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This article is about a video game design element. For other uses, see Power up (disambiguation).

In computer and video games, power-ups are objects that instantly benefit or add extra abilities to the game character as a game mechanic. This is in 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 floating letters of the word 'EXTEND' in Bubble Bobble. Well known examples of power-ups that have entered popular culture include the power pellets from Pac-Man[1] (regarded as the first power-up)[2] and the Super Mushroom from Super Mario Bros., which ranked first in UGO Networks' Top 11 Video Game Powerups.[3]

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 role-playing video games, 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.

History and influence

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.

First instances

Pac-Man is credited as the first video game to feature a power-up mechanic.[5] The effect of the power-up was illustrated by one of the first cut scenes to appear in a video game, in the form of brief comical interludes about Pac-Man and the ghosts chasing each other around.[6][7] The power pellet entered popular culture with a joke on the controversy regarding the influence of video games on children.[8]

In 1984, Sabre Wulf introduced power ups in the form of flowers which, when blossoming, provided effects such as speed up and invincibility.[9]

In 1985 Super Mario Bros. introduced the Super Mushroom, which has entered popular culture[4] described as "the quintessential power-up".[3] The original game idea was to have an always big Mario as a technical advance, but later the power-up was introduced to make him "super" as a bonus effect.[10] The development team thought it would be interesting to have Mario grow and shrink by eating a magic mushroom, just like Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.[11]

Konami's 1985 game Gradius had the first use of a selection bar where the player could select which power-up effect to trigger, instead of having a fixed instant effect.[12]

In 1986 and the years after, the concept of permanent power-ups appeared in the action role-playing genre in the form of perks.[13]

Types of powerups

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

Offensive abilities

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 of the power-up can be time-limited, have a limited number of uses, last until the player is hit, last until the player is killed, or last until game over.


  • Mega Man series: The weapons earned from the Robot Masters/Mavericks 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(Jumpman) can use to destroy barrels and fireballs.
  • Pacman: Ghosts can be attacked after Pacman is transformed via power pellets. This makes Pacman temporarily invulnerable.[1]
  • 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.[3]

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.


  • Mario: The Starman, an item that grants temporary invulnerability and the ability to defeat enemies by touch.[14]
  • 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 does not increase speed and does not speed up the timer. There is also a barrier item that lets Sonic sustain a hit without losing rings.
  • Blur (video game): this game also features defensive power ups like shield and repair to prevent your car from getting wrecked. Some power ups can be fired backwards to destroy opponents behind you.

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.

Access abilities

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


  • Super Mario Bros. 3: The warp whistle, which allows player to first go to a warp zone, then advance to another world of a higher value, and the hammer, which allows players to take shortcuts on the overworld game map. He also acquires a Raccoon Leaf which allows him to fly, sometimes to hidden areas.[15]
  • 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. Also notable are some of the capsule upgrades in the X spin-off series.
  • Metroid series: Various weapons (such as the Ice Beam and the Power Bomb) are permanent power-ups that not only give Samus additional offensive capability but also allow her access to various doors.

Health and life reserves

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


  • Super Mario Bros: The Super Mushrooms and 1-up Mushrooms that give Mario the ability to take an extra hit and extra lives (respectively).[3]
  • 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 increase the player's total health capacity, while heart power ups each refill one heart container worth of lost health.

Ammunition and power reserves

In some games, using certain items or abilities requires the expenditure of a resource such as ammunition, fuel or magic points. Some games use a single resource, such as magic points, while others use multiple resources, such as several types of ammunition. Some games also have power ups which increase the player's maximum ammunition or power capacity.


  • Half-Life: Ammunition for guns.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: Obtaining Magic Jars restores magic points, which are expended by many items and other special abilities.
  • Descent 2: Energy power-ups restore energy, which is required to fire most primary weapons, and to use some other equipment such as the headlight and afterburner.
  • Mega Man: While the default weapon has an unlimited number of shots, the other six weapons can only be fired by expending weapon energy, of which each weapon has its own separate reserve. Obtaining a weapon capsule recharges a portion of the currently selected weapon's energy.

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, often granting the hero an extra life.


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.


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 franchise, 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 role-playing video 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.

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 use. 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 game, Gradius.[12]


Main article: Perks

"Perks" are a variation of the power-up mechanic,[18] but permanent rather than temporary. The concept of permanent power-ups dates back to the early NES action RPGs, Deadly Towers (1986) and Rygar (1987), which blurred the line between the power-ups used in action-adventures and the experience points used in console RPGs.[13] An early video game that used perks, and named it as such, was the 1997 computer RPG game Fallout. Perks have been used in various other video games in recent times, including first-person shooters such as Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare,[18] Modern Warfare 2, and Killing Floor, as well as action games like Metal Gear Online.

See also


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