Next Level Games

Clockwerk [Cancelled – Wii, PS3, Xbox 360]

Clockwerk is a cancelled puzzle platformer game, which was in development at Next Level Games; the creators of the Super Mario Strikers games, as well as the unreleased Super Mario Spikers. The title was planned to be worked on for multiple unspecified home console platforms during mid-late 2011 (believed to be Wii, Xbox 360 and PS3) , but was never produced.

Two Grumpy Old Men Who Just Want To Retire

The project began towards the start of 2011 and was being worked on in tandem with Next Level’s other main undertaking at the time, which was Captain America: Super Soldier for the Xbox 360 and PS3.

It was conceived as the story of two old men, Otto & Herman, who work as Hausmeisters (caretakers) in a magical floating clock tower suspended in the clouds called ‘The World Clock’, that governs the flow of time throughout the universe. On their final day before retirement, a faction of evil gremlins attack the tower, dismantling its innards and disrupting the behaviour of time. In order for the grumpy twosome to finally retire, they must defeat the invaders and repair its inner workings. 

Super Mario Strikers 2 [Beta / Concept – Wii]

Super Mario Strikers Charged (also known as Mario Strikers Charged Football in European and Australian territories) was released on the Nintendo Wii in 2007 and created by Next Level Games in partnership with Nintendo. It is the sequel to Super Mario Strikers on the Gamecube.

Before it gained the subtitle ‘Charged’ later in development (a reference to the game’s ‘skillshot’ charging mechanic), the game was initially going under the simple title of ‘Super Mario Strikers 2‘. The original title was scrapped before its first public showing at the “Wii Prove Our Promise” keynote in August 2006.

More art from early on in development on the game has been found by Unseen64, which offers insight into some of the smaller concepts played around with towards the start of the project.

At one stage, ‘ball launchers‘ were considered as an aesthetic addition to levels. These were machines that would have propelled multiple balls up towards characters during mega strikes. In the final game, these were dropped and only one ball model is shown when a player is able to activate one. Any additional balls earned during the attack’s initiation aren’t shown to the player (up to 6 can be gained at a time); this is a process which happens off screen. These small mechanisms weren’t implemented into the game, as they were viewed as an unnecessary detail that would have needlessly extended the animation sequence.

Another visual idea that the artists at Next Level experimented with towards the start of development were mechs and other vehicles, which would have decorated the perimeter of certain stages during gameplay. In most of the concept art, these are commonly seen operated by Toads. They would have been dotted around the sides of pitches, acting as security guards and performing other miscellaneous tasks. One concept, for instance, sees one of the Toads operating a crane-like contraption and another in a large digger. 

WWE Titans: Parts Unknown [PS2/XBOX – Cancelled]

WWE Titans: Parts Unknown is a cancelled wrestling game, which was in development at Next Level Games (best known for Super Mario Strikers and Punch-Out for Wii) during 2004. It was planned for release on the Playstation 2 and Xbox. This 1 vs. 1 fighter was cancelled for unknown reasons by its publisher, THQ.

It appears the game never fully entered development and was subject to cancellation fairly early on. It’s possible a prototype for it was created at one point, although no media of one has ever been recovered. It seems that Next Level developed a proposal to take WWE games in a very different direction, but the pitch was shot down by THQ. A variety of concept images from the planned game have since been unearthed from the blogs of former Next Level Games artists.

Titans attempted to add a bold, new spin on the formula of previous WWE games. Its art style was very different from the norm of the series, featuring exaggerated character designs and more cinematic locales for its stages.

The level settings of WWE Titans were varied and diverse, in comparison to other wrestling games. They ranged from urban environments, like the rooftops of a sprawling city, to the top of an old castle in a desolate, snowy wilderness. It appears that some of the individual wrestlers had arenas dedicated to them, as one of the concepts is labelled “Cena Stage”.

Alongside a number of established wrestlers, the team also experimented with its own original cast members made for the game. In one of the drawings created for the project, we can see they played around with the idea of adding anthropomorphic warriors, based upon animals like crocodiles and bears; in addition to sorcerer characters.

Aside from the stylised look of Titans, there remains little information available on its planned gameplay mechanics. One big feature we have been able to ascertain is destructible environments, which appear to have been one of the title’s key focuses. Work made by one of Next Level’s artists detailed how players would have been able to destroy the walls around the castle arena.


Super Mario Spikers [Wii – Cancelled]

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.





Catalyst (Next Level Games) [Xbox 360, PS3 – Cancelled]

Catalyst is a project pitch for a new action game for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, developed by Next Level Games, famed for Punch-Out and Mario Strikers on Wii. Details are unknown as the project was never officially announced. Next Level Games may still try to find a publisher for this title though.

Thanks to CNL for the contribution!