Over two decades ago Nintendo pulled the plug on one of its most anticipated sequels: Star Fox 2. 22 years later, it will be getting an official release in the recently announced SNES mini.
So what's going on here? Why was it canned in the first place? And what can we expect from this resuscitated relic?
The story of Star Fox 2 is a surprisingly common one in the video game industry where long-term expensive collaborative efforts lose their luster with the ever-shifting zeitgeist of the day. In the case of Star Fox 2 it wasn't the concept, design, or anything to do with the gameplay at all that saw this cosmic canine's crusade cancelled. Instead, it was the SNES's aging tech that simply wasn't showy enough with the more mesmerising N64 following so closely on the horizon.
Furthermore, Nintendo's competitor Sony launched the original PlayStation in September of 1995 in the west, roughly a year before the N64's release. Likened to Sony's cutting edge platform, a SNES sequel simply didn't compare favourably.
"It was the summer of 1995 and the PlayStation and Saturn were suddenly doing very well in Japan," Star Fox 2 programmer (and PixelJunk series creator) Dylan Cuthbert told NintendoLife. "I think that caught Nintendo off-guard. The decision was made because they didn't want the old-gen 3D going up against the much better 3D of the next generation, side-by-side."
He later added that "the game was about 95 per cent complete" and that the developer finished it anyway, going so far as to make it "fully QA'd through Mario Club."
Yet with the game so close to completion, a ROM of it was anonymously leaked several years later by a former Nintendo employee. Fans even patched this advanced prototype to remove the debug code, sheer off a few bugs, and translate the game into English.
Through this excavation process we know quite a lot about how Star Fox 2 plays. It's a bit different than its predecessor in that it has an advanced overworld map where ships attack a planet, Corneria, in real-time, while the player charts Fox McCloud's journey through the solar system. Upon engaging with an enemy missile or base on a neighboring planet, players would be brought into a more familiar 3D battle scenario similar to those of the original Star Fox.
These combat encounters features a fair few changes from the original Star Fox we all know and love. Most noticeably, it featured non-linear 3D stages where the Arwing could transform into a ground-based bipedal vehicle - something that later saw the light of day two decades later in Star Fox Zero.
As thrilling as these leaked ROMs are, they still don't depict the final vision of Star Fox 2, according to Cuthbert. He actually got to play the completed build and claimed that there were some pretty major features included in this final copy that were lacking from the leaked ROMs.
"There are a few ROMs on the net in various conditions," Cuthbert told NintendoLife. "But the ones I checked out are all old and they don't have the randomising Rogue-like stuff working or all the encounters in place, so you don't really get the feel of the game we were making."
For the longest time Cuthbert believed Star Fox 2 would never be released due to legal entanglements with the game's co-developer Argonaut Software, which no longer exists. But as another famous space scoundrel once said "never tell me the odds!"
Thankfully, it won't be long until we get to see this version of Star Fox 2, which will launch on 29th September in the UK as part of the SNES mini's catalogue.