Earlier this week, news emerged that Sega Studios Australia had pitched an idea to its parent company called Sega Reborn. These games would have revived some of Sega’s classic names from the 80s and 90s – Golden Axe, Altered Beast, Streets Of Rage and Shinobi – and created new games around them, mixing tried-and-tested gameplay with high-res graphics and new ideas. The studio even put together a proof-of-concept video, which gave a rough idea of what a 21st century Golden Axe might look like.
For unknown reasons, Sega decided to pass on the idea, and Sega Studios Australia is set to close later this year – fittingly, perhaps, its last release will be a remake of Castle Of Illusion, another revival of a game from Sega’s 90s heyday.
Dispiriting though it must be for the creative teams whose ideas come to nought, the cancellation of games while still in development is by no means uncommon. With this in mind, here’s our pick of 25 videogames that, in spite of their promise, were canned before release. There are so many to choose from – and you can find dozens more on sites like Games That Weren’t and the excellent Unseen64 – that you’re bound to have some suggestions of your own, so feel free to mention those in the comments.
Back in 2004, EA announced that it was embarking on a partnership with director Steven Spielberg – its aim, to produce a game that would, in the words of the company’s Neil Young, “be a watershed event in our business.” Codenamed LMNO, it was an action adventure and RPG hybrid that sought to bring a real sense of emotional depth to videogames. “Can a computer game make you cry?” was Young’ s oft-quoted line to Gamespot at the time. “Can it move you like a great piece of art, a great movie?”
Perhaps inspired by Sony’s extraordinary Ico, EA began developing a game about the relationship between the player and a mysterious female alien named Eve. Although primarily an action game where the pair had to stay one step ahead of shadowy FBI agents, there were also moments where the central relationship came to the fore, and the way the player behaved towards Eve defined how she reacted as the story progressed.
The only problem was, the team assembled to create project LMNO – including lead designer Doug Church – could never quite get their ambitious ideas to coalesce into a workable whole. The project’s similarities to Mirror’s Edge – both contained free-running and an emphasis on avoiding confrontation rather than charging into it – probably also made EA nervous. The team was extensively changed in 2008, with a view to hammering LMNO into something more easy to market, and the result was something called The Escape Artist – a third-person, Uncharted-like action game. And while the human-alien dynamic was still in place, Eve had by now morphed into an “Alien version of Megan Fox.”
This iteration was cancelled – this time for good – in 2009, leaving us wondering what might have been, particularly if the game had remained true to its earlier, more ambitious ideas. 1UP published an extensive behind-the-scenes look at the game’s making and cancellation, and it’s well worth a read.
Time Crisis Adventure
The Time Crisis name may immediately conjure up images of frenetic gun games, but about a decade ago, Namco had plans to create a more cerebral adventure game based on its hit arcade franchise. The developer Darkworks was hired to create it, but for some reason, Namco decided to drop the project in 2004. Strangely, Darkworks reworked the game, removed all the Time Crisis references, and released it as Cold Fear in 2005. The finished product is a survival horror game that takes place on a ship in the middle of a storm; were Namco thinking about taking Time Crisis hero Richard Miller into the horror genre, or were the parasitic monsters added afterwards? Perhaps we’ll never know.
For anyone smarting over the rather dismal quality of Aliens: Colonial Marines earlier this year, the news was further compounded when footage leaked from the cancelled Aliens: Crucible RPG a few weeks later. Obsidian boss Feargus Urquhart had revealed that the game was ready for release when it was canned in 2010, and finally, here was the proof – and it looked really good, with gameplay akin to Knights Of The Old Republic.
So what happened? According to Sega in 2010, it wanted to “Carefully consider the type of Aliens game to release” – and in making this consideration, it decided to go with Gearbox’s Colonial Marines instead, a game it probably thought would be more lucrative. The rest is so much depressing history.
Jerry Boy 2
The original Jerry Boy was notable for two reasons: one, it was a breezy, quirky and hugely fun platformer for the SNES, and two, it was an early title from Game Freak, before they became ridiculously popular and successful with the Pokemon series. In fact, look closely at the character designs for some of the bosses in Jerry Boy, and you’ll see a strong resemblance to some of the Pocket Monsters in Game Freak’s hugely popular franchise.
Jerry Boy was a modest success – even getting a heavily edited US release under the name Smart Ball – and Game Freak began making a sequel. As you can see from the video above, the game got quite far into development when it was canned; it’s thought that a strained relationship between Nintendo and Sony (the latter being the publisher) was the reason behind its untimely demise. A shame, since, like the original looked like a thoroughly enjoyable little platform game.
In the 80s heyday of British 8-bit computing, Ultimate: Play The Game were one of the country’s most acclaimed developers. The Sabreman games, Sabre Wulf, Underwurle, Pentagram and Knight Lore, were among their best games, and the endings of two of them – Knight Lore and Pentragram – hinted that another title was planned in the series. Although the game itself is shrouded in mystery, it did have a title, Mire Mare, and promotional artwork was even created for it.
While some have suggested that Mire Mare never got beyond its very early planning stages, an anonymous former Ultimate employee has claimed that a playable version of the game did exist, but went unreleased during the company’s sale to publisher US Gold. Rare, the company that formed from the remains of Ultimate, has maintained that the game was never coded. But like all great conspiracy theories, the possibility that a version of the game will show up on a dusty old tape somewhere has never quite gone away.
The original Ghosts ‘N Goblins – along with its sequel, Ghouls ‘N Ghosts – were some of Capcom’s finest games from the 1980s. And despite their sometimes cruel difficulty, they’re still fondly remembered even now – Ghosts ‘N Goblins: Gold Knights II was a recent iOS-only series entry.
Not all the planned games in the series have fared quite as well, though, with a proposed Nintendo 64 version ending up as little more than a footnote in gaming history, along with Ghosts ‘N Goblins Online and Ghouls ‘N Ghosts Match Fight – the latter two quietly cancelled about six years ago. The most disappointing cancelled game in the series was perhaps Maximo 3. Its predecessors, Ghosts To Glory (2001) and Maximo Vs Army Of Zin (2003) were well-received hack-and-slash titles, but Army Of Zin’s lacklustre sales meant that Maximo 3 was cancelled early in development.
Strider is a side-scrolling platformer from 1989, and with its athletic action, huge bosses and imaginative level design, is widely regarded as a classic. Before it closed in 2009, the developer GRIN was working on a reboot of Strider, as publicised in the chilly teaser trailer shown above. It would have presumably taken the form of a 3D reimagining along the lines of its 2009 Bionic Commando remake, with production artwork showing a series of environmental concepts loosely based on those from the original game. Unfortunately, Bionic Commando’s surprisingly low sales hastened GRIN’s closure, and the Strider reboot was no more.
The good news? There’s a new attempt at a 21st century Strider game on the way, with Strider HD due out next year.
Japanese developer Level 5 have been making great adventure games for years, their most famous in the west being the Professor Layton series and, best of all, their wonderful collaboration with Studio Ghibli, Ni No Kuni – one of the most beautiful-looking RPGs in recent memory.
Ushiro would have been something of a change of pace for the company, in that it would have been a jump into horror territory. A turn-based RPG for the PSP, the game was first announced in 2008, during which time some tantalising images and a brief description appeared. Ushiro apparently cast the player as a spirit who can approach those on the brink of death and grant them one final wish before they breathe their last.
One year later, all traces of the game vanished from Level 5’s website, which has understandably led to the assumption that it’s been cancelled. And with five years passing since its initial announcement, it really does seem as though Ushiro has given up the ghost – that is, unless Level 5’s secretly reworking it for the Vita instead. Looking at the amount of work and polish that’s gone into the 2008 trailer above, we’re still hoping this intriguing game will one day be resurrected.
Heavenly Sword 2
An early title for the PlayStation 3, Ninja Theory’s action adventure game Heavenly Sword was a fairly sizeable hit, having sold more than a million copies in its first year. Talk inevitably turned to a sequel, and studio co-founder Tameem Antoniades said back in 2008 that he had a further two games planned. Development on the sequel was handed over to SCE Cambridge Studio, and the artwork above is one of the few surviving bits of evidence that it ever existed – as of January 2013, the studio was restructured and folded into Guerrilla Games.
Ninja Theory, meanwhile, got on with other things, including the platform adventure Enslaved: Odyssey To The West, and its Devil May Cry reboot for Capcom. Of the likelihood that we’ll see a Heavenly Sword 2 any time in the future, the studio’s IT Manager Peonic has said, “I’m never going to say we’ll never go back and make HS2 – but it’s something I personally see as extremely unlikely.” A shame, as the original Heavenly Sword featured some great characters, and if a sequel could have developed the combat of the first game a little more, it could have been brilliant.
Untitled PS3 Sci-Fi Game
As well as Heavenly Sword 2, SCE Cambridge Studio was also working on a game designed for the PlayStation Move device before it was merged with Guerrilla Games. Admittedly, the details surrounding this project are about as vague as we can get, but just look at those screenshots above – they indicate two things: one, that it would have been about heroes zooming around with jet packs, which is cool, and two, some of the sci-fi ship and monster designs look stunning.
You can see more of them in Unseen64’s gallery, and they’re well worth checking out. Was the game an into-the-screen shooter with motion controls, a bit like Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s Child Of Eden for Kinect? It’s certainly possible, though it’s equally likely that we’ll never find out more.
Anyone following the progress of filmmaker Guillermo del Toro will know that he’s long had plans to make a videogame. Called inSane, it was billed as a survival horror game with a story torn straight from del Toro’s dark imagination, and artwork courtesy of his frequent movie collaborator, Guy Davis.
Development was to be handled by Volition, and the game went far enough into production to warrant a teaser trailer, which you can see above. Sadly, the disintegration of publisher THQ saw inSane orchestra seat, and development at Volition ceased shortly afterwards. With the rights to the first in a planned series of games now back in del Toro’s hands, the filmmaker’s still intent on keeping the project alive. In January this year, del Toro said that a “very big company” had “really responded to the game, but warned that inSane was still a few years away yet.
Of the games on this list, this is one of the few that still has a chance of coming out – and with del Toro behind it, we genuinely hope it does.
The Kunio-Kun games were perennially successful in Japan, and the series began with Nekketsu Koha Kunio-Kun, the violent beat-em-up that was localised as Renegade in the west. Other games in the series were also released outside Japan, always lacking the “Hot-Blooded Tough Guy Kunio” branding – these included Super Dodgeball, River City Ransom and Nintendo World Cup.
In Japan, the Kunio-Kun games continued up until developer Technos Japan’s untimely closure in 1996. With that closure, at least three Kunio-Kun games went unreleased, including PlayStation beat-em-up The Claw Of Kowloon and a driving spin-off called Kunio-Kun Kart. Our favorite? Easily Kunio-Kun Polo, a Super Nintendo game which would have seen the series’ characters riding around on the backs of pigs, rhinoceroses, seals and other curious animals. Sadly, the concept art shown above is all that remains of this bizarre concept.
Gotham By Gaslight
Batman comic book readers will probably be familiar with the one-shot story Gotham By Gaslight, which introduced a Victorian-era Bruce Wayne and his brush with Jack the Ripper. F.E.A.R and Fracture developer Day 1 Studios planned to make a videogame out of the concept, and even got as far as creating a prototype – footage from which you can find above. The game was in the early stages of production in 2009 and 2010, but for some reason, it couldn’t find a publisher. This is a great shame, because although the footage is clearly an early work-in-progress, the setting and atmosphere would have been perfect for a Batman game.
Elite Mega Drive port
Readers of a certain age will almost certainly remember Elite, Ian Bell and David Braben’s seminal space trading game first released in 1984. A true classic for home computers, it’s a little-known fact (well, it’s news to us at any rate) that a company called Hybrid Technology made an attempt to bring updated versions of the game to the Sega Mega Drive and even the Nintendo Game Boy. Both would have featured solid 3D objects, as opposed to the wireframe graphics of the original versions, while retaining the same galaxy-spanning gameplay.
Okay, so the footage above doesn’t look too startling to modern eyes, but back in the 90s, we’d have loved to have sat in our living room playing Elite on our trusty Mega Drive. As you’ve probably gathered by now, Hybrid Technology couldn’t find any backers for its proposed adaptations, and these tech demos (the one for the Game Boy version can be found at Unseen64) are all that remain.
Even 25 years later, Akira remains one of our favorite animated features, and the sprawling future world Katsuhiro Otomo created is still crying out for a videogame adaptation. In fact, there were a few – a Japan-only visual novel-type adventure appeared for the Famicom in 1988, an obscure pinball game called Akira Psycho Ball, and a British-made Amiga game from 1994, which was, by most accounts, not very good.
There was, however, another Akira game in the works in the 1990s, this one planned for the consoles of the day – the Mega Drive, SNES and Game Gear. Cancelled before release, the only evidence we have of the game comes from contemporary magazines, which appear to show a very different type of game from the Amiga version. There are first-person motorcycle levels, some side-scrolling segments that look a bit like the movie tie-ins Ocean were making in the UK at the time, and, most intriguingly of all, a possible 3D section where the player’s hand appears on the screen.
How the game would have panned out is anyone’s guess – it may well have been terrible – but we still can’t help wishing that someone would go back to Otomo’s work and finally create a great game out of it.
Metallica: The Game
Here’s a really, really weird one: a driving game ‘inspired’ by the hard rock music of Metallica. The video above, plus a few bits of concept art showing characters from the game, are all we have from the production, but we’re guessing it would have been some sort of competitive racer with a Mad Max edge and lots of weapons.
The studio behind it, Black Label Games, were behind the atmospheric and under-appreciated PlayStation 2 title The Thing – the only game they managed to ship. Black Label later became Vivendi Universal Games, and two of its other projects – Metallica: The Game and a tie-in based on Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill – were quietly dropped.
Odema And The Magic Book
There was no shortage of side-scrolling platformers for the Game Boy Advance, but we’re very sorry that this one didn’t join the ranks. Developed by a French team called Namdoo, Odema And The Magic Book was a fantasy platformer along the lines of Sega’s Rocket Knight Adventure – a fast-paced side-scroller with cute, chunky graphics. As you can see, the game was quite far into development, with sound being the obvious missing element.
Here’s a game that was really ahead of its time. In 1993, high-definition gaming was almost unknown, yet here was Hudson Soft, blazing a trail with its 10-player, HD version of Bomberman (hence the name, Hi-Ten Bomberman). According to a thread on NeoGAF, Hi-Ten ran on a custom NEC PC with PC Engine controllers as inputs. The use of a HD display allowed for a colossal play area for the time, allowing for the kind of frenetic multiplayer experiences we’re only just now seeing thanks to unofficial online games like Bombermine. Twenty years ago, stuff like this was still witchcraft.
We’d still love to see Hi-Ten appear officially one day, though – and it’s possible in theory, since it was clearly finished. Hudson’s closure may complicate things a bit, but maybe Konami – who, if we’re not mistaken, now own the Bomberman rights – can finally let us play it on our present-day HD tellies. How about it, Konami?
Star Wars: Battlefront 3
**Update: Battlefront 3 is indeed in the works!**
Developer Steve Ellis has said that Battlefront 3 was “99 percent” finished when the plug was abruptly pulled in 2008. That certainly makes sense, since the studio was about three years into production when LucasArts shut it down, and just to make matters even more depressing, the footage that has gradually leaked out (seemingly by ex-Free Radical employers) looked really, really good.
In a further twist, LucasArts was working on its own, internally-developed version of Battlefront 3 after 2008, but this too appears to have gone the way of the dinosaur following LucasArt’s demise last year. This wasn’t the only Star Wars game to have been cancelled in the wake of Disney’s purchase of LucasFilm, either. In July, a picture of 20 logos surfaced, which appeared to prove that games with titles ranging from Rise Of The Rebellion, Jedi Outlaw, Star Wars: Han Solo and, hilariously, Star Wars: Rebel Scum were all at least in the planning stages.
The saddest loss to the Star Wars gaming universe, meanwhile, is covered in our next entry…
Star Wars 1313
This, for us, is probably the most exciting Star Wars game we’ll never get to play. Set in the darker underbelly of the Star Wars universe, it was to be about bounty hunters, criminals, and the “hell” of 1313, Coruscant’s underworld. “It has a little bit of class, but you know it’s a little bit rotten underneath,” was how one LucasArts developer described the grungy, filthy environment. “It’s oppressive. It has all that weight bearing down on the player all the time.”
The glimpse of footage in the video above looks great, and it’s depressing to think that the game’s axing was more to do with bad timing than any lack of quality; when Disney bought LucasFilm, LucasArts was shut down, its projects terminated, and the rights to ‘core’ Star Wars games farmed out to EA. It’s possible that EA might dust Star Wars 1313 off and release it in the future, but we probably shouldn’t hold our breath.
Streets Of Rage
The makers of Crackdown 2 were, at one point in the summer of 2012, working on a revival of the fondly-remembered 16-bit brawler, Streets Of Rage. Reworking the side-scrolling gameplay of the original, it retained plenty of the things that marked out the 90s Streets Of Rage: a benighted city full of thugs, and plenty of blunt instruments to pick up and hit them around the head with.
The prototype, posted by one of the developers on YouTube late last year, looks quite good – and it’s particularly impressive, given that it was put together in about six to eight weeks. Regrettably, Streets Of Rage was one of several projects cancelled by Sega, as it decided to focus its attentions on its more recognisable franchises, including Sonic The Hedgehog and Football Manager.
Commodore enthusiasts will probably remember Katakis, a nicely-programmed ‘homage’ to the arcade hit R-Type – in fact, Manfred Trenz was so good at this type of side-scrolling shooter, he also ended up coding the 1988 Commodore 64 port of R-Type that same year. Trenz also had hits with the Metroid-like platform shooter Turrican and its sequels in the early 90s, before making a range of handheld titles from the 2000s to the present.
One of those handheld games was Katakis 3D, a follow-up to his earlier shooter, this time for the Game Boy Colour. Although the screenshots above are the only surviving relic, it was clearly an into-the-screen blaster akin to Space Harrier or Burning Force on the Mega Drive.
When you consider the humble capabilities of the GBC, the graphics look really colourful, and considering Trenz’s prowess as a programmer, it probably would have played well, too.
Command & Conquer: Tiberium
The number of Command & Conquer spin-off games cancelled by EA is so high that it has its own Wikipedia page, and the most significant on that list is probably Tiberium. A first-person shooter set in the C&C universe, it could have marked the start of an action-based branch for the series – logical, given the ongoing popularity of sc-fi shooters like Halo and Mass Effect.
Everything seemed to be going well in 2008, with the release of a debut trailer and the promise of more footage to come. But then, in September of that year, EA announced that Tiberium had failed to meet “the quality standards set by the development team and the EA Games label” and that work had ceased, “effective immediately.”
EA’s abrupt cancellation after two years of development might indicate that we had a lucky escape, but we can’t help watching the Tiberium footage above and thinking, “Actually, this doesn’t look too bad…”
Starblade: Operation Blue Planet
Starblade was a 3D rail shooter original released in 1991, and was especially memorable for the quality of its polygon graphics, which were highly advanced for their time. Namco planned to push the technical envelope again 10 years later with Starblade: Operation Blue Planet, another into-the screen shooter with some luminous, exotic graphics that still look quite appealing even now.
The sticking point, however, wasn’t with the game itself, but with its rather involved arcade cabinet: the game would have been projected onto a huge, round, concave screen which surrounded the player’s head. The prohibitive expense of this arcade unit (which Namco dubbed the O.R.B.S) was probably what prevented the game from getting past the prototyping stage.
The shooter looks great – though we probably could have done without the rather bored-sounding voice-over from Andrew Garfield.
The Mega Tree
Matthew Smith was an elusive genius of 80s programming. His two biggest hits, Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy, were so beloved by 8-bit gamers that all sorts of urban legends sprung up around them – there was even a rumour surrounding the latter game that standing on one screen at midnight would send the player to a desert island. Jet Set Willy’s allure was such that, even though it had a bug that meant you couldn’t complete it, people still spent hours drawing little maps of its 60-room mansion, and coming up with theories about the best way to collect the objects strewn with in them.
Sequels emerged, but none were created by Smith himself – long since frustrated by the games industry, he went off to Holland for a few years. Before that, he was working on his own Willy sequel, which he called The Mega Tree. Again a platformer, its levels would have been based around the tree of the title, with Willy ascending up the bough one branch at a time. Smith was reportedly a huge fan of Nintendo’s Donkey Kong and Mario, and his game may have taken influence from these, with a mixture of single-screen and scrolling levels, and lots of coin collecting.
Progress on the game was slow, and in 1985, Software Projects pulled the plug on the project after three months. For years, rumours went back and forth about the status of the game. Was there a playable demo on a disc somewhere as some claimed? Or did it never get much further than the initial planning phases?
A few years ago, the magazine Retro Gamer managed to get hold of some discs that once belonged to graphic designer Stuart Fotheringham. The files on that disc gave a few tantalising glimpses of what the game might have looked like, but that playable demo remains, at least for now, frustratingly elusive.