Back when Retro Studios was riding high on the success of the Metroid Prime trilogy, not many expected them to jump off of the space bounty hunter's ship and into the jungle in Donkey Kong Country Returns. This fantastic platformer rebooted the Donkey Kong Country series from the SNES with beautiful visuals, tight platforming, and funky music, and it's no surprise a sequel followed suit. But fans were looking for a different game from Retro Studios at the time — a Zelda game.
In an interview on the Kiwi Talkz podcast on YouTube, Eric Kozlowsky — who worked as an artist on Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze during his time at Retro Studios — spoke of how the team dealt with the rumour mill while working on the upcoming sequel.
Kozlowsky had previously worked on Brütal Legend and Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, so his varied back catalogue, and experience in working on adventure games, lead many to believe that Retro would be working on a brand new Zelda game. Kozlowsky jumped between a few studios in the run-up to his tenure at Retro and talked about how this affected people's expectations and how he had to adapt.
That was the funny thing about when I joined Retro and everyone was looking at my portfolio and like "oh my god, he's worked on Uncharted, that must mean Retro is working on a Zelda game" and I'm like, no I'm just a versatile artist. I could do realistic stuff, I could do cartoony stuff. I'm adaptable and I think to have longevity in this industry you need to be adaptable.
When asked if he and the other Retro developers went online and looked at these rumours, Kozlowsky admitted amusingly that they did indeed and that they laughed about it, but that it could also be frustrating because it created "false expectations".
I think that happened when we announced Tropical Freeze, you know, everyone was like "oh they've been working on a Zelda game, they're working on a Zelda game" it's like... nope. And we announced Tropical Freeze and it looks phenomenal and it's gorgeous looking and then people are like "oh but it's another Donkey Kong" and then, you know, people are s***ing on it on NeoGAF or whatever, and you're like "oh man".
So while the devs were able to laugh about the rumours, Kozlowsky did feel that it was "frustrating when it [rumours] kind of carries on for a bit too long", which is understandable, because Tropical Freeze turned out to be a marvellous game.
There is reason, however, to believe that Retro Studios was working on a Zelda title, though this was before Kozlowsky's tenure at the company and during the Wii era. Concept art from the cancelled project made it out to the public last year in a huge leak.
You can listen to the whole interview with Eric Kozlowsky on Kiwi Talkz's podcast below.