7 Nintendo Titles That Never Saw the Light of Day

By Darreck Kirby

***Cross-posted from TheDallasProspect.com***

Although it’s now considered the bronze medal of the gaming industry, Nintendo’s track record and long list of classics make it the indisputable king of gaming in the eyes of many. Since the early 1980s, the company has worked tirelessly to release a myriad of new video games every year, and until about 2009, they worked equally hard to innovate (fight me). Sometimes this innovation brought about abysmal failure, see the Virtual Boy, but in most cases the company found great success.

As with all ideas, not every one is a winner, leading to projects being scrapped for one reason or another. Unfortunately, the same can be said for some good ideas, as this list will show. But hey, some of these projects did eventually make it to production by means of repackaging… we’re just not sure that was necessarily a good thing. Without further ado, here are 7 Nintendo projects that never saw the light of day.

 

7. Mario 64 2

Wait, you’re telling me Nintendo didn’t release to a Mario game?! Given the character has appeared in no fewer than 47,864 titles, it’s hard to believe the gaming giant could actually say “no” to something featuring its iconic Italian plumber. As it turns out, there’s a good reason this entry never made it to players.

One of Nintendo’s misfires in the past was the N64’s added disc drive, a failed means of competing with the Sony Playstation (another Nintendo missed opportunity we’ll discuss another time). From what little we know of  Mario 64 2, N64 disc drive was the planned platform for development. That alone is explanation enough as to why the game never saw the light of day -or even the end of development for that matter. The N64 disc drive was a massive commercial failure and came so late in the console’s lifespan that only one demo level of Mario 64 2 was even created -a multi-player level. A strange choice for the time but who knows, it might have worked. After all, later installments saw simultaneous two player action. Perhaps this could’ve become the gold standard years in advance. But while we don’t know much about the game, here now, I shall make a bold prediction:

The game’s plot, centered around Princess Peach being kidnapped by Bowser. Yeah. Let that sink in for a moment… Crazy, right?

 

6. Dinosaur Planet

Ah yes, Dinosaur Planet. An original IP developed by Rare in the dying day sof the Nintendo 64. Built on the same engine as Ocarina of Time, Dinosaur Planet was seen by many as a swan song of sorts for the console. What’s more, the IP was actually intended to be Rare’s most ambitious project to date. According to developers who worked on the project, the game was set to see one of the largest open worlds in gaming at the time with diverse landscapes and environments while offering fully voiced characters. Enter Shigeru Miyamoto (the legendary developer who gave us Legend of Zelda and frickin’ Mario).

Fearing the title wouldn’t fare well given audiences’ lack of familiarity, Miyamoto hinted that, because Dinosaur’s protagonist, Saber, bore such a striking resemblance to Fox McCloud, Rare should make it a Star Fox game instead. Thus, in one fell swoop, Miyamoto effectively killed a fresh, original IP.

Seemingly taking Miyamoto’s advice, we learned in 2001, Nintendo had renamed the project Star Fox: Dinosaur Planet. Eventually, the “Dinosaur Planet” subtitle would be replaced in favor of “Adventures.” The change in direction left Rare scrambling as it was suddenly forced to make massive rewrites to the story’s plot, because apparently dropping in Fox McCloud into a non-Star Fox game creates continuity issues and plot holes. Shocking!

The new direction would push back the release date, resulting in Star Fox Adventures becoming a Nintendo Gamecube title. In the end, while Star Fox Adventures received respectable reviews from critics, it remains a divisive entry for many fans of the franchise. Because it is so different from the two previous titles, and because it so clearly was never intended to be a Star Fox game, many possess a strong dislike for the entry automatically. I mean, sure, the developers threw in an R-Wing section to try to throw the base some kind of bone, but did they really think that would suddenly redeem things?

Ultimately, Nintendo’s decision to reskin something with an established IP in an attempt to drive sales (Looking at your Metroid Prime: FederATION FORCE -OH MY GOD I’M STILL SO ANGRY)-

Whoa, what happened? Did I just black out again? Anyway, Nintendo effectively scrapped what could have been a cult classic in favor of a flawed, forced, and somewhat nonsensical Star Fox title. That, paired with Nintendo declining to purchase Rare before Microsoft stepped in (shudder), led to a rushed release and an anticlimactic ending. Yay?

 

5. Zelda 3 (Not a Link to the Past)

The third installment of the Zelda franchise was originally very different from what we got with a Link to the Past. Beginning its development on the original NES before being carried over to the new SNES, Zelda 3 was the brainchild of creator, Shigeru Miyamoto. According to Miyamoto, Zelda 3 was already written and awaiting development. Said Miyamoto at the time:

“Basically, I intend to make a return to Zelda 1’s style. This is something I’ve had in mind since even before we began making Zelda II: The Adventure of Link… Ever since I started making the first game in the series, I’ve been saying that the third Zelda will feature a party, one that consists of the protagonist, who’s a mix between an elf and a fighter, a magic user, and a girl. The fairy that appeared in Adventure of Link was actually a party member designed for Zelda 3; a girl who looked a little like a fairy and whose role consisted of reconnaissance. Like the characters in action games that don’t engage enemies in combat but rather go and scout out the surroundings and return to you safely. It’s also fun when action adventure games let you choose who to send out. That’s the sort of thing I’m thinking I’d like to put in Zelda 3. I’ve never been too particular about the story in the games I’ve made in conjunction with [Earthbound creator] Shigesate Itoi. The stories of Mario and Zelda titles have always been supplemented to the actual gameplay. Action games only have stories attached to make the experience more interesting. Itoi is the one that writes the story, and I just help out a bit. We’re more or less finished already.”

When asked about developing his first RPG (Zelda 3), Miyamoto answered:

“We started out developing it as an action game, primarily. We’ve been careful to maintain a high degree of originality, noting where we’ve copied something from another game, though not substantially, and where we’ve done something completely new. We’re proud of ourselves for developing the game structure. The game structure of RPG titles is already more or less settled upon, and an RPG overworld is something anyone can make. But that’s all the more reason to ask yourself whether it’s good enough to use the same template as everyone else and simply expand the story on top of that.”

So yeah. Straight from the creator’s mouth, Zelda 3 was intended to go in a very different direction. In fact, Miyamoto has even stated that the game was effectively fully developed, although not yet ready for mass copy and release. Two years after this interview, we instead received Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. What changed so drastically in those two years is anyone’s guess. Whether or not this possibility excites you, it’s safe to say Miyamoto and Nintendo called a pretty nice audible. Still, it would be interesting to see that original copy of Zelda 3.

 

 

4. Harry Potter

Okay, this one is a little bit of cheating on my part. You see, Nintendo never began development on a Harry Potter game in 1998 -at least not beyond short demos. But there’s a good reason for that. At the time, Nintendo was actively pitching Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling for the licensing rights for the franchise so they could create a series of games which followed the events of each novel.

Sounds amazing, I hear you say. What’s the downside? Well, for starters, we never would have gotten the Harry Potter films. You know, the ones that grossed $2,390,076,596. Yep, you read that right. The trade off for getting several (seven?) Harry Potter games would’ve been the sacrifice of the critically acclaimed damn near $3 billion dollar film franchise.

What’s more, the agreement would’ve given Nintendo the exclusive rights to the license, thereby granting Nintendo licensing to all adaptations of future books in the series. While this is surely not a first, it is a highly intriguing prospect. People often assume only film studios rush to authors whenever a series becomes a best-selling hit, but this goes to show, even other industries, such as the video game industry, can come around to kick the tires from time to time.

As for that aforementioned demo pitch, Nintendo reportedly went as far as to halt all development on other projects at the time. Reportedly, some concepts included a sport-related Quidditch game, as well as a third person action, adventure title. As for the film franchise, sure, we might have ultimately gotten them, but they would’ve been under the Nintendo banner rather than Warner Bros.

Trace concept arts can still be found online, but nothing of the playable demos so far as we’re aware.

In all, it’s probably best this arrangement never came to be. Whereas Rowling ultimately saw films set with British actors, Nintendo seemed to see a more manga-like art style to appeal to the company’s younger audiences.

Considering the timing of the failed pitch, had the two parties been able to strike a deal, it’s likely the first game would’ve been released on the Nintendo 64, with ports eventually finding their way to the Gameboy Color and later Advance.

From the sounds of it, Nintendo’s pitch wasn’t really all that close to landing the franchise license, with both Warner Bros and Disney outpacing them for consideration. And, again considering the films went on to make nearly $3 billion freaking dollars, it’s safe to say Rowling made the right call. Still, would’ve been interesting to see the ways in which Nintendo could’ve guided the property.

 

3. Conker’s Quest

Perhaps the strangest entry on the list, Conker’s Quest was intended to introduce one of the newest mascots for Nintendo, Conker the squirrel. Designed to be a family-friendly game in the same vein as Banjo Kazooie (more on that later), Conker would debut at 1997’s E3 alongside the aforementioned Banjo Kazooie. In fact, both Conker and Banjo would debut later that year as racers in Nintendo’s Diddy Kong Racing. The decision was meant to build interest and anticipation for each character’s solo adventures, and, honestly, it’s not a bad idea. However, by the time Banjo Kazooie would be released in 1998, Conker’s Quest would already see its first of many changes: a change in name to “Twelve Tails: Conker 64”.  The new title eluded to the various adventures Conker would go on throughout his adventures, including a prehistory jungle, a gladiatorial arena, the wild west, and more.

According to Louise O’Connor, a designer on Conker’s Quest, the game was meant to be an interactive cartoon, with character’s faces being very expressive and at times exaggerated. The project would later be suspended, however as the team brainstormed on ways to compete with the newest wave of 3D platformers on the market (see again Banjo Kazooie).  And what did this time off eventually bring? In 2001, Conker’s Bad Fur Day hit the shelves.

Ah. Another name change. So what else changed? Welllll… For starters, all traces of innocence had been long since forgotten, and while the game’s design may have still appeared a cute and cuddly on the surface, it instead proved to be one of the raunchiest, mature-rated titles Nintendo has ever released. Packed with adult humor, sexual innuendo, and meta humor, Conker’s Bad Fur Day would go on to become a cult classic, seeing an XBox Remaster, “Conker Live and Reloaded,” and eventually being granted a long awaited sequel by Microsoft and…

W-What?… Young Conker? Oh my God, they’ve done it again, haven’t they? They’ve killed another staple of my childhood! Why? Why have you forsaken me, Lord?!

 

 

2. Metroid Dread

Ah the Metroid series; one of my favorite in all of gaming. Never as appreciated as other Nintendo staples, Legend of Zelda and Mario, Metroid has seen a fairly consist cycle of boom-bust development cycles -at times going dormant for as many as eight years. A likely casualty of such a cycle, today we examine the much anticipated, never delivered (or even seen for that matter) Metroid Dread. “Sold” to audiences as a sequel to the Gameboy Advance hit, Metroid Fusion, Metroid Dread was first announced in the June 2005 edition of Game Informer magazine. According to the report, Dread was set to be a 2D scroller for the Nintendo DS. With E3 scheduled for later that same month, Metroid fans salivated over the potential for a glimpse of game play footage -perhaps even just a teaser trailer like we saw with this past E3’s Metroid Prime 4 announcement. Instead, they got a steaming heap of nothing. Wait, can “nothing” steam? Hm. I digress…

Making things even stranger, later that year, IGN would reportedly receive Intel from developers within Nintendo that listed a series of upcoming games. Among them was Metroid Dread. Ah, so the plot thickens.

Adding to the fire, Nintendo itself would eventually acknowledge the title in February 2006, slating it for a November release. Then, quietly, a month later, they would change the status of the title to a more open-ended, “TBD” (to be determined).

Well that sucks. Continuing a hot-cold pattern on Dread, Nintendo DS editor, Craig Harris would confirm during an interview with IGN.com that the game had simply been too early in development for a showing at 2005’s E3, and that it could potentially be shown that year (2006).  But did Dread show in 2006? Nope. 2007? Nu-uh. Well damn. Surely that puts an end to things then, right? Apparently not.

Stoking the dying flames of the rumors, IGN would later discover a curious Easter Egg in 2007’s Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. As it turns out, should a particular computer within the Space Pirates’ research facility be scanned, a message appears, stating that “Metroid project ‘Dread’ is nearing the final stages of completion.”

Ho-ly Crap! Final stages of completion? The game must be just right around the corner! You’re seeing a pattern now, no?

A mere month after news broke of the Easter Egg, Nintendo stepped in with a public statement to clarify that they weren’t in works on a 2D Metroid title at the time, but that they could release another 3D or 2.5D installment. And so the hopes and dreams of Metroid fans everywhere were dashed. Two years of hot speculation and rumors vanquished. What’s more, Retro Studios, the developers behind the Prime trilogy, told MTV.com that the use of the word, Dread wasn’t an Easter Egg at all, but purely a coincidental reference to something within their own game. Not so sure about that one, guys. I’ve played the trilogy multiple times and nowhere else does the word Dread ever get referenced, least of all in a proper title manner. It seems far more likely that Nintendo simply stepped in and reprimanded the development team for teasing something Nintendo had already been getting heat for not following through with.

Okay, okay, so Dread was never anything more than a rumor run rampant. Fine. I can live with that. Enter Metroid co-creator, Yoshio Sakamoto.

During an interview around 2010, Sakamoto would eventually admit that Dread was “real at one point,” but that he had no plans to release it anytime soon. Furthermore, if he ever did decide to revive the project, he and his team would almost surely do away with all assets, both story and otherwise in favor of starting anew.

 

1. Banjo Threeie

Was ever a doubt this would take the top spot? I mean really, did you think something else could possibly beat out Banjo Threeie for the most highly sought, never delivered (properly at least) title in Nintendo history?

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Time out, I hear your furiously typing in the not yet active comments section: Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts is a Microsoft title -not Nintendo! How can it be on this list? It’s on XBox 360 for godsakes, not the Wii! Well, my over-zealous friend, let me explain. As I mentioned before, despite Nintendo’s close working relationship with Rare through the mid-to-late 90s, the company for some reason declined the opportunity to purchase and absorb the revolutionary company and its IPs. It’s only because of that that Microsoft was able to step in and screw things up. Thus, I pin this abomination on Nintendo AND Microsoft.

Now, back to what I was saying…

Despite rave reviews from fans and critics alike, early development for Rare’s third installment in the Banjo Kazooie series stumbled out of the blocks. At Space World 2000, Rare presented a tech demo to show off the power of the Gamcube, which depicted Banjo Kazooie running through a canyon from numerous enemies. Whether there was a plan to build on that or if it was just to show the power of the console mixed with a couple familiar faces (including Conker) remains to be seen.

For those who played Banjo Tooie, you’ll recall that at the end of the game, your antagonist, Gruntilda proclaims: “Just you wait until Banjo-Threeie.” So there was just cause for the anticipation felt among fans. It wasn’t just an assumption of a third installment due to popularity; it was a promise from the developer, dammit! One that Rare initially seemed keen to deliver on.

In 2006, fans were treated to a trailer for a brand new, next generation Banjo Kazooie. The base cheered feverishly. But there was a problem. The ad showed nothing of what was to come. There were no cars, no comically fat versions of Banjo or Kazooie; just Banjo, and a rather stylish and clean render of the world of the franchise, including Spiral Mountain.

What we ended up with is widely considered one of the biggest middle fingers to a fan base in gaming history: Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. Going as far as to declare in the opening dialogue that “Gamers today don’t want all this [collecting items and platforming], they just want to shoot things!”, Nuts & Bolts goes on to declare that its gimmick must be original to “broaden the demographic”. Something like cars! ‘Cause yeah, cars are apparently original… A racing game? Like Diddy Kong Racing? Nope, knockoff Lego cars.

Seriously though, who the hell thought this was the game fans wanted? Whether this abomination was due to Microsoft’s ineptitude or the Rare team’s heavy overturn around this time is hard to say. My guess is 80% the former, 20% the latter.

Consider this: for how open world and yet limited interaction Nuts & Bolts is, it almost feels as though its environments were built on the bones of what at one time was Banjo Threeie. This speculation would certainly be supported by the aforementioned trailer, right?

We may never what could have been. As evidenced most predominantly by this title, Rare lost its knack for creating timeless gems and instilling wonder within its fans. Because of that, we will likely never get Banjo Threeie, or any Banjo game for that matter. At least not a good one.

For fans of the series, the closest we may come now is Yooka Laylee, a 3D platformer built in the same vein as Banjo Kazooie by many of the developers who worked on Banjo Kazooie. If you haven’t played it yet and this entry bummed you out, pick it up and give it a play.


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