Contra’s spread shot remains the coolest power-up in gaming

Awesome then, awesome now

Let me take you back for a moment to five-year-old CJ. There I was, playing the family NES in my parents’ bedroom. The system came with Mario and Duck Hunt packed in, so for the first few years that was all my brother and I played. Eventually, we added other games to our collection, notably The Legend of Zelda, and as he got older we were given chances to start renting games. One of those games was the NES classic Contra, and when I first got my shot at playing after my brother died a dozen times or so, it was my turn to watch my swoll soldier get a bullet to the brain with nearly every step he took. Playing solo or together, we sucked at that game.

Then we figured out when you shooting those floating capsules you get power-ups. I remember getting the laser and thinking it was cooler than a Ninja Turtle marathon, but it wasn’t until I saw my brother land the spread shot that I realized just what cool really was.

Here we are, fighting what we would eventually learn years later is an alien invasion, dying before we can even beat the first level. But once he picked up that spread shot, we made the game our bitch. My luck would only land me the laser and fireball guns for most of our playthroughs. He always seemed destined to get the spread shot, and with it, we actually made it to the second level like the mother-fucking badasses we were. It’s a shame they only made two levels for Contra becau-

What’s that?

There are actually seven levels and what I remember as us totally owning the game is nothing more than a diluted fantasy developed by a brain trying to keep me from the terrible realization that for the longest time we totally sucked at gaming?

That can’t be true; my brain doesn’t like me that much.

Either way, we were shit at Contra until we discovered the spread shot and every time I find myself absolutely crapping the bed at a game I can’t help but think how much more awesome I would be if it had a spread shot. This may be the most nostalgic reasoning for all of my Destructoid Discusses prompts, but fuck it I love that goddamn power-up and I dare you to tell me it isn’t simply the best.

Chris Carter

It’s probably not the most popular power-up, even in the realm of Mario, but the Cloud Flower ended up being my all-time favorite by the time the curtain closed on Mario Galaxy 2.

It’s such a simple idea — create a platform three times, and then you’re done — but it was executed so flawlessly, and in playgrounds that felt tempered enough to explore, but not wild enough to exploit. The Cloud Suit also had an adorable little cloud man counter to show how many charges you had left, which was both intuitive and befitting of a Mario game: it was pretty much the best

Cory Arnold

I was watching a Skyward Sword stream the other day, and on top of being reminded that Zelda games used to have personality, I was surprised to see some people chatting about how Breath of the Wild Link could do things Skyward Sword Link couldn’t regarding strength and ability (in jest of course). 

Among the regular-form Links across the franchise’s many games, you could make a case for most incarnations of Link being the strongest. But when Majora’s Mask Link dons the final transformation mask to become Fierce Deity, there is no longer any debate.

As a reward for helping out everyone in Termina, collecting all the masks, and completing the masked children’s trials on the moon you earn the ultimate mask: the Fierce Deity Mask. Link grows in size and wields a cross blade that shoots blue-colored buzzsaw-like blasts. The sword is as strong as the Great Fairy Sword with the added bonus of being a projectile.

The mask makes the final boss as well as Odolwa cakewalks because of how powerful you become. It would be strong enough to take down the other three bosses as well but it would take some time due to their design (another lost art). Nothing in the Zelda universe holds a candle to Fierce Deity.

Rich Meister

My favorite power-up isn’t the most powerful or the most flashy. I like it because it was one of the first Mega Man abilities that seemed genuinely weird.

Search Snake from Mega Man 3 was simply a new version of Bubble Lead, but the Blue Bomber powering up from Snake Man is undeniably weird. I mean, what exactly was Snake Man even designed to do? He’s not Pharaoh Man weird, but I have an appreciation for an ability that gives you dominion over snakes.

Mega Man firing homing Snakes as a weapon is a fitting reward for beating Mega Man 3’s coolest looking level.

Drew Stuart

This one is a classic and hangs a sardonic grin on my face whenever I think about it. Active Camo has been a staple of the Halo series since the very beginning, and for good reason. Sure, in the campaigns it allows the formidable Elites to catch you off guard, but in multiplayer, this power-up allows from some serious lurking…sneaky-deaky like. To this day, a shotgun and active camo go hand in hand, allowing the kills to stack up, all while you remain safe inside your unseen cocoon for a short span of time

What’s more is the paranoia-inducing effect this power-up can have if you don’t have it. I can still remember playing Halo 2 with my brothers, and freaking out when the active camo wasn’t available to pick up. I knew I was about to get iced, and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. 

Always memorable, always lethal, Active Camo remains my favorite power-up to this day.

Jonathan Holmes

As usual, I have no absolute answer to CJ’s weekly question. Picking the coolest video game power-up of all time is like picking the best joke in the history of comedy, or the best flavor molecule in a single delicious cheeseburger. They all work together in the greater gaming landscape to give each other worth in the context of mutual comparison. I know that Highlander told you that there could be only one, but that was never true. There are at least two (Christopher Lambert and Adrian Paul), and the same is true of the greatest video game power-ups. There can’t be only one. 

That said, I will tell you about an often overlooked favorite power-up of mine that’s fun to think about. It’s in No More Heroes 2, one of my favorite games of all time. It’s not a particularly well-crafted game, but I still love it, and I think I always will. In 2010, it was exactly what I was looking for in a new video game.

The first No More Heroes was Suda51’s answer Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. It allowed you to roam around a city and be a sociopath, making money from hurting other people, totally divorced a conscience or an observing ego. Of course, since the game came from Suda, it couldn’t be that simple. You also had a laser sword that looked like a long skinny light bulb attached to a flashlight, and to charge it, you had to wank it. That’s just the start of how the game veers off from traditional Id indulgent power fantasies.

We’ve written at length about why No More Heroes ended up being even more interesting than it may have intended to be plenty of times before, so I won’t go over them again, but suffice to say, it was the right game at the right time for people wanted games to stay weird in the face of AAA gaming’s increasingly realistic graphics and gameplay systems.

Still, No More Heroes didn’t stray too much further from reality than relatively mainstream games like Metal Gear Solid or Ace Attorney. It was grounded in the rules of everyday life, veering off now and again with the occasional cyborg or giant robot, while inevitably returning to something that at least resembled a human experience. That changed in No More Heroes 2 when Travis turned into a goddamn tiger and started killing people.

Just imagine if Solid Snake turned into an actual snake in Metal Gear Solid 2, or if Phoenix Wright turned into an actual phoenix in his second game. That’s how hard my jaw dropped to the floor when I first saw Travis turn into a tiger. Even more surprising, becoming a jungle cat doesn’t change Travis that much. Either way, he tears up all comers, charging in with a series of lethal melee attacks until everyone around him is dead.

If anything, his transformation feels more like a symbolic gesture, as if the developers were trying to scream out loud “I’m stupid, unashamed, I make no sense, and I want to kill everything.” Travis turning into a tiger is the opposite David Cage bragging about how many emotions he can cram into a polygon per minute. It’s the opposite of some hardware developer touting how many megapixels they have, or how realistic their acne skin textures can be. It’s taking pride in games being games, and loving the things that only games can let you do. 

When people ask me what the big deal is about Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes, I tell them about Travis turning into a tiger, about how he trains his fat cat by lifting its limp body over his head over and over again, and how he feels empathy for a Russian cosmonaut who tries to kill him with an NES controller. There are the kinds of things that make the No More Heroes series a beloved cult hit in the eyes of its fans, and still worth talking about ten years later.

Salvador G-Rodiles

When it comes to power-ups in video games, they’re usually an ability that helps the player overcome an obstacle. In a few cases, it can help him/her become the ultimate jerk. When Atlus USA said that Dokapon Kingdom destroys friendships, they weren’t kidding. In a board game RPG where you and your buddies compete for the princess’ heart, the Darkling is the physical embodiment of the title’s themes.

While the player has to sacrifice their assets to become this class, they’re given the ability to alter the game’s flow. From overpowering your friends in battles to having monsters take over their towns, any individual who obtains this power can become a true villain. In other words, you get to enjoy seeing your closest comrades suffer.

Since this transformation can bring out a person’s true evil nature, the Darkling ranks among my favorite power-ups. Due to its broken abilities, it can result in your friends wanting to kick your butt in real life. In the end, it does a wonderful job in showing you why this game puts people’s bonds to the test. 

Peter Glagowski

I’m cheating a little bit here (since these are technically two power-ups), but I’m going with the UDamage Amplifier from Unreal Tournament and the Quad Damage pick-up from Quake III Arena. In old-school shooters, there was a form of damage known as splash damage, wherein projectile explosives could still inflict harm on opponents if shot at the ground or a wall (thereby splashing their damage like water). While direct hits were always preferred, sometimes you had to take a wild shot under duress to get an opponent off your back.

What each of these pick-ups does is multiply your damage output for a short amount of time. Quad Damage does it by 4X and Udamage does it by 2X, but what that means is typically you can instantly kill an opponent with splash damage. Because of that, finding these pickups in the thick of a multiplayer brawl was a quick way to boost your score.

They also make some of the lesser used weapons quite deadly with a skilled enough player. The ridiculously slow pistol in Unreal Tournament? Now it’s a sniper. The railgun in Quake III? Instakill! Call it noob tubing before noob tubes, I still love how destructive these pick-ups made you and how quickly the tides of battle could turn when they appeared.


You know what all those games could use? The spread shot.

CJ Andriessen
Just what the internet needs: yet another white guy writing about video games.