It’s EarthBound. Need I Say More?
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.
EarthBound was a graphically intense game in its era, to the point where Nintendo had to struggle just to fit all the programming into a Super NES cartridge. The visuals have translated wonderfully onto the Wii U. Whether playing on the television or the GamePad, the limited spectrum of colors look great, and there is no choppiness in the animations whatsoever. In fact, though there are no visual enhancements in this port, it looks better than before, since back in the 90s, bulbous televisions were littered with tint and contrast issues (at least mine was).
The soundtrack for EarthBound has its own history, with over a hundred original orchestrations that took up a third of the cartridge space on the SNES version. With a mix of wacky, off-tune compositions, beach bops, jazzy jives, and more traditional RPG fanfares, your ears will always have something interesting to listen to.
If EarthBound was simply a great classic game, the hype around this surprise Virtual Console entry would only be mediocre. No, what makes EarthBound’s release so alluring is the rarity in which we have been treated to it. Only the second title of the series ever made it to North America, with European audiences not even getting that. And unlike many Nintendo marquis titles that have seen regurgitated ports on the Wii and the DS family consoles, EarthBound has eluded even that. There has been nothing since 1995, nothing except rabid fans crying out for Nintendo to deliver this gem. For proof of its popularity, simply check the community in the Miiverse, which at the time of this review has surpassed 13,000 posts, and will quickly overtake every other game in the forum. We have EarthBound once again, and there is much rejoicing. Now it is time for us to shout at Nintendo to localize the other two games of the series.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.2 Graphics
It may seem archaic by today’s standards, but the quality of the original still shines through. The animations are incredibly smooth on the Wii U. 4.0 Control
Having a control stick makes exploration a lot easier, but checking objects and conversing with people can still get fumbled if you’re not standing in exactly the right spot. 4.4 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
It’s as quirky and catchy as the rest of the game, and is loaded with variety. It’s a shame the soundtrack didn’t get packed with the download. 4.5 Play Value
Ten dollars may seem steep for a game nearly two decades old, but you’ll quickly brush that aside as you get sucked into the lengthy adventure. 4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|