Many fans are thrilled that this month Nintendo Switch Online will have over 100 retro games in its library. But an equal number of fans are outraged that the company seems to be ignoring one of its hallmark titles: Earthbound.
With five more titles being added to the Nintendo Switch Online NES and SNES game libraries, 4 of which are obscure and a couple of previously Japan-only exclusives, Nintendo fans are wondering and disappointed that Earthbound is not getting its due.
What is Earthbound and Why Is It Important to Nintendo Fans?
Earthbound (known as MOTHER 2: Gyiyg Strikes Back!) is the second and most well-known entry in a beloved RPG series. Developed for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System by Nintendo, Ape Inc., and HAL Laboratory, Earthbound was released in North America on June, 1995. Although a critical success, the game was considered a financial failure during its initial release. However, Earthbound gained a growing cult following and it is now considered one of the greatest games on the SNES ever produced.
In Earthbound, you play as Ness and his friends Paula, Jeff, and Poo (although you can change their names, as with most RPGs) as they are thrust into a globetrotting adventure to prevent an evil and powerful extraterrestrial named Giygas from destroying time and space. That seems like a very generic plot for RPGs, but where the basic plot is rather common, the execution of Earthbound is anything but.
The first thing one will notice about Earthbound is the art style. The graphics are simple, almost childlike in presentation. The game is full of vibrant colors and cartoonish depictions of everything from the characters, to the enemies, and to the world itself. The setting is also unusual for its time, with the world being based on more modern trappings with bicycles, buses, cars, hospitals, and hotels. This is markedly different from the more common fantasy tropes that were and are still popular in similar RPGs. With Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest being the most popular JRPGs of the same era, Earthbound was an oddity, but offered a breath of fresh air.
Although Earthbound did not find early success, the game’s fandom has grown over the last 20+ years. One can even say that Earthbound’s fans are very passionate of their love for the game. It is undeniable, however, that Earthbound is a classic that inspired many games that came after, particularly indie games of the current generation. Undertale, another cult classic RPG, was directly inspired by the themes and style of Earthbound.
Today, Earthbound is much beloved game. The original SNES carts also command hefty prices, running upwards of $1,000 or more, partially due to its scarcity. And as further testament to Earthbound’s enduring appeal, it has been included in the Super Nintendo Classic Mini alongside other signature games that defined the SNES console such as Super Mario World, Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Super Metroid, and a host of others.
Five Games Added to Nintendo Switch Online (But Not Earthbound)
Nintendo’s most recent console, the Nintendo Switch, has gained much praise and commercial success. The dual role of being a home console and a portable system that the Nintendo Switch plays is one of the main attractions. The Nintendo Switch has sold over 80 million units since its launch in 2017. Now that old, classic games from years past are being collected in the Nintendo Switch Online library, expectations are that Earthbound would swiftly be included. After all, it is a Nintendo property and it has been rereleased in other online Nintendo stores, notably the Wii Virtual Console back in 2013.
But Nintendo appears to be subverting expectations. As of this writing, there are 104 retro games in the Nintendo Switch Online roster, including five new entries, but Earthbound is not among them. Instead, the newest additions will be:
- Joe & Mac: Caveman Ninja (Data East, SNES 1991) - an SNES version of the arcade game Joe & Mac. Compared to the arcade original, this action platform game features an over-world map and longer stages.
- Super Baseball Simulator 1.000 (Culture Brain, SNES 1991) – A traditional baseball game simulation. It was far more comprehensive that other similar baseball games of the time, with heavy emphasis on customization, management, development, and using special abilities of players.
- Magical Drop 2 (Data East, SNES 1996) – A Tetris-style puzzle game, although it more closely resembles the Puyo-Puyo series. Players match different colored bubbles to eliminate them from the stack and prevent it from reaching the floor. The game adds a unique character-based mechanic. Characters are based on the familiar faces of the Tarot such as Justice, Strength, World, Fool, Magician, and so on.
- Ninja JajaMaru-kun (Jaleco, NES 1985) – The oldest title being added from this batch of five, Ninja JaJaMaru-kun is an action platformer. Each stage, the heroic ninja JajaMaru must defeat enemies to finally rescue Princess Sakura from the pirate Namazu Dayuu (literally "Catfish Pirate"). A Japan exclusive, it did not reach North America until 2007 on the Nintendo Virtual Console.
- Spanky’s Quest (Natsume, SNES 1991) – Another platformer, you play as the simian Spanky through different levels in order to escape the tower where he was trapped by the witch Morticia. Spanky can use bubbles that release different balls that can hit enemies. Spanky can bounce these bubbles on his head which then grow and change color. Depending on the color and size, the balls released can vary from one ping pong ball to a swarm of basketballs.
Super NES – Nintendo Switch Online:
・Super Baseball Simulator 1.000
・Caveman Ninja (also known as Joe & Mac)
NES – Nintendo Switch Online:
・Ninja JaJaMaru-kun pic.twitter.com/OzYmF7lIYk
— Nintendo of America (@NintendoAmerica) May 19, 2021
Fans have reacted negatively to the revelation of these games being added to the Nintendo Switch Online library. Aside from Joe & Mac: Cave Ninjas, the other games are not particularly popular or as influential as Earthbound, yet the cult classic RPG is yet to be added. Interestingly, the previously mentioned Undertale that was inspired by Earthbound has already been available on the Nintendo Switch Online selection since 2018.
Switchbound? Perhaps in the Future
Although fans are dismayed by the snub on Earthbound yet again, Nintendo has not given an official statement about whether the game will be coming to Nintendo Switch Online. And to be fair, other classics such as Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, Super Castlevania, and more have not been added due to licensing concerns. As Earthbound is a Nintendo IP, it may only be a matter of time. But for now, Earthbound fans will have to settle for the five new additions on May 26.