Way Back When
Few games from the SNES era have built the cult following of Ape Inc. and HAL Laboratory’s quirky role-playing game Earthbound. In the years since its 1995 release in the US, the game has been a consistent point of discourse among RPG fans, primarily due to it being the only title in Japan’s beloved Mother franchise to make it to western shores. These fervent defenders of the game have clamored for Nintendo to show even a modicum of interest in localizing the remaining two titles, Mother (Famicom) and Mother 3 (GBA), but the company has remained largely unmoved about the issue for decades, leaving a gaping hole in a bevy of SNES collections.
Even though many players may never get the opportunity to enjoy the unconventional series in its entirety, there’s no denying that Earthbound – originally Mother 2 in Japan – has long maintained a grip of the role-playing genre. But it wasn’t always that way, and as a matter of fact, the game’s initial launch didn’t see much success critically or commercially. Many reviewers seemed to feel that what they considered lackluster graphics and bizarre tone were off-putting, and its awkward marketing campaign – which included infamously stinky scratch and sniff advertisements – didn’t quite achieve the intended outcome. As the years wore on, though, the weird little RPG began to see a massive increase in positive reception as more and more people finally got their hands on it for themselves and were able to share their opinions with likeminded friends and acquaintances. Before long, Earthbound had gone from a failure to one of gaming’s most adored experiences. But why the change?
The simplest answer is that Earthbound was so compelling to so many avid RPG enthusiasts because it was a peculiar title unlike any they had ever played. Sure, it followed a relatively familiar structure, offering turn-based battles, a dense world to explore, and a story far deeper than that of other genres at the time. However, along with simply being fun, it was how the game presented all of its elements that caused it to stand out. Often acting as a parody of other role-playing experiences, Earthbound stubbornly refused to play by the rules. Though its real-world rural setting and ragtag cast of kids initially seemed harmless, it took very little time for the game to introduce players to fart jokes, piles of vomit as enemies, in-game hallucinations, and a story regarding an alien invasion. If that all sounds completely nutty for its time, rest assured that it was – but Earthbound remains an outlandish, poignant, and downright hilarious game even by today’s standards.
There’s no denying that its eccentric collection of four playable characters stood out as one of Earthbound‘s best features, but the only meaningful way that Nintendo has shown any love for the game is an addition of its primary protagonist, Ness, to the Super Smash Bros. franchise. The company eventually added Mother 3‘s Lucas to the roster, too, but since few outside of Japan had ever had an opportunity to play that entry, it sort of felt like a slap in the face to the hundreds of thousands of fans who had been waiting patiently to see the last game in the series get an English release. Sadly, there’s virtually no indication that things will change anytime soon, and it could be that we never see Mother get extended support in other territories. Nevertheless, Earthbound will forever remain a shining example of how underrated games can gain new life from an open-minded and faithful community.
Where You Can Play It Now
Unfortunately, finding a way to play Earthbound isn’t quite as simple as some retro games, but it’s nevertheless accessible on a few pieces of hardware that you may have sitting around your house. If you have access to a SNES Classic Edition Console, that’ll clearly provide you with the purest option – but they’re not always easy (or cheap) to come by these days.
Here’s the modern platforms on which you can access Earthbound:
- Wii U (Virtual Console)
- New Nintendo 3DS (Virtual Console)
- SNES Classic Edition Console (pre-installed)
Sadly, Earthbound hasn’t yet become available for the Switch, but considering its popularity on other recent hardware, here’s to hoping it’ll join the ranks via Nintendo Switch Online eventually. Until then, join the rest of the world in wondering why Nintendo refuses to show this cherished franchise any love.