Super Mario Spikers is a cancelled volleyball/wrestling hybrid game, which was being developed by Next Level Games; the makers of Gamecube title, Super Mario Strikers, and its follow-up, Mario Strikers: Charged. It was planned to be developed for the Nintendo Wii, but never made it far past the initial phases of conceptualisation.
In 2007, Mario Strikers: Charged was released on the Nintendo Wii and was met with both a positive reception and commercial success. Pleased with Next Level’s work, Nintendo allowed the developer a larger budget to tackle its next project with; as well as a greater level of creative freedom with their characters.
A former artist at Next Level Games spoke to us about the project:
“It was a wrestling/volleyball hybrid with a game show slant. It was never released and was financed as more of a reward to Next Level for doing such a great job on MSC”
The core development team at NLG didn’t begin fully working on Spikers until 2007, but the company’s artists had already been drafting new ideas for future Mario sports games throughout 2006, alongside work on Charged. Concept artists worked intermittently on the project until Strikers: Charged was nearing completion. It was around the end of the 2006, that Next Level’s heads settled on their new direction from early renders created in September.
Towards the very start of this project, the developer went back and forth on various names for the game. Its initially proposed title was simply ‘Mario Volleyball’; we assume to associate it with Nintendo’s other Mario sports titles at the time, such as Mario Golf and Tennis.
Although the game would eventually evolve into a hybrid of wrestling and volleyball, in the beginning, it started off solely as a relatively simplistic volleyball title with Mario characters. It was as more employees began to transitioning into Mario Volleyball that its mechanics and ideas became more fleshed out and the decision was made to add the twist of wrestling, among other things.
Once the project had begun to shift further and further from the realms of standard volleyball, the team opted to rename it ‘Super Mario Spikers’; a clear reference to their previous Mario sports productions. The significance of Next Level Games adding wrestling to one of their games like this will not be lost on those thoroughly versed in their back catalogue. Between 2004 and 2005, they were developing a WWE game with sci-fi and fantasy elements called ‘WWE Titans: Parts Unknown’.
An anonymous contributor close to the Spikers project described this game’s influence on it:
“Between the contact sport part of Strikers and some of the work that was done a couple of years before that on an unreleased wrestling game, it came as a pretty natural progression”
The wrestling mechanics drew upon NLG’s experiences with the title, which was a more stylised, cartoonish version of WWE to begin with. We have been fortunate enough to recover some of the animations made for the wrestling moves in Mario Spikers, thanks to Refurs, who discovered them in a reel put together by a former Next Level animator.
As we can see here, the combat system incorporated special moves made up of established wrestling maneuvers. For instance, in one clip, we can see a Yoshi performing a pile-driver attack. In another, Waluigi stomps on Mario’s stomach, who is grounded, laying on his back.
Unlike the Strikers games, which played out almost exclusively in a selection of large football stadiums set around the Mario universe, Mario Spikers had a slightly more varied collection of environments proposed for it.
In one of the level concepts, we can see a huge wrestling arena, the setting of a match between Mario and Wario. The massive crowds are populated by smaller Mario characters, including birdos, shy guys and the piantas from Super Mario Sunshine.
On the other side of the spectrum, some of the stages put forward took place in comparatively smaller areas and took inspiration from TV game show sets.
Each one of these was planned to sport its own unique environmental gimmicks, such a carnival wheel which would introduce random effects into play based upon where it landed.
Ultimately, Super Mario Spikers was never greenlit by publisher, Nintendo. The project was pitched to the company’s higher ups, but was declined because it was felt that certain aspects of its premise clashed with the company’s code of honour. This information comes to us from a trusted source, who was intimately involved with the project.
“It was a Japanese honor thing”
Work on Spikers ceased altogether in 2007 and Next Level Games instead went on to develop other Nintendo projects, including Punch-Out!! and a Metroid 3DS prototype. It is possible that a very early, playable prototype of the game was created for Next Level’s pitch, although any images of one have yet to be found.