The traditional power-up isn’t that common in modern video games anymore. When you think of a power-up, you normally imagine a floating icon (maybe it spins) that gives you a temporary boost to your abilities when you grab it. The newest generation of singleplayer games is slowly bringing back old-school power-ups — Doom: Eternal couldn’t be anymore old-school with its 1-Ups and Berserk collectibles. But, we’re going to expand the definition slightly here. For the purposes of this list, a power-up is any collectible or upgrade you can unlock. It might be temporary or it might be permanent. It might be a little confusing, but we all know a power-up when we see it.
And we’re celebrating some of the best ones ever. “Best” might be a weird way to describe these particular power-ups, because they’re hardly the most useful or the flashiest. These are the strangest, most unique power-ups, the ones that do something you don’t see every day. These don’t just make you stronger or faster, they give you a little something else that I don’t want to spoil just yet. We couldn’t limit ourselves to just 10, so this list is bursting with a total of 12 weird power-ups that we absolutely want to see more of in video games.
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#1. Time Gauntlet [Titanfall 2] / Timepiece [Dishonored 2]
For a brief glorious moment, one of the coolest power-ups in games appeared not just once but twice in pretty rapid succession. Titanfall 2 and Dishonored 2 released about a month apart in 2016, each one featuring an awesome level-specific upgrade that gave players the ability to switch time periods. The Time Gauntlet in Titanfall 2 is a revelation that’s relegated to the campaign level “Effect And Cause” where you swap between a secret facility’s gleaming past and its wrecked future. You don’t just use it to complete puzzles, you can also swap on-the-fly during gunfights to instantly escape enemies for a breather.
Dishonored 2’s Timepiece works basically the same way, switching in and out of a lavish manor’s past and present. These power-ups / upgrades are incredibly cool, but making them work in a level must be a nightmare. You’re essentially building two levels that you can instantly swap between. In the age of SSDs on the PS5 and Xbox Series X, there’s nothing stopping devs from including more awesome reality-switching upgrades to our arsenals. That’s a lot easier said than done, but don’t make me beg. Instantaneously time travel is just cool!
#2. Otter Hat [Death Stranding]
One of the silliest upgrades in gaming. You’ll get this thing from Conan O’Brien (the former talk shot host / current comedian) in one of these absurd celebrity cameos Hideo Kojima somehow makes happen. The hat isn’t simply a silly bit of kit to wear on Norman Reedus’s head as he slowly treks across a ruined America. When you wear the hat, it gives your hero powerful new swimming techniques — you’ll be able to swim on your back, just like an otter! This thing is just flat-out awesome, and crossing water is already aggravating enough in this game. Getting an upgrade is worth the fashion paux pas.
#3. Weird Mushroom [Mario Maker]
Introduced in the original Mario Maker, the Weird Mushroom is the oddest upgrade yet in Nintendo’s flagship Mario games. The Weird Mushroom lives up to its name — making Mario a big weird gangly doofus. It feels wrong. Mario can’t be taller! This thing stretches out Mario into a ghoulish creature from our Mushroom Kingdom nightmares, and its important we don’t forget about his existence.
So, other than making Mario really gangly, what does it actually do? Weird Mario can jump a little higher than normal! I’m all for upgrades and enhancements that simply exist to be weird. The Weird Mushroom isn’t useful, but it is breaking the rules in a way I can’t help but love. More nonsense like this!
#4. Kin Transformation [Bloodborne]
One of the weirdest “power-ups” in any video game ever has to be Kin Transformation in Bloodborne. By completing a side-quest for a deformed experiment of the Research Hall, you can sign a contract with the Lumenwood Kin covenant. Completing her requests eventually gets you a Caryll Rune — basically a little upgrade accessory you can equip. Instead of giving you a little buff or bonus, this one transforms your body in a glowing blue celestial nightmare!
Even better, equipping the Kos Parasite weapon gives you an enhanced moveset with new animations and an improved dodge. You just have to put up with looking like a Great Old One. It isn’t the worst trade. Your head might look like a disgusting fleshy blooming flower, but your dash is slightly longer!
#5. Duplication [Scarlet Nexus]
Instead of gaining literal power-ups in Scarlet Nexus, you gain people! Each character on your team is like a walking power-up that you can activate at any time — and they’re not always available. As you increase your relationship with different characters, you’ll also unlock enhanced abilities when you activate a character’s power in combat. My personal favorite, and one of the weirdest, is the Duplication power. Once you sufficiently level up your social link with the character, you’ll duplicate into four (and then five!) total bodies, all dishing out damage at the same time.
The best part about using power-ups in Scarlet Nexus is that you can chain them together. You’ll also have characters that gain superhuman speed, make you invulnerable to damage, give you the ability to instantly teleport, or slow down time. Each one is useful, but just imagine quadrupling your power by activating Duplication while you’re also buffed with deadly Pyrokinesis. Talk about a spicy combo.
#6. Zombie Blood [Call of Duty: Zombies]
Call of Duty: Zombies just won’t go away. The bonus mode has been lurching along with the Call of Duty franchise since its original surprise inclusion in Call of Duty: World At War. The survival mode has become a mainstay with absurdly elaborate maps with complex hidden quests the community works together to solve. Usually, you’ll be able to purchase power-ups with the points you’ve earned blasting zombies, but there are other alternate classic power-ups that drop from enemies.
And my personal favorite is Zombie Blood, which appeared in Black Ops 2, Black Ops 3, and Black Ops 4. Zombie Blood, as a power-up, is a lot more weird than useful. Grabbing it transforms your character into a zombie, widening your FOV with a special effect and making all the undead hordes simply stop chasing you. It doesn’t last long, but it is so weird — and required for Easter egg quests — that I can’t help but love it whenever it reappears. Fingers crossed we’ll all be drinking Zombie Blood in Black Ops Cold War before the year is done.
#7. Doctor [Kirby: Planet Robobot]
Kirby is a hungry pink puff that can’t just keep eating the same classic Copy Abilities. Every few games, the developers down at HAL Labs give Kirby new Copy Abilities that don’t stick around for long — sometimes they’re unique to just one or two games, and the Doctor Copy Ability of one of them. It’s also one of my absolute stone cold faves.
When enhanced with the Doctor Copy Ability, Kirby becomes a pharmaceutical maniac, plopping pills in every direction. His primary weapon is giant pills that bounce around randomly! He can also use his portable lab to mix up a random chemical concoction that unleashes one of three different elemental attacks. Even better, Kirby can store the elemental power within and unleash the power later. You’ll just lose it if you take a hit. This power is so weirdly hyper specific, it’s quickly become a fave from the entire franchise. Step aside, Suplex. The Doctor is officially in.
#8. Train Yoshi [Yoshi’s Island]
Does anyone else remember this one? What a weird power-up! In Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, you’re normally just running around, solving puzzles and keeping Baby Mario safe — mostly to avoid hearing him scream. For certain levels there are transformation bubbles that turn Yoshi into new things like a helicopter, a drill tank, and a submarine. Those are all well and good, but this list is for the weird stuff you don’t see too often. We’re going with the Train.
When in Train Form, Yoshi sticks to tracks painted on the walls with white chalk. Outlined enemies spring to life to attack while you navigate the chalk railroad tracks — and it is just as weird as it sounds. You can only chug along moving forward, changing directions at the track intersections and struggling to make your way. I can’t say I want more games to use this power-up. I can’t even say I like using it. It is just so spectacularly weird, I’ve got to go with this.
#9. Dog Mode [Rise of the Triad]
Speaking of weird things, let’s go with something a lot more fun. Rise of the Triad is the forgotten sorta-sequel to Wolfenstein 3D — the original FPS. The developers went wild with this one, throwing in stupid special weapons like a magical baseball bat that launches a giant array of explosive balls. The best is Dog Mode, which is like God Mode, but you’re a dog. This is an actual power-up found in the game.
Grabbing it turns you into an invincible dog. You’re short. You’ve got a furry little nose and you can claw enemies with you adorable paw. You even have a killer dog bark that blows away any bad guy fool enough to get close. How does this jokey nonsense fit into a gritty game about fighting an evil cult? Well, it doesn’t! And that’s what makes old games like Rise of the Triad so special. The developers just threw all sorts of weird nonsense in their games because no marketing team told them they couldn’t. That’s how you get a power-up like Dog Mode.
#10. Boo Mario [Mario Galaxy 1]
Mario has had many transformations and power-ups in his long history, but Boo Mario is my favorite for two reasons: 1) he’s a little spooky due to ghost-ness and 2) he’s adorable. The Boo Mario power-ups turns Mario into a Boo, and gives you all the benefits that implies — flight, able to pass through solid objects, and even read the language of the Boos! Bet you didn’t know they even had a language. This game also confirms a long-held rumored that all the Boo creatures are actually ladies — when Boo Mario appears, all the other Boos instantly fall in love with him, chasing him with pink hearts over their heads. It makes sense, because apparently Boo was based off a very shy lady in the Nintendo offices. Now you know!
#11. Poison Mist [Symphony of the Night]
One of the strangest and most dubiously useful upgrades to ever cross a Metroidvania. Mist is one of the most fun (and weird) travel powers, giving your vampire limited flight and the ability to pass through certain objects. It also makes you immune to damage for a short time. It’s an interesting upgrade that never reappears in the series, and you can add a damaging poison effect to the fog by defeating a powerful boss in the Inverted Castle. Now you’re a green fart cloud that kills enemies very slowly! What’s not to love?
#12. Ramblin’ Evil Mushroom [Super Smash Bros. Ultimate]
Originally appearing in Earthbound, where it absolutely was NOT a power-up. Heck, it really isn’t a power-up in Super Smash Bros. either, but it is very handy if you deploy it against an enemy. In both Earthbound and SSBU, getting infected with the Ramblin’ Evil Mushroom causes a smaller mushroom to grow out of your head. While the tiny mushroom is active, all of your controls will be reversed. Trying to play a JRPG with reversed controls is annoying. Trying to play SSBU is basically impossible. But I can’t help but love the Ramblin’ Evil Mushroom — his name is perfect, he totally wrecks opponents in an interesting, unique way, AND I can finally make people feel the same pain I felt while trying to get through Peaceful Rest Valley. It was anything but peaceful.
Those are some of our favorite weird power-ups in video games! There’s a whole lot more out there to discover, and a bunch I’m sure we missed. Maybe this list needs a round two?