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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews EarthBound.

TranscriptEdit

It’s alright, everyone relax. I've thought of another retro game that I quite like to sustain the fucking death march through July. Here’s a hint: it’s the only Japanese RPG I’ve ever played right through to the end. Unless you count Mario & Luigi or Paper Mario RPGs, which personally I don’t, because to my mind, a JRPG just isn’t a JRPG unless it ends with teenagers using the power of friendship to kill God. It’s like how if you don’t have the stallion scene, you can’t really call yourself barnyard porn.

Have you guessed the game yet? Well you didn’t need to, did you? It’s in the title of the fucking video. EarthBound, the 1994 SNES RPG that attained cult appeal but initially sold in America about as well as oily rags sell to people who are on fire. It’s also very nearly a timely subject with all this talk about whether or not Smash Brothers is going to introduce Max Payne or Margaret Thatcher or whoever. So if you've ever wondered about the origin of that one Smash Brothers character with the baseball cap and the thousand-yard stare like Wario’s been molesting him in the green room, then step this way.

As I said, EarthBound was critically panned on launch and I can see why, because I’m a critic myself and I know how much Captain Morgan’s we get through. But even disregarding the astonishingly bad launch campaign in America that thought the best approach was to make the box smell like farts, the game looks like salted caramel buttocks on a stick. The art is flat and pixely, there's next to no animation, the perspective is all over the place and occasionally goes in multiple directions within the same background, and this was towards the end of the 16-bit era, remember, when we were first getting used to the idea that the phrase, “These graphics look good” doesn’t necessarily always have to be followed by a comma and the word, “considering”. So an important and artistic cult hit was marginalised and ignored because it didn’t fit within the latest standards for graphics in an industry obsessed with competitive technology. Christ, isn’t it great that that kind of bollocks doesn’t happen anymore?

I freely admit I’d probably have shat on Earthbound too, if I’d been reviewing it, 'cause I replayed it for a bunch of hours this weekend to refresh my memory and I only got to the end of the second town. You can only give a game so much time while you're on a schedule, and rum. Earthbound is on an incredibly slow boil. The first thing you have to do is walk to the top of a hill, look around, then walk all the way down and go back to bed. The second thing you do is exactly the same thing, only now fighting the shittiest monsters the union had to offer. That’s not a slow boil, that’s chucking a signal flare into a swimming pool.

And it’s not like there’s a whole lot the game needs to explain; it’s turn-based combat. Click attack, click enemy, repeat, occasionally eat a biscuit. The plot at the outset is just that you are a nondescript apple-cheeked small town American hero boy, and there's this giant alien god from the future that is the source of all the evil in the world. It’s making people behave in ways you don’t approve of and is probably the reason why your dad doesn’t live at home anymore. So you set off on an odyssey to fight it, somehow, and your mother is suspiciously a-OK with all this. I guess she wants a bit more quality time with Mister Buzz-Buzz.

It’s a quirky game above all else. You name your character, standard JRPG practice, but you also have to name his favourite food that appears in dialogue a whole bunch. And if your first instinct is not to enter something along the lines of "cock", then you simply do not possess a soul. You use baseball bats and frying pans as weapons and fight animated stop signs and hippies, so the quirky random humour thing runs along the surface like baked beans sliding down a clown’s face. But there’s a dark surrealism running under it as well, as indicated by a soundtrack that alternates between fun jaunty melodies and weird electronic ambiance, like someone left a theremin in Buffalo Bill’s house. Make it all the way to the end of the game and you’ll find it topped off with a hearty dose of cosmic horror out of fucking nowhere.

It feels childish, but in the sense of being made by a child, rather than for one. On top of graphics that could be recreated with crayons, if only they had a fill tool, the plot has the air of an imaginary game made up by school boys in a playground, setting out on a journey through colourful lands as part of a grand heroic quest, vital in some wholly unspecific way, constantly shifting setting and themes as new playmates arrive and momentary fancies are indulged. And then, occasionally, something really fucked up happens because weird Uncle Peter was babysitting on the weekend and let them watch From Beyond. It gives the game a sense of timeless nostalgia, which always strikes a nerve with veteran gamers, who long eternally for the days when their metabolism worked. But there’s innocence to it as well, cosmic horror notwithstanding. The short text boxes and big font are the interface equivalent of a little puppy’s big brown eyes. The GUI and inventory's pretty shit, but it creates a wonky treehouse fort aesthetic of ramshackle earnestness that goes with the theme.

Also contributing to that feel is a rather strange health system which doesn’t remove losses all at once, but ticks down at a steady pace. And if you receive mortal damage but can end the battle before the counter reaches zero, then the game just forgets about it. It’s like playing D&D with an Alzheimer’s patient. But that’s not the only unique game mechanic. If you are so overleveled for the current crop of wildlife that it isn’t funny, then the moment you enter battle, the game goes, “Bollocks to it!” and you just win. Why don’t more games do that? Well, these days, 'cause if they cut out all the dull, pointless, repetitive, insultingly easy combat, then you drop half the fucking game right there.

Some parts of the game can be a slog. You do have to master the art of burly bastard back-and-forth, or retreating from large groups of randomly-spawned monsters until the game unloads them, then heading back and hoping that less of them spawn this time. But it’s only once you finish the game that you fully appreciate the intent, which might explain the earlier review piddling session. In Japan, EarthBound is the second game in the Mother trilogy. I confess I haven’t played the other two because neither were officially released outside Japan, presumably in fear of being piddled on again, so playing them would be a dirty crime!

But I think for all the space aliens and stop signs, Mother is the more representative title. For at any point you can go home to mum, sleep and eat some cock. It’s also both the very first and the very last thing you do in the game. Mother is the one point of stability in the chaotic fantasy life of the every-child. You can get on your bike and become adventurous through time and the nether space. But soon the day will fade and you will long only for home, where Mother will always be there to dust you down and tuck you into bed, so she can start playing the naked wrestling game with weird Uncle Peter.

AddendaEdit

  • A staaaaar maaaaan waiting in the sky: Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw
  • Obviously we know it’s not true of every mother so please don’t write in if your one sold you for food stamps or whatever
  • Also: consider naming your special power ‘titwank’

ScreenshotsEdit

Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe

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