Let’s take a step back really quick. I’ll give you a second or two to do that; actually, I’ll give you several, since it’ll probably take some time to get up, put on some fancy shoes (or pants if you’re one of those people), stretch, take a deep breath, drink some water… you know, whatever you need to do to get ready.
Ok, good. Now – and all at once mind you! I don’t want any of you slackers holding us back and ruining this! — step back.
Is that smartass who takes everything I say literally gone? Good. I hate that guy. Let’s try to get this over with quickly before he comes back.
This issue of Nintendojo had me look back at all the games I had ever played and assess the value of every power up I could recall, which, of course, led me to Mario… and, after thinking about it for all of a millisecond, I realized that there was really only one power-up worth getting in any iteration of Mario: the one that allowed the player to fly.
Seriously. Think about it for a bit; how often did you use any other power?
Excluding the first two Mario games, as they don’t contain a significant amount of – if any – power-ups, let’s take a look at the series, starting with Super Mario Bros. 3.
Three was the first of the series to introduce flight; although it wasn’t the most powerful ability in every situation (the frog suit trumps it in water levels, while the Tanooki suit wins hands down EMPHASIZING PERIOD) it certainly changed the gameplay of the series. Until this game, Mario only platformed and baddie-stomped; with flight, however, most obstacles in most levels (read: not the water levels or the scrolling levels) could be entirely avoided. It was like no-clip at the time, offering a fast and easy solution to every level (remember the stage with the Angry Sun? I don’t know that I’ve ever done that one the normal way). Beyond that seemingly unintentional reward came a very real one: areas that could not be reached without flight. More than a few stages contained hidden areas far above the normal stage that held coins and 1-up’s as if to say to the player, “Hey, don’t use anything other than this!” What this did was create a scenario that almost forced the player to use the Super Leaf in every stage, lest he miss something highly important, such as the flute hidden within the first dungeon level. But the parts of stages that required flight only held coins and 1-ups; nothing game altering like the stages within Super Mario World.
The problem with Super Mario World was that, if you wanted to clear the game 100%, then you were absolutely required to use the Feather Cape. Plenty of the hidden exits on stages were placed in areas off screen that could only be reached via the Feather Cape or with Yoshi’s wings. Although the cape was not as powerful as the Super Leaf – the latter allowing the player to slowly hover to the ground – the game was designed more around flying so that, unlike 3’s minor rewards for discovering hidden areas, it was almost as if you were punished for not either using the Feather Cape or having it as your back-up power-up (try saying that three times fast. Actually, don’t; it’s pretty easy to do).
As Mario found his way into 3D realms (not the developer), flight was less prevalent. Still, within Super Mario 64 many stages contained stars that could not be obtained without the Wing Cap. Yes, there were some stars that required the Invisibility Cap or Metal Cap, but there were significantly less than those which needed the Wing Cap.
When he finally reached Super Mario Sunshine, flight had died off further; the FLUDD gave the ability to hover but that is hardly the same. By the time Mario found his way to the galaxies (Super Mario Galaxy/Super Mario Galaxy 2), flight was all but gone; it’s still present in the Bee and Ghost forms but, as power ups play such a minor role for the majority of the game, they can hardly be compared to the game-breaking abilities offered by the Feather Cape and Super Leaf. Largely though, instead of flight dying off because of its overpowered nature, it instead disappeared due to the evolving nature of video games. It became unnecessary; obsolete. Look at Galaxy: the worlds are so small that flying would yield no gain. In fact, it might even cost you a life on the black hole levels.
Thankfully, nothing has truly replaced flight within Mario games, which is great. I really don’t want to feel like I’m being punished for not playing the game, and that is really what would happen in 3 and World. If you didn’t have the Feather Cape or Super Leaf active, and if you weren’t avoiding that part of the game, then it felt as if you were missing content, which is a really odd situation to have yourself in, as both cases involve a feeling of game content being lost.