Games | NES | Earth Bound

Article by Bob Mackey? | December 15, 2010


Earth Bound

Developer: Ape
Publisher: Nintendo
U.S. Release: Unreleased
Format: NES

For Americans, the Mother series starts with Earth Bound. Of course, Shigesato Itoi’s quirky franchise literally began (and ended) in the States with its sole SNES entry, released here as EarthBound -- written as a single intercapped word rather than the two separate words of its predecessor’s intended title -- but more than a decade after the Usenet surfacing of a Nintendo-translated Mother cart brought the game to a much wider audience, EarthBound fans still regard the series’ Famicom debut as little more than a curiosity. Even the game’s unofficial title of “EarthBound Zero” speaks to its ranking in the Mother franchise -- in other words, not quite EarthBound.

This didn’t stop the 1998 discovery of an authentic NES Earth Bound prototype from being a pretty big deal, though; to this day, it remains one of the greatest events in game preservation history, possibly eclipsed only by the underground release of Star Fox 2 years later. But after all the excitement died down and rabid EarthBound fans had the chance to sink their teeth into a game that had eluded them for so many years, the reaction -- while far from negative -- was mildly enthusiastic at best. In retrospect, it’s safe to say that the joy of the hunt yielded more excitement than the game itself.

For all of its faults, Earth Bound isn’t a bad game; it’s a fairly competent Dragon Quest clone with many of the bizarre touches that made its SNES follow-up so memorable for the non-Japanese among us. And it’s unfair to judge Earth Bound in light of its sequel, because so much of the former is remixed in the latter. For all the talk of rehashing in our modern sequel-crazy gaming landscape, it’s hard to find a case of plagiarism more flagrant than EarthBound’s cribbing of Earth Bound. But this case was more about getting it right than unscrupulousness, since EarthBound takes so much of the good -- the music, setting, and all-purpose weirdness -- and wraps these qualities in a game exponentially more playable and expansive than its predecessor.

Still, any fan worth his or her salt should consider Earth Bound an essential experience, while keeping in mind that Googling “Earthbound Zero easy patch” will result in a breezier and much less grindy affair. And the mere act of playing Earth Bound results in a minor victory in the neverending battle between fans of the franchise and Nintendo, which refuses to acknowledge this small-but-vocal fanbase in any way that would ease their pain. Really, you’d think they’d take some responsibility for this monster they’ve created -- especially since said monster is well-meaning, like your average Frankenstein.

I kid, EarthBound fans. I kid because I share your sickness.

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