It’s hard to believe that Earthbound (a.k.a. Mother 2 in Japan) was originally released in 1995. That’s 18 years ago!!! For one reason or another Nintendo has refused to give North American and European fans any of the Mother games since. We missed out on the excellent Mother 1&2 compilation for the GBA even though both games have official Nintendo of America translations. Naturally because we didn’t get that one, we also missed Mother 3 (also for the GBA). So I always thought we would never again see this series outside Japan. Imagine my surprise when, at E3 2013 Nintendo announced that Earthbound would indeed be hitting the Wii U Virtual Console sometime this year. Now imagine how shocked I was when I checked the usual news sites yesterday and saw that Nintendo had announced Earthbound was going to be released immediately. I quickly downloaded the game, stopped everything else and played for far, far too long.
This isn’t a formal review, I’ll save that for when I actually complete the game, no this article is simply going to look at how unique this game is, and why after 18 years it holds up surprisingly well. First thing’s first, let’s talk about what doesn’t hold up well at all, and that’s the fact that no Psi abilities are explained to you. In other words, when you go to select a Psi (magic) attack a box saying “causes fire damage” won’t appear, so you’re left guessing what each new ability does. For the most part the names of the attacks explain enough. Lifeup will heal you, Healing will cure you, etc. It does take some getting used to though. The other big problem is with weapons and armor. Normally when you visit a shop in an RPG you will see a dialogue box pop up showing your stats, so you know which weapons and armor are better. Here that box never appears, so you’re left to guess. I’ll tell you right now though, as you visit each new shop the chances are good that the armor will be better than what you’re currently wearing. As for weapons, don’t take the yo-yo or the slingshot, those weapons suck, stick to bats for Ness.
That’s it for the negative stuff, everything else works perfectly. Clearly the absolute best aspect of the game is just how well the setting, story, and humor have held up. This was one of the first RPG series to take place in a contemporary setting. Kids play with videogames (only Nintendo games of course), have thousands of dollars in their bank account to do with as they please, fight local gangs (which use switchblades), and battle police chiefs, you know, the usual stuff kids do these days.
What makes Earthbound so great is that it doesn’t take itself seriously at all. A meteorite has crashed pretty much in the backyard of Ness’ house and he wants to see it with his own two eyes. After a quick talk with this mother, who says she might as well let him go and see or he’ll just sneak out anyways, the adventure begins. Little quirks like this are constantly dished out and they’re hilarious. There’s a reason this game has remained a cult classic for 18 years, it’s because the game is genuinely funny. I mean there’s a weird photographer that pops out of nowhere and says “Fuzzy Pickles” before snapping your photo and taking off. WTF is that all about? Who know, and honestly who cares, that’s what makes this game so awesome.
I stayed up to about 3AM this morning playing non-stop and I might just do the same thing today, after some chores. It’s super addictive, and you want to keep going to see what other silliness will pop up next. It’s a real shame Earthbound was never a hit when it first came out, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a hit today. I urge everyone that owns a Wii U to go buy this game immediately and drop everything else they’re doing and start playing right away. Like Final Fantasy VI, Dragon Quest V and VI, Chrono Trigger, and Super Mario RPG, Earthbound is one of the very best RPGs from the 16-bit era and one you can’t afford to miss out on. I’ll have a full written and video review for the game out as soon as I complete the adventure, which at the rate I’m going won’t be very long from now. Go have fun saving the world by vanquishing one Runaway Dog at a time!