super mario riding on yoshi, while wearing a cape feather

Powered Up – The Brilliance of Super Mario World’s Cape Feather

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Super Mario World’s Cape Feather is one of the most versatile powerups that Mario has ever wielded – A versatile tool that provides incredibly exploratory benefits, and extremely useful offensive manoeuvres.

If ever a game encompassed the magic of Nintendo, it’s the Super Nintendo’s launch title. For any developer, it would be hard for any developer to follow up the brilliance of Super Mario Bros. 3, but for Nintendo’s R&D4 team (later known as Nintendo EAD, now Nintendo EPD), they effortlessly elevated the Super Mario formula into something truly special.

There are almost too many ways in which I could praise Super Mario World, and that’s probably another tale for another time (and believe me, there will be a time when I cover the game in much more detail), but it’s the debut of a brand new powerup that I believe to be one of the game’s defining features.

Super Mario Bros. 3, almost went overboard with its array of powerups, from the “classic” pickups like Power Stars and Mushrooms, to a wardrobe full of new costumes like Hammer Bros. and Frog suits. By comparison, Super Mario World approach to powerups is more restrained. Besides the addition of Yoshi the rideable dinosaur, the Cape Feather is the only major addition to Mario’s arsenal.

Level design and progression greatly evolved from Super Marios 1 to 3, as levels began as scrolling right to left in the original, up to down and down to up in the Western sequel, and the final NES game featured levels that scrolled in all directions. But thanks to the Super Cape, levels could expand upon the verticality of Super Mario Bros. 3, and become these ambitious areas that housed all manner of hidden areas, alternative routes, and even completely different exits that took you to all new levels and areas.

But for all the possibilities offered by the Super Cape, it’s introduction is so simple and intuitive in the way that Nintendo became famous for. The game doesn’t even hand you this power-up until you’ve finished the entire first World and have become accustomed to the basic mechanics (through the text-based tutorials provided by the brand new Message Blocks, as well as by just playing the game).

Donut Plains 1 is the powerup’s debut, and it’s obtained in one of two ways – Through defeating one of the many caped Koopas that fly into Mario’s path throughout the level, or by accessing  a warp pipe that transports our hero to a wide open space that contains a block with a Cape Feather inside, the first of the game’s brand new purple triangles that Mario can run into to traverse up sheer walls, as well as the perfect area to test your newly-gained powers of flight.

Taking a run-up and using the purple triangle to run up the wall of pipes at the beginning of this area, players can get just enough speed to be able to lift off with a tap of the jump button and from there, have all the space they need to get to grips with the mechanics behind cape flight. To stay in the air requires a level of mastery, where you have to get a feel for pulling forward on the D-pad to swoop down to the ground, before pulling back on the D-pad at the most opportune moment to climb into the air and keep yourself in the air. And it feels absolutely great to control, especially when you’re comfortable with the mechanics.

But that’s not all this powerup can do – For a start, swooping down to the ground at full speed and slamming into the ground can cause enough force to hurt nearby ground-based enemies. And when you’re on terra firma, the cape can also be used as an offensive weapon, with Mario able to spin around and catch enemies with the cape, or even hit blocks from the side. When Spin jumping with a Cape, Mario pretty much becomes a whirlwind of death, thwacking anything to the side.

There is, however, a dark side to the Cape Feather, with the argument that this powerup has the potential to “break” the game, allowing you to skip entire chunks of levels. A measure of self-restraint is required – After all, flying over entire levels causes you to miss out on these lovingly crafted areas, defeating the point of playing this incredible game. It’s probably this reason that the powerup has never returned to any of the platforming entries of the series, except as an E-Reader exclusive item for the Game Boy Advance’s Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3. But that’s a topic for another time *wink*.

So, all in all – The Cape Feather is an incredibly versatile tool. It’s an offensive weapon, a lifespan for traversing tricky areas, and a utility for finding some of the game’s harder to reach secrets. It perfectly encapsulates the freedom that Mario’s fourth adventure delivers, and as such it is one of the greatest powerups in gaming.

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