from Super Mario Bros.

Items that confer power-ups are usually pre-placed in the game world, spawned randomly, dropped by beaten enemies or picked up from opened or smashed containers. They can be differentiated from items in other games, such as RPG, by the fact that they take effect immediately, feature designs that don't necessarily fit into the game world (often used letters or symbols emblazoned on a design), and are found in certain genres of games. Power-ups are mostly found in action-oriented games such as maze games, run and guns, shoot 'em ups, first-person shooters, platform games, puzzle games, and vehicular combat games.

Types of powerups

Power-ups can be classified according to the type of benefit they give the player.

Offensive ability

Gives a new weapon, or transforms the player character into a more aggressive form that increases its attack power or makes some enemies vulnerable. This also includes "Nukes", which are weapons that destroy every enemy on the screen at once; these are prevalent in many different genres including vehicular combat, run and guns, and platform games. The effect can be time-limited, last until the player is hit, last until the player is killed, or last until game over.

Examples:

  • Mega Man: The weapons earned from the Robot Masters upon defeating them. The weapons are kept until the game is turned off (unless a password is used which can bring the player back to a point after the weapon was acquired) or when the game is completed.
  • Donkey Kong: The hammer that Mario can use to destroy barrels and fireballs. This effect lasts for approximately twenty seconds.
  • Pacman: Ghosts can be attacked after Pacman is transformed (temporarily) via power pills. This makes Pacman temporarily invulnerable, so the effect can be also considered defensive.
  • Super Mario Bros: The player can smash overhead bricks by jumping into them after picking up a Super Mushroom, and can throw fireballs at enemies after picking up a Fire Flower. Mario loses the Super Mario effect after being hit; if he has also collected a Fire Flower, then this is lost along with it.
  • Super Mario Bros. 3: Several new powerups are used. The Raccoon Leaf turns Mario into Raccoon Mario. The Tanooki Suit (that can only be gained in Houses and certain in-level hidden areas) has the same effect as the Leaf but adds the ability to hide as a statue. There is also a Frog Suit (enhances swimming), a Hammer Bros. suit (can throw hammers), and several assorted jewels.
  • Contra series: The various guns that come from the flying capsules or sensors. This effect lasts until the player loses a life.
  • Quake series: The Quad Damage item increases the damage the holders weapons can do. The effect only lasts for a short time.

Defensive abilities

Typically consists of items like shields (usually a "force field") surrounding the character that reflects projectiles or absorbs a certain amount of damage, or invincibility/invulnerability. In the case of invincibility is nearly always granted as a temporary bonus, because otherwise it negates the challenge of the game.

Invincibility (or "invulnerability") comes in two main forms: either the player character merely becomes intangible to harmful things, or can also damage enemies by contact. In either case the character is often still vulnerable to some threats, such as bottomless pits. In many games, invulnerability is also temporarily granted after the player gets hit or loses a life, so that the character will not be hurt/killed twice in quick succession. The effect is commonly indicated by making the player character flash or blink or by musical cues.

Examples:

  • Mario: The Starman, an item that grants temporary invulnerability for a period of twenty seconds. As a side effect, it also speeds up the timer of the level, so it might not be wise to pick it up while under certain circumstances (such as not having a lot of time left to end the level).
  • Sonic the Hedgehog: The Invincibility Box, which grants temporary invulnerability and lets you defeat enemies by simply touching them. This has the same effect as the starman, but it does not increase speed and does not speed up the timer.

Evasive abilities

Items which help the player avoid or escape enemies or enemy weapons. This category includes speed boosts and other power-ups which affect time, which can be temporary, permanent, or cumulative, and invisibility power-ups which help the player avoid enemies.

  • Rainbow Islands: The shoe power-up, which makes the player character move more quickly.
  • R-Type: The 'S' icon, which increases the player's speed every time one is collected.
  • Unreal Tournament, Quake 3: The Invisibility power-up, which turns the player into an indistinct wireframe or shadow. Similarly, radiation suits serve to deflect certain types of weapons as well.
  • Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII: The Dash materia, which allows Zack to move at double speed to help avoid enemy attacks.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog: The speed shoes in Sonic the Hedgehog grandt the player a small speed burst for a few seconds.

Access abilities

Items which help the player enter new or previously unaccessible areas, or "warp" to another level. Access abilities, depending on the game, can be required to progress normally or be entirely optional.

Examples:

  • Super Mario Bros. 3: The warp whistle, which allows player to warp to different levels, and the hammer, which allows players to take shortcuts on the overworld game map.
  • Mega Man series: The Rush power-ups, which allow the player to attain power-ups not possible by any other means. The most common are Rush Jet, Rush Coil, Rush Marine, and Rush Search.
  • "The Legend of Zelda: the Wind Waker": The song "Ballad of Gales" that you may play after defeating the God of Winds allows you to warp to specified areas in the game map.

Health and life reserves

Typically consists of Health (most typically in med. kits, food, or as energy) or 1-ups (which give an extra chance to continue playing after losing, commonly called a 'life').

Examples:

  • Super Mario Bros: The Super Mushrooms and 1-up Mushrooms that give Mario the ability to take an extra hit and extra lives (respectively).
  • Wonder Boy: Fruits recharge the continuously dwindling player energy.
  • Doom: First aid kits restore part of the player's health.
  • Legend of Zelda: The heart containers permanently extend to the player's total health.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Pizza pies, which fully restore the player's health.
  • Yashichi: a health power-up in many Capcom games
  • Jazz Jackrabbit: Grabbing a Floating Jazz head earns Jazz an extra life, while the carrots replenishes Jazz's health.
  • Quake 3: Picking up a Regeneration object temporarily causes the player to be able to heal rapidly after taking damage. Similarly, various types of one-time health bonuses can be found scattered throughout most arenas.

Token abilities

Items whose main feature is that they are found in large numbers, to encourage the player to reach certain spots in the game world. They have various cumulative effects.
Examples:

  • Super Mario Bros: Collecting 100 coins grants the player an extra life.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog: Collecting 100 gold rings grants the player an extra life, being hit by an enemy while carrying at least one ring causes the character to drop all rings instead of dying, and rings serve as a power source for a certain ability. (e.g turning into your character's super form if you have all 7 of the Chaos Emeralds [which are also tokens])
  • Crash Bandicoot series: By collecting 100 Wumpa fruits, the player earns an extra life.
  • Donkey Kong Country: By collecting 100 bananas a life can be gained.
  • Various games: Money can be collected and spent on other items or game events.

Trick power-ups

These power-ups try to trick the player into grabbing them, only to result usually into damage, removed abilities, or player death.

Examples:

  • Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels: Poison mushroom, which will kill/hurt the player most of the time, has a slim chance of also acting as a regular Super mushroom.
  • Bonk's Revenge: Fake power-up containers that actually release an enemy.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 3: Fake power-up containers that cause damage to Sonic.
  • Metroid Fusion: Some Energy or Missile Tanks are actually enemies in disguise, and usually lead to a room with the real power-up.
  • "Mario kart": in many of the games there are fake item boxes that stop the player if hit, usually different colored then real ones.
  • Mega Man ZX Advent: Blue life ups are actually flying enemies in disguise that will attack if Grey or Ashe comes too close.

Attaining power-ups

There are many different methods of attaining power-ups:

  • In many games, particularly platform games, there is one prevalent object scattered throughout each level that serves as a container for power-ups. In the Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden games this object is a candle or lantern, while in the Mario games, the oft-used container there is the "question block". In beat 'em up games, level-themed objects such as crates, barrels, or mailboxes serve as containers.
  • In many games, such as the Mega Man series, power-ups can be attained through the elimination of enemies.
  • It is common for games to also just leave the power-ups within plain view, such as in R.C. Pro-Am. It is also typical for games to require the player to travel a certain way or perform a specific action in order to attain said power-up, such as bombing through specific blocks in Super Metroid.
  • Power-ups can also be attained by interacting with certain objects at specific points in the level, e.g. the tractor-trailer truck in Spy Hunter.

Treasure chests

In many video games, especially computer role playing games, treasure chests contain various items, currency, and sometimes monsters. For certain role playing games, some chests are actually mimics, which is a monster that looks like a chest, but will attack the player when they attempt to open it. This is notably seen in the Seiken Densetsu and Dragon Quest series.

Treasure chests provide a means for the player to obtain items without paying for them in stores. In some cases, these chests contain items that can't be purchased at stores. Chests may be locked, requiring a key of some sort. For certain games, keys can only be used once, and the key is destroyed during its use. For other games, having a particular type of key means that the player can open any of the chests with a matching lock.

For most games, once a chest has been opened, the contents remain empty, although they may be repopulated with possibly different items during different stages of the game. This is different from perishable containers, such as crates and jars, which tend to reappear if the player exits the area and then returns.

Power-ups in shoot 'em ups

Shoot 'em up games have several unique aspects regarding power-ups that contrast it from other genres. Firstly, power-ups come from different sources than in other games. In some games, particular kinds of enemies or ground structures need to be annihilated to reveal powerups. Another common method of revealing power-ups is through the successful destruction of entire formation of enemies; usually the enemies are similarly colored or shaped. A power-up mechanic specific to shoot 'em ups is one that allows the player cycle through various types of abilities, either automatically or when shot. This allows the player to pick it up when it is of the type they want; this mechanic is used in many games, including 1943, Alpha Mission, and Side Arms.

Common Power-ups in shooter games include:

Companion fighter: A small object that follows the character and fires whenever the character fires- Commonly called a Wingman. Usually, the companion fighter has the same weapon as the character. In Gradius, the character's companion fighters are called options. Capcom's Forgotten Worlds game allowed the character to purchase companion fighters called satellites, though in this game each satellite had its own unique weapon (like homing missiles or napalm bombs). In Tyrian, Companion ships are available as a sidekick weapon, with a different weapon than the player's.

Directional shot:Fires additional shots behind and/or to the sides of the character.

Flamethrower: Generally a powerful weapon with a short range, flamethrowers sometimes allow the player to fire continuously by holding down the button. In some games, the flamethrower can destroy incoming shots.

Force field: Temporarily protects the character from harm.

Guided missile: A shot that homes in on the closest target.

Laser: Usually a powerful single beam that only travels in a straight line away from the character. In some games, like Konami's Gradius, lasers will travel through several enemies.

Multi-directional shot: A weapon that fires several shots (usually three to seven). These shots usually fan out in front of the character and cover a wide area. A good example is the Spread gun in Konami's Contra series. In games that feature ships, like Stinger and Star Soldier for the NES, multi-directional weapons can extend to cover the character's rear.

Power shot: Makes the character's shots more powerful. The arcade classic Gauntlet contains a power up that makes the character's attack stronger. In Tyrian purple orbs and metal bars increase the power of the front and rear guns, usually resulting in greater rate of fire, changes in appearance of the beam or blast, increase of the number of bullets shot all with an increase of power. Some Tyrian weapons can even pass through enemies and scenery. In the Super Arcade Modes of Tyrian 2000, if you grab a weapon pod of the same colour two or more times in a row, immediately powers that weapon up and also gives you an extra life until the weapon is at maximum power.

Rapid Fire: Allows a faster rate of fire.

Reflecting shot: This power up makes the character's attacks bounce off solid surfaces. This is another power up found in the Gauntlet games.

Wide shot: The power up increases the number of shots the character fires. Rather than causing the attacks to spread out, the number of forward facing shots increases. In Capcom's 1942, a common power up doubles the number of shots the character fires, going from two to four.

Power-up Crates

Power-up crates are small boxes that appeared in Real-Time Strategy games, most noticeable the Command & Conquer series, whereas when touched by one of the player's units, gave the player a random power-up. The power-up might give the player a free unit or it might upgrade the unit that picks it up. The power-ups included at first a Nuke, better Speed, Invincibility, Healing, Reveal Map, etc. Later games upgraded the unit further by promoting it, enhancing power, more armor, etc. In the game Command & Conquer: Red Alert, power-ups also appeared in the water because it was the first game in the series where the player could build ships. In the earlier games, there were fake crates. When the player's unit touched the crate, a bomb would explode and destroy all units within range, much to the players' dismay.

Selection bar

Instead of having the player collect a power-up that is "instantly" activated, an alternative means of powering up a player is to allow them to select which power-ups they want to utilize. This is method is commonly implemented through a 'selection bar which contains a number of power-up effects. To access the bar, the player must collect power-up items; the more they collect, the further along the bar they can access. The more powerful power-ups are traditionally placed further along the bar, so that more effort is required to obtain them. The selection bar was first used in Konami's 1985 hit, Gradius.

Origins of the term

"Power-up" and "1-up" are examples of a common form of wasei-eigo (Japanese pseudo-Anglicisms), in which the word "up" is prefixed by some desirable quality. The general meaning of X-up in Japanese is "this will increase your X" and this construction is regularly used in areas such as advertising. This is similar to another phrase, X get!, as seen in Super Mario Sunshine's Japanese version's "Shine Get!" phrase.

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