Nintendo’s Lost IP, Part 8: Advance Placement

Have you ever found yourself asking, “Whatever happened to such-and-such game series?” Or, upon finding a lost classic, “Why did they never release a sequel to this?”

That’s what this series I started a couple months ago is all about. It was originally inspired by the numerous complaints I saw online after E3, lamenting Nintendo’s reliance on its primary IP stable: Mario, Donkey Kong, Zelda and a few other titles, rather than creating new franchises or resurrecting old, forgotten ones.

Nintendo has an awful lot to choose from on its eight-bit and 16-bit consoles if they ever decide to go back to the vault. But there are still quite a few forgotten franchises on much more recent systems! This week, I look at the games Nintendo released for Game Boy Advance that found an audience then, but haven’t garnered any interest in Kyoto now. (Bad Religion reference FTW)

Golden Sun
Introduced: 2001, Golden Sun (Game Boy Advance)
Latest entry: 2010, Golden Sun: Dark Dawn (Nintendo DS)
Three years isn't too terribly long a time, even in the game industry; but perhaps it’s fair to consider this somewhat overlooked franchise “on hiatus” given the lack of noise about it from NCL. The third game in the series was under development just as the second was being released, so if Nintendo and developer Camelot had followed that plan for Dark Dawn, surely a fourth title would be out by now. I suspect Nintendo prefers to devote its RPG energies to Fire Emblem at present, given the superficial similarity between the two franchises, though I would not at all be surprised to see a new GS game announced next year, or to learn of the appearance of Isaac in the new Super Smash Bros. games.

Magical Vacation
Introduced: 2001, Magical Vacation (Game Boy Advance)
Latest entry: 2006, Magical Starsign (Nintendo DS)
Western gamers only got the second title in this series, which apparently sold poorly enough to preclude an Australian release. Both games are fairly typical-looking JRPGs, with an emphasis on local multiplayer and a fairly complex character roster. Such games tend to do well in Japan, and not so much elsewhere. We've probably seen the end of this series, which is too bad because it looks pretty decent.

Napoleon
Introduced: 2001, Napoleon (Game Boy Advance)
Napoleon has the distinction of being one of the very few games released only in Japan and France. It obviously has a certain appeal in the latter, where it was re-titled the more bombastic L’Aigle de Guerre, “The Eagle of War”. As for Japan, it had an... interesting advertising campaign. I’d love to see Nintendo bring us more real-time history-based strategy games like this or the thematically similar L’Empereur, but Civilization kind of has that market cornered. And we've always got the Tecmo Koei Nobunaga and Romance of the Three Kingdoms series to tide us over.

The Legendary Starfy
Introduced: 2002, Densetsu no Stafy (Game Boy Advance)
Latest entry: 2008, Densetsu no Stafy Taiketsu! Dairu Kaizokudan (Nintendo DS)
Brace yourselves: Nintendo created an action platformer based on a completely original IP, with unique water-based physics... and for the most part released it only in Japan. At first glance, the protagonist resembles SEGA’s one-hit Genesis wonder Ristar. But! Starfy (Stafy) is a sea star, not a cosmic star. Five games were produced, with only the fifth seeing a Western release, as The Legendary Starfy. And when that title finally hit North American shores more than a year after its original release, Nintendo considered the rest of the series to be “too Japanese” for Western gamers and suggested future releases or ports would be based on the response to The Legendary Starfy. Five years later, I think we can safely assume Starfy is staying out to sea.

Tomato Adventure
Introduced: 2002, Tomato Adventure (Game Boy Advance)
Not unlike Starfy, this looks to be a very “Japanese” game unsuited to typical Western gamers’ tastes, at least in 2002. I would argue that preferences have changed dramatically over the last decade as the gaming audience has become superbly diverse; doesn't this look like a perfect port for 3DS (or, dare I say, iOS / Android)? But I digress. Tomato Adventure began its life as Gimmick Land, an action-RPG conceptualized by Nintendo and AlphaDream for Game Boy Color. When the GBA arrived, Gimmick Land was retooled and spruced up to become what looks like a charming title. Unique gameplay... check. Original characters and setting... check. Oddball plot (saving the Ketchup Kingdom)... check. What’s the hold-up, Nintendo?

Drill Dozer
Introduced: 2005, Drill Dozer (Game Boy Advance)
I actually had some requests to discuss this game, and it’s easy to see why. Although its title and character art may remind you of the Namco Bandai series Mr. Driller, this is more of a Mega Man-style action platformer with (gasp!) a strong female lead who sets out to retrieve her dead mother’s jewel from a cross-dressing alien! So yeah, it was a little weird. But it was also one of just two GBA games to include a “rumble pack” in the cartridge, perhaps the best example of force feedback in a mobile platform. (This probably didn't catch on because of battery life issues.) The game is gorgeous, clever and fun, but sadly it sold poorly and a cliffhanger ending may never be resolved. I’d love to see this one brought to Wii U if only for the rumble feature, or a 3DS sequel!

There are two more entries to go in this series, continuing next week with the truly odd collection of Nintendo one-offs from its most successful video game system!