Mutually Exclusive Powerups

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The case in video games where picking up one weapon or powerup results in losing another. This makes control schemes simpler, but may be more annoying. This is particularly aggravating if the game allows you to increase the level of a weapon or powerup only to lose it later. In some scenarios, if the player is required to posess a certain powerup to proceed, other powerups must be avoided at all costs, or else the player will have to backtrack to a previous area to swap for the correct one.

More merciful games allow the player to merely "drop" the old weapon rather than it simply vanishing into nothingness, allowing the player to easily swap between them (like an Inventory Management Puzzle with a limit of one weapon).

This trope doesn't apply to cases that involve explicitly choosing or trading between two weapons (like the choice of three starters in the Pokémon games).

Compare Inventory Management Puzzle.

Examples of Mutually Exclusive Powerups include:


  • Super Mario Bros 3 added the mutually exclusive raccoon/tanuki/frog/hammer suits to the original game's Fire Flower. In Super Mario World, the flower and cape are mutually exclusive (though the Select Button box makes this less problematic). In New Super Mario Bros., the flower, blue shell, and Mini Mushroom are mutually exclusive, and getting the Mega Mushroom deletes whatever powerup you had.
    • A strange (but arguably sensible) exception in Mario 3 was that if you got a Tanuki suit while using a P-Wing, the P-Wing effect would transfer from the Raccoon to the Tanuki.
    • In Super Mario 64, the Wing Cap and Metal Cap are mutually exclusive to each other (as far as anyone can tell; the two powerups almost never appear in the same area), but the Vanish Cap is not. Indeed, one particular star requires using the Vanish and Metal Caps together.
    • In Super Mario Galaxy 2, there's the various suits and Yoshi.
  • In Glider PRO, batteries and helium are mutually exclusive. Both are controlled by the same key, and helium wasn't in the initial release of the game.
  • The old Arkanoid arcade game had this feature: when you acquired a new special ability by touching a power capsule, you lost whatever ability you currently had (if any).
    • Additionally, while you had the "Dispersion" (read: multiball) powerup, no other powerup capsules would drop.
  • The shields of Sonic The Hedgehog 3. The developers took care to place shield types where they would be most useful. The first zone of the game, Angel Island, places them in such a way that the player could learn their mechanics by seeing them in action.
    • The first Flame Shield is set right before the first mini-boss, which attacks with a flamethrower. The second Flame Shield probably displays the pitfalls of switching shields more than any other; as Sonic, you can only really reach this Flame Shield if you used a Lightning Shield to pass some tricky jumps (see below), but by swapping it for a Flame Shield, you find that the next obstacle is impossible to pass (it requires the double-jump or Tails' flight), and you must take the slower path below. The third Flame Shield is placed similarly to the first, right before a boss that primarily deals with flame attacks.
    • The first Bubble Shield (which lets you breathe underwater) is placed in a shallow pool of water. The next two Bubble Shields are similarly placed in areas with lots of water, and 1-ups which are easier to access using the shield's bounce ability. But the fourth Bubble Shield is the most notable; no more water hazards show up for the rest of the act, and the bounce ability proves to be a liability both in the ensuing airship bombing and boss fight over bottomless pits. This last placement hints at the shield's true role for the majority of the game: a Powerup Letdown.
    • The first Lightning Shield is placed near several rings to show off its ring magnet ability. The second Lightning Shield (on Sonic & Tails' path) is tucked away just before a series of tricky jumps (for Sonic), demonstrating its double-jump ability. A third is placed before a series of rotating platforms over water, demonstrating to the clumsy player that water hazards will remove Lightning Shields. Notably, none of these placements are near electric hazards; this may have been an attempt to trick new players, concerned with protecting Sonic from hits, into thinking the Lightning Shield was really the weakest (if so, it didn't fool anyone; double-jumps and ring attraction are just too awesome).
    • This applies to pretty much every Sonic game that has multiple shield types.
  • The hats of Kid Chameleon.
  • The haircuts in Rocky Rodent.
  • You do not get to have piercing (blast through walls) and manually fired bombs in Bomberman.
    • You can in the first Super Bomberman game.
    • Though the bomb kick and walk over bomb powerups are mutually exclusive.
  • Samus can only have either the Ice Beam or the Wave Beam at once in the original Metroid. The same principle applied in the sequel, where there were Ice, Wave, Plasma, and Spazer beams available to Samus, but she could still only have one at once.
    • Likewise, the Spazer beam and Plasma beam in Super Metroid cannot be equipped at the same time without glitching the game irrevocably. Later side-scrolling iterations in the Metroid series just allow Samus to equip all beams at once.
  • In the Castlevania games up to and including Harmony of Dissonance, you can only carry one subweapon at a time. In the games before Rondo of Blood, the subweapon you had before disappears. From Rondo on, you drop the previous subweapon onto the ground, and can pick it up again in the event you change your mind about changing weapons, or picked up the new one by accident.
    • Also, in games where the Double Shot and Triple Shot items exist, you automatically lose these if you change subweapons. Sometimes just getting these items in the first place means that you have to stick with one subweapon for an extended period of time.
  • The spaceship in R-Type could only hold one of the three lasers at a time.
  • In the NES version of Contra, and its sequel Super C, the bullet speeds of all of your weapons can be increased with the "Rapid Bullets" power-up. However, this upgrade is lost when the player changes to another weapon. This doesn't apply to the arcade version of the first game, in which the increased bullet speed is carried over from one weapon to another until the player loses a life due to the rarity of the Rapid Bullets power-up in that version.
    • In the arcade version of Super Contra, as well as Contra 4 for the DS, all of the weapons in the game can be upgraded once by picking the same power-up twice in a row. However, the extra firepower is lost when the player picks up a different weapon.
    • In Contra Advance, the GBA version of Contra III, the player drops his previous weapon whenever he picks up a new one, allowing him to revert back to his previous weapon if the new one is not to his liking, much like in the post-Dracula X Castlevania games. This was mainly added to make up for the lack of dual wielding in the GBA port.
  • Double and Laser are exclusive in Gradius, as are Ripple and Laser in relevant sequels (In other games, Ripple is considered a type of Laser).
  • In the Parodius games, Bell Power cancels your ship's shield equivalent.
  • Fire Shark has three powerups, the blue which provided a weak but fast spread shot, green which provided a narrow but extremely strong laser, and red which give your plane the strong flamethrower which swept the entire area. Guess which power-up was the rarest?
  • King's Quest Mask of Eternity has a limit of one short-range weapon (dagger/axe/sword) and one long-range weapon (bow/crossbow). When you pick up the new weapon you drop the old one. Leave and come back, and the old weapon is still there, in an aversion of Everything Fades. However, there isn't really any functional difference between the different short- and long-range weapons except for their strength - except the warhammer, which takes an annoyingly long time to swing.
  • Deus Ex does this with the Nanomachines, each only being usable in a specific slot. However, some slots came in multiples, allowing players to chose both the "mutually" exclusive augmentations if they wanted to. Only Legs, Eyes, Eyes and Cranium were exclusive.
    • Invisible War has all slots being exclusive.
  • Gunstar Heroes lets players carry two of its four weapon types at a time, which can be used individually or combined into a special weapon.
  • Kirby can only have one power from a swallowed enemy at a time. Some games allow you to project that power in the form of a companion and swallow a different one.
    • Kirby 64 also allowed the pink blob to combine powers to create new ones, but only two at a time.
    • Kirby Squeak Squad also lets you store up to 5 powerups in his belly at once, with a limited number of these being combinable (sword, fire, spark, ice & bomb, in certain combinations only).
    • And only having one animal friend at a time in Dream Land 2. The same goes for Dream Land 3, but in that case, you can have two players at once, and only one of them can ride at a time—if an unmounted player teams up, the other player automatically dismounts.
  • Dawn of War 2 lets you pick one of between two and four different pieces of Wargear for each of your commander's three slots. You can change your mind later, but you'll have to pay for the new equipment, and it takes time to switch back.
  • Tyrian's Arcade Mode and Super Arcade Mode have this. In order to power up your weapon, you have to collect the same color powerup that your ship is using. Grab the wrong color (easy to do at times) and you're stuck with a new, low-level weapon.
  • In various Super Robot Wars games, there are Mutually Exclusive Secret Characters and robots; for example, in Z, you can unlock either the Xabungle Unit-2 or Ray and Charles depending on your route split choices, and there are many secrets exclusive to one of the protagonists.
  • Gauntlet (1985 video game): Dark Legacy. The items seemed to be divided into ten groups, but there were far more than ten items. So you could easily end up replacing a very good item with a very bad one.
  • The NES/Famicon Ninja Gaiden series. For the third game they let you see what the item was before you broke the sphere it was stored in, making it easier to avoid picking up an item you didn't want by mistake.
  • In the puzzle game Marble Blast Gold, the marble can only hold one powerup at a time. Partially averted as the powerup usually holds for a couple seconds after its use, so it's very easy to use several in rapid succession for extra effect (e.g. a super-speed followed by a super-jump, to get a very fast, long and high jump).
  • In Defense of the Ancients some items have "Orb Effects" that increase the power of an item in some way. Heroes are only allowed to have one Orb effect at a time.
    • This is actually a limitation of the Warcraft III engine. Effects that modify the appearance of a ranged attack's projectile don't stack. DotA decided to use this trait as a balancing mechanic for items.
  • Most Shoot Em Ups by Compile feature a variety of weapons which can only be held one at a time:
    • Blazing Lazers has four kinds of mutually exclusive options on top of four types of mutually exclusive weapons.
    • Gun Nac for the NES features 6 upgrade paths for weapons, but only one can be upgraded at a time. Getting a different powerup doesn't upgrade, but resets your weapon type to the pickup's, at level 1. However, if you don't die you can keep swapping weapons and they'll retain their previous strength. This does not apply to bombs.
    • Aversions: Guardic, The Guardian Legend and Spriggan Mark II allow freedom of weapon selection.
  • Spelunky features both a literal version of this trope - you can't equip the jetpack and the cape simultaneously; picking up one causes you to drop the other - and a more figurative version: the Spelunker can only carry one item in his hands. Deciding whether you want to carry a pick or a pistol is challenging enough, but it can be a real pain in the ass when you're trying to carry around a Damsel in Distress and a flare as well.
  • The hats in the first Wario Land. Of course, there weren't many levels that required specific hats to be beaten, it really just came down to the play style of the player.
  • All Backyard Sports games except for baseball and football have this trait for powerups.
  • Call of Duty games allows carrying two different weapons and no more.[1] You can exchange a weapon in your hand with one that's on the ground, but you can switch them back if you regret your decision (assuming it's still there). The decision of whether or not to pick up certain weapons at any given time can seriously affect the rest of the mission, though in most cases what you need for any given situation is what you started the mission with (such as a sniper rifle for intercepting enemies at long range) or something you can find a stash of right when it becomes necessary (like rocket-propelled grenades when heavy armor arrives).
  • Diddy Kong Racing, though hitting another balloon of the same type will upgrade your powerup.
  • Two examples from the Mega Man X series:
    • In Mega Man X3, you have the usual 4 capsules that give you new abilities, and each has an upgrade. They're normally mutually exclusive, forcing you to choose between a double air dash, auto-healing, increased defense, and a weapon that lets you fire Charge Shots continuously. There is, however, a secret way to get all of them at the same time, and get a nice golden color to your armor too!
    • In Mega Man X4, when playing as X, there are two possible arm upgrades. Either you get the Plasma Shot (a larger than normal Charge Shot that, when it hits enemies, leaves behind spheres that will do damage to enemies on contact) or the Stock Shot, the ability to build up to 4 Charge Shots in one charge, which can be released at will. You can switch whenever you want, by going back to where the capsules are (a little easier said than done, but...), but you can't have both. Interestingly enough, when the Fourth/Force Armor shows up in X5, it has the Plasma Shot, but with the Stock Shot's color scheme.
    • The later Mega Man Zero series zig-zags this for EX skills: saber-related skills can all be active at once, but buster-related skills are mutually exclusive.
  • Picking up a special weapon in Metal Slug would replace the current weapon. A couple later games allow the player to hold one weapon in reserve, though.
    • You also can only have one type of bomb (normal or stones) and also only one type of shell for any Slug.
  • Several Fire Emblem games have situations that have you gaining one of two possible units; how or even if you make that decision varies from game to game.
  • Mass Effect 2 uses the inventory limit of 1 rule for your heavy weapons. However since your ship's fabrication unit never breaks, you never loses access to your list of heavy weapons, you just have to pre-select before each mission.
    • Better example. Some point into the game, you find a stockpile of Infinity Plus One Weapons. You only get to take one with you. (If your class can't equip the weapon you want, you get one normal weapon training instead. You don't get to pick another on a New Game+ either.
  • In Valkyria Chronicles, a fat enough wallet can purchase permanent stat upgrades to the Edelweiss, as well as additional mix-and-match parts. However, the final tier of upgrades gives you a choice: you can beef up its armor, its body or its targeting systems, but never more than one at once. And switching among them requires you to fork over the hefty R&D fee every single time.
  • Avernum 6 has a set of mutually exclusive buffs for each priest (mutually exclusive protections) and mage (mutually exclusive attack buffs) classes of spells. Even if this weren't a totally unexpected shift in gameplay, players weren't happy about the artificial restriction on top of already high casting costs.
  • Warblade, a very deep and complex shmup, allows you to keep one weapon at a time. If your ship either explodes or touches a skull, your weapon downgrades and your stats lower a bit. This leads to Unstable Equilibrium situations. It truly sucks when you're perfectly fine with your War 1 Plasma weapon and you pick up a double shot powerup by mistake. Weapons more powerful than Quadruple Shot must be bought from shops, where they're pretty darn expensive, too. The most expensive one costs 3000 credits, but that's still nothing compared to the cost of re-buying all your powerups if your ship explodes if you're well established.. Let me see... 30000 super autofire + 15000 alien lock +3000 weapon + 1625 stat bonuses. So about 50000 credits.
  • Dissidia Final Fantasy has this for Cecil's level 100 exclusive weapon. You can create either the Cimmerian Sword, which increases Dark Knight attacks, or the Lightbringer, which increases Paladin attacks. The catch is that following the exclusive weapon upgrade chain back to the beginning with the Dark Sword means that you can only have one or the other. No other character in the game has this restriction.
    • That said, it is possible to obtain a second Dark Sword, if you know how to properly tweak the settings in custom battles against the CPU.
  • In Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, there's the EX Mission "The Mecha Dragon's Secret," in which a crewmember tasks you with negotiating with Fafnir (a robotic dragon in Sector H) for a piece of itself so he can research its technology. If successful, Fafnir will gladly give up a fragment of its own body—either a Dragon Screw, a Dragon Scale, or a Dragon Circuit. The crewmember will then fashion that one item into a sword, a vest, or a ring, and (unless you farm the components for the Dragon Vest elsewhere) you can't have any other item unless you go through the game another couple of times and negotiate the other pieces from Fafnir again.
  • In Purple, you can't pick up another weapon without losing previous one on the way.
  • Obscure NES game Twin Eagle had four different weapon power-ups—conveniently color coded—that could be powered up three times. Getting the same power-up would increase it, but getting a different power-up would change weapon type while keeping the equivalent level.
  • Raiden Trad for Sega Genesis had this for both the player's main weapon (guns) and sub-weapon (missiles).
    • For the guns, you have either the Spread bullets, which could fill the screen at max level; and the laser, which was tight but extremely powerful.
    • For the missiles, you choose between hard-hitting unguided rockets and agile homing missiles.
    • This allows a player to achieve a personal balance between focused firepower and maximum screen clearing. Given the fact that the game keeps throwing both swarm enemies and tough enemies at you all the way to the end, there is no clear winning combination.
  • Rise of the Triad seemingly lived this trope. Not only could you only have one active powerup at a time and grabbing a new one replaced the old one (apart from the bulletproof or asbestos vests, which were still mutually exclusive to each other), you could only have one missile weapon at a time. If you ran across a bazooka while you were holding an Excalibat, for instance, you would leave the Excalibat on the floor as you grabbed the bazooka.
  • In Final Fantasy VI, an old man in Narshe offers to either give you the Magicite Ragnarok, or to carve it into an Infinity+1 Sword. You can only pick one. Please note that choosing the latter means you will never learn Ultima unless you do a ridiculous amount of grinding with the worst shield in the game, but at the same time, the sword does almost as good a job at breaking the game wide open - in some ways, a better job - than the Ultima spell. (In the Game Boy Advance version of the game, it's possible to have both the sword and Magicite at the same time, so long as you choose the Magicite when prompted.)
  • Bug!! had the four kinds of Spit Wads. One was a regular shot, one was a double shot, one gave a shot that bounced along the floor, and the last was rapid fire. You could only have one at a time.
  • Several occurrences in World of Warcraft:
    • Mages can only have one armor spell active (Frost, Mage, or Molten).
    • Warlocks get this three times: one Armor spell (Demon or Fel), one Curse per warlock per target, and then later the Curse category was split into Curses and Banes, which were also one per warlock per target.
    • Shamans and weapon enchantments (Flametongue, Frostbrand, Windfury, Rockbiter, Earthliving). They can also only place one totem of each element (Earth, Fire, Water, Air) at a time.
    • Rogues can only apply one type of poison to each weapon.
    • Paladins can only have one Aura, one Seal, one Blessing and one Hand active at a time. Yes, they actually get it four times.
    • Hunters can only have one Aspect active at a time.
  • City of Heroes used to have a similar occurrence, with Scrapper and Tanker defense powersets like Invulnerability, Stone Armor. All have powers that resist or defend against specific damage types (Smashing/Lethal, Fire/Cold, Psionic, etc.), and the first issue only allowed one shield to be toggled at one time...mercifully, this aspect was dropped fairly early.
  • Duke Nukem II. Duke can only carry one special weapon: (L)aser, (F)lame Thrower, or (R)ocket Launcher. Picking up a different weapon replaced the current one. Worse, there's also the infrequent (N) powerup, which returns you to Duke's default gun.
  • The Legend of Zelda Four Swords and The Legend of Zelda Four Swords Adventures only allow each player to have one item other than their sword at a time. If you pick up another one, the first item is dropped in its place.
  • In The Tower of Druaga, the Green Ring, which protects you from one type of Invincible Minor Minion, is nullified by the Red Ring, which protects you from the other type of Invincible Minor Minion. Both are necessary pickups, because this game is just that cruel.
  • In Attack of the Mutant Penguins, you can only hold one kind of special item at a time.
  • In Athena, the different types of weapons, which are frequently dropped by mooks, automatically replaced your current weapon if you touch them. Switching weapons is annoying, as the new weapon will be on the lowest level, where it takes multiple hits to kill enemies and in most cases can't even destroy blocks.
  1. The first game allows three, but one of them is always a pistol, and after the American campaign you don't always have one