The Backlog Episode 10 (Day 65): Earthbound Beginnings

Another Friday goes by and we get to try yet another game I have never played on a system I am not playing right now, and this time, the game was something special, as it was an NES game that until a few years ago, the US never officially had available.

Back in the SNES days, a now considered classic RPG known as Earthbound hit shelves… and completely bombed, failing to sell even 200,000 copies. Looking back then, I can not say I’m surprised though. As a young kid back then, I remember looking at a Sears Magazine around Christmas…. and seeing the completely wrong game picture for it. With such “careful” considerations, I imagine a lot of kids didn’t even get the chance to underestimate what was there based on what it actually looked like.

But as we fast-forward to the modern gaming age, and the game is noted as a cult classic that getting an original card (not a repro one) will cost you at least $150 for the cart alone… which is a lot less then the $400-$450 it demanded when I picked up a WiiU (which cost a little less INCLUDING a download of the game). And while I do think the game is overrated, that does not mean it was bad. By all means Earthbound was fun as hell, as I have stated previously myself. However, it was still only part 2 of trilogy of games the western world never got to see the rest of officially (despite clamoring for it).

But then a few years ago, Nintendo did the completely unexpected (of them) and released the original as a download title completely translated to English for their then current system, the WiiU. I picked it up as soon as possible, and last night, we got to try it.

Until this game, I do not believe I have ever seen anything so clearly show how a sequel has evolved over it’s previous example. If you want an idea of how Beginnings looks, you can easily go look at Earthbound. Just cut down the colors some to account for the hardware, remove the animated background patterns in combat, and make your stats completely text and you basically have seen this game. This is not a complaint however, as the style is completely intact and as wacky/cool as it is in the sequel. It really does look good and clean overall.

And if you played the sequel, you already know how this one plays too! It’s the same simple interface, though I do not remember being so entertained with the idea of having your character literally try to eat everything in his inventory. But it’s at this point I have to give the one piece of bad news. The controls themselves are atrocious, at least when walking around. I know I throw the idea of clunky controls with the WiiU a lot, but that does not describe this. Stiff to the point of being almost unresponsive at times does. You will have a hard time getting around just because the game needs to think if it will let you, or if you really mean you want to. Thankfully, this does not come across to the combat, however. Even as it’s turn based, the menus as snappy and it’s a joy to play. And if you run into anything too weak to be bothered with, the Auto-fight function is here, alive and well, and incredibly useful.

Overall, I’m not sure how much I look forward to playing this title, but I wouldn’t complain. Storywise, I’m still not sure what to expect, but considering how much Earthbound took after it in other design choices, it should be one hell of a treat. But I also know Im going to get annoyed with the overworld and dungeon maps themselves… not because they are bad, but that stiff control just totally takes the joy out of the exploration element.

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