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Capsule Review - Earthbound

Title Earthbound
Developer Hal
Year 1995
Platform SNES
Capsule Rating
Capsule Review: Earthbound is an oddity, a game that no one is exactly sure how to approach. Released in 1995 (accompanied by the most idiotic marketing strategy ever), it is the brainchild of one Shigesato Itoi. If the game is any indication, this man is somewhat like a funnier, Japanese Dave Barry on acid. Earthbound is a stab at a humor-RPG - an intentional parody of the entire genre. The most surprising thing about it is that it succeeds on so many levels. Unashamedly odd, the graphics are styled after the old NES (probably due to the fact that Itoi's first humor-RPG brainchild, Mother, was intended for release on that system but never made it... in America, anyway). Indeed, much of the game has a very quirky retro air to it, from the clunky menus (straight out of Dragon Warrior) to the very environments of the game themselves.

The plot, as befits a parody RPG, is deliberately cheesy and simplistic - just like those early NES plots were. No new technical or storytelling ground is broken in the game. However, Earthbound pays great attention to little details; what's more, it's localized hilariously well. But the real hilarity doesn't come from the dialogue - it comes from the fact that the haphazardly odd quests and events are delivered so matter-of-factly. Talking sesame seeds lament their unrequited love; enemies include Steaming Cups of Coffee and gas pumps; meteorites shaped like giant pizzas fall to the earth, and more. The game's best and funniest creation is the bizarre creature known as the Mr. Saturn. (Boing!) Another excellent touch is the fact that the game takes place in a modern-day environment, and the skyscrapers, suburban houses, pizza places and burger shacks are very refreshing after the same goddamn RPG castles over and over. (The weapons are appropriate as well - baseball bats, frying pans, etc.) Even when you can't tell what the thing is supposed to be a parody of, it's still hilarious. Put it all together - the suburbs, the Americanisms, the UFOs, the fast food and condiments, the overall freaking weirdness of the whole affair - and you get Earthbound, the ultimate homage to the eighties. Take that as you will.

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