Super Mario 3D World’s upcoming debut on Nintendo Switch is a major moment for many Mario fans who didn’t get the chance to play one of the best games in franchise history when it was released for Wii U. In some ways, it’s actually seen as a “lost” Mario game by those who never found a reason to purchase what is arguably Nintendo’s worst console ever.
What you may not know, though, is that there have actually been many Super Mario games over the years that were never released for one reason or another. Why many of these projects are nothing more than pieces of obscure trivia (such as the Mario Kart game that Elon Musk wanted to install in Tesla vehicles), some of these canceled, rejected, and unreleased titles shine a light on what could have been.
From volleyball wrestling games to a port of Super Mario Bros. 3 made by the DOOM team, these are 15 of the most fascinating Super Mario games that never happened.
15. A Mario/Rabbids Platforming Adventure Game
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is one of the Switch’s most surprising successes so far, but history tells us that the Ubisoft/Nintendo partnership almost took the form of a Mario/Rabbids crossover adventure game.
Details regarding this project are sparse, but it seems that Ubisoft hoped to develop a game starring Mario and the Rabbids which would have effectively served as a kind of parody of previous Super Mario titles. The spirit of that idea lives on in the lone surviving piece of concept art for the project that you see above.
It’s not entirely clear what happened to the game, but it sounds like it didn’t make it far into the pitch process (if it ever even got to that point).
14. id Software’s Super Mario Bros. 3
Did you ever feel like Commander Keen in Invasion of the Vorticons was an odd detour for DOOM developer id Software? Well, it turns out the cult classic PC platformer began its life as a scrapped PC port of Super Mario Bros 3.
The story goes that id Software made an internal demo called Dangerous Dave in Copyright Infringement, which was basically a parody/recreation of Super Mario Bros. 3’s opening level. Inspired by the effort, id decided to formally pitch a Super Mario Bros. 3 PC port to Nintendo. They even created a demo for the port which eventually got leaked online.
Nintendo ultimately rejected the idea, but id continued to develop/alter the demo and eventually used the technology as the basis for Commander Keen.
13. A Donkey Kong Parking Attendant Arcade Game Developed by Sega
Ok, this one is only somewhat related to the Super Mario universe, but we have to talk about the time that Sega almost released a parking attendant arcade game starring Donkey Kong.
According to producer Stephen Radosh, Sega managed to secure the rights to the Donkey Kong franchise via methods that he never really elaborated on. In any case, they had the rights long enough for Radosh to start work on an arcade game where Donkey Kong moonlighted as a parking attendant. It would have tasked players with avoiding oncoming cars while trying to park a designated number of vehicles. Every description of the game kind of makes it sound like twist on the Frogger formula.
This one may have actually been released were it not for the fact that Paramount sold their stake in Sega around that time, which ultimately resulted in the whole thing falling apart.
12. Super Mario RPG 2
Even when compared to games like Final Fantasy 6, EarthBound, and Chrono Trigger, Super Mario RPG stands tall as one of the best SNES JRPG titles. Fans have long wondered what a sequel to Super Mario RPG would have looked like. As it turns out, we already kind of know the answer to that question.
At one point, Nintendo planned to release a game called Super Mario RPG 2. However, as it seems they could never reach an agreement with Square over the naming rights, Super Mario RPG 2 was simply eventually turned into Paper Mario for N64.
While Paper Mario retained many of the conceptual elements of Super Mario RPG 2 (including the series’ trademark graphic style), the original plan was for Super Mario RPG 2 to be released on the ill-fated Nintendo 64DD. Everything that I’ve ever seen of that project suggests it would have been something more than Paper Mario under a different name.
11. Yoshi Racing
If pressed to guess, you’d probably assume that Yoshi Racing was just Mario Kart or Diddy Kong Racing but with…you know…Yoshi.
The full story is much more complicated. What we know is that Star Fox developer Argonaut Games once pitched a Yoshi game to Nintendo. While I’ve heard some suggest that the game was indeed a character-based racer, the more popular version of the story indicates that Yoshi Racing was actually just the working project for a platformer (possibly a 3D platformer) starring Yoshi.
In any case, it seems Nintendo ultimately decided to veto the pitch, which (along with Star Fox 2’s production problems) hurt their relationship with Argonaut Games. After that, it’s believed that Yoshi Racing was essentially reworked and turned into PlayStation/Sega Saturn platformer Croc: Legend of the Gobbos. Some close to the project have suggested that Super Mario 64 borrowed heavily from the Yoshi Racing prototype, but others have argued that’s just a case of sour grapes.
10. Mario Land for Virtual Boy
You really don’t have to justify any Virtual Boy game being canceled, but considering that Virtual Boy Wario Land is by far the best game ever released for the device, it’s easy to wonder why Nintendo never made a more traditional Super Mario game for Virtual Boy.
As it turns out, they almost did. Nintendo briefly developed a Mario Land game for Virtual Boy that was positioned as a sequel to Super Mario Land 2. The game would have featured a blend of 2D platforming and strange overhead sections that resemble A Link to the Past. Nintendo even showcased a version of this project at the Consumer Electronics Show in 1995.
It’s not entirely clear what happened to this game, but the failures of the Virtual Boy undoubtedly contributed to Nintendo’s decision to walk away from the concept. Interestingly, though, one of the Mario games we did get for Virtual Boy (Mario Clash) is seemingly just a leftover of a minigame that would have been included with this title.
9. Mario Motors
If Mario Motors isn’t the most bizarre Mario game that never happened, it has to be on any shortlist of such projects.
Sometime around the release of the Nintendo DS, designer Yoot Saito (best known for Seaman) pitched a game called Mario Motors to Nintendo. You’d probably assume that it was a racing game, but interviews with Saito suggest the game was actually about building engines. Players would have even been asked to blow air into the DS as part of the building process.
Why was the game never released? Only Saito and Nintendo seem to know the answer, and the only time that either has come close to answering that question is when Saito said he “can’t tell you why” the game was canceled but asked people to “please guess.”
8. A Boo Game From Retro Studios
Boo, the appropriately named ghost from the Super Mario series, is certainly beloved but has rarely risen above the staus of minion. However, legend has it that Boo was nearly the star of its very own game.
Sometime around 2006, Retro Studios (the studio behind Metroid Prime and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze) worked on a Boo game that many suspect would have been released on Nintendo DS. We don’t know much about the project, but it seemingly would have featured some kind of possession mechanic and a world full of Boo-like characters.
It sounded promising, but that game and (and a canceled Zelda title) were seemingly scrapped when some key personnel left Retro Studios and shook up the company’s plans.
7. An American Football Game Starring Mario
Retro Studios strikes again with another Mario title that could have been.
At some point during the late ‘90s/early 2000s, Retro Studios began working on a Super Mario football game. While it seems that the initial plan was for the title to be an arcade-like Mario sports game in the style of franchises like Mario Tennis, reports indicate that Nintendo actually requested that the project be converted into a more realistic sports game that may or may not have still featured Mario.
There’s really little mystery as to what happened to this one, as Retro Studios decided to focus their resources on the development of Metroid Prime and put this project on the shelf. Remarkably, this is only the second most fascinating Mario sports game that never came to be…
6. Super Mario Spikers
Following their excellent work on the criminally underrated Super Mario Strikers, developer Next Level Games started putting together a pitch for a Super Mario volleyball game built around gameplay that would have been spiritually similar to Strikers.
However, that seemingly simple idea became much stranger at some point during development when Next Level decided to incorporate pro-wrestling action into the core volleyball gameplay. Actually, some of the concept art for this game shows Super Mario characters in what clearly seems to be a wrestling ring.
It’s that element of the game that ultimately didn’t sit well with Nintendo, as they reportedly felt that the project’s pro wrestling elements were a bit too violent. It’s unclear if there were any serious discussions regarding the possibility of simply cutting those aspects of the game and releasing this as a comparatively simple volleyball title.
5. Mario Factory
You may not guess from the name, but Mario Factory is absolutely one of the oddest Mario projects that never happened.
Based on the little information that’s available about this title (which largely consists of an uncovered patent), it seems that the plan was for Mario Factory to essentially serve as a game development tutorial designed for younger audiences. It was kind of like a more technical version of RPG Maker starring Mario characters and other elements of the franchise.
What’s really interesting about this project is that it appears to have been conceived as a companion piece to an equally strange piece of hardware called the Game Processor RAM Cassette. Many assume that the plan was for Mario Factory to be one of several pieces of software released for the RAM Cassette hardware.
4. The Rest of the Mario Artist Series
It’s fascinating to look back at the Nintendo 64DD and imagine what would have happened if the add-on had been more successful. One thing we can tell you is that the Mario Artist series would have almost certainly been a bigger part of Nintendo and Mario’s legacy.
The Mario Artist series was essentially Nintendo’s spiritual follow-up to Mario Paint. While Nintendo did release four games in the series (Paint Studio, Talent Studio, Communication Kit, and Polygon Studio), there were four more Mario Artist (Game Maker, Graphical Message Maker, Sound Maker, and Video Jockey Maker) that were ultimately cancelled. Much like the Mario Artist games that were released, it appears each would have served as an elaborate creation kit complemented by minigames.
Considering that Talent Studio is believed to be the genesis of the Mii concept and Polygon Studio may have helped inspire the brilliant WarioWare franchise, it would have been fascinating to see what ideas these canceled titles may have led to.
3. Super Mario Wacky Worlds
Super Mario Wacky Worlds was essentially a Phillips CD-I sequel to Super Mario World developed by NovaLogic. Don’t feel bad if that idea makes you shiver.
Yet, the prototypes of this game that have floated in the wild for years now suggest that it actually wouldn’t have been that bad. Despite clearly being in the earliest stages of development, it seems that Wacky Worlds would have been a fairly standard Super Mario platformer that stands in stark contrast to the other awful Nintendo games released for CD-I.
Actually, the story goes that Nintendo was impressed by the progress on this project but decided to cancel it largely as a result of the failure of the CD-I hardware itself.
2. Super Mario 64 2
It’s no secret why we didn’t get a direct Super Mario 64 sequel. This is yet another game that never saw the light of day largely due to the failures of the 64DD peripheral that it was intended to be released for.
Despite never being released, it’s long been implied that Super Mario 64 2 directly influenced future Mario games. While the clearest influences are found in the DS version of Super Mario 64 (which borrowed some of this title’s multiplayer and character concepts), it’s believed that Super Mario Sunshine and the Galaxy series featured some of the rough ideas that Nintendo had intended to feature in Super Mario 64 2 had the sequel actually seen the light of day.
Even still, it’s hard not to wonder whether Super Mario 64 2’s release could have changed the trajectory of the and evolution of the franchise.
1. Super Mario 128
There are actually “two” Super Mario 128 projects. That name first appeared as an early working title for the aforementioned Super Mario 64 2 concept that never came to be, but it is more closely associated with the 2000 Space World event which saw Nintendo showcase a demo of Super Mario 128 for the GameCube.
You kind of had to “be there” at the time to really appreciate this, but Super Mario 128 was one of the most impressive game demos many people had seen until that point. Essentially a showcase of the GameCube’s processing power, Super Mario 128’s demo used advanced physics to show how the next-generation would allow Nintendo to create elaborate levels populated by a large number of on-screen characters capable of interacting with each other in never-before-seen ways.
So why was the game never released? Well, there’s some debate about whether or not it was ever truly intended to be released, but it seems that Nintendo certainly realized that the technology featured in that demo may have been too ambitious for a full game. It’s also been stated that this project was just one of the Mario ideas in development at that time and that the nod ultimately went to what would become Super Mario Sunshine.