The most-delayed video game ever is finally out — Kien releases after 22 years for Game Boy Advance

Kien, new Game Boy Advance release in 2024
(Image credit: Incube8 Games)

Kien, a video game programmed for the Game Boy Advance, has finally been released 22 years after production began. The game, which now holds the title of the most-delayed video game ever, is available now for the GBA. The record is seized from the iconic Duke Nukem Forever, a game whose development struggles are more legendary than the game itself. 

Kien began development in Italy in 2002 comprised of a five-member team with no video game experience. In an attempt to become the first Italian developers to publish for the Game Boy Advance, lead game designer Lucio Belsanti and his cadre started work on Kien, an action platformer with deep difficulty and even deeper lore. When asked about what inspired Kien, Belsanti credits the gameplay of Castlevania, the fun of 90's beat-em-ups, and the themes of Chinese mythology. Don't let the fun graphics and Game Boy Advance release fool you; Kien is as tough as they come, nicknamed a "pre-Souls-like" by its developers today. 

Kien Nintendo Game Boy Advance Handheld Gameplay - YouTube Kien Nintendo Game Boy Advance Handheld Gameplay - YouTube
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A releasable version of Kien was locked only two years later, in 2004, but Kien ran up against a foe greater than any ghost or goblin: capitalism. The makers of Kien met with three publishers to help sell Kien, but faced disappointment. Game Boy Advance games cost as much as $15 per cartridge to produce, and prevailing wisdom claimed that new, non-Nintendo IP would not sell well, so Kien was never given a chance. Making matters worse for the young developers was a pair of 60% reviews by Nintendo Power and PocketGames, with the higher difficulty in gameplay drawing criticism. This was the early 2000s, with the dark reign of easy mode still in full swing. The milquetoast reviews sealed the deal for any future publishing discussions, and Kien was indefinitely shelved.

The five friends went on to continue in their professional careers, with Belsanti remaining a game developer. He moved on to establish AgeOfGames, an indie studio specializing in educational games. But many years later, Kien was miraculously revived. Thanks to the Game Boy Advance becoming old enough to be the target of nostalgia for Millennials and Zoomers alike, new studios and developers are meeting a growing desire for GBA games on cartridges. Belsanti eventually connected with Incube8 Games, one such "retro" publisher, and Kien is finally available on a real Game Boy Advance cartridge, just as intended 22 years ago. 

Many game developers would have moved on from their first failed project after the first decade. Belsanti was originally convinced he would leave Kien as well, considering it a nice stepping stone in his friends' professional growth, a "successful failure." But deep down, Kien meant more to him than that. "The lessons were many, but the main one was that the will is an indispensable key."

Belsanti was asked by Incube8 what sets Kien apart, now and 22 years ago. "I believe that the uniqueness of Kien lies in the harmony of opposites, which represents the foundation of its creation," he shared. "The aesthetic is cartoonish, the narration rather simple and linear, but the contents within the setting and in the narrative engine, even when not clearly visible, are very complex and archetypal." 

Kien can be bought today for the Game Boy Advance at Incube8 Games for $60. You could buy the digital version for a scant $10 but would miss out on the cartridge, box, physical instruction booklet, and a cute sticker set. Modern-day reviews for the game have yet to be released, but coming into a post-Dark Souls world, Kien may receive kinder reviews now than it did in 2003. Kien fans will also be excited about the spiritual successor to Kien, Astral Equilibrium, which will be coming soon to Kickstarter.

Dallin Grimm
Contributing Writer

Dallin Grimm is a contributing writer for Tom's Hardware. He has been building and breaking computers since 2017, serving as the resident youngster at Tom's. From APUs to RGB, Dallin has a handle on all the latest tech news. 

  • bit_user
    I don't understand why they didn't just release it on phones. Was it that difficult to port? Even then, it seems like there should've been some porting tools & libraries, not to mention full-blown emulators, as phone got fast enough. Heck, GBA was even ARM-based, so any assembly language they wrote for it wouldn't have had to be rewritten.
    Reply
  • FoxtrotMichael-1
    bit_user said:
    I don't understand why they didn't just release it on phones. Was it that difficult to port? Even then, it seems like there should've been some porting tools & libraries, not to mention full-blown emulators, as phone got fast enough. Heck, GBA was even ARM-based, so any assembly language they wrote for it wouldn't have had to be rewritten.
    By releasing it for the GBA, you can still play it on just about every platform in the world (including the web browser) via emulation. In addition, many of us have functional GBAs, DSLs, or Game Boy Macros that we can play the original title on. This really was the way to get to the widest audience in my opinion.
    Reply
  • brandonjclark
    Is it just me, or does that look REALLY good for a GBA game?
    Reply
  • bit_user
    FoxtrotMichael-1 said:
    By releasing it for the GBA, you can still play it on just about every platform in the world (including the web browser) via emulation. In addition, many of us have functional GBAs, DSLs, or Game Boy Macros that we can play the original title on. This really was the way to get to the widest audience in my opinion.
    I get that. What I don't get is why they had to sit on it for 22 years! During that time, the whole "gaming on phones" phenomenon blew up. So, why didn't they just port it to one of the popular phone platforms of the day, instead of just continuing to sit on it?
    Reply
  • drtweak
    And here I was hoping it was HL3, but I'll be on my death bed before that games comes out haha
    Reply
  • TerryLaze
    brandonjclark said:
    Is it just me, or does that look REALLY good for a GBA game?
    Nah, pretty nice but not really special.
    Now this on the other hand...
    _GVSLcqGP7gView: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_GVSLcqGP7g
    Reply