Video games are an iterative, rather than static, medium, with studios building not only on available technology but tinkering with design and play styles during each title’s development cycle. This can be said of the most expensive triple-A game or a much smaller indie title. Some games switch genres mid-development—according to Game Informer, Rocksteady’s incredibly successful Batman: Arkham Asylum was originally conceived as a rhythm-based combat game, less non-lethal Metal Gear Solid and more of a dark and twisted Guitar Hero.
More intriguing are a few well known titles that began their lives as completely different games. We’re not just talking about massive changes in gameplay, here, but totally different titles intended for an existing or burgeoning franchise. The following games were repurposed during development, often undergoing massive changes in story, characters and aesthetic in the process.
Silent Hill 4: The Room
Konami’s deeply unsettling Silent Hill series has always been unconventional, even as far as horror games go. While the games utilized the gore and gun mechanics popularized by Capcom’s Resident Evil franchise, they relied far more on disquieting atmosphere and implication than jump scares, and contained both psychological and sexual content. But even die hard Silent Hill fans were thrown for a loop by the fourth entry in the franchise, subtitled The Room. Focusing on Henry Townshend, a quiet tenant of an apartment block in the fictional town of Ashfield, Silent Hill 4 spends a great deal of time outside the series’ eponymous setting, alternating between the protagonist’s apartment and a variety of alternate dimensions haunted by the victims of serial killer Walter Sullivan.
Even for a Silent Hill game, this was strange. Although Silent Hill 2 had ditched the first game’s cast in order to explore new storylines and themes, The Room effectively did away with the actual town of the franchise’s namesake save for backstory. It also placed greater emphasis on action than its predecessors, which balanced minimal combat with at-times very complicated puzzles. This dissonance makes sense, considering it was conceived as a new, separate project for Silent Hill studio Team Silent. According to a Eurogamer interview with The Room’s project leads Akira Yamaoka and Masashi Tsuboyama, the game was tentatively titled Room 302, with the latter confirming rumours that the game was slotted into the existing Silent Hill franchise to make it more commercially viable.
While not considered the best in the series—the Metacritic scores for the PS2 and Xbox versions are tied at 76 out of 100—publications like GameSpot, Eurogamer and GameSpy praised Silent Hill 4: The Room’s storyline, and IGN found the characters more sympathetic than in the previous games.
Devil May Cry and Resident Evil 4
Capcom’s half-angelic, half-demonic antihero is one of the most recognizable video game characters to come out of the 2000s. Sporting a massive sword and a pair of handguns—named “Ebony” and “Ivory”—Dante is synonymous with the Devil May Cry series, appearing not just in the original four games but the 2013 reboot DmC: Devil May Cry, which overhauled his appearance and gave him a new backstory as well as new demons to battle. But while the first game was both a breakout hit and a turning point in action-adventure games, it was first conceived as the next entry in one of Capcom’s other famous franchises, Resident Evil.
Resident Evil 4 is a landmark entry in the series, with GameRankings listing it as the most critically acclaimed RE and overall horror game of all time. More importantly, it completely revamped the basic mechanics of the entire series. Previously, Resident Evil games had utilized static camera angles and largely pre-rendered backgrounds, emphasized ammo conservation, and were essentially violent and scary adventure games. Resident Evil 4, on the other hand, rendered everything in the game’s engine and opted for an over-the-shoulder look—popularizing the angle for future third-person shooters.
Along the way, however, the game went through multiple stages of development, showcased in a couple of trailers. One had a somewhat steampunk aesthetic and would have seen hero Leon S. Kennedy do battle with a gaseous, possessive viral cloud. Another depicted him going toe-to-toe with a hook-wielding, somewhat ghostly pursuer in what seemed to be a genuinely haunted mansion. Devil May Cry was borne out of RE4’s very first stage of development, which former Capcom designer Hideki Kiyama said would have focused on a superhuman man named Tony, whose powers came courtesy of “biotechnology.” With this concept came the dynamic camera angles that would become staples of the Devil May Cry series, as well as its Gothic look.
In time, Resident Evil series creator and director Shinji Mikami felt that the new game was too different from its predecessors, and suggested that the team should make it their own. Devil May Cry was released in 2001, and Resident Evil 4 came four years later.
Super Mario Bros. 2
Veteran gamers and Nintendo fans in general will likely recognize the picture above and to the right. It’s a screenshot of Super Mario Bros. 2, a classic Nintendo Entertainment System game that allowed players to switch not only between Mario and Luigi but Princess Peach and Toad as well. But in both style and story, Super Mario Bros. 2 stuck out from the previous game, with none of the familiar Goombas and Koopas reappearing from Super Mario Bros. and Bowser nowhere to be seen. Furthermore, the gameplay mechanics had been heavily altered; instead of jumping on enemies’ heads to incapacitate them, you clobbered them with vegetables pulled out of the ground (Subcon, the game’s setting, was apparently quite fertile).
If it seems that Nintendo made a lot of weird/adventurous design choices in making the sequel to their breakout home console game, that’s only half-true. Everything—environments, mechanics, enemies, textures—save for the Mario Bros., their Mushroom Kingdom accompaniment, and some items were taken almost completely wholesale from Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic (seen above and to the left), which focuses on a vaguely Arabian family’s escapades in a world full of magic lamps and magic carpets. This means that some of Mario’s most iconic enemies—Shy Guys and Birdo, specifically—were intended for something entirely different.
But this was only true on one side of the Pacific. Japanese Nintendo fans played their own Super Mario Bros 2, known today as Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels, which resembled and played like the first game. A much tougher game than SMB1, it was originally not brought Stateside because Nintendo of America worried it would be too difficult for its growing market, according to IGN. Thus, Doki Doki Panic was altered to become Super Mario Bros 2, which became known as Super Mario U.S.A. in Japan. Both games were eventually given a visual overhaul and ported to the Super Nintendo as part of Super Mario All-Stars.