In video games, it’s always the same conundrum: after dodging a torrent of fire balls for an entire level and finally mastering the timing of that long-range jump, you arrive at the End Boss, depleted of all health. To plow through the last leg of the journey, sometimes all your character needs is a power boost—maybe a quick bite of a burger, or hell, even a pork bun.
Just like hangry humans in need of a mid-afternoon pick-me-up, our 8-bit heroes often rely on food to trudge forward and face the inevitable battle. The earliest video games used food as a visual shorthand for health or energy. You might come across a crude, pixelated representation of a pizza slice or a chicken drumstick; and if you walked over it, the item would restore your character’s health. As technology and graphics improved, however, the foods increased in variety—Sims 4 lets you cook blackened sea bass—and as was often the case, the more sophisticated the dish, the stronger the boost it provided.
The best video games deepened their play with power-ups that were both appetizing and practical—and sometimes downright bizarre. We loved these edibles for their immediate restorative properties, suddenly energizing characters on the brink of death to attack their foes with renewed gusto (all thanks to a few calories).
From a Russian boxer fueled by vodka (or soda—more on that later), to an Indian streetfighter who derived power from binge-eating curry, we’ve rounded up the most mighty food power-ups that made our mouths water as we took the upper hand against our digital opponents.
Flavored Soda in Punch-Out!!
Hunted/Harvested from: Russian secret lab
Power: Ivan Drago strength
Game console: NES
In the original Punch-Out!! arcade game, Soda Popinski was actually Vodka Drunkenski, and he derived his powers from… well, you get the idea. Needless to say, Nintendo wasn’t having it—as if American-Russian relations weren’t tense enough in the 80’s. In its NES adaptation, the company changed the Russian behemoth’s name to Soda Popinski (yet he’s still flushed from head to toe). Popinski is one of the toughest characters in the Punch-Out!! franchise, and the Wii remake showed us exactly why. His ‘soda’ is a nuclear lab concoction—one drop, and he revives, angrier than ever, with close to full health. As Popinski’s opponent, you spend more time on your back than on your feet. If only you could taste a drop and level the playing field—because Coca-Cola surely isn’t going to cut it.
Pork Buns in Sleeping Dogs
Hunted/Harvested from: Hong Kong
Power: Regenerative health and manliness
Game console: PS3
Sleeping Dogs may be the most underrated game of the past console generation. You star as Wei Shen, a Chinese American who travels to Hong Kong and takes down a Triad gang. Sleeping Dogs encourages you to explore the Asian nightlife—you can hit the karaoke bars and you can also sample the local street food, which gives you various, temporary character buffs. And everyone who plays this game remembers the pork buns. Why? Because the guy hawking them is a laugh riot. “A man who never eats pork buns is never a WHOLE man!” With that kind of sales pitch, who can resist?
Ramen Noodles in Earthbound
Here’s a game that grows in reputation and prestige with each passing year. Earthbound for the SNES was barely appreciated when it was released back in 1994—RPGs were rarely successful stateside; they had a limited appeal to Americans with short attention spans. Fortunately, a small, fervent fanbase prevented Earthbound from ever being forgotten. Today, most people know about Earthbound from the Super Smash Bros. franchise; Earthbound protagonist Ness has been a consistent Smash competitor since the beginning. But still, nothing compares to the original game—a poetic, beautifully written experience packed with creative flair. And there was no better item to have in your backpack than the Cup of Lifenoodles. It restored a dead buddy to life, and to be frank, we’re not that surprised. Ramen truly is a miracle food—it’s the perfect pick-me-up for a businessman on the run, or a college student late to class. We’ve never seen it wake the dead, but there’s a first for everything.
Pizza in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles In Time
Pizza is one of those stock foods that appeared in every early video game, and it’s no wonder. The never-ending pizza craze hit new heights in the 1980s, however, when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles proclaimed their everlasting love for it. Every TMNT video game, past and present, features pizza as the restorative health item (the NES version of the arcade game actually included a coupon to Pizza Hut, and had product placement for Pizza Hut in two of its levels). Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles In Time, released in 1991 for the arcades, included the health restoration pizza, as well as an attack pizza, which came in a red box with a bomb on it. If you ate it, your Turtle would receive five seconds of invincibility, spinning around like a ninja top and taking out every Foot Soldier in range. Pizza power!
Beans in Boogerman
Hunted/Harvested from: Dimension X-Crements
Power: Deadly farts
Game Console: Sega Genesis
This is the grossest video game of all time, with a premise that only a nine-year-old boy could love: You defeat your enemies by flinging snot, burping, farting, and hocking loogies at your opponent. You build up your burping and farting gas meter by eating beans. And if you eat a chili pepper, your burps and farts become fire attacks. You can also fly around the level, thanks to your rocket-fueled ass. The best thing about this game is the animation: You can see Boogerman straining to blast out his bean farts. Uh, who’s hungry?
Angel Food Cake in DuckTales
Has there ever been a more blatant celebration of greed and excess than DuckTales? The intro shows the main character, Scrooge McDuck, diving into his pool of his own money, and it’s interspersed with scenes of Scrooge risking the lives of his family members to become even richer. The NES adaptation of the TV show (not to mention 2013’s remastering) was an instant classic—Scrooge traveled to the Amazon, Transylvania, the African Mines, the Himalayas, and even the Moon to find five priceless treasures. For a Disney game, it was unusually difficult, but thankfully you had the help of Mrs. Beakley’s desserts. A single ice-cream cone could fill one health container, while an angel-food cake could restore full health. The cakes could be found in the strangest locations—in Transylvania, they’d be hidden in giant suits of armor, and you’d have to swing your cane like a golf club to uncover them.
Jelly Beans in A Boy And His Blob
Hunted/Harvested from: Blobolonia
Power: Transmogrifying abilities
Game console: NES
Here’s an incredible puzzle game from the 8-bit era. You starred as a Boy who was followed around by a Blob (obviously). This Blob could take different forms, depending on what jelly bean you fed him. A licorice jelly bean turned the Blob into a ladder to reach high places, and a strawberry jelly bean turned him into a bridge to traverse small gaps. A few years ago, Nintendo released a critically acclaimed remake of A Boy And His Blob for the Wii. The creators were wise to keep the jelly bean love in tact, although we’re still waiting for our transformation powers.
Bananas in Fruit Ninja
Fruit Ninja is one of the greatest mobile app games of all time. The premise is simple: Slice fruit and earn points. The delivery on that premise, however, is affirming and addictive. The fruit always come apart with a satisfying squish or crunch, and their juices splatter everywhere on the screen. But the highlights of any Fruit Ninja session are the bananas. The icy one slows down time, making it easier to slice fruit; the blue and yellow ones double your points; and the orange and yellow kind double the number of fruit on screen. When you get two or more of these bananas on screen at the same time, they work in tandem to really boost your score. It’s almost too much joy to comprehend.
Spicy Curry in Street Fighter II
Hunted/Harvested from: India
Power: Politically-incorrect fire breathing
Game console: Arcade
When Nintendo Power issued its first report on Street Fighter II, it gave an unbelievable explanation for Dhalsim’s Yoga Fire: “In his battles, Dhalsim relies on a combination of intense meditation and intense indigestion caused by overdosing on his favorite food seasoning, curry.” Wait, what?? Oh, but it gets better: “Dhalsim always has a huge helping of raw curry before his battles. He loves the stuff. However, doing this gives him a severe case of deadly dragon breath….” Capcom has since dropped this bizarre backstory, but we’ll never forget it. Over two decades since his debut, Dhalsim continues to be the ultimate spacing/turtle fighter—and a questionable representative of his supposed Indian culture.
Mushrooms in Super Mario Bros.
Hunted/Harvested from: The Mushroom Kingdom
Power: Damn near anything
Game console: NES
There have been no better ambassadors to the transcendent power of mushrooms than the Mario Brothers. Mario and Luigi without their mushrooms would be like a plumber without his wrench. For over three decades, they’ve have been chomping down on all sorts of ‘shrooms, and it’s done them nothing but good. It turns them from regular people into giants, or tiny gnats, or propeller heads—whatever Mario needs to rescue Peach. There’s even the occasional 1-Up mushroom that will give Mario and Luigi an extra life. And while we’d never advocate eating random, green, polka dotted mushrooms (we’re guessing that would probably shorten your life), it seems to work for them.