New details about the Sheik game once in development at Retro Studios have been revealed. The Zelda spin-off was reportedly in various stages of early development for three years, but one developer described the simplistic gameplay as “an experiment gone wrong,” leading to its cancellation.
First properly revealed through concept art in 2020, the game itself has remained something of a mystery since, but DidYouKnowGaming has published a new report that seemingly contains a number of details about the canned game, codenamed both ‘Project X’ and ‘Sheik’.
Early concept art shows that Retro was toying with some unusual ideas, from introducing new races based on Axolotls and clockwork automata, and the storyline would reportedly have seen the Sheik of Ocarina of Time’s dark timeline taking part in the events that led to the creation of the Master Sword.
The game itself, sadly, sounded less ambitious than its set-up. An anonymous source familiar with the project said that the gameplay style could never have been “called a ‘traditional Zelda.'” Ex-Retro programmer Paul Tozour added:
“I see people, you know, commenting on that concept art on the internet… and being like, ‘Oh my god, Retro was working on a Zelda game, that would have been so awesome,’ and like, I understand that feeling, but what they have to understand is it was not actually a Zelda game. At no point was it really anything like Zelda – it was an experiment gone wrong that happened to be set in the Zelda universe.”
Tozour says the prototype gameplay saw Sheik travelling across an overworld, before being placed in battles against groups of wolves that could be described as “a simplified version of Whack-A-Mole” using the Wiimote.
“There were four or five wolves, maybe six, and they just be in their idle state waiting to pounce at you, then they’d jump one-by one and you’d go ‘whack.’ So that’s literally all it was, just detecting when the player swung the Wii Remote. If so, the wolf dies, and if you don’t do it correctly, you take damage.”
Tozour says he and others raised concerns about the simplicity of the gameplay, but were rebuffed by Retro leadership. It isn’t clear if Nintendo was ever presented with the concept, or if the game was cancelled before it was shown to the publisher. DidYouKnowGaming’s anonymous source suggested the cancellation may also have come down to the fact that some of its senior figures, Mark Pacini and Todd Keller, left Retro to form Armature Studio. Whatever the reasoning, the Sheik project was formally cancelled in April 2008.
DidYouKnowGaming’s report includes more detail, including multiple pieces of art from the game, and is very much worth checking out if you’re intrigued.