Items that confer power-ups are usually pre-placed in the game world, spawned randomly, dropped by beaten enemies or picked up from opened or smashed containers. They can be differentiated from items in other games, such as role-playing video games, by the fact that they take effect immediately, feature designs that do not necessarily fit into the game world (often used letters or symbols emblazoned on a design), and are found in specific genres of games. Power-ups are mostly found in action-oriented games such as maze games, run and guns, shoot 'em ups, first-person shooters, and platform games.
"Power-up" and "1-up" are examples of a common form of wasei-eigo (Japanese pseudo-Anglicisms), in which the word "up" is prefixed by some desirable quality. The general meaning of X-up in Japanese is "this will increase your X", and this construction is regularly used in areas such as advertising. This is similar to another phrase, X get!, as seen in Super Mario Sunshine's Japanese version's "Shine Get!" phrase.
Pac-Man from 1980 is credited as the first video game to feature a power-up mechanic. The effect of the power-up was illustrated by one of the first cut scenes to appear in a video game, in the form of brief comical interludes about Pac-Man and Blinky chasing each other around. The power pellet entered popular culture with a joke on video game controversies regarding the influence of video games on children.
In 1984, Sabre Wulf introduced power ups in the form of flowers which, when blossoming, provided effects such as speed up and invincibility.
In 1985 Super Mario Bros. introduced the Super Mushroom, which has entered popular culture, being described as "the quintessential power-up". The original game idea was to have an always big Mario as a technical advance, but later the power-up was introduced to make him "super" as a bonus effect. The development team thought it would be interesting to have Mario grow and shrink by eating a magic mushroom, just like in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.. Other power-ups introduced in this game were the Fire Flowers and Super Stars, which gave Mario the ability to shoot fireballs at enemies, and invincibility, respectively.