Scalebound is no more. Platinum's Xbox exclusive has been canceled by Microsoft, killing the dream of a Devil May Cry–meets–Last Guardian mashup. What a shame. I saw the game behind closed doors on two separate occasions and was left positively smitten with the concept. It centered on Drew, an arrogant, headphone-loving twenty-something lost in a world filled with dragons. With Thuban, an eventual friend and fire-breathing combat partner, he would scour floating islands and decimate mythical enemies large and small. Throughout the game you would control them both, slashing as Drew and throwing out commands to Thuban.
PlatinumGames is an expert in stylish, over-the-top combat, winning critical acclaim with Bayonetta, Vanquish and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Scalebound was something new, a chance to prove it could blend ridiculous action with an open-world setting and RPG mechanics.
The second time I saw Scalebound, director Hideki Kamiya focused entirely on dragon customization. By collecting gems and other fantasy currencies, you would fine-tune Thuban's build and armor. Want an agile, flying type that can pick off enemies from above? No problem. A slow, lumbering creature that can take a few hits while you launch magic from behind? Go nuts.
Scalebound's cancellation suggests that the game was too ambitious for Platinum. Reports by Kotaku and Eurogamer describe a project "stuck in development hell," behind schedule and struggling to run on the team's chosen engine. The pressure was so intense that several senior members were forced to take a month off, according to Eurogamer, which only made it more difficult to keep up with deadlines. In a statement, Microsoft merely said that the decision was made "after careful deliberation."
All of this reflects poorly on Platinum. Since 2014, when the excellent Bayonetta 2 was released on Wii U, the company has put out a string of mediocre games. The Legend of Korra, Transformers: Devastation and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan were all decent, but far from extraordinary, budget titles. All three have sullied its reputation. The work it did on Star Fox Zero, a disappointing shooter by anyone's standards, did not help the situation. Platinum needs a game to prove it's still a top-tier developer when given the time and money. Scalebound, clearly, was supposed to fill that role.
Thankfully, the company has another game in the works: Nier: Automata. The dystopian brawler could well be a sleeper hit, combining fast, combo-heavy combat with a bleak, mech-centric universe. A successor to Nier, the Drakengard spin-off from 2010, it feels unashamedly Platinum. Quick hack-and-slack encounters are punctuated by huge, multi-layered boss battles. The main character, 2B, is a cold but quippy android that dispatches enemies with enormous swords and a tiny robot companion. An early demo received glowing reviews from the press and fans alike. The final game, if successful, would help restore public faith in the studio.
But it won't bring back Scalebound. The dragon romp is gone forever, another vision swallowed up by the brutal realities of triple-A video game development. Platinum isn't the first studio, nor will it be the last, to abandon a project deep into its development cycle. Cancellations can also lead to better games; Blizzard created Overwatch, for instance, from the ashes of a secret and eventually discarded MMORPG. Even so, I'll miss Scalebound. The concept was fresh and unapologetically Japanese, a rare thing among Xbox exclusives. For now, I'll have to get my dragon fix elsewhere.