In most old-school video games, it’s basically you (and maybe a second player) against the hordes of evil. And most of the time, you start out severely underpowered in trying to overcome those odds. This is especially true on games that came out on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Fortunately, during your journey, you do come across better and more powerful abilities to try to even things out. It may come in the form of a better weapon or a useful new ability. Whatever the case may be, these power ups were usually a welcome sight in those good old NES games.
Unfortunately, there are going to be exceptions to this rule. Some of these so-called power ups are simply not up to snuff, have more weaknesses that counter their effectiveness or, at the very least, rendered virtually useless because of much better ones that are in there.
Oh, and by the way, those expecting to see the the Poison Mushroom from the Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2 somewhere on this list, prepare to be disappointed.
Simply put, the Poison Mushroom isn’t on this list because it doesn’t belong in it! Classifying the Poison Mushroom as a “power up” would be incorrect as it doesn’t give you any sort of edge. It’s just there to kill you! It’s more like a trap than a power up.
Anyway, with that out of the way, let’s go look at five of the most underwhelming power ups found in NES games.
Frog Suit (Super Mario Bros. 3)
Super Mario Bros. 3 definitely upped the ante when it came to power ups. In the first game, you were basically limited to the Big Mushroom and the Fire Flower and maybe the occasional Super Star. Super Mario Bros. 3 added a slew of new power ups like the Raccoon Leaf, the Hammer Suit, the Tanooki Suit and the Goomba Shoe, to name a few. However, the worst new power up for the game has got to be the Frog Suit.
The Frog Suit isn’t useless though, especially for the novice to intermediate gamer. It allows Mario to swim through the water stages with more control and faster as well. Mario also can jump higher and further when he’s wearing the Frog Suit. Unfortunately, the suit deprives him from his legendary ability to run really fast! This is a huge detriment for most players as it makes it much more difficult to position Mario for the more difficult platforming levels. And since most of Super Mario Bros 3 is about platforming, the Frog Suit becomes more of a detriment than a benefit.
The original Castlevania on the NES is one of those games you can be proud of finishing. It’s very difficult but oh so satisfying to beat. While Simon Belmont’s powered up whip is all you really need to beat the game, Castlevania’s bevy of sub-weapons definitely makes the journey to the top of Dracula’s castle much more bearable. The game has some really great weapons, such as the Holy Water, the throwing Axe and the Stopwatch are just a few of the awesome sub-weapons you can acquire. Unfortunately, Castlevania also sports one of the most underpowered sub-weapons ever to grace the NES: the Knife.
In theory, the Knife isn’t a bad weapon. It’s fast and travels full screen, making it possible to hit enemies from a safe distance. Too bad it’s severely outclassed by the Holy Cross AKA the Boomerang. While it doesn’t go the entire length of the screen like the Knife, the Holy Cross does travel a good distance and is virtually indestructible, meaning it can strike an enemy and keep on moving afterwards, hitting other enemies along the way. Not only that, it boomerangs back so it can hit tougher enemies twice and, if you don’t touch it, even monsters behind Simon Belmont! With the Holy Cross available, why get the Knife?
Super Arm (Mega Man)
I would have to say, when it comes to weapon power ups, the Mega Man series has had its good days and their bad days. Some weapons, like Metal Man’s Metal Blade, Pharaoh Man’s Pharaoh Shot and Elec Man’s Thunder Beam are definitely some of the best abilities Mega Man can collect. On the flip side, some aren’t so great, like Top Man’s Top Spin for its short range and Flash Man’s Time Stopper which is a “one and done” kind of deal. But, ultimately, the worst of Mega Man’s weapons has to be the Super Arm that he gets from Guts Man.
The idea behind the Super Arm is actually genius. It allows Mega Man to pick up heavy chunks of rock or metal and chuck it at enemies for huge damage. The problem is it only works on specific blocks! This simply means the Super Arm can only be used when the game wants you to use them, making it useless when the blocks aren’t available. While it is great against Cuts Man as you can take him out in two hits, you’ll only use it very sparingly.
Flame Thrower (Contra)
It’s safe to say that, in Contra, the best weapon power up is the Spread Gun. It throws a spray of bullets that fans out in front of the player, utterly destroying all small enemies in rapid succession. Up close, it can annihilate pretty much anything as all the bullets are concentrated in one spot. So, in comparison, a lot of the other weapons just suck when you compare it to the Spread Gun. But what is actually the worst power up in Contra? Well, there are actually two camps, as far as I know and it boils down to the Laser and the Flame Thrower. I would have to go with the latter because of how weird the Flame Thrower works.
I actually like the Laser because, while you can’t shoot in rapid succession with it, you can simply hold down the B button to shoot the beam continuously. Also, it does four hits with one shot! That’s really good, especially against bosses and enemies who just love to walk in a row.
But the Flame Thrower? Well, it outright sucks. For one thing, it fires a projectile that forward in a circular pattern, meaning it can actually go over enemies before it circles back to hit them. The bullet also moves very slowly and only allows up to two projectiles on the screen at one time. This means you have to wait for the bullet to either hit something or disappear off screen before you can shoot another one off. The Laser may have this issue but at least it moves fast. The only advantage of the Flame Thrower is it covers the entire height of your character but, honestly, you already have the Spread Gun, so why bother?
Cigarettes (Metal Gear)
The first Metal Gear game on the NES may not be the best translated game out there but it certainly whet the appetites of a lot of gamers who were sick of just mindlessly killing people willy-nilly. The game was actually really complex for its time, with the story going on about loyalty to country, betrayal by those you trust and even some politics thrown in for good measure. Maybe this is why the game managed to smuggle in cigarettes right under Nintendo’s usually stringent “kid friendly” guidelines. Too bad cigarettes aren’t all that useful, even in Metal Gear.
Having Solid Snake equip the cigarettes will make his health bar slowly deplete because, well, smoking is bad for you, kids! Sure, the Metal Gear games just love to drill it into your head that smoking is bad for you. But you never know when you might need to use them to detect infrared lasers in your path!
In fact, you’ll only use the cigarettes in one specific stretch of the NES version of game wherein you have to go through a maze of infrared lasers so you can go pass them when they disappear. However, once you get the infrared goggles, that allows you to see all of them and not just the ones in front of Snake, you’ll never have to smoke ’em even if you got ’em ever again.
BONUS: Practically every gimmicky NES pheripheral
Sure, they looked cool. But they ultimately sucked.
You basically only need the standard NES controller to play any of the games of the system. Maybe you’ll do better if you have one with the Turbo setting so you don’t have to mash the B button all the time to attack. But, for some reason, a lot of companies decided we needed all these “special” controllers to give us the edge at beating the games. Lies! All of them are lies!
The biggest problem with all of these peripherals is that you have to basically learn a new set of controls each time! Maybe you’ll need to twitch your finger to fire using the Power Glove. Maybe you’ll need to yell “Fire” from out of nowhere like you have Tourrette syndrome with the Laser Scope. Or you might be flailing your arms around over the U-Board in the vain attempt to move your character to the right. Whatever the case, you’re better off with the standard controller that game with your Nintendo Entertainment System.
What other underwhelming power ups can you think of? Let me know what they are in the comments section below!