Last week, the video game website Polygon published a ranked list of the best Super Mario video games that sent shockwaves through the Mario enthusiast community. By ranking celebrated entries like Super Mario 64 in the 11th spot, and dark horses like New Super Mario Bros. U in the top spot, the list's author Jeremy Parish defied conventional wisdom with well argued points.
I respect Jeremy Parish. His YouTube videos on retro Nintendo wares are very thorough and informative. He's a knowledgeable and talented writer. But his recent list is wrong. I also respect anyone taking the piss out of his list, but SB Nation’s rebuttal list is also wrong. They are both wrong and rep Super Mario 3D World way too much.
Fellow video game people, I personally ask you to be skeptical of any list where Super Mario World and Super Mario Sunshine don’t crack the top five. But I professionally require you to disqualify any list that doesn’t include Yoshi’s Island at all. Not only because it's a great game, but because, yes, it's a Super Mario game. How do I know this? Well, to start with, it's in the damn name, the full version of which is Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island. It might be easy to forget after so many years, but it's true. Look it up.
Perhaps, one would argue, Yoshi's Island doesn't deserve to be on the list because it doesn't play like a Super Mario game. Similar to Donkey Kong, since starring in his own platformer, Yoshi has irreparably forked the Super Mario series. The saddled dinosaur has fissioned its own sub-franchise in which Yoshi is the star and not merely the steed. It's as if Epona (Link's horse in The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time), the Batmobile, or Falkor got their own spin-offs. Since Yoshi’s Island, Yoshi went on to star in Yoshi’s Story and Yoshi’s Wooly World, both Mario-less games.
Even though Mario is ostensibly on-screen for most of Yoshi’s Island, the reason it felt outside of the franchise is how much of a departure it was. Before Yoshi’s Island, Mario had always accumulated new abilities from game to game. Running didn't just help Mario cross jumps, with a cape or a tail it could make him fly. At some point Mario learned to pick up shells like a football, not just kick them like a European football. (This excludes Super Mario Bros 2., which was in fact a re-skin of a non-Mario Japanese game Doki-Doki Panic, and all its turnip picking nonsense.)
Yoshi’s Island didn’t build on any of that. Yoshi has new moves, mainly creating and lobbing eggs. There were secrets in both games but the Yoshi games move at a slower pace, and there’s more sussing out the environment for treasures. Mario was given a steady drip of power ups and costumes, whereas Yoshi’s long-term power-ups come in the form of new enemies it can eat and immediately poop out.
Funnily enough, Yoshi’s Island was the introduction of the ground pound, a skill Mario would pick up in his next adventure, Super Mario 64, and has kept ever since. Yoshi’s Island also added those red coins, which, unlike the normal coins, are red.
If Yoshi's Island is "too different" to be on a list of the best Super Mario games, why is Super Mario World allowed on the list? Players ride Yoshi in the latter and become Yoshi in the former. Is it really that big of a difference?
If difference is the disqualifying factor for Yoshi’s Island, then other games in the series deserve just as much scrutiny. Super Mario Sunshine (which, again, owns) is as much of an outlier to the timeline. The game revolves around a water cannon, and feels like it has more in common with the Splatoon games than Super Mario Galaxy.
And lastly, again, there’s the name. The full name of Yoshi’s Island is Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. So yes, Yoshi’s Island is a Super Mario game, you bums.
Yoshi’s Island exclusion from the canon seems like too severe an oversight. Mind you that including Yoshi’s Island is no guarantee that your list will be correct, it will just be much more closer to correct than before.
Here is the correct top five ranking of the Mario games:
5: Super Mario Bros. 3
4: Super Mario 64
3: Mario’s Time Machine 2: Mario Fucks Up Napoleon
2: Super Mario Sunshine
1: Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island