"While I was at Vitei wrapping up work on Tank Troopers as a gameplay programmer, I wanted to start my own project to pitch to Nintendo for a follow-up contract," explains Heckel. "As I'd been studying NES programming as a hobby for some time, I suggested the idea for a NES version of Splatoon to my former boss, Vitei CEO Giles Goddard."
Work progressed swiftly, with the prototype getting to the stage where it was possible to run, jump, shoot and transform, and "rudimentary" collision detection was implemented. Even the audio side of things began to develop. "Mark Sparling's MMC5 cover of 'Splattack!' [which you can listen to below] plays in the background through the Famitracker driver," says Heckel. "This all runs on real hardware using dev carts I had made from repurposed copies of Sangokushi II for the Famicom."
Heckel also enlisted the help of Pirate Pop Plus developer Dadako's Hawken King to create the visuals. The aim from the start wasn't just to create a cool "demake" of Splatoon, but to somehow get it into the hands of players. "While actual cartridges would've been really cool, that was always the longest shot," he says. "Short of that, I was hoping to have it packaged with Splatoon 2 like Star Fox Guard was packaged with Star Fox Zero, used as a mini-game like the retro-themed diversions in Splatoon 1, sold on the Virtual Console, or included in a hypothetical 2nd version of the NES Classic Edition."
Naturally, a project of this kind would need Nintendo's official blessing, but sadly it wasn't meant to be. Heckel thinks the project was simply the victim of bad timing. "In terms of presenting to Nintendo, I put together a set of slides outlining the progress on the demo, possible scope of the game, a development timeline, and sales avenues. I sent this to a member of the Splatoon team I was able to reach. Unfortunately, it didn't work out. While I can't speak for Nintendo, the pitch was sent after Splatoon 2 had been announced for the summer this year. Not having any visibility into unannounced projects, my guess had been that a sequel wouldn't be out until the summer of 2018, and a NES version could be paired with it in some form. Instead, I caught them when they were probably very busy finishing the game."
However, it might not be the end for this interesting venture, and Heckel says he's open to continuing development - albeit with different visuals - assuming a publisher is willing to back him. "While I can't use the Splatoon IP without a development contract with Nintendo, it'd be possible to repurpose it as a different title entirely. Continued development in full would depend on a publisher expressing interest." If there are any publishers reading this who can help, but sure to get in touch - or, if you're at Nintendo and you can make this happen, it's time to do the right thing.