11 Poorest Powerups

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11 Poorest Powerups (2013)

Please be advised that this feature contains strong language.


You get killed an awful lot of times in video games. Sometimes in the customary ways (falling into curiously bottomless pits, being blown away by a Franchi SPAS-12 shotgun, being crushed by some hulking enemy, falling foul of an evil glitch put in by negligent developers); others in more interesting ways (being beheaded by a chainsaw, being swallowed whole by a massive fish, having a cow land on your head arsefirst). You lose again and again, and the aggravation mounts. What do you need? You need powerups – certain new abilities or items that can swing the game back in your favour. Some hand you such a terrific advantage that they are absolute must-haves, while others give you incremental boosts that all add up to let you topple that tough as nails boss.

But not every powerup is up to scratch. Here, in no particular order, we look at 11 powerups which are at best non-offensive and at worst actively conspire against the player. Note that imitation powerups that do actively harm or impede the player character, like the Poison Mushroom of Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels, do not count. No, these are powerups which the game purports to be beneficial but, really, the programmers might as well not have bothered. Or worse, these items can be so worthless as to be damaging, if employed in the wrong way. Note that a powerup here can be any and all kinds of things to aid the player, from an item in Zelda to a spell in Final Fantasy. Please enjoy.

The Klobb (GoldenEye 007)

Forgive the meme; I just appreciated the gallows humour behind capturing this suicide in motion.
Forgive the meme; I just appreciated the gallows humour behind capturing this suicide in motion.

It’d have been easy to bog this list down with all kinds of first-person shooter weapons that tend to represent a death sentence for the player that naively uses them, so just one had to be chosen. It is a strange bit of purity, but in games where you blow away several mooks in a minute, you need a powerful friend with you. Even in tactical team shooters, your truest companion is your weapon.

The Klobb is not this friend. The Klobb is that shamefully ugly or overweight kid from up the street who was secretly hated by all, but somehow wormed his way into your gang, through sheer and stubborn persistence. Disappointingly ever-present, then. But for the desperate child, he was always there as a submissive fallback, a lackey, a Milhouse. Really though, he was nothing but detrimental to morale, comradeship and public image, very important concerns in children’s gangland wars.

Based on the Czechoslovakian Škorpion vz. 61 (according to the internet of course, I haven’t the money to bankroll my own weaponry at the moment), this sub-machine “gun” is a mainstay of the Russian armies in GoldenEye 007, appearing in 7 of the game’s 20 missions, which is probably about 6 too many.  Never having taken down any tangos with the real-life variant, I’m unsure if the Škorpion is much of a weapon, but it certainly can’t be as bad as the Klobb: accurate as my gambling predictions, goes through ammo like Marlon Brando went through hamburgers, it even sounds duff. Loud as shit as well, in a game where stealth can be really useful – triggering infinitely spawning guards on a higher difficulty level is no fun. It’s a nailgun really, and the damage it deals reflects this: 4 shots to the head required for a kill. What with it using the same ammo of the PP7 handgun, and with the capacity to eat all that ammo up in double-quick time, don’t even use this doorstop as a last resort. At least Slappers Only has a twisted nobility about it.

Thunder Cloud (Mario Kart Wii)

Two Funkys, two Flame Runners/Bowser Bikes and two very rotten items.
Two Funkys, two Flame Runners/Bowser Bikes and two very rotten items.

Admittedly blurring the line between rubbish powerups and Poison Mushroom style harmful items, the Thunder Cloud made its debut in the lacklustre Mario Kart Wii and hasn’t been seen since, which is positive at least. Actually, strictly speaking that isn’t true, as the Thunder Cloud actually first appeared in Mario Kart Arcade GP and its sequel, one of which I actually managed to play once. But who knows anything about them?

The Thunder Cloud is a gamble of an item: firstly, unlike any other item in the series, you cannot choose when to use it – when the item box roulette lands on the Cloud, it just instantly forms a dark Lakitu cloud above your head, of its own volition. This cloud steadily increases your speed until lightning strikes from the cloud, whereby you’ll be shrunk and your speed severely reduced.

You can pass this foul cloud on to other racers by colliding with them. That’s the point of the item really: get whatever use you can out of it and then inflict misery on some other luckless fool. Actually, that’s more or less the ethos of Mario Kart Wii, the nasty little friendship-destroying urchin of a game that it is. In any case, since other racers can hear and see a Thunder-Cloud-stricken racer approaching, colliding with them is far easier said than done. In this item-plagued Mario Kart you’ll find yourself losing position and having to regain your lead dishearteningly often. The items in all Mario Kart titles traditionally cater to this need to climb up the table fast, with more sensible items like Red Shells and Stars. But when you’re in an also-ran position and desperately trying to claw your way back into it, the stress of this item you do not need. Almost guaranteed to make you groan.

Drop Shot (Metal Slug)

Whoops! So unwieldy, it kills hobo-POWs for fun.
Whoops! So unwieldy, it kills hobo-POWs for fun.

If you play Metal Slug as poorly as I do, you’ll be begging for better weapons every few seconds after you carelessly let your character succumb to yet another one-hit mauling. The more basic weapons like the Heavy Machine Gun and the Flame Shot work wonders, and the Rocket Launcher RAWKET LAWNCHAIR, though surprisingly weak, at least gives a good alternative to the piddly little default pistol, which might just as well be shooting jelly at your foes.

Then sometimes you’ll mistakenly pick up the ‘D’ icon and override your Super Shotgun or Grenade Launcher item that you’d been trying to preserve for as long as possible. You’re now left with barely enough ammo for some terribly unwieldy bouncing bomb for which you’ll need a physics degree to aim right. It’s far too tactical to survive in the Metal Slug universe – I just want to shoot a score of rockets in an instant, then dualwield Heavy Machine Guns and fire them all over the screen, even if I end up hitting nothing. Ferchristsake, don’t ask me to conserve ammo, don’t give me a weapon that won’t fire in a straight line and absolutely do not give me a weapon that I have to be able to aim. The damage output is low as well, which really dooms the weapon. Game, I’ve got bomber jets dropping M1 tanks on my head for fuck’s sake, I’m going to need some better artillery than this.

Ice Beam (Metroid series)

Metroid Prime’s Ice Spreader... useful for one novel use against lava, but little else.
Metroid Prime’s Ice Spreader… useful for one novel use against lava, but little else.

Strange that one of the most well known and sometimes plot-centric items of the Metroid series should be a poor option for Samus most of the time. The Ice Beam’s primary function is to freeze enemies, which provides two basic advantages: first, freezing the Metroid enemies, which is usually necessary or at least a huge help in defeating them. Secondly, frozen enemies in general can also be used as makeshift platforms, fitting in with the Metroid theme of suit upgrades increasing Samus’s mobility.

The problem lies in how it negatively it affects Samus’s firepower. In Super Metroid for example, even the weakest, most common enemies which fall to a tap of the Power Beam will now be simply frozen in place, representing an obstacle for Samus. Another shot is required to finish the enemy. Yuck! An almost invisible disadvantage, you say? Well, gamers are not known for their willingness to perform even a little extra work (changing discs in 4-disc beasts like Final Fantasy VIII, anyone?).

Freezing enemies seems like it could be practical against the tougher foes, but there’s one problem: you needn’t think you’ll be able to freeze the bigger and badder enemies, the ones where a bit of extra help keeping them in a subdued state would be greatly appreciated. Once you get the Space Jump and/or the Plasma Beam in Super Metroid, you can safely switch the Ice Beam off. Metroid Prime features four completely separate beams rather than stackable beams, and the Ice Beam does see some limited use there. The truly devastating Plasma Beam comes all too soon, however, relegating the Ice Beam limited use against certain enemies, notably Metroids and Ice Troopers… and also doors… and speaking of Metroid Prime’s Plasma Beam, don’t use its Flamethrower under any circumstances. That one is also bad enough to be included here – it’s just that the Ice Beam is a repeat offender.

Cloaking Device (Super Smash Bros. Melee)

Just when you thought that fucking frog was getting an unfair amount of bad press, he goes and claims credit for the Carrington Institute’s work.
Just when you thought that fucking frog was getting an unfair amount of bad press, he goes and claims credit for the Carrington Institute’s work.

Items in Smash Bros, how quaint! As if people use them after a few hours’ play! But it’s true – the Smash Bros games borrow a staggeringly wide range of useful items from dozens of Nintendo franchises, including this Cloaking Device from… Perfect Dark? Isn’t that weird? It only shows up in Melee at any rate, the Nintendo 64 original having been released too early and Brawl coming out by the time Rareware had jumped ship (or jumped into the sea, you might say). Probably not as strange as having GoldenEye 007’s Proximity Mine (renamed “Motion-Sensor Bomb”), but it’s an odd couple of games to take elements from.

Anyway, the Cloaking Device. Simple enough, whoever grabs this item becomes invisible for a short time. This brings about several problems: firstly, you can’t see where the fuck your character is going. And since you’ll be running and jumping all over the place in Smash Bros, while avoiding several of the stage’s hazards and dangers, this becomes a big problem – particularly on stages where you can fall from the edges and die. Secondly, the AI, already terrific cheaters and savagely biased against us worthless humans, does not give a good fuck that you’ve just turned invisible. They will know exactly where you are, but you will frequently lose sight of yourself. What kind of advantage is that?

On the flip side, your character won’t take damage when you’re invisible, but that doesn’t make you completely bulletproof – you can still fall to your doom, as mentioned, and you can even be knocked flying off stage if you’ve already accumulated enough damage. Still, it sort of becomes necessary to pick up the Cloaking Device before the AI does, because they will scurry straight over and suck all the advantage out of this thing while you’re left a lame duck. Otherwise, get it if you need to eat up a bit of time, or if you’re up against human players who are myopic as you.

Ice Arrows (Legend of Zelda, The: Ocarina of Time)

Good job, Link! ...Now quietly leave the Gerudo Training Grounds and forget all about them.
Good job, Link! …Now quietly leave the Gerudo Training Grounds and forget you ever had them.

More ice… One of the coolest parts of Ocarina of Time is the different forms of arrows that Link can find – in this case, there’s Fire, Ice and Light Arrows. Being magical items, using them consumes magic power as well as an arrow, which tends to limit their practicality, especially among the hoarders. Fire Arrows are not really necessary to beat the game, but they can help in some puzzles where Din’s Fire would otherwise have to be used (in the Master Quest, they become a required item). And fire is cool anyway. The Light Arrows take more magic power but are at least more powerful, are necessary to beat Ganondorf and defeating an enemy with them makes them drop a Purple Rupee (worth 50, not that you’ll need money by then).

But the Ice Arrows are completely optional, found at the end of the surprisingly complex Gerudo Training Grounds. As they are optional, their purpose in the game is obviously zero. Link as a character works best when he’s a glutton for all forms of heroic punishment, but hunting down these worthless arrows is a step too far. By the way, the added element does not even increase the damage dealt by the arrow, unless the opponent is frozen. And, of course, only the weakest enemies can be encased in ice – even those that would otherwise die with one regular arrow. Majora’s Mask make them more of a puzzle item, being used to freeze waterfalls and enemies to use as stepping stones. But in Ocarina of Time, all these are used for is to fill the gap in your Item Screen (the second-last such one, assuming you’re too wise and busy to bother getting the fourth bottle legitimately).

Leaf Shield (Mega Man 2)

To be fair, the Leaf Shield can come in handy against those annoying little bird swarms, especially when farming items. But this purpose can also be performed – rather predictably – by the Metal Blades.
To be fair, the Leaf Shield can come in handy against those annoying little bird swarms, especially when farming items. But this purpose can also be performed – rather predictably – by the Metal Blades.

The first worthless weapon in the Mega Man series that people think of is the overoptimistic Top Spin from Mega Man 3, or that move Zero has in Mega Man X6 that can see easily him plummeting to his death. But as the start of a long list of personal shields in the Mega Man series, the Leaf Shield sets a very bad precedent. Actually, Wood Man’s stage in general is a bit of a blip in Mega Man’s career: he must fight his way through robot rabbits and ostrich chicken things and massive dogs, which damage him just as much as trained evil robot terminators. Then Wood Man himself, who is basically just a fat down-and-outer wearing a tree trunk and beating his chest, joins the fray. Actually we could go on about the Mega Man Robot Masters and the oxygen deprivation many of them suffered at birth (or should that be, the many birth defects their creator Dr. Wily was cursed with) but what’s interesting about Wood Man is his weaponry, which is… leaves. Yes, Dr. Light has built what we believe to be a mighty protagonist, only for us to discover that falling leaves causes him a not insignificant amount of damage.

Once we roast Wood Man with the Atomic Fire weapon, we get the Leaf Shield. Unlike other, useful weapons, where Mega Man’s buster will actually fire something, the Leaf Shield conjures up a shield of 4 leaves, which can protect our hero from a handful of dangerous projectiles – so long as he doesn’t move a vadgehair left or right. If he does, the shield will fly off in that direction. Wow, thanks a lot, fucking leaves. I can’t even remember which boss the Leaf Shield is useful against. Someone badass like Crash Man or Air Man probably. Don’t try to be fancy, just stick with the Metal Blades. They’re cheap, but so are Mega Man games, so why not have them?

Bubble Shield (Sonic 3 and Knuckles)

The whole goddamn island is ablaze and we’re running around in a bubble of blissful ignorance. Mon dieu!
The whole goddamn island is ablaze and we’re running around in a bubble of blissful ignorance. Mon dieu!

Another shield, would you believe. Not so bad in the Sonic 3 half of the game, where water is in every zone bar Marble Garden Zone (hated by many, but I’m a fan). For some reason, water was just completely neglected from Sonic and Knuckles’s Mushroom Hill Zone onwards. Perhaps some intern at SEGA turned around and said “Guys, listen, water levels are the slowest, clunkiest heaps of shit in gaming, even more so in Sonic games. What are you melts doing?”. This intervention, if it happened, is just as well if you get shit up by the Sonic drowning theme, like I still do. Admit it, it makes you a little uneasy as well. Because you just know it’s coming, after those three chimes…

Following on from the bog-standard shields of Sonic 1, 2 and CD, we get some variety in 3 and Knuckles: the Flame Shield, which brings immunity to flames and allows Sonic a speedy air-dash (usually lethal but still a great laugh); the Lightning Shield, which attracts rings and gives Sonic a very handy double-jump. And then the Bubble Shield, which gives Sonic infinite time underwater, coming in quite useful in the Hydrocity Zone but almost nowhere else. Instead of a second jump or some form of defensive manoeuvre, like his default insta-shield, pressing a button while Sonic is airborne causes him to drop like a stone and bounce, which is never useful. Once the water dries up, the only boon a Bubble Shield gives you is an extra hit, but skilful play with rings gives you infinite hits anyway. Stick with one of the other two shields, only to lose either of them in seconds anyway.

Blue Shell (New Super Mario Bros.)

...Is he trying what I think he’s trying?
…Is he trying what I think he’s trying?

We now turn to the first of what’s becoming a long line of plasticky looking, bah-bah sounding NSMB games that all resemble each other in that unsettling way, like products of incest. Blue Koopa Shells are commonplace in Mario games (that fiendish spiked variant present in Mario Kart is probably the most famous of the Blue Shells) but only in New Super Mario Bros. can the brothers use one as a powerup to become Shell Mario/Luigi. Using the Blue Shell, whether willingly or unwillingly, comes as close as possible to being a deathwish.

If one of the brothers runs quickly enough, they will withdraw into their shell and slide along the ground at speed. Good luck to you after that, you’ll see the crazy shitheads flying out of control in a hurry. Time and time again you’ll end up sliding off ledges and cliffs to your doom, courtesy of this ridiculous shell. It’s too much high maintenance, and even if it protects Mario and Luigi it will probably serve to only do more harm than good. At least the Mini Mushroom clearly presents itself as risky, even if that same DS game takes the questionable decision to require the player to beat bosses while miniaturised in order to unlock 2 of the worlds. But this thing? Be glad it’s consigned to the past.

Mirror (EarthBound)

“What a fucking idiot you are for even trying!”
“What a fucking idiot you are for even trying!”

It’s a fabulous game all round, but EarthBound’s combat system does become a little stale eventually, notwithstanding the excellent move they took to automatically skip encounters with enemies much weaker than the player (giving you full spoils as well). You’ll find the in-built autofight system useful as times, when the AI isn’t being brainless (after all, the CPU is never on your side). The four player characters of this offbeat adventure each have their own unique selling points in battle: Ness is by far the toughest and can use all kinds of PSI moves as well. Paula is less of an attacker but has more diverse PSI, and can also use a crap-shoot move called Pray although this move is usually very ill-advised. That is, until the very last battle when you’re somehow expected to know that that’s the only move that will save your asses. Megageek Jeff can use no PSI moves whatsoever, marking him out as a reject, but he can still snoop on the stats of enemies and can completely chief bosses with his exclusive use of increasingly more powerful bottle rockets. This quickly becomes a cheap tactic, allowing Jeff to wreak destructive terror that even Ness can’t – it even becomes his MO in Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

Finally, we come to Poo (quiet down the back), a less robust version of Ness who does lay claim to the fearsome PSI Starstorm but lets himself down badly with his Mirror move. Allegedly, it allows Poo to transform into a chosen enemy, and assume their moves and stats. As a consequence, you’ll lose control of Poo. Of course, this is all assuming that the move actually works, which is almost exceedingly rare. Quite apart from the fact that losing a versatile attacker and supporter like Poo and replacing him with a common mook (in EarthBound, sometimes literally a Mook) is a decision that even Faust would mock, why would you waste several precious turns on a move with almost no chance of paying for itself later? I’d rather take the time looking for the Sword of kings – which I’ve actually found, you know, a whopping one time. Those were my fifteen minutes. And the time I invested into that is surely dwarfed by the amount of times I’ve tried to get use out of Mirror, to no avail.

I’d have picked Ness’s PSI Flash, which tends to be hit and miss and can cause pisspoor, laughable status changes to enemies. But at least later, more powerful versions of the move can cause havoc to a spread of enemies, including sometimes instant death. Of course, Paula’s Pray command, akin to playing with fire, would be the number one choice. But it too saves itself, this time with its spellbinding use at the eleventh hour of the game. But you don’t really have Poo on your side for all that long in the game, so don’t waste your time and his time with this Mirror rubbish – make his moves count.

Cait Sith’s Slots (Final Fantasy VII)

But  I thought BAR was good! Good going, fuckin’ sassy white blob.
But I thought BAR was good! Good going, fuckin’ sassy white blob.

Obviously, nobody ever used Cait Sith in FF7 anyway, bar the one time it suddenly became mandatory. And why would you? Not to be a human supremacist, but why cast aside actual humans in favour of this… sort of… black, cat thing, riding on top of a stuffed Moogle, which itself is a sort of white teddy bear… and the cat sort of shouts inaccurate prophecies with a megaphone… a megaphone which it also does battle with. But it’s not really a cat at all! It’s in fact a kind of spy robot thing sent by a heel-turned-face… and there’s many Cait Siths as well, because when one was destroyed for real another one came along five minutes later as if nothing had happened…

Yeah, there isn’t a whole lot about Cait Sith as a character that makes sense, so we’ll take a look at his battling prowess instead. And it makes for depressing reading, with poor physical attack and defence, and magic attack only decent. As for his Limit Break (special attacks usable when a character takes enough punishment), he brings us Slots. Oh great, already random (AI speak for ‘already biased’). And these aren’t even friendly slots like Tifa’s (slots like Tifa lol) but Slots in which it’s actually possible for Cait Sith to instantly chief himself as well as chiefing the rest of his teammates in one go. Imagine that, a move that you thought would pull your arse out of the fire turns out to simply bring your demise quicker. And what’s worse, it’s by your own doing as well! Cait-Cait-BAR is the evil combination that can potentially unravel a couple of hours’ work. Setzer from FF6 has a similar deficiency in his Slots, but at least his Slots are a separate command (for in FF7, Limit Breaks overrule the Attack command, meaning you must use it or stick to Magic or Items instead) and can be replaced later with Gil Toss, plus they’re more easily rigged. Just forget about using Cait Sith altogether. I’m not much of a gambler anyway.

– Burkeyoh


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