When it comes to cancelled games, the N64 is an unparalleled console. The hardware was difficult to develop for, and Nintendo is notoriously difficult to work with when it comes to negotiating special agreements. There were plenty of great games for the system, but there is a wealth of games that never saw the light of day.
Some got stuck in development hell, some fell through due to business negotiations, and some were completely repurposed into different projects. All of them, though, are pieces of gaming history–the ones that were successfully documented, at least.
Here are seven unreleased N64 games we wish we had.
Super Mario 64 2
The Nintendo 64 Disk Drive was an expansion for the N64, planned to expand its processing power and graphics capabilities. It never came to the US, and was a commercial failure in Japan. Despite this, Nintendo did a lot of work on games for the semi-system, including “Super Mario 64 2.”
In short, the real reason fans were excited for this game was because it promised a playable Luigi and a rideable Yoshi. Luigi in Super Mario 64 was always a rumor that never came to fruition, much like Mew under the truck in Pokemon. The rideable Yoshi was a rumor too, but at least that had some more basis; at least Yoshi was actually there, with a 3D model and everything.
In an interview with Nintendo Power, Shigeru Miyamoto said that they had a demo working with Mario and Luigi on-screen at the same time. Given that Super Mario 64 was originally intended to have multiplayer, it seems that SM64-2 would have accomplished all of the things that the original couldn’t. The addition of new features would have been welcome, given that the platform gameplay in the first installment was some of the best of the era.
It’s unknown if elements from SM64-2 were brought to future Mario games, like Sunshine and the DS port of 64. It would make sense, though, especially for the DS version. That port added multiplayer modes, extra playable characters, and graphical updates.
Let’s lay out a hypothetical. Try to imagine the juggernauts behind all of the best Nintendo games coming together to make a game in the late 90s. Shigeru Miyamoto created Mario and Zelda, so let’s put him on the team. Shigesato Itoi created the Mother series, known as Earthbound in the West, so let’s get him in the mix. Let’s add Tsunekazu Ishihara, too; he’s one of the producers of Pokemon.
What do you think they would make?
If you guessed “a platforming game,” you’d be wrong. If you guessed an old-school RPG, or an adventure game, you’d be wrong too. These three titans of gaming were working on a pet breeding and raising simulator for the Nintendo 64 Disk Drive. This game was named Cabbage, and that wasn’t a prototype name. It was just a silly word a developer blurted out and it happened to stick.
It was meant to use all available features of the N64DD, including the internal clock and the ability to link the game to the Game Boy and take your creature on the go. Players would have also been able to visit other players’ worlds.
They had planned for a trial of the game at SpaceWorld 2000, but the developers got busy and weren’t able to finish the project. It seems that some of the elements from the game were repurposed for other series, including Animal Crossing (on the N64DD) and later Nintendogs, Nintendo’s flagship “pet” series. It’s great for gamers everywhere that these titans of game development didn’t lose all of their ideas to a development quagmire.
Doom Absolution was intended to be a sequel to Doom 64, and it was colloquially named “Doom 64 2.” At least they had a less clunky name for it than Super Mario 64 2.
The first Doom 64 didn’t have multiplayer or any deathmatch mode. According to an interview with Aaron Seeler, the lead programmer on the project, they were deathmatch purists (based on the original PC version) and didn’t see it fit to have a multiplayer where you can look at the other players’ screen. He also lamented getting crushed by 007: GoldenEye during the N64 deathmatch craze.
It was only in development for a short period, and was actually cancelled the same year that Doom 64 came out. There isn’t a lot of information out there about what the game would have looked like, but it seems it was abandoned due to the dated nature of the Doom engine. It seems that the development team were moved to the Quake 64 port, which was a fully 3D FPS with some more features.
According to Midway designer Tim Heydelaar, they had finished a significant amount of levels that were completely playable for the multiplayer mode. What a shame for Doom fans; some still hold out hope that they can get access to those levels for PC mods.
The N64 and PS1 gen was a great era for sports games. There were plenty of serious games like Madden picking up steam and becoming all-time console staples. There were plenty of silly or cartoony games, like Mario Tennis and NFL Blitz. And, of course, we had the golden era of wrestling games with WWF No Mercy.
Let’s rewind a bit, though, from before the N64 came out — back when it was called “Project Ultra.”
Part of Nintendo’s strategy for the release of their new console would be to build a “dream team.” The Nintendo Dream Team was a collection of developers and publishers that would work closely with Nintendo to make a great lineup of exclusive games for the console’s launch. With a proper lineup, the N64 would get a great initial customer base and run away with the competition.
However, one of the companies in the dream team was Mindscape. Mindscape didn’t have any major hits, but they were going to work on a game called Monster Dunk for the N64. You can probably guess what the game was like; it was a basketball game featuring classic monster mascots playing 2-on-2 games just like NBA Jam. Magazines reporting on the game’s development also mentioned that there would be stage hazards and special moves for individual characters.
Unfortunately, this game never saw the light of day, and as far as anyone knows, there’s no prototype or design documents available. It’s unknown how far this game got into development, but it’s interesting to see what Nintendo’s “dream team” was up to. Monster Dunk, a goofy little concept, could have been a Nintendo hit that represented the N64 for years to come.
Anyone else want Frankenstein in Smash now?
Mother and Mother 2 were critically acclaimed RPGs on the NES and SNES respectively. Mother 2, which was released as Earthbound in the West, quickly became a cult classic and is widely regarded as one of Nintendo’s best RPGs ever. Its main character, Ness, is a staple of the Smash Bros. franchise as well, going as far back as the first game.
After the success of Mother 2, they set to work on Mother 3, which was to be called Earthbound 64 overseas. Development started on the N64 but was shifted to the N64DD. The game had solid 3D graphics with a cartoony style, and functionality with the Rumble Pak and other features, including the ability to draw faces for characters.
Development was announced in 1996, and continued strong for years with picture updates and trailers. In 1999, there was a demo available at the SpaceWorld convention. The scope was too great for the developers, though, due to their lack of familiarity with 3D graphics and N64 hardware. HAL had also told the developers to rein in their expectations for the game, in the hopes they could finalize a product for release.
After the N64DD’s commercial failure, Itoi decided to publicly announce the game’s cancellation on August 21, 2000. According to Miyamoto, the game was 60% complete; according to Itoi, its director, it was 30% complete. Many pictures still exist for fans to gawk at.
Fortunately for fans, Mother 3 found a home as a completely separate game on the Gameboy Advance. The scope was smaller, due to the tech restrictions to 2D graphics, but according to what we saw from the trailer and teasers, the developers retained plenty of the original story.
The GBA version of Mother 3 was released in 2006, but there has yet to be an official English version. Many fans opt to play it with a fanmade translation patch instead.
Glover was a solid game that never reached the “escape velocity” that system sellers like Smash Bros. and Mario Kart do. It came to multiple platforms, including PC, and sold decently. Glover 2 was planned for a release on the same platforms, but it never came out.
In 2010, the site NESWorld got their hands on a playable beta of the game. It’s unfinished, but it shows that Glover 2 was very far along in development. It wouldn’t have taken that much more time or money to get the game out the door and on shelves. If it was this close to being complete, why didn’t it come out?
The story behind this is a little unusual. In early 2015, one of the former employees of Interactive Studios wrote a blog post on the subject. To cut a long story short, a Hasbro executive ordered literally double the cartridges from Nintendo for Glover 1’s print run.
Normally, a game like Glover that sells decently would have a print run of around 150,000 copies. Nintendo apparently had a sale on N64 cartridges for developers at the time, so someone at Hasbro ordered 300,000 for Glover.
Fast forward after release, and Glover sold around 150,000 copies. That would be totally fine, if Hasbro didn’t have 150,000 more copies that nobody wanted. Glover had reached its market cap, and no other players wanted a copy; Hasbro started to shift the blame onto the brand (and possibly the developers) during the production of Glover 2, which eventually led to its cancellation.
When games get stuck in development hell, the focus shifts. Sometimes, especially when games are developed near the end of one console’s life cycle and the start of another, every part of the initial project gets changed. Graphics, genre, aesthetic, and story are all subject to massive change the longer development goes on.
That’s exactly what happened to “Project Dream,” a project developed by Rare for the SNES (and later the N64). The game was originally going to be an adventure-RPG about a boy named Edson that fought against pirates. Footage of this version of the game exists, showing an isometric perspective. It also had sprites based on pre-rendered 3D models, much like Rare’s own Donkey Kong Country. Edson also had a pet dog and parrot, named Dinger and Billy.
Rare wasn’t able to complete the game on the SNES, so when development transitioned to the N64, the game also transitioned to full 3D graphics and became a larger scale RPG. They also decided to incorporate the pirates more into the story and theme. However, the game started going through some radical changes.
Edson was replaced by a rabbit protagonist, after the development team was inspired by Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Around this time, they also decided to change the game from an adventure RPG into a 3D platformer.
Here’s the twist, though — this game isn’t technically cancelled, just so far from its original prototype (which you can find video of today) that it’s a completely different game. It eventually came out as Banjo Kazooie, the N64 classic series.
The original vision of Project Dream was halted far into development, but out of that game something beautiful was born in its place. It’s a linear 3D platformer instead of an adventure RPG with pirates (and a human protagonist), but clearly the development turned out alright. Banjo Kazooie and it’s sequel, Banjo Tooie, hold 9s and 10s across nearly every review outlet.