By: Chris Hodges, editor-in-chief
The vast majority of video games that are cancelled are given the ax at fairly early points in their development, nowhere near resembling a finished product. However, sometimes a game is just a few passes of polish away from being finished, or worse, is pretty much ready to ship, and it still has the plug pulled on it.
Here are five of the most infamous cases of games that someone decided it would be better to not even bother releasing them even though they were finished or very close to it. To be fair, in most of these cases, there are conflicting stories as to just how “done” the games truly were, but as long as the game seemed like it was on the home stretch (near-complete playable builds, advertisements, early reviews, etc) and at least someone who was involved in its development has claimed that the game was close to finished before it got canned, it was eligible for the list.
Propeller Arena: Aviation Battle Championship (Dreamcast, planned 2001 release)
Unfortunately, the Dreamcast was the target system for several high-profile cancellations of games that were in the final phases–Castlevania: Resurrection, the now-legendary port of Half-Life, the home version of Scud Race–mostly because the system didn’t survive long enough to make it financially viable to finish them. But in the case of AM2’s Propeller Arena, something much more tragic than the Dreamcast’s demise was at fault for its cancellation: the September 11th terror attacks. Sega decided that a game about planes violently battling each other in urban areas full of skyscrapers–one level had the unfortunate title of “Tower City”–hit a little close to home after September 11th.
As the game was based entirely around that premise, simply removing a few scenes that were a little too familiar to the terror attacks–as Metal Gear Solid 2, Grand Theft Auto III, and other games released around that time had done–wasn’t really feasible. Had the Dreamcast lasted longer, Sega might have only temporarily shelved the game and released it later, but it didn’t, and Sega either didn’t shop it around to Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft for multiplatform release or they just weren’t interested.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned (X360/PS3/PC, planned late 2010/early 2011 release)
It seemed too good to be true: a game based on the Pirates of the Caribbean license that actually looked good and wasn’t just a quick movie tie-in game or a Lego game. And in a pre-Assassin’s Creed IV world, the concept of a huge, 3D, open-world pirate game was an exciting one indeed. Best of all, it starred a whole new protagonist, James Sterling, so no more of that Johnny Depp-as-Keith Richards-caricature that grew tiresome about halfway through the second movie. Everything seemed to be going right with Armada: it was getting great buzz, the footage looked amazing, and journalists who had seen and played the game were comparing it to everything from Mass Effect to Fable. There was also several comparisons drawn to the Assassin’s Creed franchise, with people calling the game “Assassin’s Creed with pirates” (and again, this was two years before Black Flag was even announced).
Then, just a few months before the game’s scheduled release, parent company Disney cancelled the game, offering only the tired old “restructuring” excuse as a reason. Developer Propaganda Games was sent over to help finish up Tron: Evolution, after which point Disney shuttered the studio. As an interesting side note, Armada was to have an original music score, which was later used in Lego Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game. So at least something from the game lived on.
Thrill Kill (PlayStation, planned 1998 release)
It seems quaint now, but there was a time not terribly long ago where a game was considered controversial–and worthy of the rarely-used “Adults Only” ESRB rating–just because of fetishistic outfits (though with absolutely zero exposed breasts or genitalia), violent finishing moves (though nothing like even contemporary Mortal Kombat games were showing), and sexual violence (that basically only amounted to whips and spankings and the like). That isn’t to say that Thrill Kill wasn’t pushing the envelope for content in 1998, but it was definitely nothing remotely worth cancelling a game over, which is exactly why EA claimed they were pulling the plug on the game shortly after acquiring it (and in a very EA-like move, they refused to let anyone else have it, either).
One of the game’s most widely-advertised characters was a whip-wielding dominatrix named Belladonna, decked out in a French maid outfit that, yes, barely contained her spilling-over breasts and stopped just short of her panties, but it was no was less tasteful or more revealing than fellow whip-cracker Sofia’s outfits in Battle Arena Toshinden, released with zero controversy three years earlier. And the blood-spattered doctor character was tame next to the cast of 1995 PS1/Saturn shooter Loaded. It all seemed very suspicious, and we’ll probably never know what really went on in whatever meetings led to the game’s cancellation. For what it’s worth, it is extremely easy to play Thrill Kill thanks to it being leaked shortly after its cancellation, and beyond that, its engine was later used in Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style (which shared Thrill Kill‘s impressive four-player fighting system) and X-Men: Mutant Academy.
Tiny Toons: Defenders of the Universe/Looniverse (PlayStation 2, planned 2002 release)
There are a few times when you don’t immediately balk at a video game based on the license of a children’s property and actually pay attention to it, and one of those times is when it’s being developed by the geniuses at Treasure. Using the Rakugaki Showtime engine and in the spirit of games like Bomberman, Universe (at times also known as “Looniverse“) was to be a 1-4 player multiplayer party action game where, as one of the cast from the Tiny Toons animated series, you fight, race, solve puzzles, tackle co-op challenges, and compete in other events. It being a Treasure game, the action is fast and plentiful, and it was actually looking to be one of their better attempts at a 3D game (with the lackluster Stretch Panic/Hippa Lina and WarioWorld being its primary competition). The visuals are impressive too, capturing the look and feel of the cartoon but, surprisingly, without the use of cel-shading.
The reasons for the game’s cancellation aren’t 100% clear, but it’s obvious that it is entirely the result of behind-the-scenes business snafus, expiring license rights, publisher changeovers, and other problems of that nature. And with the Tiny Toons world and its characters being so completely baked into every inch of the game, it isn’t as if Treasure could’ve easily reworked the game without the license. A huge disappointment for Treasure fans, Tiny Toons fans, and fans of the all-too-rare non-Nintendo four-player party game (that doesn’t suck).
Star Fox 2 (Super NES, planned for 1995 release)
One of the most frustrating game cancellations of all time. By all accounts, Star Fox 2 was a completely finished game, ready to be flashed onto cartridges and shipped off to the tens of millions of SNES owners who would’ve been lining up to grab it. It certainly wasn’t as though the SNES was dead in 1995, as that was also the year of Chrono Trigger, Yoshi’s Island, Dracula X, and Donkey Kong Country 2 among others.
But as the story goes, Nintendo–and more specifically, Shigeru Miyamoto–wanted there to be some distance between the SNES’ 3D games and the upcoming Nintendo 64’s 3D games, so he decided to shelf Star Fox 2 and wait until the series could be continued on the more powerful, more 3D-capable system. Indeed, Star Fox 64 would follow in 1997, and it was highly praised. Still, two years would’ve been a long enough time to give players some perspective between Star Fox 2 and Star Fox 64, and the former wouldn’t have had any negative or cannibalizing effect on the latter. As far as the legacy of the two games, there is some disagreement as to just how much of Star Fox 2 went on to become Star Fox 64. Star Fox 2‘s Dylan Cuthbert claims that a large amount of his team’s work was essentially stolen and used for SF64 without giving them any money or credit. Miyamoto estimates that only about 30% of what was in Star Fox 2 went on to be used in SF64. Other concepts and ideas from Star Fox 2 were also eventually used for the DS game Star Fox Command. No matter which side you take, it’s hard to agree with Nintendo’s decision to cancel Star Fox 2, and as it is fairly easy to come by via emulation, you can always play it and judge the similarities and differences for yourself.
What are some other finished or nearly-finished cancelled video games that you know of? Share in the comments!