Do you remember Donkey Kong Racing for the GameCube? When Rare was sold to Microsoft in 2002, they also announced a racing title. As they could no longer use the Donkey Kong characters, rumours appeared saying that the game was being reworked into a racer starring Rare’s own Sabreman.
In 2003, Microsoft trademarked the title “Sabreman Stampede“, it appeared as if there was the final confirmation. In March 2004, Rare answered the following in their Scribes when asked whether Donkey Kong Racing was still alive:
“Well, yes and no. It’s not called Donkey Kong Racing any more, it’s not for the GameCube any more and by this point I’d imagine so little of the original art and code remains that it’s barely even the same game any more, but yes, it’s still coming out. In some form. Wait and see, if you haven’t already picked up on the new title that’s been unofficially floating around the electrical interweb for months now.”
It was not until 2008 that we saw how much the game had changed as an unanonymous poster leaked a video on Youtube (you can find it in our gallery beneath). Developed by a team of which many worked on Starfox Adventures or Jet Force Gemini, Sabreman Stampede had evolved from a racer into a full adventure. One could hardly notice that it had started out as Donkey Kong Racing.
In late 2004 it was decided to port both Kameo and Perfect Dark Zero from Xbox to Xbox 360. As the Kameo team did not have enough resources, members of the “Sabreman Team“, as such they were later credited, were asked to help out. However, this also meant that Sabreman Stampede had to be put on hold, even though porting and reworking it for a Xbox 360 release had already begun. After six years Sabreman Stampede was cancelled. Having started out as a Diddy Kong Racing successor, evolving into a title in which you were riding herds and then becoming an adventure game, its development was stopped due to a lack of focus in design.
As we can read in an interview with Lee Musgrave:
Donkey Kong Racing was obviously pretty heavily tied to Nintendo as a franchise, and as Rare approached the finalization of a buyout deal with Microsoft it was clear that the game had no future, at least with the ape’s as characters. We switched it around to be a Sabreman game, and there was a great early Xbox prototype – but someone, somewhere decreed that it was a little too old-school for the kind of ‘revolutionary gaming experiences’ that the Xbox was capable of delivering, and so it started down a path of meandering changes, updates and ‘evolution’ that finally saw it run out of steam and fall over. There were some great ideas in the game as it developed though, and I still look back to the early racing game design and think we could have done something great with that.
This was all vaporware until July 2008, when Transparentjinjo added a video of the Xbox 360 prototype on his YouTube channel. It seems that Stampede had a long and interesting development history, that sadly ended in a cancellation. Even if we will never be able to play the game, we are happy that some proof of Sabreman Stampede’s existence can be preserved!
Special thanks to Transparentjinjo.