Earthbound: a game that was in a league of its own. Not just in the world of role-playing games but in the greater world of gaming as a whole, Earthbound stood out as a case study in being brilliant in its own way without having to either cater to certain tastes or seem elitist in its integrity. The second entry in the Japanese series titled Mother, the only of which that saw an official North American release, Earthbound started as an ambitious attempt by Nintendo of America to create a trend that was characteristic on its system alone: quirky, fun, in-depth, and provoking games totally worth your hard-earned lunch money. Nintendo had pretty much gone balls-deep with this strategy, as Sega was destroying Nintendo with its biased marketing – remember “Sega does what Ninten-DON’T”? – and its flagship for this marketing strategy, at least, to me, was Earthbound. Its huge marketing push for the game kind of flopped because the quirkiness of its advertising was a little too much for a lot of people at the time, inviting people to the grosser side, treating its marketing demographic like a bunch of five-year-olds. It certainly found its audience, though, among role-playing gamers.
Earthbound is a story about a boy named Ness and his journey to save the world from the alien embodiment of evil itself, Giygas. It starts out just as quirky as it continues on from there – a meteorite crashes down into a hillside nearby the home of Ness and his “friend” Pokey Minch. There’s some fuss over this, of course, and Pokey coerces Ness into checking it out with him. The local fuzz have gotten involved, of course, and Pokey sticks around to spot an opening in their coverage, after finding which Pokey grabs Ness and, after inspecting the meteorite, a flying beetle that talks and calls himself Buzz-Buzz calls out the boys and says that one of them is destined to save the planet. Pokey, being the generally cocky coward that he is, completely denies that it could be him, implying he couldn’t be bothered with such nonsense. Taking the flying beetle seriously, Ness listens to it and takes it in tow to start on a journey, which is impeded by a strong enemy. After readily dispatching the enemy, Buzz-Buzz requests they all go home for a rest after the battle, during which Pokey’s mom, not understanding Buzz-Buzz as a prophetic beetle, smacks it out of the air, killing it, ironically. Almost right after Ness sets out on his mission, the next day, Pokey leaves on his own mission: to impede Ness’ progress, presumably under the influence of Giygas.
This is the general feel of Earthbound, through and through, and I know I’m not doing its quirky charm any real justice. If that sounds a little weird but intriguing, I’m doing it a little good. While the game’s tone does become a little more serious through the course of the game, there is always a sense of mischievous fun that is laced throughout the game. I mean, there’s a guy whose sole dream is to become the perfect hybrid of man and dungeon – he does it, inhabits himself with crazies and monsters, and the player goes through said dungeon; that serves more as a heart-warming side-story of a man achieving his only dream more than it does anything else.
Story aside, the game feels much like role-playing games of old; battles play out much like a trippy version of Dragon Warrior where you fight a small group of enemies with melee weapons, ranged weapons, and spells. Exploring the world takes place in a semi-isometric view of the surroundings, keeping things very simple and yet gives players a couple options when it comes to interacting with their surroundings. In terms of gameplay it doesn’t really offer anything new or drastic in terms of the gaming experience itself. Your experience comes from the immersion you get from the music, dialogue, and storyline.
With Earthbound finally available on the Nintendo eShop – for right now, only for use with the Wii U – the game has jumped back into the spotlight, and it quickly jumped to second spot. If you haven’t gotten the point of why I love it, already, then you should take the following sentence to heart if you haven’t taken anything to heart yet: Earthbound is for the kind of gamer who is able to put aside expectations and simply enjoy a game. This is a game that is low on flash and bang and just high on fun. I highly recommend this game to anyone who wants to rekindle what it means to be a retro gamer and for anyone who wants to see what all the fuss is about.