What does Star Fox 2's resurrection mean for other lost games?
There's more out there than Mother 3, friends.
The biggest surprise accompanying yesterday's announcement of the Classic Super NES Edition mini-console wasn't the console itself (because, as the kids used to say back when then Super NES was new, "no duh") but rather the fact that it will include a game thought lost to time and corporate secrecy: Star Fox 2.
Designed and reportedly completed for Super NES back in 1995, Star Fox 2 was shelved, one assumes, in order to give the Nintendo 64 some more breathing room. Its ideas would eventually resurface in Star Fox 64 and later entries in the series, but the fact that we missed out on an improved, expanded sequel to one of the Super NES's most impressive games never sat well with many people. Eventually, a ROM of the game made its way to the internet, but it wasn't a fully completed game. Enterprising hackers managed to perform enough surgery on the broken parts and turned it into a perfectly playable experience, but the shelved version of the game still lurking in Nintendo's vaults is said to offer a far more satisfying experience. We'll see in a few months, I suppose.
The news of Star Fox 2's imminent release of course set Nintendo fanatics screaming for the same thing in unison: Give us Mother 3! After all, the first game in the EarthBound/Mother series marked the first time Nintendo had acknowledged a lost release since Super Mario Bros. 2: The Lost Levels. Nintendo fully localized the original Mother for Famicom back in the day for release as Earth Bound, but that never shipped, and the Earth Bound name lost its intermediate space and transferred over instead to the American version of Super NES sequel, Mother 2. That game, too, leaked and made the rounds as EarthBound Zero, so Nintendo's decision a few years ago to publish it on Virtual Console as EarthBound Beginnings caught quite a few people by surprise.
So, it would seem Nintendo is perfectly happy to be in the business of raiding its corporate archives for "new" material to publish. I suppose Mother 3 does seem a logical next step; 10 years ago, I was convinced that it would see release here on Game Boy Advance along with the original Rhythm Heaven, but it never came to pass. That's been a sore spot for many fans ever since the GBA was put to rest. But was Mother 3 ever actually fully localized? It may not be as simple a matter as dropping a completed game ROM onto a mini-emulator console.
But hey — no one ever said fantasies have to be based in reality (that was Final Fantasy Versus XIII's gimmick). So sure, let's demand Mother 3. But the unreleased Nintendo game rabbit hole goes much, much deeper than that. If Nintendo wants to clean its virtual closet by making its lost creations available to the public, here are the ones I'd like to see.
Return of Donkey Kong (NES)
Almost nothing is known of this game, and it's entirely possible it was never anything more than an idea or a name. Heck, for all we know, Nintendo of America simply made it up for the heck of it. But it was teased as "coming soon" not only in Nintendo Power but also in Computer Entertainer magazine, which formally declared it a lost cause sometime in 1988. We'd love to see what Return of Donkey Kong was meant to be, if only because the fact that Nintendo didn't publish a single new Donkey Kong title between 1986 and 1988 seems as baffling now as it did back then. Was it eventually revamped into Donkey Kong for Game Boy?
Donkey Kong Music Tutor (NES)
The NES Education series was meant to have three games, though we only ever saw one (Donkey Kong Jr. Math). Japan received a second: Popeye's English Training, which didn't come to America for obvious reasons. But the third game in the series was based on the third Famicom launch title, Donkey Kong, and would apparently have involved both a music education mode and a karaoke component making use of the microphone built into the second controller of the Japanese console! Nintendo actually released screenshots of the game, and some of those unique sprites showed up in booklet for the Japan-only Famicom Basic cartridge, so it seems like the game made it pretty far into development before being shelved.
For the Frog the Bell Tolls (Game Boy)
Developed by Nintendo R&D1, this lighthearted adventure game (featuring the slightest of role-playing elements) served as the basis for The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening. In my heart of hearts, I want to believe someone at Nintendo localized it and has just been waiting for a rainy day to give American fans a taste of a forgotten classic.
Metroid II DX (Game Boy Color)
While this was never actually confirmed to have existed, it's pretty widely believed that Nintendo played around with the idea of retooling Metroid II: Return of Samus for Game Boy Color. They did it with several other major Game Boy releases, after all — Wario Land II and Link's Awakening — so why not one of the console's major hits? With a 3DS remake on its way, a Game Boy Color adaptation of the same game could make for an interesting compare-and-contrast exercise.
Bound High (Virtual Boy)
This 3D platformer, developed by Japan Supply System, leaked to the public a few years ago and was tweaked by fans into a proper finished form. Nintendo borrowed the basic idea of the game — a platformer seen from above, making bold use of the 3D visualization capabilities of Virtual Boy — for its own 3DS pre-launch demos. And the hero of the game ended up in his own Game Boy adventure a few years later, the excellent Japan-only Chalvo 55.
Lunar Chase (Game Boy)
This would make for a tidy counterpart to Star Fox 2. Lunar Chase was announced as the U.S. version of a Japanese Game Boy release called X. Developed by Dylan Cuthbert and Argonaut — the people behind the Star Fox games — this wireframe shooter managed to put free-roaming first-person combat on the humble Game Boy. A pretty amazing technical feat, and apparently one that received a more or less complete localization before the international release was shelved....
Magical Vacation (Game Boy Advance)
Developed by Brownie Brown, this early Japan-only GBA title would eventually see a localized sequel in the form of Magical Starsign. The first game, however, was allegedly completely localized before its U.S. and European release was canned. While Magical Starsign wasn't the greatest RPG ever, it had charm and heart, and we'd love to see the original in English.
Diddy Kong Pilot (Game Boy Advance)
This game eventually saw release as Banjo Pilot, but Banjo belongs to Microsoft now, so we'll never see that on Virtual Console. But: Developer Rare initially designed the game as a Diddy Kong Racing port/sequel, and that version reputedly made it pretty far into development before being reskinned. Did it make it far enough to justify an archival release crammed with Nintendo-owned characters...?
Metroid Dread (Nintendo DS)
Listen, this is my fantasy, OK? Let me fantastize. Chances are pretty good this sequel to Metroid Fusion was solicited to magazines in advance of E3 2005 by Nintendo as a project to be revealed there. But for some reason, it was never showed and never announced, and all these years later we're still waiting for someone to continue the Metroid saga beyond Fusion's finale. I want to believe there's something worth playing here, though. Let's get that Classic DS Edition mini-handheld onto the market, Nintendo.