The 10 Coolest SNES Revelations from the Nintendo Gigaleak

 Hey, did you hear? Luigi’s in Super Mario 64!

Okay, that’s not completely true. Data for making a 3D model of Luigi was found among early data for Mario 64 — he’s still absent from the Nintendo 64 masterpiece we know and love. But, for a while, he was planned for inclusion, and that’s really cool to know!

We learned this through what’s being called the Gigaleak, a treasure trove of Nintendo development material obtained by hackers. This massive data dump includes all kinds of interesting bits for armchair gaming historians and Nintendo fans to sift through, as it contains full and partial source code for games on the Super NES, Nintendo 64, Game Boy, and DS, along with graphical assets, high-res assets for promotion and packaging, and even working development tools used internally by Nintendo and their partners. Most importantly, it’s been a field day for hobbyists looking to find early and unused content for their favorite games.

Luigi’s perhaps the most high-profile find, but there’s a lot of stuff here: an early build of Pokemon Diamond and Pearl with a lot of not-quite-finished monster designs, unused villagers in the original N64 Animal Crossing, monsters and areas that never made it into the finished Ocarina of Time – and more is being uncovered each day. Most of what’s been found  in the Gigaleak is related to the Super NES, though, and many of these incredible historical finds are being overshadowed by Luigi. That’s a shame, because there’s some amazing things here! So, without further ado, I’d like to call your attention to the coolest SNES historical data discoveries from the Gigaleak.

1. Super Mario World Started Off as Super Mario Bros 3.5

As the Super NES’s biggest launch title, a lot was riding on Super Mario World. This was a game with Nintendo’s biggest property attached, tasked with showcasing what made this pricey new console worth investing in while also having to both meet fan expectations and provide new gameplay elements. The end product certainly succeeded, but it if the many, many, many early Super Mario World-related graphics found in the Gigaleak are any indication, this beloved game went through a pretty intense development, with ideas being conceived, then either thrown out or iterated on until the game we all love came to exist in its current form.

(Credit: Chris Covell/Famitsu)

Early screenshots of Super Mario World shown in late 80s game magazines show a visual and game design that looks like an iteration of Mario 3: boring bricks instead of eyeballed flip-blocks, Koopa Troopas that crawl instead of walk, and Mario’s flight-bestowing raccoon tail still sticking around.

(Credit: The Cutting Room Floor, Gaming Alexandria)

But if these graphics are any indication, Super Mario World was even more like Mario 3 when it was first conceived: simpler overworld maps with straight lines connecting stages, enemies that look ripped straight from SMB3 with more vivid colors and shading, and a Mario with almost the exact same animation frames as the previous game.

(Credit: The Cutting Room Floor, Gaming Alexandria)

However, it likely became clear that a “Super Mario 3.5” wasn’t going to be a console-defining killer app. Super Mario World needed to change things up to be a hit.

The graphic files give a lot of clues to the developers’ thought process. We see the raccoon tails and ears get redrawn a bit, only to be later swapped out for a pair of wings, and then finally the familiar SMW cape power-up… with a pilot’s helmet.

Eventually that, too, went the way of the dodo, and Mario soars the skies in his familiar cap. The concept of flying headgear would later become a reality years later in Super Mario 64.

2. Yoshi Used to be Much More of a Dragon

It’s claimed that Yoshi, the bulbous, long-tongued reptilian pal of Mario, is a dinosaur — but is he really? If you’ve played Super Smash Bros, you may have noticed Yoshi’s Final Smash is called “Super Dragon.” Coins in Super Mario World with Yoshi’s face on them are called “Dragon Coins.” And if you play Super Mario World in Japanese, the message Yoshi leaves for you at his house has him referring to himself as Super Dragon Yoshi. Is Yoshi just bragging, or does he actually have some draconic DNA?

Actually… yes!

The idea of Mario riding a dinosaur-like creature has been around since the original Super Mario Bros, and when development on Super Mario World began in earnest, the team found the Super Famicom finally offered the resources to make it a reality.

But as you can see above, he went through some big changes! Many early designs for Yoshi, found among the assets in the Gigaleak, look distinctly different from the creature we know and love today, giving the impression that Yoshi’s original concept was more of a lanky, fire-breathing lizard than a chubby, hungry dino. He even has an animation where Mario conks him on the noggin to make him breathe fire!

There are lots more work-in-progress Super Mario World sprites out there, and many more still being found in the Gigaleak as I write this! If you’re interested, keep checking the Super Mario World pre-release pages on the Mario Wiki and The Cutting Room Floor for more amazing finds.

3. Super Donkey??

A big find in the Gigaleak was something called “Super Donkey.” This appears to be a proof-of-concept that showcases some ideas for a platformer Nintendo staff had at the time. You control a big-nosed explorer with disjointed limbs as dodges obstacles, ground-pounds, and occasionally flies while navigating a set of mazes. It’s weird and fascinating, and — perhaps most notably — it has a graphical style that’s very similar to Yoshi’s Island.

Some folks have speculated that this was a Yoshi’s Island prototype, but is that the case? “Super Donkey” makes me think that Donkey Kong was involved somehow – and, indeed, some related sprites of DK himself have been found in the data – and the ground pound is a very Yoshi thing… but the way the games play is very, very different. It’s likely that the team simply wound up touching up and reusing some graphical assets and gameplay ideas in the later game.

4. Mario and Yoshi Did War Crimes

Among the most high-profile finds of the Gigaleak were several early builds of Yoshi’s Island. There are lots of fascinating things to discover when playing through these builds: Yoshi’s egg-making and throwing mechanics are different, the bottom portion of the screen has a HUD, and Baby Mario doesn’t float in a bubble making an infernal wail when Yoshi gets hit — instead he just crawls around a bit waiting to get picked back up.

In the earliest known build – which, interestingly, is referred to as Super Mario Bros. 5: Yoshi’s Island – we see the usual hallmarks of an unfinished game: wonky object placement, bugged graphical elements, unfinished levels, and lots of placeholder and testing material. World 4’s first level serves as a hub to test all of the work-in-progress mini-games. Many of these made it into the final game with revisions, but a few did not. Particularly: this one.

I get the feeling somebody at Nintendo pulled a colleague aside and said, “Hey, look, it’s a bit messed up to have Yoshi and Mario tag-team carpet-bombing houses. Even if Bandit is a dick.” And so it was never seen again. Until now!

5. Nintendo Considered Another Zelda II-Style Game

A bit of trivia known to the biggest Zelda nerds is that there was a special remake of the original Legend of Zelda for the Super Famicom and broadcast to systems released via a satellite-connected peripheral called the Satellaview. Nintendo history buffs also know that a mockup screenshot of how Zelda II: The Adventure of Link would look on the Super Famicom was distributed to Japanese press to build hype for the then-upcoming machine.

(Credit: Chris Covell/Famitsu)

But, if these leaks are any indication, Nintendo’s plans for Zelda II may have been more than just a mockup: a remake or successor may have been in the cards, either for Satellaview or maybe even just the core system.

Or, perhaps, Link may have been a guest character in another Nintendo title! It’s hard to tell, these sprites definitely have a bit of a Yoshi’s Island vibe to them. One thing’s for sure: They’re rad as hell!

Also, folks are still digging around to find unused assets for both Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening, so we might see more classic Zelda reveals in the future.

6. The SNES Had Its Own Version of DOS

If you owned a PC in the early-to-mid 90s, you certainly remember that lovely DOS prompt screen where you launched all of your favorite Sierra and LucasArts games. Now imagine, for a moment, if DOS could run on a Super NES. How crazy would that be?

Well, it existed! Titled SFXDOS, this specially-made version of DOS allowed the Super NES to interface with floppy disk drives and a keyboard – specifically, keyboards for the Japanese PC-98 standard, where a lot of SNES programming was done. It’s a lot more limited than PC DOS, but it proved very useful to developers building and testing levels — in fact, editors for Yoshi’s Island and Super Mario Kart that use SFX-DOS’s functions were found in the Gigaleak, along with whatever the hell this is. And speaking of Mario Kart

7. Mario Kart Minus Mario

Ah, Super Mario Kart, an eternal favorite. But did you know the earliest prototypes for the game didn’t even have Mario? This factoid was mentioned in an interview, but hackers have found the original graphics used in the proof-of-concept demo mentioned in this interview, featuring a little fella who looks like Mach Rider:

Several builds of Super Mario Kart have been found, too, and they have some very different music from what you’re used to! Take this title screen melody:

It… doesn’t really have that same “oomph,” does it? It fails to convey the goofy racetrack antics that await in the game, which is probably why it was replaced

There are more music examples, several of which you can find over on The Cutting Room Floor. Gameplay-wise, these early builds have substantial differences: the earliest version has no 150cc mode or Rainbow Road, altered track layouts, items that haven’t had effects programmed in yet… and no hopping, meaning no drifting, meaning the game is significantly less fun.

8. Star Fox Might Have Had Human Characters

Star Fox 2 was one of the most notorious cancelled Nintendo games until it finally saw an official release on the Super NES Mini. After seeing the scope of the Gigaleak, it’s easy to see why Nintendo had it lying around: they literally backed up everything they made.

Among the various materials in the Gigaleak are files related to both SNES Star Fox games, including what appears to be a proof-of-concept prototype for the original title. Also among the files are lots of sprite graphics, finished and unfinished, for Star Fox 2. The furry-filled Starfox universe is already jam-packed with various critters, and here you can see numerous concepts for characters: A sheep, a bear, a hippo… and a human woman?

As to why she was cut – who knows? Perhaps a semi-realistic-looking human in this furry universe was just a little too weird. Relatively speaking.

There are also these unused faces for the main Star Fox crew. Insert your own off-color jokes here.

9. Another Super Scope Game Was in the Works

Even though the heyday of light gun peripherals were the 8- and 16-bit eras, there weren’t all that many games made specifically to use them. While the SNES Super Scope got two great gun games in the form of Battle Clash and Metal Combat: Falcon’s Revenge, the overall list of Super Scope-compatible titles is comically anemic. But there could have been more!

We now have graphics for a title called Super Scope 15, a follow-up to the peripheral’s pack-in cartridge, Super Scope 6. Like that game, Super Scope 15 would have likely been a mix of fifteen different mini-games making use of the gun. Some of the sprites found bear striking similarities to the sprites seen in NES zapper gun games like Hogan’s Alley, perhaps indicating that remakes or follow-ups to those games were in the mix. A SNES mouse icon also indicates that support for that peripheral in place of the Super Scope was considered. It could have been a solid addition to the SNES lightgun library, but alas, it was not to be.

10. Some of the Earliest SNES Graphics Ever Produced

It’s weird to think of the SNES as a product of 1980s technology, as it didn’t launch until the early 90s. But when you dig into gaming history a bit, you’ll discover that the prototypes for what would become the Super Famicom/Super NES were unveiled all the way back in late 1988, likely as a response to the PC Engine and Mega Drive beginning to encroach on Nintendo’s Japanese market share. A major selling point for the console was the Mode 7 sprite scaling and rotation effects — things that had only been seen in pricey arcade games up to that point. To demonstrate these effects, Nintendo used a title graphic and work-in-progress visuals from a game they were developing called Dragonfly.

(Credit: Chris Covell)

Dragonfly, much like Super Mario World, changed dramatically over the course of its development, transforming from an action game with mech characters into Pilotwings, a far more relaxed outing where you use various flight implements to attempt various challenges. But as we’ve now learned, Nintendo backed up everything — including many of the graphics from Dragonfly showcased at the Super Famicom’s unveiling.

Are these the earliest development assets for the SNES out there? Quite possibly! It’s also a peek into just how dramatically a game idea can change over development, particularly if the game is intended as a technology showcase.