Rare's 1990s Battletoads beat-'em-up franchise has become something of an Internet joke these days thanks to the strange characters and crushing difficulty found through every game in the series (we all know the pain of the Turbo Tunnel), but the motley crew of Rash, Zitz, and Pimple almost made a legitimate return to gaming in a new adventure for the Game Boy Advance last decade. When Rare shifted from developing for Nintendo hardware to joining the Microsoft realm, a revived Battletoads title that aimed to reintroduce the property to a new generation began development with the goal of eventually moving the property over to the Xbox. Rareware Central has the brief story and comments from one of the developers.
Half of management suggested to just remake the NES version with fancy graphics, the other half said we can do whatever we want - except that real innovation will have to wait for the Xbox version. I think we agreed on the team that the ultra-hard NES version would be difficult to sell nowadays, and many sections look very dated by now. We looked at all the other Battletoads games and I think we even had the arcade board running. We wanted to keep many of the features that people remembered positively of the games, while trying to focus the gameplay on some consistent mechanics to avoid frustration. I'm personally not very happy about the tiny sprites in the GBA version, because with the small screen size and the thin character you hardly see any detail. No idea if that was the final approved design. Most of the animations and renders were just done to have something moving on screen, and were far from final. Near the end we showed it to a group who were responsible for publishing and marketing, and we were initially told that they liked it but wanted some changes. Then the meeting to tell us about those changes was delayed over and over until we were finally told that the game was cancelled. Most levels were just blocked out with placeholder art and empty enemy locations, so that more of the engine could be implemented.
The Battletoads were obviously hoping to ape the success of their fellow reptile action heroes the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but something about the toads just never quite caught on amongst the masses (perhaps the controller-crushing difficulty level had something to do with it). I can't imagine that a new game starring the characters would work without totally committing itself to the lunacy of the previous titles. I'm not saying that a new Battletoads should be extreme for the sake of being extreme ("X-treme!!!"), but could do well for itself if it were a self-aware parody of excess attitude in the same way that Rare's own Conker tears apart the usual elements of games rated M-for-Mature. This Game Boy Advance title was probably never going to accomplish that, but I could imagine the unmade Xbox sequel hitting the target.
Check out this video of an early prototype of Battletoads in action. While I know it's not fair to judge an unfinished game on its incomplete aspects, I think we can all agree that the world did not miss anything artistically significant when this title was put on the shelf.