shoot ’em up

Sea Dog (Mariner’s Run) [NES – Cancelled]

Sea Dog (シードッグ) also known as Mariner’s Run is a cancelled RPG / submarine simulation / Shoot ‘em up game planned to be published for NES / Famicom by Vic Tokai. A couple of screenshots were found in old gaming magazines by japanes fans and shared on Twitter, while some details were published online in a japanese website:

“Although gameplay is not clear on screenshots, it seems Sea Dog was going to be a vertical-scrolling submarine shoot ‘em up with some RPG elements. Between deep-sea exploration and combats you would be able to rise to the sea level and stop at nearby ports. You probably could repair your damaged submarine and buy new weapons.”

We could imagine Sea Dog somehow similar to cult-classic Metal Max, but with real-time underwater shoot ‘em up combat instead than post-apocalypse turn-based combat around desert cities. By looking at the few screenshots available we can assume you would have been able to freely explore the ocean underwater, while fighting enemy submarines and hunting down bosses, then reaching nearby islands to help NPCs and upgrade your submarine. The title of the game was probably inspired by the USS Sea Dog, a Balao-class submarine in the United States Navy.

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Matchman [DS, Wii, PS3 – Cancelled]

Matchman is a cancelled run ‘n gun that was in development by TF-H Co in 2008, planned to be published by Lexicon Entertainment for the Nintendo DS, Wii and Playstation 3. The game had original graphics for its time, with hand-drawn, black and white scribbles: journalists were quite amazed by how a simple-looking game like this was meant to be released on modern consoles (indies were still not as common as today).

As we can read from the official press-release on gamesindustry.biz:

“Video games publisher Lexicon Entertainment and talented Chinese games developer TF-H Co Ltd have announced a 2 year agreement which will see the two companies bring a number of new IP to Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii and Playstation 3 for a worldwide audience.

Matchman is a side scrolling shooter involving extraordinary graphics, manipulation and creative features. The graphic style is consisted by black and white line drawing, and the script is based on a combination of some classical fairytales such as Grimm’s and Andersons fairytales. In the script, there are many humorous factors. The black and white style will bring you the feel of an old school comic, which will attract audiences from different age groups.

One of the special features is the unconventional means to knock through some of scenario. In this case, you’re not going to kill bosses directly. For instance, conventionally you kill monsters by using weapons; but to kill an evil bird named Baba Yaga, you need to throw apples and feed it until its stomach bursts! Another feature is about manipulation. Within the game is a mode called Commuter, specially designed for people on public transport commuting to the office. These people can use a single hand to operate the console and the other to enjoy a soothing cuppa!”

Something went wrong in 2008 and Lexicon Entertainment dropped the project, before closing down their company. In 2009 a new publisher re-announced Matchman, as wrote by Gamasutra:

“Startup publisher Mamba Games today announced both its own existence as well as its first four game projects across PC and console platforms. The company, co-founded by former THQ executive Robert Nielson in November 2008, laid out its release schedule for the first two quarter of 2009, signing various worldwide and territory-specific distribution deals.

Mamba’s fourth announced title, Matchman (pictured) by Chinese developer TF-H Co Ltd, will debut for the Nintendo DS globally in the second quarter of 2009. Nintendo Wii and PlayStation 3 versions of the scrolling shooter will be released later in the year.”

In the end, Matchman just vanished and it was never published in any way as far as we were able to gather. We don’t know if TF-H Co ever completed the game nor what happened to the team after the cancellation of their project.

In the following years things did not go well for Mamba Games, failing with an international scandal about missing payments for some of their developers

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Battle Mania 3 NY: Gankutsujou [Dreamcast – Cancelled]

Battle Mania 3 NY: Gankutsujou is a cancelled Dreamcast shoot ’em up that was in development by Takayan and a few more developers who already working on the original series. The first Battle Mania or Trouble Shooter as known in USA was developed and published by Vic Tokai for the Mega Drive / Genesis in 1991, with a sequel titled Battle Mania Daiginjou published in 1993 only in Japan.

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The game settings are a parody of classic anime tropes, with flying sci-fi girls shooting down aliens and monsters. Levels are often inspired by japanese culture and they change from side-scrolling to a vertical scrolling. This third chapter in the Battle Mania series was originally conceived as an arcade game, as we can read in a translated interview with Takayan:

Please tell us a bit about what happened after Daiginjo. You brought a design document for the legendary unreleased Dreamcast game Battle Mania N.Y. Gankutsujou but on the cover, there are Saturn and Playstation logos, does that mean you proposed this project during the 32-bit generation?

Takayan: Nope, they wouldn’t let me make it. I’m a big SEGA fan and just as I was thinking I’ll quit if they don’t let me make games for the Megadrive or Saturn, they put me in charge of the SFC division. That’s why I had to step away from Daiginjo right at the end of development. When I made this I’d already left VIC and the next company I’d worked at, and the company I was at was starting to look a little unstable. It’s a pitch for an arcade game but I had hardly any time to spend on it. (Laughs)

It’s amazing for the fans to be able to see Mania in 3d, could you tell us a bit about that?

Takayan: The pictures were drawn by fellow VIC survivors. One of them made the Softimage assets to go with the gameplay explanations. I made the 3d models of Mania and the picture of the heroines on the cover and the main artist on Odessaelya made the screens that go with the stage explanations. Add to that the artist who drew the giant robot and the queen and I think it was 4 people in all, I’m not sure whether that’s a lot or very few.

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Battle Mania NY: Gankutsujou’s pitch document was originally published in a book titled “ Nazo no Game Makyou 4” and later uploaded online thanks to HG101. By looking at its pages we can notice how the game was later pitched as a Dreamcast title, probably thanks to Takayan’s love for Sega hardware. Kid Fenris analyzed this document sharing some more details about what it could have been:

“The story itself, as far as I can grasp, sends our jetpack-sporting heroines from Japan to New York, spurred on by a distress call, a woman named Airin, and something called “N.Y. Haunted Square.” That’s possibly a Ghostbusters reference.”

“Battle Mania N.Y. Gankutsujou was to be a shooter like its two predecessors, though it would’ve presented three perspectives: a side view, an overhead view, and a 3D perspective reminiscent of Space Harrier and Panzer Dragoon. “

“The stage descriptions for Battle Mania N.Y. Gankutsujou are the best parts of the pitch, as each of them gets an illustration. A side-scrolling opening stage sees Madison and Crystal facing flying fish-men and a bicycle-riding robot on a city street. It’s perfectly in step with the humor in previous Trouble Shooter games, an unapologetic mélange of modern Japan and a world of weird mutants and technology, explaining nothing and never suffering for it.”

Unfortunately the available mockups are quite tiny, but you can still notice how it could have been quite awesome. In the end it seems Takayan and his team never found a publisher interested in this third Battle Mania and the project was quietly cancelled.

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Rewind (Two Tribes) [DS – Cancelled]

Rewind is a cancelled on-rails shoot ‘em up in the vein of StarFox that was in development in 2008 by Two Tribes for Nintendo DS. After their work on Worms: Open Warfare 2 DS for THQ in 2007, Two Tribes started to plan their next game and wanted to create an original Sci-Fi shumup for the same console. IGN reported the announcement of Rewind DS in July 2008, but even they did not have much info on the project:

“[…] ReWind, described as an on-rails shooter with a twist. What this twist is hasn’t been revealed yet, but Two Tribes says it is taking full advantage of the DS’ abilities. ReWind is set in a “carefully scripted game world” where players have one objective: blast everything.[…] It will use the DS microphone and feature a CD-quality soundtrack.”

By looking at the title, we can speculate that Rewind’s “twist” could have been a way to rewind time during the game or to go backwards during its on-rails levels. Unfortunately not much more was ever revealed about Rewind and it soon vanished among many other lost DS games: it’s possible that Two Tribes never found a publisher interested to support them for this project.

After releasing such a clever hidden gem as Toki Tori 2 in January 2014 Two Tribes had to close down for bankruptcy because of low sales of the game. Their parent company Two Tribes Publishing B.V. formed another small team to develop their last game, under the working title “RE:Wind”, later published in September 2016 as Rive for PC, Wii U, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Rive is a side-scrolling shooter and not an on-rails shooter as Rewind DS was planned to be, but we can still speculate that the released game is an evolution of their original, unreleased concept for the portable console.

Update: thanks to Maik we found an interview on N4G featuring Martijn Reuvers (co-founder of Two Tribes) that confirm some of these details:

Martijn: When we started with RIVE, it was about 2005, so a long time ago. Its original name was “Rewind” and it was meant to be a small game reusing the level designs and artwork that we had. You would shoot a couple of enemies, rewind back in time, and then go to a point slightly before where you started. This way we can just reuse assets and every time you rewind, you’re replaying the same content, but it’s become a little more difficult. So, that was the original inspiration for RIVE. We actually started with the concept, but when we were play-testing it, we found out that it really sucked, so we dropped it. The energy orbs that drop in RIVE were meant to allow you to travel back in time with Rewind, but we don’t know what to do with them anymore, because the whole rewinding system is out of there. We still have a warp system in there, but it has nothing to do with time travel. It’s a very iterative process. We start with something, decide it doesn’t work, and move on from there.

In addition to RIVE being built from the remnants of Rewind, we played a lot of Gradius and Metal Slug back in the 90s, especially in arcades. Collin and I played a lot of those, and we always wanted to make a game like Gradius. So, when the company went bankrupt two years ago (2013), we had been making a lot of puzzle games and we wanted to make something with shooting and explosions. We said to ourselves, “Why not go back to that original design from 2005 and do something with that?” The real inspiration for this game is our passion for those types of games.

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Raid Over the River [DS – Cancelled]

With a title probably inspired by the classic River Raid for Atari 2600, Raid Over the River is a cancelled shoot ‘em up that was in development in 2006 for Nintendo DS by the infamous Nibris studios, the team behind the cancelled survival horror “Sadness” for Wii. The interesting part about this lost DS game is that time travels and multi-dimensions would be featured in the story, letting developers to add a good number of original levels set in different time periods and places.

Raid Over the River backstory was posted by IGN and Eurogamer:

“The main character of the game is pilot David McBride, a 40-year-old veteran of Operation “Sand Storm”. He discovers, by a total chance, the plans of the “Molayarius“, a sect cultivating traditions of the Knights Templar of Grand Master Jacques de Molay crest. They aim to summon the demon Bafometonto the world. David aims to to destroy these plans, but he finds himself in a world and an epoch of danger as he is flung through time, is led and perhaps misled by the seductive but dangerous Anna, and is constantly under fire as he flies through 10 levels of shooting and flying action all around the world and across time.”

“The action begins in Peru, where archaeologists uncover a strange artifact that can be used to travel through time. According to Deutsch-Everett theory, which is all about the temporalist’s paradigm, it says here, it’s impossible to travel within your own timeline. Because that would be ridiculous. However, you can visit future or past Earths from other dimensions, obviously. As a result of this discovery, the Temporal Advanced Research Projects Agency is established to send intrepid types to these different dimensions and seek out any potential threats. You play TARPA pilot Carrie Colins, 29, and it’s your job to deal with some scouts from another dimension who pop up on Earth at the start of the game.”

It seems that even Nibris were divided in different dimensions where the game had two different storylines.

Story, Arcade, Dogfight and Survival modes over six campaigns in different time periods and dimensions were planned, with levels set in ancient Greece, Europe during World War II, Soviet Russia during the Cold War, present day USA, Germany in 2018 and Japan during a far away future. Nibris planned to have different vehicles for each time period and dimension, such as old bi-planes, sci-fi jet planes and dragons. Power-ups and special items would have also been available to the players to improve their fire power and each vehicle had many different movements options, to rotate, nose dive and dodging hits. Coop multiplayer was also planned to be added to the game.

DS specific features would also been implemented into Raid Over the River, being able to use voice command and the touch screen to launch special attacks. Unfortunately Raid Over the River was never completed: just like it happened with Sadness, Nibris were not able to secure a publisher for their project and they had to stop working on it before to finally close down in late 2010.

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