Nintendo’s plumber mascot has become as well-known for multiplayer-focused outings like Mario Party and Mario Kart as he’s known for his platforming adventures. One interesting side of the Super Mario franchise is its breadth of games based on real-world sports. Some Mario sports games are only tangentially related by including characters from the Mushroom Kingdom, as was the case with 1987’s NES Open Tournament Golf. However, Mario Strikers: Battle League is a great example of the way this brand can enhance traditional sports.
Mario and friends have played all manner of sports over the decades, with the most recurring series being tennis and golf. A handful of Mario baseball games released in the mid-2000s, and Square Enix’s Mario Hoops 3-on-3 brought Mushroom Kingdom residents to the basketball court alongside Final Fantasy characters (Mario and Luigi also appear in the GameCube port of NBA Street V3). Activities like volleyball and equestrianship also appear in “sports mix” games, not to mention the long history of Mario & Sonic Olympic titles. However, Next Level Games’ soccer-based Mario Strikers adds a particular flare to this subgenre that could be leveraged to create Mario’s take on an American football league.
Technically speaking, the Mario Strikers series is considered a “football” game abroad; its latest entry named Mario Strikers: Battle League Football in Europe. American football is an entirely different beast than what those in the States refer to as “soccer,” though, and as of this writing there is no Mario football game – but not for lack of trying. In 2007, Retro Studios president Michael Kelbaugh told Game Developer that Retro canceled four concurrent projects once work on Metroid Prime began. One of these projects was NFL Retro Football for GameCube, which former Retro Studios programmer Jason Hughes said was meant to be a Mario-themed title with a younger demographic in a 2004 Nsidr interview. Nintendo wanted the team to aim for a mature audience instead.
This isn’t the only unique Mario sports game canceled before seeing the light of day. While working to release Mario Strikers Charged in 2007, Next Level Games hoped it could follow up with a similarly hyper-violent volleyball game called Super Mario Spikers with elements of professional wrestling. Spikers was never green-lit by Nintendo because of its more violent bent, but with Mario Strikers: Battle League Bringing its fan-favorite series back to life, there could be a perfect opportunity to combine these canceled pitches for a fittingly intense football simulator.
The legacy of Mario sports games is diverse, with Camelot’s RPG-style Mario golf games on handheld consoles being a prime example of out-there projects in Nintendo’s catalog. However, Mario Strikers is undoubtedly one of the uniquest series in the franchise for giving its cast more angular, intense designs and a propensity to kick one another into electric fences – a far cry from the usually family-friendly brand image.
American football is a contact-heavy sport that could really sell a similar level of violence if Next Level Games took on the project. Like the soccer-based Strikers series, moment-to-moment gameplay could boil down to swapping between different units as team captains like Mario or supportive Toads rush the football closer to their opponents’ end zone. A Mario football game could balance the hyper-tuned contact sport’s tackling with more silly character abilities. For example, Yoshi could flutter jump, or Luigi could use his Poltergust to catch a kickoff before it flies back too many yards. Battle League‘s Hyper Strike mechanic could also transition into players aiming for field goals.
Nintendo could certainly sanitize the sport to release a safe, colorful American football game akin to Mario Tennis Aces and Mario Golf: Super Rush on Switch. However, the consistent success of EA’s Madden NFL franchise shows there is an audience for mature sports games as Nintendo hoped it could hit with NFL Retro Football on GameCube (even if this title never had the chance to prove itself). It would be a great time to try given Mario Strikers: Battle League has reinvigorated interest – though Nintendo should avoid its current pattern of post-launch updates for sports games.
Mario Strikers: Battle League is available now for Nintendo Switch.
MORE: Mario Sports Games Are Held Back by Post-Launch Updates
Sources: Game Developer, Nsidr