Nintendo tends to be a lot more secretive than most other video game companies, especially in terms of discussing games that are very early on in development. For the most part, we don't hear about an upcoming Nintendo game until a fair amount of its development is already underway and has been for some time.
Because of this, there is a lot less information about canceled Nintendo games than there is about games canceled by other companies. In addition, Nintendo is often shy about sharing details like games almost being canceled, as it would seemingly taint those games-- and Nintendo's process in general-- to acknowledge that they maybe weren't coming together for a time. Either way, we've managed to find a list of ten Nintendo games that were canceled but were known to be in development at some point, as well as some that almost got the axe but were ultimately spared and released.
20 Almost Canceled: Conker's Bad Fur Day
After two Banjo games and Donkey Kong 64, developer Rare got to work on its next 3D platformer for Nintendo 64 before deja vu began to set in. Did gamers really want a fourth game for the platform that was basically another lighthearted platform game starring a cuddly animal character? They nearly abandoned the too-similar-feeling game before deciding to reinvent Conker's Bad Fur Day as an M-rated game and turning Conker into a foul-mouthed, skirt-chasing alcoholic to critical acclaim and commercial success.
19 Canceled: Star Fox 2
Unlike the other canceled games on this list, you can actually play this one through legal means as it was eventually given a second chance by Nintendo via the SNES Classic. But at the time, the company wanted to shift focus to the looming Nintendo 64 rather than release another polygon-based SNES game and canceled Star Fox 2-- despite the fact that the game was basically finished already. In fact, a nearly-complete and fairly stable build of the game had leaked shortly after its initial cancellation and had circulated for years.
18 Almost Canceled: Pokémon Red/Blue
The Pokémon franchise has helped Nintendo stay float through more than one rough patch, and it makes one wonder what would've happened if Pokémon had never been made. Well, that alternate future was almost a possibility, as Pokémon Red and Blue were being worked on largely in its developer's free time on less-than-optimal computers that crashed multiple times during development. After the second or third major setback, they almost gave up on their passion project, but kept at it and ended up making history.
17 Canceled: Metroid Dread
While it stings that Metroid Prime 4 doesn't have even an estimated release date and was recently confirmed to needing to be completely started over, we at least know it's still coming. The same can't be said for Metroid Dread, a 2D follow-up to Fusion and Zero Mission that was teased as being in development for the DS. It was eventually canceled with little fanfare, and what we got instead was the divisive Metroid: Other M for Wii. It would be nearly a decade before the release of another 2D Metroid game (Samus Returns for 3DS).
16 Almost Canceled: Earthbound Sequel/Mother 3
Known as Mother 2 in Japan as it was the sequel to Mother for the Famicom, SNES cult classic Earthbound had a sequel in development for the Nintendo 64 that was previewed in multiple magazines and websites. Casually referred to as Earthbound 64, the third Mother game encountered development problems when the developer struggled with how to make the game 3D. They initially abandoned it, but decided to return it to its 2D roots and it was eventually released for the Game Boy Advance (only in Japan, sadly).
15 Canceled: Kid Icarus Wii
Fans spent years clamoring for the return of NES classic Kid Icarus, having to wait all the way until the 3DS to get a new entry in the series. Before that, however, developer Factor 5 (of Rogue Squadron fame) was working on a new Kid Icarus game for the Wii that was to focus primarily on flying-based gameplay. Initially planning to give the game an edgier look, Nintendo wanted them to change the aesthetic to resemble Pitt's cartoony look in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and it seems the whole thing fell apart due to the subsequent dispute over the game's tone.
14 Almost Canceled: Eternal Darkness - Sanity's Requiem
One of the GameCube's best games-- and the best survival horror game in history not called Resident Evil or Silent Hill-- Eternal Darkness had a troubled development cycle to say the least. It originally began life as a Nintendo 64 game, but developer Silicon Knights just couldn't bring it together and the game was shelved for a time before being revived and released as a GameCube title. If there is any game from that era that most deserves an HD remaster-- if not an outright remake-- it is definitely this one!
13 Canceled: The Legend Of Zelda - Mystical Seed Of Courage
As crazy of an idea as it was to simultaneously release two separate-but-connected Zelda games, the Oracle games for Game Boy Color almost had a third prong. Titled Mystical Seed of Courage, the game's characters and time-travel elements were eventually folded into Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages when it was decided that trying to have three games that relate to and affect each other was far too complicated-- not to mention too much of an investment for gamers.
12 Almost Canceled: 1080° Avalanche
Cool Boarders might have belonged exclusively to PlayStation owners, but Nintendo 64 fans had the stellar 1080° Snowboarding to get their powder-shredding fix. A sequel was immediately put into production but was temporarily canceled when it was clear the N64's days were numbered and it would be dead before the game was ready. However, it was brought back for the GameCube-- though it suffered from being in the very large shadow of SSX Tricky.
11 Canceled: Return Of Donkey Kong
Once Super Mario Bros. hit the NES and solidified Mario as Nintendo's new mascot and Super Mario as its signature game series, Donkey Kong was put on the backburner and all but forgotten until Donkey Kong Country revived him years later. However, Nintendo at least intended on giving the big ape another headlining game before that, with the mysterious Return of Donkey Kong for NES teased in Nintendo Power but quietly canceled shortly thereafter.
10 Almost Canceled: Pokémon Stadium
Pokémon Stadium was a dream come true for fans at the time, allowing them to see the iconic creatures in 3D rather than as flat sprites on a tiny screen. With that in mind, it's crazy that the game almost didn't happen. It was originally meant to be released for Nintendo's ill-fated 64DD add-on to the Nintendo 64, which only saw a short life in Japan and wasn't released anywhere else. When the 64DD died, so did Pokémon Stadium...almost. Nintendo decided to scale it down a bit and make it work on a regular ol' N64 cart, saving it from outright cancellation.
9 Canceled: Mario Kart Virtual Boy
Nintendo might not always hit a home run, but the company very rarely strikes out, especially in terms of hardware. But strike out they did-- in spectacular fashion-- with the Virtual Boy, which flopped so hard that it makes the Wii U look good. Naturally, Nintendo initially planned to bring all of its major franchises to the weird little system, including a version of Mario Kart (that, admittedly, could've looked really cool in 3D). But the Virtual Boy just didn't last long enough to warrant them going through with most of their planned games, Mario Kart included.
8 Almost Canceled: Metroid Prime
When it was initially announced that the new Metroid game for GameCube was going to be a first-person shooter, the backlash was deafening. But then people actually got their hands on it, and found that it was not only more of a first-person action/adventure game but that it was an outright masterpiece. However, it was definitely a long, hard road to get to the Metroid Prime we all know and love, and at various points things were looking so bad that Nintendo considering just pulling the plug entirely. Thank the Chozo that they didn't!
7 Canceled: Nintendo Pennant Chase Baseball
Like Star Fox 2, this is another example of Nintendo cancelling a game that was already finished. Fearing that the GameCube wouldn't have a Major League Baseball game for the 2006 season, Nintendo commissioned the creation of Nintendo Pennant Chase Baseball. However, when a last-minute deal with publisher 2K came through that brought the company's MLB 2K6 to the GameCube, Nintendo decided to just cancel their own game rather than have the two baseball games compete with each other and splinter an already-small potential market.
6 Almost Canceled: Star Fox Adventures
Star Fox fans were a little confused when Nintendo released Star Fox Adventures, which felt more like Zelda game than Star Fox. As a result, a lot of people dismissed the admittedly decent game. Perhaps it would've had a better chance under its original name, Dinosaur Planet, a game intended for the Nintendo 64 but was almost canceled after multiple delays meant it wouldn't be out before the N64 was retired. Rather than waste all the time and money already put into it, Nintendo decided not to cancel it but instead retool it as a Star Fox game for GameCube.
5 Canceled: Untitled Kirby 3D Platformer
While Kirby has flirted with 3D backgrounds in a couple of his games, he has never starred in an outright 3D platformer in the style of Super Mario 64. But he almost did, as such a game was announced as being in development for the GameCube. The team tried to make Kirby's various mechanics work within the framework of a fully 3D game, but it just never came together and the project was ultimately canceled. Instead, we got the extremely disappointing Kirby's Air Ride as a consolation prize.
4 Almost Canceled: Project Giant Robot
It has been said that Nintendo never wastes an idea; if they come up with something for a game but don't end up using it, they will file it away and use it when a better opportunity presents itself. Such was the case with the game known as Project Giant Robot, a mech-based action shown off for Wii U but nearly canceled when the Wii U met an early demise. We say "nearly" canceled because, in true Nintendo fashion, they saved the idea and ended up using it as the game that came packaged with the Nintendo Labo Robot Kit.
3 Canceled: Donkey Kong Racing
One of the only companies that has ever been able to make a Mario Kart-style game as good as Nintendo does is Rare. In fact, some even argue that Diddy Kong Racing is better than Mario Kart 64. With that in mind, people were pumped when it was revealed that Rare was going to follow up Diddy with Donkey Kong Racing for the GameCube-- but those hopes were dashed when the Microsoft buyout of Rare meant an end to all in-development projects the company was working on that featured Nintendo characters.
2 Almost Canceled: Fire Emblem Fates
As popular as the Fire Emblem series may be these days, there was a time when it wasn't doing so hot and the entire franchise was very nearly shut down. After several consecutive Fire Emblem games sold poorly, Nintendo was ready to call it quits with the series and told its developer that they could have one more chance to make a FE game that performed well, or all future projects would be canceled. Luckily, the fans stepped up and supported that game (Awakening), and that ensured that the stellar Fire Emblem Fates-- and subsequent FE games-- were saved from the grave.
1 Canceled: Super Mario Spikers
As we mentioned in the introduction, we generally end up learning very little about the games Nintendo cancels (because, again, they like to have the option to use those ideas for future games). However, the company can't always stop the developers working under contract with them from sharing information and assets from canceled Nintendo games, which is what happened when we learned all about canceled Wii volleyball game Super Mario Strikers seven years after the fact. It seems that the game was too edgy for Nintendo's tastes, and the company decided to settle for the watered-down volleyball portion of Mario Sports Mix instead.
Sources: UnSeen64, Hardcore Gaming 101, Gamasutra, Engadget, Polygon, IGN, Kotaku