Not Every Adventure is a Mario Adventure
What Makes a Mario Game a "Proper" Entry?
I've seen a few discussions only recently about "what is a proper Mario game?" For some that might seem like a silly question; if it has "Mario" in the title doesn't that mean it's a proper entry in the series. Of course, that then means you have to parse out a lot of edge cases you might not have thought about. Do the Mario sports titles count? Does it have to have "Super" in the name to actually count? Do games with Donkey KongCreated as the titular villainous ape for his first game, Donkey Kong, along with the whole Kong family, has gone on to have a ling and varied career in a variety of Nintendo games. in them actually count? The Super Mario SeriesHe's the world's most famous plumber and the biggest face in Nintendo's stable, a character so ubiquitous you already knew we were talking about Mario even before we said his name. series has had a lot of entries in its run, not all of which will necessarily feel like "proper" entries, once you actually think about them.
To determine what actually makes a "proper" Mario game we have to first think about what that means. The series was defined by a specific entry, Super Mario Bros., a title that didn't just add the word "Super" to the existing Mario Bros. game but also redefined (and revolutionized) platform gaming. If any game deserves to be considered a "proper" Mario title it's absolutely the original Super Mario Bros..
That then raises the question, though: what about all of Mario's arcade entries before that seminal platforming title. What do we do with Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Wrecking Crew, and, yes, Mario Bros.? Each do have their merits for inclusion, from first introducing Mario, to adding more characters and creatures to his world. None of them, though, really play like Super Mario Bros. They're all more rigid, dare say more simplistic, than the plumber's adventure to come. if we're being really strict, at the very least these early arcade titles aren't "proper" games in the series.
If we want to be strict, though, what do we do about The Lost Levels and Super Mario Bros. 2? In Japan the Lost Levels was the official sequel and our second entry was just a weird unrelated game that was re-skinned and called Super Mario USA. Some purists might want to drop the Japanese version as just a "hard mode hack", and others might want to ditch the U.S. edition because it didn't start life as part of the series. For me I think both should be included because the Japanese edition was an official sequel and the American edition has characters and mechanics that have continued on in the series since its release. Any time you play as Peach and she floats along in the air you can thank the U.S. Super Mario 2 for that.
Naturally Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World make the cut. Those were both official releases in all regions and no one every questions their inclusion. But what about Super Mario Land and sequel Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins? These games were designed to act as small-screen companions to the console releases, and they play really well. The mark against then is they weren't designed and overseen by Shigeru Miyamoto, instead being handled at Nintendo by Gunpei Yokoi. Some would say that if Miyamoto, father of the Mario series, isn't involved then it's not an official entry, and I can see a certain amount of logic to that...
But here's the thing: Miyamoto hasn't really been directly involved in Mario games for years now, having taken on a much higher role in the company. If we discount anything he hasn't touched then that kills a lot of late releases like Super Mario Odyssey and Super Mario 3D World fantastic games that are indelible parts of the series. You can't exclude those games so, I think by that same logic, you have to include the Game Boy Land games.
Of course that then raises a different issue: what about Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3? What about Yoshi's Island: Super Mario World 2? There are some that say both of those games should be included because they're officially numbered parts of the series. My argument against that is in both cases Mario himself isn't a playable character in the series. Whatever else you can say, Mario has to be playable in a Mario game. if it's not then it's not a proper game in his series, it's someone else's title. Yes, that excludes Wario's adventures, and Yoshi's as well, but those each can be in their own series of games. And it does also exclude the Luigi's Mansion games and Super Princess Peach, but those all played differently enough from the main adventures that, once again, excluding them feels right.
That brings us to the 3D games in the series. The next proper entry (excluding the Mario Bros. sequel Mario Clash, which we exclude for the same reason) is Super Mario 64 and some would argue whether the 3D games should be included since they have a different style of play from the traditional platformers. These games are more "collect-a-thons" with Mario running around open areas to find stars or shines or whatever instead of going from start to finish in a level and then moving on. Mario moved away from that style of play for a while so should games like Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Sunshine even count at all?
My argument is yes because these games were meant as the natural evolution for Mario's series. Due to the limitations of the consoles at the time, a long series of 3D levels just wouldn't work. These open area exploration titles worked within the constraints of the consoles while adapting Mario's platforming mechanics. It works as well as it can considering what could be done. Discounting them takes a huge chunk not only out of Mario's history but also his timeline. For me, these games need to stay. So you can also add Super Mario Galaxy, it's sequel, and Odyssey to the list as well.
There are some other games we can discount, though. Any remakes or reinterpretations, for me, need to get lumped with their source material. Super Mario All-Stars is a great remake of the classic NES games, but they're just remakes at their core. The Super Mario Advance games may have added a few bonus features, but they're discounted for the same reason. And while Super Mario 64 DS added in new characters and new stars, it was also really a readjustment of the original N64 game. All of these are great, but they aren't true sequel entries. They don't count in my mind.
Of course then we get the return to classic form for Mario with the New Super Mario Bros. series. There are four games in that subset, and all of them should count. Super Luigi U., though, should not. It started life as an expansion to the WiiU game, and while it did get a standalone release, it has one major knock against it: Luigi, not Mario, is the playable character. I like Luigi, he's a great character, but the our rule on this is firm: if Mario isn't playable in a release it doesn't count for the main series. Sorry, Luigi.
The two Super Mario 3D games, Land and World, make the cut in my mind. They are a blend of the classic game play with the 3D style of later entries, and they're also so much fun to play. They feel like everything Nintendo has wanted to do with the classic series, and so they absolutely should be included. Bowser's Fury, though, is an expansion and doesn't count as it's own entry. Mario may be playable, but this is just an expanded re-release and not a full entry.
Finally we have to tackle some weird ones. Donkey Kong '94 is out, along with the whole Mario vs. Donkey Kong series, for the same reason we discounted the original arcade releases. The same reasoning axes Wrecking Crew '98, and we're going to take out another one-screen platformer, Hotel Mario, since absolutely no one wants to talk about that game ever again. We can also kill the edutainment games, like Mario is Missing, because those are barely platforming games at all.
Finally we just had to address so recent oddities. While the Super Mario Maker games are great, and they do have a bit of platforming fun to be had, the real purpose of those games is their toolbox modes. Yes, in the second console entry of that series you could actually play through a "story mode", but the real reason you got the game was to make your own levels. I like that, and I think it's great, but this is just far enough afield that I don't think it counts.
Meanwhile, I know Nintendo counts Super Mario Run as an official entry, but that seems to stretch things quite a bit. It's a mobile game, with a limited release, and most of all it doesn't play like a standard game in the series. It's an infinite runner where all you do is press a jump button and watch Mario do the rest. That hardly feels right. Yes it has the plumber, and yes it has the graphical trappings of the series, but this has as much to do with Mario games as all those other weird entries we've already discounted.
That's my list. There were some tough calls on that list, and you might not agree with them all. Still, it does feel complete up to a certain point, and everything that doesn't fit an easily be considered part of its own series. That makes sense, and for me, that's what I would consider "official".