Lost media is an interesting phenomenon. When a game goes unreleased, it’s always hard to say what will happen to whatever was made of it. Sometimes it’s saved away to be rediscovered one day, and sometimes it’s lost forever. Rare is one studio that’s cancelled a fair few projects over the years, so there’s lots of opportunity for lost media. In fact, just this month, a crucial piece of gaming history came to light. Rare fans discovered that a collector in Sweden had a near-finished copy of Dinosaur Planet, the original Rare IP that went on to become Star Fox Adventures with Nintendo’s help.
Some fans of Star Fox might not even realize Dinosaur Planet ever existed. The truth is that Star Fox Adventures completely overrode Rare’s plans for an original title for the Nintendo 64. In the original Dinosaur Planet, there was no spacefaring to be found. Instead, the main protagonists Sabre and Krystal were the heroes adventuring on the titular planet. Using a mechanic called the SwapStone, players could switch control of Sabre and Krystal when they so chose. In the place of sci-fi, there was fantasy; Sabre’s father was a wizard named Randorn. Dinosaur Planet made it deep into development before Nintendo encouraged Rare to rearrange the title into a Star Fox game.
Dinosaur Planet had something very important in common with Star Fox: its characters were anthropomorphic animals. Sabre was male and particularly fox-like. At the time of Dinosaur Planet‘s development, Nintendo owned a major share of Rare, who worked as a second-party developer for Nintendo. Naturally, that meant Nintendo would sometimes take a look at Rare’s projects. Former Rare developers say that Shigeru Miyamoto saw Dinosaur Planet‘s characters and thought that they looked a lot like Star Fox characters. Thus, the idea was posed to rebrand Dinosaur Planet as a Star Fox game.
The team behind Dinosaur Planet was reportedly pretty conflicted. Rare was proud of its original setting, and a ton of work had already been put into the game. As the leaked version of the game makes clear, Dinosaur Planet was nearly ready for an N64 release when Star Fox got involved. However, the developers realized that the Star Fox name would be great for branding, and acquiesced to Nintendo’s idea. Although Krystal stayed in the game and remains a canonical Star Fox character, Sabre was replaced with Fox McCloud. The game’s plot and setting were heavily rewritten to fit Star Fox lore, and Arwing segments were added to channel the traditional gameplay of the Star Fox franchise.
Many of the same principles used to make Dinosaur Planet were used to convert the game into Star Fox Adventures. It still took a lot of inspiration from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, which was still a pretty fresh success on the N64, but tried to bring those ideas to the GameCube. Lots of echoes of Dinosaur Planet still remained in Star Fox Adventures when all was said and done. Fox’s dinosaur companion Tricky was in Dinosaur Planet and survived the transition. However, other characters like Randorn naturally disappeared, made obsolete by the Star Fox storyline.
Unfortunately for Rare and Nintendo, the result wasn’t quite what they were hoping for. Star Fox Adventures received praise for its graphics and for updating the designs of Star Fox characters for the GameCube era. However, critics and fans generally agreed that it wasn’t quite a Star Fox game. Its adventure elements felt too much like Zelda, and the spacefaring elements were too sparing to really capture the kind of gameplay that made Star Fox famous. Star Fox Adventures and Dinosaur Planet may not have a perfect legacy, but they’re definitely important and interesting to think about. Dinosaur Planet‘s fate is a great case study for the effects parent companies can have on games and what happens when developers have to rewrite a game just when they thought it was done.