If that's the case and Mario is going to try to return once more to the retro 2D style he perfected, Nintendo will have some very big shoes to fill. Just how can the publisher pull it off? We've got a few ideas...
It must (and almost certainly will) be 2D
For many reasons Super Mario 4 will almost certainly be a 2D game. First off there's Nintendo revealing totally new 2D Super Mario for 3DS in 2012, which is likely Mario 4. Second, we'd bet most consumers expect 2D graphics from the name "Mario 4." And lastly, the previous two core Marios were Galaxy 2 and 3D Land, meaning that Nintendo is probably itching to return to 2D Marios that will hopefully be as profitable as New Super Mario Bros.
A finely tuned, portable experience
As with the previous slide, Nintendo more or less confirmed a 2D Mario is coming to the 3DS soon, and it makes sense for that type of game anyway. The bite-sized 2D levels fit for limited play time on a handheld, just as the smaller 3D stages worked in Mario 3D Land. Couple that with the smaller investment developing on handhelds as Nintendo shifts much of its funds to the Wii U and it makes even more sense.
...Or the premiere Wii U launch title
If for some reason Nintendo decides to shock us all, Super Mario 4 could end up on the Wii U. It certainly would be a standout launch title, but is it big enough to be retail? Perhaps Super Mario 4 will be one of the first downloadable games for Wii U, with Nintendo making a strong early move to prove it can compete with PSN and XBLA. We know, it's fairly unlikely, but we can dream.
Hand drawn graphics
If the series returns to 2D, we have a very selfish request: return to hand drawn graphics. Unlike the polygonal characters on a 2D plane, retro sprites and worlds have so much more character. Above you'll see just how gorgeous 1995's Yoshi's Island was, we can only imagine what could be pulled off today. Perhaps it's a lost art within Nintendo, but last year's Rayman Origins proves it can be done if the creators really want it.
Super Mario 4 should be to Mario World as 3D Land was to Mario 3
One of the reasons we loved Super Mario 3D Land so dearly was seeing all the winks and nods to Super Mario 3. Why not keep a good thing going and have Mario 4 embrace everything that's still memorable about Super Mario World 20 years later? In fact, in Japan Super Mario World was even officially called Super Mario Bros 4. And the first tribute we want to see...
Bring back the cape!
For the last 20 years or so we complained, cried, and pleaded for Nintendo to bring back Marios adorable Tanooki power-up. Now that that wish has been fulfilled, weve already moved on to our next most desired power-up: Marios yellow cape! Though it might not be as cute as raccoon ears, the cape was better from a gameplay standpoint, as flight controls took more attention than mashing a button as fast as you can. We'd love to see just what updates the devs could make to it just as they did with the raccoon tail in 3D Land.
Bring back other lost power-ups too
But why should we stop with the cape? There are dozens of forgotten Mario powers that deserve a second chance. What about Mario Land 2's rabbit ears, or Metal Mario's invincible exterior? However, if we were forced to pick only one, it's without question Kuribo's Shoe from Mario 3. In fact, why not make it the focus of the game? Call it "Super Mario Bros 4: Kuribo's Shoe Strikes Back".
The return of Birdo
Birdo definitely hasn't been forgotten, as she's appeared in dozens of Mario spin-offs in the last decade, but we wouldn't mind seeing her return to the main games. After getting her start as a boss in iconic 2D adventure Super Mario 2, she'd be a great nostalgic throwback for Mario 4. Though who says she has to be a bad guy? Maybe she can help Mario along the way, maybe even be a playable character.
16-bit style soundtrack
As long as we're demanding a return to 16-bit style graphics, why not a soundtrack to match it? Back in the day, few developers could match Nintendo's music and unforgettable themes. We'd love to hear a new soundtrack from Nintendo's great stable of songwriters, with chiptunes created by the likes of Hip Tanaka and Koji Kondo.
Online co-op that makes sense
Though we weren't in love with the four player co-op in New Super Mario Wii, it proved that Mario doesn't have to be a solo experience. Super Mario 4 will no doubt have multiplayer options, but we hope it embraces online in some way. Aside from drop-in/drop-out co-op, you could also do asynchronous adventure, measuring your progress in the game against a friend's via WiFi.
Don't make the same mistakes as Sonic 4 and Mega Man 9
Mario returning to its original numbering wouldn't be all that new for gaming, as two of Mario's contemporaries have already done it. But Nintendo needs to take a long, hard look at Sonic 4 and Mega Man 9 to learn how those fell short of greatness. Sonic 4 goofed by ditching the classic physics and animation, while MM9 seemed to think everyone loved Mega Man 2 because it was challenging, making 9 painfully difficult. Based on past history, we'd like to think Nintendo won't make the same mistakes.
What do you want to see?
As we wait and see just how this Super Mario 4 business shakes out (hopefully we'll know by E3), we're curious just what you want to see from Mario 4. Why not share your ideas in the comments?