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What the Hell is a Super Mario Game Anyways?

Last Updated: 2023.10.21

Well, that's a pretty easy question to answer! Or so you would think...

This was written as a sort of response or addendum to jan Misali's second survey on what a Super Mario game is. I tried to submit a response, but it rejected me for talking too much! So I decided to talk more where no one can stop me. I have not watched his original video since the day of release, and do not remember the specifics of its conclusion, so I hope I have provided some original commentary and perspective on this "issue"!

First, lets establish some common ground. Super Mario games can be divided endlessly, and here I want to address what I believe are Super Mario games, and the categories we should place them in. If you don't agree with this list, that's okay! However, I hope to present a good argument for my interpretation of how to divide Mario's catalogue.

Generally, I would say that Super Mario games can be divided into six categories, in order of their relation to what I perceive as the mainline titles. These categories are:

Defining a Mainline Super Mario Game

A mainline Super Mario game is an original 2D or 3D platformer, starring Mario as the main character, released on a Nintendo console. Mainline Super Mario games generally adapt the themes, characters, settings, and gameplay from their predecessors, most often the 1985 release of Super Mario Bros, and remix them in a way that is unique, but not to the point where the primary genre is changed entirely from a 2D or 3D platformer. Generally speaking, Super Mario games are always focused around jumping and running between platforms to the objective of a level, of which you will complete many to finish the game. Most importantly, their main focus is always one thing: fun!

So with this definition, here is every mainline Super Mario game as of 2023.

We see a common trend in this list, mostly that of adapting the original gameplay of Super Mario Bros. to accomplish something unique and exciting, while still clearly being in the same genre/lineage. Each game here clearly iterates and expands on the last, celebrating what has come before, and adding to it. I don't think I need to provide terribly much rationale for this list, as based on the Super Mario series timeline on Wikipedia, these appear to all be recognized mainline titles. If anything, this may be a bit conservative of a view!

Don't agree with this list? Don't worry, I hear you. I'll be addressing almost every conceivable edge case which could present itself against it. First, let's talk rereleases and remakes.

Remakes and Rereleases

These Super Mario games violate the "original" clause in the definition of a mainline game, although they may fit every other criteria. Although some of these games may be changed by adding significant new content or tweaks in gameplay or graphics, they are still dependent on the original game for the vast majority of their content.

Here are the games which I would consider to fit within this category:

Major Spin-offs

These titles take the characters and themes in the mainline Super Mario games and take a different approach to them, usually by changing the genre. They may remix and expand on those mainline themes, but they will never discard them completely. In addition, major spin-offs must be, well, major, either by selling well, having consistent releases, or by having a strong legacy in Mario's history.

I would consider these games to be major spin-offs:

Distinct Spin-offs

These series are completely distinct from the mainline Super Mario games, usually through not only genre, but theming. Although they may technically be derivatives of at least one of its games, they no longer share most of the characters and worlds that are present in modern mainline Super Mario games. In a sense, they are a diverged path that has gone so far from the former that they are no longer recognizably the same. This is distinct from the major and minor spin-offs, which mostly stick close to the themes present in mainline Super Mario titles.

I would consider these games to be distinct spin-offs:

Minor Spin-offs

Minor spin-offs, although mostly remaining close to the themes and characters found in mainline Super Mario titles, are either one-offs, did not sell well, or are mostly forgotten. They do not have the gravity of any of the above releases, generally speaking.

I would consider the following games to be minor spin-offs:

Non-Canon Appearances

Non-canon appearances of Mario are very common! This category is admittedly especially subjective in some instances, and is mostly based on vibes. Generally, if Mario could be replaced in a game with no consequences on the overall experience (he is not a central focus of the game), is included as a bonus character or has been removed in other releases, has replaced other assets in what was a pre-existing title, or stars alongside other characters from many different series, it is a non-canon appearance of Mario.

I would consider the following examples to be non-canon appearances of Mario, that can sometimes be argued to be Super Mario games:

Games that are definitely not Super Mario Games

These games are either certainly not derived from the Super Mario series in any shape or form, are unreleased titles, or are simply not games at all!

If the primary purpose of a Mario-themed item is to be something other than a game, it is not a Super Mario game. Some notable releases under this criteria are:

If a game or a game's primary inspiration predates the 1985 release of Super Mario Bros, the definitive beginning of the Super Mario series, it is also not a Super Mario game. It may star Mario, and may technically be a Mario game, but it is not a Super Mario game. If a game is derived from one of these games as opposed to a Super Mario game, it is not a Super Mario spin-off. Some notable releases under this criteria are:


I hope you enjoyed this thorough waste of time and descent into madness. You're in San Diego and I'm in hell. It may not be useful to categorize Super Mario games as I have done here, but it's a natural thing that Super Mario scholars seem to do. This is the most defined method I could go about dividing these games. However, I do realize that this is almost entirely subjective and based on "vibes" more than anything else. Regardless though, I do think it provides some insight on exactly what titles these games may be derivative works of, or how they have become more distinct over time. Thank you!