|System: Wii U|
|Dev: Ape, HAL Laboratory|
|Release: July 18, 2013|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Suggestive Themes, Crude Humor|
by Sean Engemann
EarthBound, called Mother 2 in Japan, is the second title in a trilogy that nearly didn't happen. Plagued with programming issues due to an ambitious design, logistics problems with developers Ape and HAL Laboratory having their studios quite a distance apart from one another, and less-than-stellar sales after launch, it seemed EarthBound was doomed to be forgotten. Instead, it has become a cult classic, sought after by many an obsessed collector, with Nintendo being scolded by the fan community for several years now, begging the Big N to release EarthBound as a Virtual Console title. After launching on the Wii U for Japanese audiences this past March, Nintendo hinted at an international re-release later in the year. Then suddenly, July 18th fell upon us, and those of us on the Western side of the world opened the eShop with a tear-inducing surprise. Though only a port of the original Super NES title, EarthBound still plays as addictive and wacky as ever, and it comes with Wii U exclusive features that make it a must have purchase.
For those who missed their opportunity in the Nineties, or the younger crowd unaware of its existence, EarthBound is an old school, turn-based RPG where a group of would-be heroes embark on an epic adventure to save the world. Playing as Ness, an eager boy with latent psychic abilities, you discover that an alien invasion is threatening the goodness of the land, with the main antagonist Giygas using the evil within each citizen to fuel his own power. Ness must seek out eight sanctuaries that will unite his strength with that of the world, granting him the power to defeat Giygas.
EarthBound, however, has many unconventional twists woven into its plot. Unlike other RPG series of the era such as Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Breath of Fire–ones that made Medieval fantasy the standard-bearing setting for the genre--EarthBound opted for a modern backdrop with a humorous parody on Western culture. Instead of axes and staves, you'll battle with frying pans, yo-yos, and baseball bats against oddball enemies such as runaway dogs, cranky ladies, and worthless protoplasm. You'll access funds through an ATM, visit inns and drugstores, watch a concert, and take a bath in a hot spring after battling a boss called Belch. Oftentimes the humor is nonsensical, but it’s hilarious nonetheless. Every character is bursting with personality, and conversations poke at various idiosyncrasies of 1990’s pop culture. Playing EarthBound nearly two decades after the original release makes it more amusing, since the references have long since expired in today's society, making most of the jokes an homage to an age past.
Though there is a linear progression to the story, EarthBound doesn't tie you down. Towns run seamlessly into the wilderness; there’s no overworld map in the game. You're free to waltz in and out of the urban areas, chat with locals, and grind experience from monsters of the surrounding areas at your leisure. Sometimes your next objective is elusive, but fear not, for Nintendo has given you the power of strategy. The Nintendo Power Player's Guide can be accessed for free on the EarthBound website, and it has been designed specifically for easy access via the Wii U GamePad. By simply pressing the Home button on the controller, you can switch to the Internet browser and filter through all the pages of the digital guide. And since the browser saves your current webpage, you can quickly jump back and forth between the game and the guide with little delay.
Being able to free up the television and play directly on the GamePad screen is also a nice perk, and you'll likely burn through the battery charge well before you want to put the controller down. And like every Virtual Console release, you can post EarthBound comments and screenshots on the Miiverse as well as help people out or get a taste of the game's wacky dialogue with some of the screenshots other players have posted. Another small but helpful addition is the ability to suspend the game without saving it, thus allowing you to replay a tough boss battle by reloading a suspended file saved just beforehand without the worry of losing half your cash should you perish.