Dead Letter Office

Great ideas pop up quite frequently among game designers; however, it is not surprising that most of them never see the light of the day. Sometimes the men who hold not the creative power, but the money – and consequently the ability to greenlight or shelve a project – don’t see any financial gains that could be squeezed out of a brilliant concept, on other occasions something goes awfully wrong between the stages of sketching and executing.

Some of those doomed projects are even announced to an ecstatic crowd of players before disaster crosses their path, leaving everybody with a sour taste in their mouths once those titles disappear from public view and developers refuse to talk about them. Ready your noses as we take a look at the dusty files of some failed, but not forgotten, games.

ImageDonkey Kong Racing

Out of all Mario Kart titles, the Nintendo 64 version was the one that suffered from the biggest competition. On the Playstation’s Crash Team Racing, the charismatic Crash and his crew were, at their best moments, more frantic and faster than Mario’s gang, meanwhile Diddy Kong Racing added a little bit of adventure to the solid arcade racing formula built on Super Mario Kart.

The latter featured incredibly beautiful and colorful scenarios as Diddy and a bunch of virtually unknown critters raced using karts, hovercrafts and even airplanes. To some this fantastic variety gave the game an edge over what had been presented by Mario Kart 64. In fact, the game was so successful that a sequel was planned: Donkey Kong Racing.

ImageThe game was revealed together with the Gamecube, and as its one and only trailer shows it would be yet another display of Rare’s amazing creativity on their partnership with Nintendo. The animal buddies of the Donkey Kong Country games were now used as vehicles that would allow racing on the land, under the sea, and in the air. Sadly, one year later the company was purchased by Microsoft, and consequently lost the rights to producing anything that featured Nintendo’s famous simian family.

The project came to a halt, but Nintendo – not willing to let Donkey Kong’s racing franchise die – would some years later outsource the development of a new racing game. As expected, though, the game did not feature either Rare’s brilliancy or their signature quality, as Donkey Kong Barrel Blast was decimated by all reviewers.

ImageDinosaur Planet

One can argue that Dinosaur Planet was indeed released, but as another completely different beast called: Star Fox Adventures. However, it is easy to note that without the presence of Fox McCloud the game could have been considerably different – and even better received.

Dinosaur Planet was not initially planned to be a Nintendo Gamecube release. Instead, its development began as yet another Rareware gem that was bound to hit the Nintendo 64; however, the project started quite late into the system’s life cycle – its announcement occurred on E3 2000 – and as an incoming generation of consoles loomed in the horizon, the game was transferred to the Nintendo Gamecube to avoid being overshadowed by the highly awaited Playstation 2.

The basis of the title had been planned with two original characters that could be switched at will in certain points of the game so that their distinct abilities and weapons could be more properly used. Nintendo, though, seemed to have other plans for the title, because as the target consoles shifted, so did the starring characters: Sabre was out, and Fox was in. Crystal, though, was not removed.

It is unknown how much of the gameplay was changed with those new additions, but by slapping Star Fox in there Nintendo opened up the floodgates of prejudice. Many people would inevitably look at the game in a prematurely negative way as Fox emulated Link, and spent little time on his natural habitat: his airwing. Star Fox Adventures has its merits – especially on the visual realm – but had it been pitched on its original form perhaps life would have been kinder to it.

ImageProject H.A.M.M.E.R.

Nintendo’s showing on E3 2006 was remarkable. The company unveiled the truly juicy games that would power the Nintendo Wii for its first months of life and it did not disappoint. Metroid Prime 3 delivered on its promise of wrapping up the series in a fantastic way, Super Mario Galaxy blew everyone away with its gravity mechanics, and the latest details on Twilight Princess were naturally received with a level of excitement that neared hysteria.

Those that weren’t too caught up in the moment managed to also note a few minor first-party games that looked rather promising when the WiiMote was added to the formula. Among those games was Project H.A.M.M.E.R.

As its almost self-explanatory title lets on the game was a beat ‘em up affair where gamers would defend American cities from violent robots while yielding a mighty hammer to get the job done. It sounds silly, but had we been given the opportunity to swing a powerful weapon and destroy everything around us with the added excitement of the Wiimote, silliness would then turn into awesomeness. Sadly, the game was canceled, and though Nintendo originally claimed that we might see it again, chances are Project H.A.M.M.E.R. will forever be stuck on Nintendo’s archive for shelved titles.

ImageStar Fox 2

Star Fox 2 ran into the same issue that would nearly kill Dinosaur Planet a few years later: an impending generation of more powerful machines. The game was completely finished by the final months of 1995 with the exception of a few debugging tools that had to be removed from the final version.

Strangely, although they had already spent almost everything they had to in order to complete the project – with only minor tweaks left to be done, Nintendo decided not to release the game. It is hard to comprehend the logic behind that call as even if the game’s sales had suffered from the birth of more advanced hardware, Nintendo would nevertheless have been able to get some of their investment back. And as both Super Mario RPG and Donkey Kong Country 3 proved when they launched for the Super Nintendo one year later in 1996, the system still had some fuel left to burn and costumers still wanted to buy new games.

ImageStar Fox 2 was not completely thrown away, though, as some of the concepts developed for the game were eventually reused. The game was going to feature a Lylat System, map allowing players to follow a non-linear path to the ending instead of the fixed mission order of the original.

That concept would eventually be brought to Star Fox 64, and it would turn out to be an addition that would add a whole lot of value to the title. Other features like the all-range mode and multiplayer were also ported to its Nintendo 64 brother, while tridimensional camera engines were used as a basis for the magic of Super Mario 64. In the end Star Fox 2 and its code didn’t make it out to the market, but some of its artifacts and developments were vital to Nintendo’s great start on the 3-D era: a fine legacy indeed.

ImageMetroid Dread

Metroid Fusion, a haunting and immersive adventure on which Samus Aran is stuck on an abandoned space station with an evil doppelganger, was released in 2002. Over a decade later, it remains the latest 2-D title of the franchise and the final point of its known timeline. Such a long lull can be attributed to Nintendo’s focus on wrapping up the glorious Metroid Prime trilogy, and to the fact that Metroid Dread, the planned sequel to Fusion, has turned into dust.

The game was never officially announced, and the only proof it ever existed is a leaked internal software list made by Nintendo in 2005. Sakamoto, the series’ director, later confirmed the game was, at one point, in development, and a cryptic message located on a Metroid Prime 3 computer stating that “Metroid project ‘Dread’ is nearing the final stages of completion” added fuel to the expectations that a reveal was only a matter of time.

Sadly, in spite of media comments that a full script for the game was completely written and the endless clamor of fans for a brand new Metroid sidescroller, no artifacts of Metroid Dread ever reached the eyes of the public, making the project one of the great unsolved mysteries of Nintendo’s lore.

However, as each day passes and the wait for the next Metroid sidescroller grows longer, the chances a sequel to fusion will eventually surface become higher. Nintendo’s recent rediscovered love for 2-D games due to their simplicity and popularity has made nearly all of their major characters star on games of the sort during the past few years. Therefore, it is likely that Samus might be next in line for that treatment, and even if that future Metroid title is not baptized as “Dread”, it might end up being the heir of the completed script and gameplay ideas that were mapped out for that unreleased game.

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About Matt

A Brazilian gamer with a great love for playing Nintendo games, and a hobby of writing about his gaming experiences and thoughts. Even though that is what I mainly do for fun, I also love listening to music (especially rock) and watching movies (especially animations), so also expect a few posts on those matters.
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