I didn’t have a SNES growing up. I didn’t have an NES either. I did have an N64 though, so I’m not entirely hopeless. Lately I’ve been able to fill in the gaps in my gaming knowledge as Nintendo has added a ton of games to the Nintendo Switch that I either missed (because I’m a baby) or missed (as in, lamenting the absence). online service.
But, well, a lot of them haven’t aged well – even the ones I fondly remember, whose sharp edges can be filed away with nostalgic forgiveness, like Banjo-Kazooie. Listen, Banjo-Kazooie is a great game, but 25 years of playing platformers that are constantly being refined and perfected makes this game feel kinda bad. We’re sorry. [I… But… It’s… *temple pain kicks in* – Ed.]
Playing old SNES and NES games is even more difficult because I don’t have the fond memories to soften the blow. I launched Final Fantasy, a game I’d never played before, and it was easy feels like playing an old game – like selling your fancy 2020 Ford Focus with Bluetooth and seat warmers and buying a 90’s car with manual roll-up windows and no aux socket. I’m spoiled, but when it comes to gaming I like things like sensible camera controls and the ability to carry ten+ items in my inventory.
It’s not just the controls either. Some games have aged badly in terms of their writing and quest design, and while I’d like to say it’s not really their fault, their age is no excuse. The ’90s saw plenty of games with whip-smart dialogue and humor that have aged exceptionally well, and one of those games is…Earthbound. What do you mean you already knew that from the title?
Unless you grew up with specific consoles, you’ll find that you have huge knowledge gaps in your video game library. People will point to popular series like Halo, Uncharted, and F-Zero, and you’ll just smile and nod and hope you’re not outed as someone who doesn’t know the difference between Master Chief and Captain Falcon.
That was me with Earthbound. It was one of those games that seemed to be universally adored, and there’s a cynical part of me that’s only up close refuses Believing people when they generally agree on something, which is also why it took me 25 years to watch Die Hard.
I mean yeah sure I’m sure Earthbound was awesome when you were a kid but without that context it’s just another old JRPG right? I played Pokemon! I can extrapolate! Earthbound is likely just a Pokemon with extra children and fewer animals meant to beat.
Anyway, to cut a 30 year old story short, I picked up Earthbound as soon as it came into the Nintendo Switch Online library because there’s not much point in paying for the NSO service if you don’t to use it. I figured I’d see what all the fuss was about and then move on to a modern game with yummy 3D camera controls and an inventory that has a sort by value button. Yummy.
Why hasn’t anyone told me how good Earthbound is?
Oh right. Because I didn’t listen to her.
I was impressed from the beginning how strange this game was. Millennial and Gen Z humor these days tends to favor the absurd, and Earthbound slipped right into that as if it was released just yesterday. I mean, in the first few minutes of the game you find a special bee in a crater, and just when you think that bee might be a companion or at least a super important character, he gets crushed and will never be mentioned again. That’s still funny! And likewise, there are loads of items that don’t do anything magical, like the ruler – which just helps you measure things. Because of course it does. It’s a ruler. What did you expect?
It’s weird playing games like this out of order, because after playing quite a bit of Undertale and Deltarune, my first thought was, “Wow…this looks like a Toby Fox game.” I know. Of course it does, it’s one of his biggest influences! It’s like walking into a museum and saying, “Huh, a lot of painters were named after the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” But you know what I mean.
My first thought was, “Wow…this looks like a Toby Fox game.” I know…It’s like walking into a museum and saying, “Huh, a lot of painters were named after the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles .”
Seeing the impact a game would ultimately have on an entire generation of developers is pretty cool in itself, but to be able to appreciate that a lot of the things you love about modern games were ripped right out of Earthbound is like one Discover a piece of the puzzle you didn’t even know you were missing. A lot of things suddenly make more sense.
There’s all these musical stings I’m listening for Years, and it turns out they’re all from the same place: Earthbound, which has absolutely stunning sound design for its age. The same goes for the aesthetic, from the main kid’s iconic hat and striped shirt (I called him “Egg”) to the green/blue checkered background – references to these things can be found everywhere, everywhere, everywhere, once you know where to look. I told a friend of mine that it’s like finding out that half of American celebrities are secret Canadians, and then you see secret Canadians everywhere.
And aside from the impact it’s had on the industry, Earthbound is just one really good game. Sure, it has its flaws, largely due to it being a mid-’90s game – but I’m willing to forgive many of the issues for being so flawless and cleverly seasoned.
Earthbound is a game centered around children, and many of its design decisions are based on that. All of the healing items you receive are the foods that kids dream about or that could be packed into their lunches: burgers, fries, boiled eggs, and sandwiches; sometimes you’ll find adult items like coffee, but the description specifically says “I think it tastes good to adults.” Their enemies range from weird monsters that make no sense, like a literal street sign, to corrupt adults with mundane names like “Extra Cranky Lady” – the kind of monsters an 8-year-old could think of.
So do it sense that you have a really tiny inventory and half of it is filled with important items that you can’t get rid of. You are a child. you have small pockets It also makes sense that you save the game by calling your dad and that cities are the only place this is possible because again – you’re a kid! And equally fast travel on buses, a tiny village inhabited only by weird little guys who all share the same name, and the fact that a significant portion of the game is about cave exploration – it’s all top-notch kid stuff 90s. I haven’t lived near a cave, but if I do, you can bet I would have spent a lot of time there imagining I was a pirate or whatever.
(Well, listen, game developers: If you want to make a game that has some slightly irritating design decisions, you can totally get away with it as long as you theme it.)
I’m sorry it took me so long to listen to the horde of people telling me Earthbound is a good game. To be fair, people recommend things the whole time who turn out to be pants, so it’s healthy to have a little cynicism. But it’s also good to know that some games are forever great, no matter how old they are, even if you don’t have a pillow of nostalgia – so this Mother’s Day I’m working my way towards the end of Earthbound. 30 years late is better than never!
Earthbound is awesome, huh? Tell me about your favorite piece (and how you named your characters!) in the comments.
https://www.nintendolife.com/features/memory-pak-making-new-memories-with-earthbound-in-2022 New memories with Earthbound in 2022