News on Beta & Cancelled Games

Blade & Barrel (Ultra Combat) [N64 – Cancelled]

Blade & Barrel, also known as “Ultra Combat” in the U.S., was going to be one of the launch titles for the new Nintendo 64 console, but sadly it was cancelled. Developed by Software Creations and Kemko, the game was an arcade third-person shooter, focused on battles between flying vehicles that looked a bit like helicopters. An important aspect of Ultra Combat was meant to be the multiplayer mode up to 4 players.

Looking at the beta screenshots and videos below, the environments of the game were just simple 3D arenas, with some empty buildings and roads, but when it was announced, the graphic looked really spectacular for its time. The weapons available were able to create huge explosions, that completely filled the screen with a truly impressive fire effect. Probably the single player mode was similar to the multiplayer deathmatch, with the only difference being that we had to fight against bots, rather than challenge friends.

Unfortunately Blade & Barrel 64 was postponed for too long, perhaps because of low quality gameplay achieved in the beta, and in the end the project was canned altogether. Some concepts of Ultra Combat could have been re-used to develop another game by Kemko, Knife Edge, released for the N64 in 1998.

The two games are somewhat similar: Knife Edge is a shooter with flying machines, but the main difference is that KE is played in first person view as a on-rail shooter, while Blade & Barrel was meant to be a free flying shooter… at least in its original concept: from the  Pickford Brothers’s website we can read that:

Blade & Barrel (Nintendo 64): A game originally designed to be simple, 3D update of the old Atari console classic Combat, but which changed to an on-rails shooter once it was signed to a Japanese publisher after John left Software Creations to form Zed Two. In the end the game either abandoned or ‘canned’ by publisher.

Thanks to fiatbravodriver for the contribution!

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Jet Force Gemini [N64 – Beta / Unused Stuff / Debug]

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Jet Force Gemini is a sci-fi action adventure / third-person shooter developed by Rare that was released in 1999 for the Nintendo 64.  The main characters, Juno and Vela, were originally designed as younger in the beta version and their 3D models were more cartoon-like with large heads. They were later changed to their more mature versions before the release of the game. However, a similar set of childish models can still be played with via an in-game cheat.

Jet Force Gemini does not support the 4MB Expansion Pak, although Rare had considered the possibility. This led to some confusion as the box cover for the original release stated that it did support the Expansion Pak. Nintendo provided a quick-fix to the mislabeled covers by providing stickers declaring its rumble pak compatibility and fixed later printings of the boxes. [Info from Wikipedia]

Also, some debug rooms and beta maps were found still hidden in the game thanks to ps3punk7890, Luigi 316 and SubDrag. An interesting note, one of these unused maps is a racing track from Diddy Kong Racing: it’s possible that they used this to test the racing missions in Jet Force Gemini in its early stages.

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Jet Force Gemini Beta

Kirby Air Ride [N64 – Unreleased]

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Kirby Air Ride (known as Kirby’s Air Ride at the time) was originally in development during the early days of the Nintendo 64. It went through many changes during its elongated development period (it looked like a snowboard game for some time and rumors say that this proto could have somehow evolved into 1080°) before eventually being canceled and then resurfacing on the GameCube in the form of a short video preview in March 2003 at the annual DICE summit in Las Vegas. We’ll never know how the various N64 versions could have been played, but the GameCube version is probably similar to the latest concept that Nintendo created for the N64.

italian_flag.jpg [spoiler /Clicca qui per la versione in Italiano/ /Nascondi la versione in Italiano/]Lui è kirby, è una cosa rotonda e rosa, vola e mangia i nemici, è il protagonista di platform, picchiaduro, flipper e probabilmente altro ancora, ed allora perchè non farlo diventare una star delle corse? è questo probabilmente quello che i ragazzi della HAL hanno pensato mentre ideavano questo Kirby Air Ride. Probabilmente, cosi come l’idea era arrivata, è stata cancellata per N64, per poi venire riesumata su GameCube. Voci dicono che le basi del gioco furono in seguito riprese per costruire 1080° Snowboarding.[/spoiler]

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Project Dream / Banjo Kazooie [N64 – Beta / Proto / Test Level]

Banjo-Kazooie was originally known by the project name Dream for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. The project starred a boy named Edison, who owned a wooden sword and got into trouble with a group of pirates lead by Captain Blackeye. Dream was also scheduled to include a rabbit that looked like a man, a dopey dog and a bear that became Banjo. A screenshot from the Project Dream phase, shows Edison in a pirate town, but we do not know if it is a concept art or a Nintendo 64 tech demo. Finally, Project Dream was shown at the 1997 E3 as Banjo-Kazooie. [info from wikipedia]

From Grant Kirkhope’s website we can read many interesting facts about Dream’s development and download some unused / beta songs:

I started at Rare in October 1995 and when I got there “Dream” was already going. The core team from “Donkey Kong Country” had given DK to another team to carry on with and was working on this game which was going to be Rare’s greatest SNES title. It was very secret and Tim Stamper was leading the team, nobody outside the team knew anything about it. […]

I was shown the demo of the game running on the SNES and was blown away; it looked beautiful and was obviously going to be a big step up from “Donkey Kong Country”. […]

Pretty soon after I joined the game it was decided that it was too big for the SNES and was converted over to the N64, plus we were going to be using the extra “bulky drive” add on, that Nintendo told us they had in development. […]

The game was a huge RPG, which I loved as I was a huge “Zelda” fan, and I tried to write some really strong themes for all the characters. The demos that I’ve put on the site are all using proper samples as opposed to the N64 versions which were obviously not as good quality due to memory restrictions.[…]

I think the final nail in the coffin for “Dream” came from another one of Rare’s teams. The “Killer Instinct” team had started “Conker” and it looked and played fantastically. In “Dream” we had this elaborate floor system that meant we could stretch the polygons into any shape to create some really great looking landscapes that really hadn’t been tried before, unfortunately the N64 just didn’t have the power to run it at a decent frame rate and we were struggling to make it work. The “Conker” team had gone more the tried and trusted route as used in “Mario 64” and had left us behind. I remember Tim trooping us all across the courtyard to look at “Conker” and our hearts all sank as “Conker” was really good.[…]

So we went back to our barn and tried their method, “Dream” started to run great. Then Tim was unhappy with the whole boy/hero thing and said we should change it to an animal. A bear was our first creature and “Banjo” the bear was born. So now we had “Banjo” running around in an RPG, I really can’t remember when we added the back pack and “Kazooie” but it was around this time. Again Tim still didn’t think it was all good enough and after seeing how good “Mario 64” was and with Rare’s platforming heritage it was decided to scrap “Dream” and do a platformer with ” Banjo” as the main character.[…]

Check our interview with Grant Kirkhope! Also, Coolboyman is helping Grant to restore the beta BK tunes to their former glory. Check the videos below, to find some of these beta songs!

In the gallery below you can see various screens and videos from the beta version of the game, with removed enemies and levels. One of the most famous beta areas is the “Giant’s Lair”, that should have been the world’s HUB before Gruntilda’s Lair. The “Mount Fire Eyes” is instead a beta level, that is talked about in the final game, as an easter egg. You can check the video below created by VIDEOmakerNezuke to read more info on the Banjo beta.

Some more info on Banjo Kazooie Beta listed by Mew Mew:

  • there were originally 16 levels planned for the game
  • some of the cut levels were reused in banjo tooie (as witchy world, glitter gulch mine and mount fire eyes)
  • it seems that mount fire eyes turned into the lava side in hailfire peaks
  • clankers cavern also went through a few changes in its devlopment for example there is a video which shows clanker the whale as a real whale not made of metal with the fungi forest music from donkey kong 64
  • clankers cavern is rumoured to have been a part of fungus forest (similar too donkey kong 64), as the level is very close to the underwater entrance to the click clock woods puzzle podium, which is covered in moss or fungus (this was believed to be where the orginal entrance or puzzle was for fungus forest)
  • This description of the game is still a work in progress, if you would like to write a better article on the development of the game, let us know!

Thanks to Princess Toadstol, Saga Darvulia, cheat-master30 Anon and BM for the contributions!

[Italian] Per maggiori informazioni: Banjo Kazooie – analisi Stop ’n’ Swop

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Below are some beta songs that the composer, Grant Kirk Hope, kindly uploaded.
http://www.grantkirkhope.com/betabanjokazooie.html

CatRoots [N64 – Proto / Tech Demo]

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Catroots is perhaps one of the most mysterious projects ever created for the N64. The first (and only) video, a tech demo from which the pictures that you see in this page were taken, was shown at the E3 2000, but no informations were released at the time, and even the Nintendo employees at the stand didn’t knew anything about it.

Later, IGN was able to interview Miyamoto about the game. Mario’s creator revealed that Catroots was being developed at Marigul but an official announcement had yet to be made. Marigul (now known as Noise)was a second party created in 1996 to make games for the Nintendo 64 . In all these years, Marigul worked on very interesting projects, including Hey You! Pikachu, Doshin The Giant, Echo Delta (unreleased), Cubivore (Animal Leader) and Custom Robo. With such a curriculum, isn’t hard to image that Catroots was going to be very original, but after E3 the game got quietly cancelled.

From the video it seems that Marigul tried to recreate an episode of Tom & Jerry or Itchy & Scratchy: we see a rat that is trying in every possible way to eliminate a cat using hammers, ninja stars and a flamethrower. We do not know exactly what kind of game Catroots was supposed to be, although we can make some quick hypothesis.The eternal struggle between cats and mice might have led Marigul to develop an action game with strange weapons like Custom Robo, or an innovative simulation (see Cubivore) where the player,impersonating the cat, had to escape from a completely mad mouse.Unfortunately we can only guess. It is likely that Catroots will remain a mystery forever. The game was at end cancelled probably because of the forthcoming release of the Gamecube.

[English translation by Yota]

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