My assumption is at least one major project was canned. My hope is that one title has been or is about to be completed (probably Star Fox GP, given how many sources corroborated the existence of that game).
Given Retro last finished a major project in late 2013, I'd assume they then spent some time prototyping and pitching different projects to Nintendo - but that it took several months before any new project actually entered production. I would assume this was intended as a 2016/2017 release but that development didn't go as planned. At least some of this we can put down to Wii U's fate - I'd guess that, given the NX announcement in early 2015 and the dearth of Wii U software in 2016, that Nintendo were already beginning to move projects away from Wii U and onto Switch from the second half of 2014 onwards. My assumption is that Retro's post Tropical Freeze game was one such project and that the need to shift onto Switch complicated development further. It's entirely possible that this project was simply canned last year or in late 2017. However, we have to consider whether this game was the much-rumoured Star Fox Grand Prix or something else entirely.
Kotaku reported hearing that a major Retro Studios game had encountered development difficulties and was facing cancellation, but they weren't sure whether it was Star Fox GP or a different game. Given Platinum and Nintendo had released Star Fox Zero in 2016, I find it difficult to believe Nintendo would greenlight two Star Fox projects in 2014, especially given both projects would have been Wii U titles - which, importantly, is when the prototype of Zero was revealed and the year Retro would have started a new game. Therefore I'd have to say that, logically, Retro's first project after Tropical Freeze released cannot have been the rumoured Star Fox Grand Prix. Now it's possible that Retro only ever had one game in development, but we also know that Miyamoto stated in September 2013 (as work on Tropical Freeze was coming to an end) that Retro Studios were big enough to handle multiple games at a time.
It's also in 2014 that rumours surrounding Retro Studios' next game began to circulate, including reports that Retro, alongside Monster Games, were working on a long-planned sequel to Diddy Kong Racing. Monster Games had previously helped Retro with Tropical Freeze, ported Returns to 3DS, had a track record of producing racing games on Wii (ExciteTrucks, ExciteBots and ExciteBike World Rally) and Retro had obviously brought DK back into the limelight with the success of Returns. Now none of these rumours were ever verified, but the assumption was that Retro were co-developing DK Racing 2 alongside making their own project. Obviously, if Diddy Kong Racing 2 was ever real, it never happened. From 2016 onwards, Monster Games have released a NASCAR game each year, suggesting they no longer work with Nintendo after having ported Xenoblade Chronicles to New 3DS in 2015. But, crucially, this rumour plants Retro as having some form for racing games (after giving minor support to EAD for Mario Kart 7) and as working on two projects simultaneously.
Nintendo don't scrap projects and never return to those ideas. The first attempts at a Diddy Kong Racing sequel were supposedly converted into ideas for Monster Games' ExciteBots. Similarly, the project that became Star Fox Zero was based on prototypes of an abandoned Wii version of Star Fox that were being tested back in 2008, and, Project Giant Robot, as revealed alongside Star Fox Zero, became a Labo game - so while games may become unrecognisable or take years to surface in a new form, Nintendo don't always trash everything and move on. It's interesting that the Star Fox GP leaks and rumours came about at a time when a number of different Nintendo leaks (Smash being the big 2018 title with all fighters returning, Pokemon Let's Go being a revamped Pokemon Yellow, NSMBU DX being planned for Switch) were circulating. Clearly, some journalists have accurate sources inside Nintendo. Switch itself was leaked very accurately in mid 2016, months before the reveal. Star Fox Grand Prix's existence was claimed as real by a broad swathe of videogames journalists and websites - which isn't always the case with leaks which later turn out to be true.
I'm inclined to believe that, at some point, even as recently as 2018, Retro Studios were indeed making a racing game using the Star Fox IP. After this though, my reasoning becomes even more speculative, based as it is on unconfirmed hearsay - though I am trying to back it up with verified comments and known practices at Nintendo.
If, in 2014/15 Retro were co-developing a sequel for Diddy Kong Racing, it's also possible that not all of that work went to waste. I'd wager that DKR 2 was put on hold following the seeming end of Nintendo's relationship with Monster Games and Retro themselves then concentrated on whatever other project they'd been developing. Personally, I don't think this project ended well. We've gone years without Retro announcing a new game and I think that's a result of their major 2014 project (not their potential role as co-developer of DKR2) being scrapped - either in late 2017 or in early 2018 at the latest. Development must have been difficult given Nintendo and Retro never announced anything - and I'd also guess that once the game was canned, Nintendo put at least some of Retro's staff to work on the Tropical Freeze port, which inclines me towards a 2017 cancellation.
However, in mid-2017 Metroid Prime 4 was announced and Retro were not the developer. If their ongoing projects had encountered difficulties, why weren't they given Metroid Prime 4? Miyamoto himself said Retro Studios would be "a very high priority" as Nintendo's choice for a new Metroid game. Given those public comments, I would guess that Retro Studios were still mostly occupied in 2017 when Prime 4 first entered development and hence couldn't take on another project. With this in mind, I would assume that by mid 2017, Star Fox GP had become Retro's focus and that some of their staff were now occupied preparing a Tropical Freeze port for Switch. As we know, scrapped projects take on new forms of life for Nintendo - so the previous work done to build a DKR sequel may well have been converted into a Star Fox racing game. This way, Retro weren't beginning again from scratch - they were building on some work they themselves had previously been involved with - perhaps an existing engine and ideas, such as a story campaign and hub world, were lifted from the aborted DKR sequel. There is, of course, a major wrinkle here. If Nintendo wanted Retro to port Tropical Freeze, and had long desired a Diddy Kong racing game, and were pleased with Retro's work with Donkey Kong - why Star Fox? Let's not forget that Retro themselves wanted to make a second Donkey Kong game after Returns, too. Why jump away from Donkey Kong and onto Star Fox?
It's here that Miyamoto again comes to mind. Last year, when Tropical Freeze came to Switch, further information about Miyamoto's role in the DKC reboots became clear. Miyamoto famously offered key ideas and advice to Retro on their first, difficult project with Nintendo - Metroid Prime. Miyamoto also gave Retro advice during the production of both Country Returns and Tropical Freeze; Miyamoto considers Donkey Kong, as one of his earliest characters, his "baby" and placed a lot of trust in Retro to get things right. Similarly, Retro staff seem to have an affectionate bond with Miyamoto - he's known at Retro Studios as 'Master Yoda'; effectively many Retro staff see him as their guide and mentor. And this is why I can see Star Fox GP having been real at some point recently, even if it never comes to light. Miyamoto trusts Retro with his most beloved characters and it's no secret the Star Fox characters are similarly loved by Miyamoto - even if we can argue his attempts to steer the franchise (like Zero and Adventures) have been misguided at times. Unlike some of Miyamoto's other creations (F Zero, for example), Miyamoto has repeatedly attempted to bring Star Fox back to prominence. If Retro needed a major new project in 2017, and they had racing game ideas to draw from, Miyamoto may very well have offered them Star Fox, so that Retro could get a third shot at redeeming one of Nintendo's cherished properties.
Either way, following Zero's commercial and critical failure in 2016, Star Fox was another Nintendo franchise in need of a rescue - just as Metroid had been following Nintendo's inability to produce a new game during the N64 era - and just as Donkey Kong had been following the commercial failure of several GameCube Donkey Konga games. Just as Metroid Prime 4 seems to be following the failure of Nintendo's 'talented new development team'. At each of these junctures, Nintendo have seemingly turned to Retro to find a way forward.
In sum, my hope is that Star Fox Grand Prix is actually real - because the existence of that game, especially as a good 2019 release, may well vindicate Nintendo's decision to hand Prime 4 over to Retro Studios. It's safe to assume that at least one game has been canned at Retro, but I would hope that in this period they will also have brought a game to fruition:
- 2014 to 2017 would be the unnamed, now cancelled game as their major project, with co-development on DKR 2 occuring in 2014/15 as their minor project
- 2017 to 18 would have Star Fox as their major project and Tropical Freeze Switch as their minor project
- 2019 onwards would have Metroid Prime 4 as their major project and finishing Star Fox as their minor project
Metroid Prime 4's development reboot is a high profile move from Nintendo and they've made no secret of how troubled the project was. Even the admission of a wholesale restart suggests the game was in a terrible state. For a company who, above all else, needs to protect the quality and reputation of their intellectual property to ensure long-term security and prosperity, it's a big admission. It is, for me, an implicit statement of faith that Retro have the ability to make this game and will have the time, resources and trust to complete Metroid Prime 4. After all, Metroid is not yet a franchise on secure footing - Other M and Federation Force were in danger of burying the franchise and Samus Returns, while fairly well received, did not break the million mark on 3DS. There are further rumours that Nintendo is quite serious about reviving Metroid's reputation, with a Prime Trilogy remaster and a new 2D entry supposedly in the works.
Nintendo may be turning to Retro again because they're pleased with how Star Fox is turning out or has turned out. There are a lot of pieces that would fit with what I'm suggesting; Retro's long development silence suggests at least one game was canned; they were rumoured to be involved with a racing game in 2014/15 and again in 2018; Miyamoto has publicly suggested Retro could handle multiple projects at a time; Miyamoto has a positive relationship with the studio and trusts them with cherished franchises, even characters of his own creation; Nintendo have turned to Retro to 'revive' or 'rescue' troubled franchises and projects three times during their partnership (Metroid at the outset, Donkey Kong in the Wii era, Metroid Prime 4 today).
A lot of this rests on whether or not Star Fox GP (or another Retro project) surfaces soon. I'd say it would have to be announced this year - because otherwise, the only scenario we have left is that Retro haven't successfully finished a project for five years. Then, Nintendo's decision to hand Metroid Prime 4 to Retro Studios becomes something of a hail Mary - both for Metroid and for Retro Studios themselves. If Star Fox GP actually exists and is coming soon, then I'd say Nintendo's decision to return Prime 4 to Retro makes sense.
(I did not realise how long this would be - I'll add hyperlinks to show where I've got these rumours and bits of information from - have added some hyperlinks, but do remember this is mostly cobbled together from rumour and interviews rather than concrete knowledge)
Last edited by Asriel - on 26 January 2019