It's never been strange for Nintendo to delay a game until they're happy, but Star Fox 2 was a rare moment when it cancelled a game that was almost done. Star Fox was a big hit when it was released in 1993, and showed how the SNES could still compete technologically, even as new hardware was on the horizon. So it came as little surprise that Nintendo asked the game's developer, Argonaut Software, to work on a sequel. Though that sequel was basically done, Nintendo shelved Star Fox 2 and never released it.
Yes, that actually happened.
Video Credit: Beta 64
Whereas Star Fox was linear pretty, Star Fox 2 meant to expand gameplay by dropping players into wider environments, with access to various craft. They could also choose from six different characters.
Additionally, the map dynamically changed as players cruised from one planet to another. It was possible to run into enemy ships on the map, triggering an action sequence.
Image Credit: Wikia
We know quite a bit about Star Fox 2 because Nintendo promoted the game at conventions in playable forms and it was featured in magazines.
The game's also leaked online. Different builds of the game have made their way onto the internet, meaning it's possible to play a hidden piece of Nintendo history, if you're looking in the right places. (It's not hard.)
Video Credit: PushyPixels
To understand what happened to Star Fox 2 requires some context. In 1993, the same year Star Fox was released for the SNES, Nintendo had announced its plans for their next piece of hardware, then called Project Reality. It was a collaboration with Silicon Graphics, a pioneer in graphics technology. The plan was Project Reality to power arcade games in 1994, before becoming Nintendo's next home console in 1995. Project Reality, was later dubbed Ultra 64 and eventually Nintendo 64, would not ship until 1996. (June in Japan, September in America and March 1997 everywhere else.)
The last beta for Star Fox 2 is stamped June 1995, according to SNES Central, and in various interviews programmer Dylan Cuthbert pegged the game at 95 per cent complete.
"It was the summer of 1995 and the PlayStation and Saturn were suddenly doing very well in Japan," Cuthbert told Nintendo Life. "I think that caught Nintendo off-guard. The decision [to cancel] was made because they didn't want the old-gen 3D going up against the much better 3D of the next generation, side-by-side. The rivalry between Sony and Nintendo was very fresh and strong back then because of the whole SNES CD-ROM affair."
Unlike other cancelled games, Star Fox 2 isn't broken. Nintendo could release it with relative ease, and let people have a glimpse at an alternate history. Neither Cuthbert nor Nintendo sounded hopeful about it appearing in public again, when asked in 2006.
IGN: Do you think we might actually see the original Star Fox 2 on the Virtual Console or the DS itself?
Imamura: Heh, probably not.
Cuthbert: It'd be great if that could happen, but we took the old ideas and made them so much better with Star Fox Command. For the history it'd be great if it did make an appearance.
Many of the ideas that were meant for Star Fox 2 have ended up in future Star Fox games, including the upcoming Star Fox Zero.
But if there's hope for Mother 3, maybe there's hope for Star Fox 2, as well.