Spy Hunter Returns (AKA Spy Hunter Millennium) is a cancelled 3D racing game / adventure that was planned by Midway for Nintendo 64. It’s not clear which team was working on this project, as a new Spy Hunter for Nintendo 64 was listed by different magazines / websites with different names and developers, sometimes confusing it with the “next-gen” (PS2, GameCube) Spy Hunter developed by Paradigm. In Electronic Gaming Monthly (Issue 102, January 1998) the N64 game was titled “Spy Hunter Returns”, in development by Midway:
“With games like GoldenEye 007, Mission: Impossible and the jaw-dropping Metal Gear Solid making headlines recently, it’s no surprise that espionage games are suddenly en vogue. Spy Hunter Returns is one driving game Midway is said to be bringing to the N64 somewhere around 1998 or 1999. As one could expect of a N64 racer, SPR will be in 3D, but the game will also feature adventure elements, fast action and, of course, gadgets galore. […] On a related note, Midway is looking to support the 64DD in a big way, and Spy Hunter Returns is thought to be one of their key games to utilize Nintendo’s add-on.”
“Digital Eclipse is finalizing Spy Hunter Millennium for N64. […] Details on this remake are not clear, but the game will have a polygonal 3D engine. Many different vehicles will be playable, such as cars, boats and planes. Millenium should be released in late 1999.”
While it’s unclear what really happened with this project, we assume Midway was really working on a new Spy Hunter for Nintendo 64, but we may never know nor see more about this lost game
In only about 4 years of existence, United Game Artists managed to become one of the most original and beloved Sega teams ever existed, especially for Dreamcast fans. Originally founded as Sega AM9 and led by Tetsuya Mizuguchi, they had a portfolio of released games composed of just 2 new Dreamcast titles and a sequel (Space Channel 5 – 1999, Rez – 2001, Space Channel 5 Part 2 – 2002). UGA were for sure a talented and inventive studio.
Blending catchy music with beautiful, sometimes abstract 3D visuals, both Space Channel 5 and Rez are now considered cult classics and often used as examples to show how games can really be art. Synesthesia, the phenomenon felt when multiple senses are activated after the stimulation of a different one, was an inspiration and a game design objective for the United Game Artists team, mixing graphic, audio and gameplay so as to suscitate an abundance of feelings and sensations.
It’s easy to imagine how new games from UGA would have been acclaimed by their fans, but unfortunately things didn’t go as planned. After Sega discontinued the Dreamcast in March 2001, United Game Artists and the other Sega teams started working on the competitor’s consoles, creating new titles and porting their old classic or unfinished games to Xbox, Playstation 2 and Gamecube. In the following months some members of UGA worked on ports of Rez and Space Channel 5 for PS2, while the rest of the team started developing two new projects: Rez 2 and Buciyo 5.
Buciyo 5 (somehow translated as The Bumbling 5) was the new, original project by UGA planned to be a Gamecube exclusive, but not much was ever revealed about it. Sega quietly announced the game in January 2003 as a “New Project by United Game Artists” along with other titles such as F-Zero GX by Amusement Vision and Skies of Arcadia Legends by Overworks. At the time Jake Kazdal was the only American working directly at UGA on Space Channel 5 and Rez as an artist, animator and designer, and he was one of the few members of the original group behind Buciyo 5.
Jake was featured in an article published in January 2014 by Edge Magazine: “After completing Rez, Kazdal worked on a GameCube adventure for a year, a prototype that was never released”. Still without knowing much more about Buciyo 5, in 2016 when we were working on our book we got in contact with Jake, who helped us to preserve some more memories about this UGA’s lost masterpiece. He told us that:
“After Rez shipped, the rest of the Rez team went into a sort of discovery mode on what they would do with a Rez 2, and if that was even going to happen, they wanted to wait a bit and see how sales were. I was a big fan of my first director at Sega, Takashi Yuda, who was the creator and director of Space Channel 5. I had worked under him for my first year at Sega in Tokyo on that project and was just a big fan of his game design theory and style in general. He was starting a small team to prototype an idea for an action / adventure on Gamecube, so I asked to join him for a time, while the Rez team figured out what they wanted to do for the next project.”
According to the information we managed to gather, we imagine Buciyo 5 (which roughly translates to “The Bumbling 5”) as a mix between Mega Man, Metal Gear Solid, Pikmin and Ape Escape 3. Sounds interesting? It sure does.
Players would have been able to choose between 5 red robots, visually somewhat in the vein of Mega Man in terms of cute robotic characters with human-like faces. Each robot had a different peculiarity: voice, eyes, nose, ears, and brain. This would have allowed different gameplay mechanics and approaches to the game’s levels, as explained by Jake:
“So one [robot] could mimic voices exactly, one could see really well, one could smell really well, one could hear really well, and one was a genius. You would use these 5 together to infiltrate enemy bases and take on the enemies as carefully as possible. They also had plungers on their heads, and you could jump on an enemy head-first, and flip him around with your plunger head! Or jump onto the ceiling and hold still as enemies walked underneath you, etc. It was pretty slapstick, and really cute, had a jamming soundtrack and was Yuda-san’s brainchild that we cranked on for a while”.
The Buciyo 5 team first created a concept video to internally pitch the game to Sega HQ – and it was a success: the project was greenlighted and they started working on a prototype. Once Rez 2 was officially abandoned – as the first one didn’t sell enough to warrant a sequel – more developers switched to Buciyo 5 and in about a year they were able to create an awesome playable demo, showcasing all the main features of the game and its unique style. Jake remembers:
“[…] working late nights, putting together a badass gameplay demo that was beautiful, super interesting and quirky, and designed by a bunch of *really* intelligent, talented game designers who really believed in the project. “ […] “It was at this time that I decided to move away from animation and really start focusing on environmental art, and Yuda-san had worked on all these Genesis era classics like Castle of Illusion and others, and I was stoked to be able to study with someone of that pedigree. We looked at a lot of classic Disney films for lighting and composition reference, and I fell in love with pre-production and concept painting during this project.”
Unfortunately, as it often happens with the most original and interesting games, marketing decisions were going to kill off the project. Mike Fischer, VP at Sega America at the time, went to Japan to evaluate new Sega games for the American market and was not interested in a quirky, cute adventure game, like Buciyo 5 definitely was. Sega Japan said they would have stopped financing the project if the American branch wouldn’t publish it in that area. So the plug was pulled: Buciyo 5 became another unseen game we’ll never play.
Of course United Game Artists were crushed when their last dream game was canned too. Rez 2 never made it past the pitch video phase, but Jake remembers “It was *sick*. Yokota-san, the art director of Rez, (and Rez 2, and Panzer Dragoon Saga) is a genius and it was an evolution of Area 5 from Rez. Insanity.” It seems that, at the time, there was no place for such avant-garde, experimental games at Sega.
Not long after Buciyo 5 was cancelled, Tetsuya Mizuguchi, Katsumi Yokota, Ryuichi Hattori, Jake Kazdal and other key staff left the studio, and United Game Artists quickly ceased to be. Those that remained at Sega, merged with Sonic Team (and ended up working on the stylish DS games Feel The Magic: XY/XX and The Rub Rabbits!), and many of them are still there.
In October 2003 Mizuguchi founded Q Entertainment along with Yokota and other former Sega developers to keep working on interesting music game hybrids and creating projects such as Lumines, Meteos, Every Extend Extra and Child of Eden. In 2009 Jake Kazdal founded his indie studio 17-BIT (formerly Haunted Temple Studios), releasing cult-following games such as Skulls of the Shogun and Galak-Z: The Dimensional. United Games Artists will always be remembered for having continued – till the end – to create original games following their own creativity: today their unique style is still kept alive by UGA’s former members.
The Haunted Mansion is a cancelled adventure game that was in development around 2002 – 2003 by Pocket Studios, planned to be published for GBA by TDK Mediactive, the same company which published The Haunted Mansion for PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube. The games were based on the homonym Disneyland ride and the home-console versions were released in the same year of the Haunted Mansion movie (also based on the Disney ride).
This canned Game Boy Advance version was quite impressive for its 3D graphic, something that was not common on the console. Players would explore the mansion Resident-Evil- Style, finding keys and avoiding enemies, plus some on-rails sections on a classic mine cart.
“I was a coder on this game. The main reason for its non release was the TDK the original publishers being bought out mid development by Take2. I’m certainly not in the know as to what went on between Take2 and Pocket but after the takeover it was clear the game wouldn’t get a release. Lets just say Pocket wanted to hit its milestones to get paid and fill the contract and Take2 tried to make that hard.
As for the game. Publishers were at the time were eager to have games that were more 3D-ish, especially lower end publishers with less than amazing franchises as it made the game stand out from the flat 2d, iso games that almost every release was. The simple fact is the GBA doesn’t do 3D well, but I think looking back nearly 20 years and saying the 3d is broken isnt really fair. Personally I think some of the art in this game is lovely. I still think this game is technically impressive… Did anyone notice the transparent ghosts???? If any other game does transparency on the GBA I’ve not heard of it.
TBH the gameplay sucks. The card game was absolutely pointless, and the free roaming made the game weirdly empty and slow. I think a number of the team wanted to do a more side on 3d platformer affair, but that was ruled out fairly early as death/weapons was something you couldn’t do with this Disney property.”
Some years ago a ROM of the game was leaked online, so at least we can marvel at its technical achievement.
Prince of Persia: Redemption is a cancelled reboot of the classic series, that was internally pitched at Ubisoft Montreal (FoxTeam) around 2010 – 2011, just after the release of The Forgotten Sands. The project was mostly unknown until May 2020, when fans finally noticed a video uploaded on Youtube in 2012 by an anonymous user. By looking at this footage, the game looked like a mix between 3D Prince of Persia, God of War, Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed: a cinematic adventure game with huge monsters and time-rewind mechanics.
“Wow – haven’t seen this in ages. Amazing work from animation director Khai Nguyen (For Honor) and team. This target game footage (pre-rendered game pitch) inspired our own pitch for Assassin’s Creed 3 as they did such a great job making it look like real gameplay.
Sadly Ubisoft are generally quicker to cancel Prince of Persia games than others IPs because AFAIK original creator Jordan Mechner still holds license rights so the profit margins are lower. Would love to see a new one though. I’ve always wanted a PoP set in contemporary Iran.”
We can assume The Forgotten Sands did not sell enough for Ubisoft to invest more resources on another title, preferring to focus on the more profitable Assassin’s Creed series.
SNO is a cancelled action adventure that was in development by Headstrong Games in 2014 – 2015, planned to be released for PC and unannounced consoles (possibly PS4 and Xbox One). The project was officially announced in February 2015 on their site and by reading its description it sounds a bit like Okami, but unfortunately it soon vanished with no explanations.
“Usher in Spring and bring your frozen world back to life in this 3rd person action puzzle game.
Clear the ice and snow that have blanketed your world. Encounter and defeat mysterious ice demons intent on holding back Spring. Discover ancient secrets and paths through the frozen wasteland as the Gods guide you on your journey.
SNO toys with your expectations, leaving you wondering whether you’re a dead soul raised to tend a magical land, or an android designed to repair a deserted spacecraft. As you emerge from your grave-like stasis chamber, it’s apparent a catastrophe has occurred – the world is carpeted in a thick layer of snow. As you clear the ice and snow, you reveal verdant patches of grass that catch the light and start to fend off the creeping frost.”
Headstrong were mostly known for theirArt Academy series and Battalion Wars series published by Nintendo, but around 2017 Kuju Entertainment (their parent company) dissolved the team to incorporate their employees directly into Kuju.
If you know someone who worked on this lost game and could help in preserving more images or footage, please let us know!
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