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Kirby’s Dream Course Review

*Review based on Kirby’s Dream Course’s release as part of the SNES Classic*

Good ol’ Kirby. Nintendo’s most underappreciated of workhorses has never truly got the recognition he deserves, often held down in the shadows of Nintendo’s more prominent franchises like Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid. Sure, he may not have a title quite as heralded as Super Mario World or Ocarina of Time to his name, but Kirby has also never had any atrocious edutainment titles or CDi games under his belt, either. Nor does his series house a game anywhere near as bad as Metroid: Other M. When a series’ worst entry is still a game as charming and creative as Kirby Air Ride, I’d say it’s doing alright for itself.

Kirby is usually known for his 2D platforming adventures, which are easier and friendlier than Mario or Donkey Kong’s journey’s in the same genre. Kirby is a gloriously overpowered character, being able to eat enemies, copy their abilities, and even fly over hazards. But the series has never not been fun, and that remains true even for Kirby’s spinoff titles. Perhaps one of the most under-the-radar Kirby titles – and the out-of-left-field entry in the SNES Classic Edition – is Kirby’s Dream Course, which combines the colorful world of Dreamland with miniature golf.

This 1994 SNES title sees Kirby transported to isometric golf courses, where the goal is to defeat all enemies – save for one – on a course. Once these enemies are defeated, the final foe becomes a hole which serves as the stage’s goal. Get Kirby into the hole within a set number of turns, and you can move on to the next stage.

Kirby is controlled here like a golf ball, with players able to adjust the power, angle and spin of Kirby’s movements. As in golf, the player receives a better score if they can get Kirby into the hole in the least amount of turns, but being a video game, Kirby loses a life if too many turns are taken. Players can gain extra turns when Kirby defeats an enemy and makes it into a goal, but will lose turns when hit by an enemy attack, and will immediately lose an entire life if he falls off a stage.

It’s a simple setup, but the core gameplay is a lot of fun. Better still is that Kirby’s copy abilities have found their way into the mix, with Kirby gaining an ability when he defeats a foe that happens to possess one. The powers can then be activated by a press of the B button once Kirby is on the move. The wheel power, for example, will boost Kirby’s speed so he can glide on water and move easily through tough terrain, while the stone ability will bring Kirby to an immediate halt, which can be a lifesaver on more elaborate courses.

If there’s any notable complaint to be had with the gameplay, it’s that – for a game with a pretty unique setup – Kirby’s Dream Course doesn’t exactly do the best job at giving the player a decent learning curve. The simple act of ‘striking’ Kirby can be a little confusing if you jump right into things, and although there’s a tutorial available to help out with that, it fails to explain some of the finer details of the experience (such as giving Kirby light boosts with the A button). The same applies to the aforementioned copy abilities, with the game more or less leaving you to guess how their individual physics will affect those already present in the game. It’s not overly cryptic, but for a Kirby game to be cryptic at all seems strange.

Visually, the game is another impressive showcase of the timeless colors and charms of the SNES, and the sound effects and music are delightful remixes of classic Kirby tunes. And while the single player adventure may feel a little repetitive at times, a two-player competitive mode gives the game some nice replay value, with players taking turns to see who can best a course the quickest.

Kirby’s Dream Course may not be one of the most remembered Kirby games, but it is another testament to the pink hero’s often-overlooked versatility. While Mario frequently reaps praise for his chameleon-like ability to blend into any genre, Kirby has been doing the same thing for nearly as long, but to much littler fanfare. And though Mario’s offshoots usually deserve their praise, when it comes to golf, Kirby has the former-plumber beat. The later Mario Golf on Nintendo 64 looked and felt like a typical golf game, but with Mario characters attached. Kirby’s Dream Course, on the other hand, actually feels like what golf might be like in Kirby’s whimsical world.

 

7.5

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Super Smash Bros. (Nintendo 64) Review

SSB64

Super Smash Bros. quickly became one of Nintendo’s most beloved franchises. And how could it not? It’s a fighting series where Nintendo’s most beloved characters duke it out with sumo-style rules, and Mario Kart-esque weapons. But after the sequels built so strongly on the series’ formula, going back to the original may come us a slight disappointment. While the 1999 original Super Smash Bros. remains a fun game in its own right, it feels more than a little empty when compared to any of its sequels.

As stated, Super Smash Bros. is a fighting game where – rather than depleting your opponents’ health – the goal is to accumulate enough damage to send them flying off the screen, thus eliminating them. It’s a simple enough setup, but it has proven so much fun that the series has produced some of the most insanely replayable games of all time.

On the downside, much of the depth found in the gameplay wouldn’t arrive until the GameCube sequel, Super Smash Bros. Melee. Melee would add more moves, more specials, and tighter mechanics. Brawl would add Final Smashes and some really creative movesets. And the recent Wii U and 3DS editions add depth and polish to pretty much every facet of the gameplay.

By comparison, the N64 original feels barren. Here, the characters only have three special attacks (performed with B, B + up, and B + down), as opposed to the four found in Melee and subsequent titles. Even more notably, the number of standard attacks each character has is incredibly limited. There are no Smash attacks or more intricate moves. You can’t midair dodge, or perform very many fancy combos. You only have a few directional ground and midair attacks, and the aforementioned specials. The gameplay is still fun at its core, but knowing just how much depth the sequels added to the equation, it’s easy to feel that the original Smash Bros. is a bit dated.

On top of that, some of the mechanics also haven’t aged too well. Here, opponents will be sent flying off-stage with relatively little damage. In later entries, opponents usually need to be well above the one-hundred damage mark before you can think about sending them packing. But here, you can defeat enemies after having only dealt about half of that damage. This leaves many battles feeling incredibly short. Another downside is just how slow the characters move. Many people complained that the characters in Brawl moved too slowly, but I might assume those same people hadn’t played the original in a good, long while. Here, the characters move so slowly and jump so floaty it’s hard to complain about Brawl’s movements by comparison.

SSB64On the bright side, the original Super Smash Bros. featured an indisputable roster of deserving characters. From the get-go, players can select Mario, Donkey Kong, Link, Yoshi, Samus, Kirby, Fox McCloud and Pikachu, while the secret characters include Luigi, Jigglypuff, Captain Falcon and Ness. It’s an incredibly small roster compared to the sequels, but it also benefits by predating the clones, self-damaging characters, and seemingly random character selections found in later games. Every character here strongly represents Nintendo’s diverse franchises, and you can’t really complain about the the character inclusions (though it is a shame the low memory of the N64 meant that Princess Peach, Bowser and King Dedede were left out of the mix until later entries).

Super Smash Bros. also featured a good number of fun items and a small but creative selection of stages, each one boasting their own gimmicks. There are also some additional modes to be found, though understandably, there’s not nearly as much content as there would be in future installments.

Single player modes are limited to an arcade-style “story mode,” where you battle in a series of fights until you make your way to the Master Hand, and the mini-games Break the Target and Board the Platforms. They aren’t much, and once you’ve played through them to unlock the secret characters, you’ll probably be sticking with the multiplayer battles.

The original Super Smash Bros. is still a fun game, particularly with a full group of four players. But it doesn’t hold up nearly as well as any of its sequels. The game feels prototypical and a bit shallow, and it simply isn’t nearly as fun as Melee, Brawl or the Wii U and 3DS editions. It does hold up better than many of the other multiplayer titles on the N64, however.

If you want to play a more definitive and deep Smash Bros. experience, stick to the Wii U version. But if you simply want to have some old fashioned, multiplayer fun, you could do a whole lot worse.

 

7.0

Kirby: Planet Robobot Review

Kirby Planet Robobot

Kirby: Planet Robobot is the second Kirby title to hit the 3DS, after Kirby Triple Deluxe. While Robobot uses many of Triple Deluxe’s assets, it improves on its predecessor in nearly every way, creating one of Kirby’s best adventures in years.

The main story mode of Kirby Planet Robobot sees Kirby’s home world of Pop Star invaded by the Haltmann Works Company and its army of robots, who wish to convert the planet and its citizens into more machines. Naturally, it’s up to Kirby to save the day.

While that may not be much of a plot, the game benefits from it in terms of aesthetics. Though it runs on the same engine as Triple Deluxe, Planet Robobot’s robot motif gives the Kirby universe a fresh twist. Environments are either partially or completely converted into metal worlds, and even classic Kirby enemies get a robotic makeover.

Kirby can still eat enemies and gain their powers, with most of the usual checklist of powers being accounted for, along with three new ones. The EarthBound-inspired PSI Kirby, the devastating Poison Kirby, and the relatively underwhelming Doctor Kirby. While Kirby’s usual gameplay remains as fun as ever, the biggest twist to the gameplay also stems from the game’s robot-centric theme.

Kirby Planet RobobotIn various points of the game, Kirby can pilot his own Robobot, a powerful mech suit reminiscent of those found in Mega Man X. While the Robobot Armor gives Kirby strong physical attacks, it’s best feature is that it, like Kirby himself, can copy enemy abilities, effectively doubling the number of powers in the game, and putting new spins on old classics.

Though the Robobot Armor doesn’t appear on every stage, it proves to be a meaningful game changer. It’s up there with Kirby 64’s combined copy abilities as one of the best gameplay additions in the series history. Hopefully it will make a return in some form in future installments (come to think of it, the same goes for the combined powers concept as well).

Also like Triple Deluxe, Planet Robobot takes full advantage of the 3DS’ 3D visuals. Many of the game’s stages emphasize the differences between the foreground and backgrounds, with its best levels and puzzles keeping the player involved with both perspectives at once. It joins its predecessor, Pushmo and Super Mario 3D Land as one of the few 3DS games whose gameplay benefits from having the 3D turned on.

One downside to the game is that, while Triple Deluxe made full use of the 3DS in ways other than visuals – with a number of puzzles requiring the use of motion controls – those elements have all but disappeared from Planet Robobot, save for a few very brief instances near the end. It isn’t a big complaint, but considering how Planet Robobot builds so strongly on almost everything Triple Deluxe started, it’s a shame that such a prevalent element from Triple Deluxe seems nearly forgotten and tossed in at the last minute.

Kirby Planet RobobotThe main adventure alone is incredible, with great level design that takes full advantage of the classic Kirby gameplay and Robobot’s new additions, sharp visuals, an infectious soundtrack, awesome boss encounters (including a thrilling finale), and some good replay value with collectible stickers (which can decorate the Robobot Armor) and Code Cubes (a few of which are required to reach each world’s boss, with the rest unlocking secret levels and one-hundred percent completion). But, as has been Kirby’s trend for a few years now, the game boasts a number of additional game modes for even more content.

From the get-go, players can select two other play modes: Team Kirby Clash and Kirby 3D Rumble. Team Kirby Clash is a fun combination of RPGs and fighting games, where up to four players can team up to take on large bosses (found exclusively in this mode) as one of four different classes, based on the Sword, Hammer, Doctor and Beam powers from the main game. Meanwhile, Kirby 3D Rumble places Kirby in a series of micro-levels played from a top-down perspective, where Kirby relies solely on his ability to inhale enemies and objects to rack up points and combos.

While these modes are both fun and add to the game’s content, they sadly don’t have too much replay value. The list of bosses found in Team Kirby Clash is rather short, and Kirby 3D Rumble can be completed in a few short minutes, and only those who want to beat their record times will have much incentive to go back. On the plus side, there are a few other modes that can be unlocked after completing the main game, so the variety keeps coming.

Kirby Planet RobobotKirby: Planet Robobot is one of the best Kirby titles in years. It takes most of what Triple Deluxe accomplished, improves on it, and adds some fun tricks of its own. The additional modes may leave you wanting a bit more out of them, but Kirby’s rarely been as fun as he is here, paired up with his delightful Robobot Armor.

 

8.5

Kirby: Squeak Squad Review

Squeak Squad

Kirby has one of the most varied libraries of games in the entire Nintendo canon. Kirby games often follow their usual platforming formula, or do something completely different. Kirby’s unique combination of familiarity and freshness is perhaps surpassed solely by Mario in the realms of longstanding gaming franchises. Though Kirby remained absent from home consoles from 2001 through 2009, he was still right at home on Nintendo’s handheld systems. The Nintendo DS was a particularly noteworthy showcase of the two sides of the Kirby series. 2005 saw the release of Kirby’s Canvas Curse, which utilized the DS’ touch screen in innovative ways, becoming one of Kirby’s most unique adventures and arguably the first great game on the handheld. Fast-forward one year later, and Kirby returned to the Nintendo DS in the far more traditional Kirby: Squeak Squad.

It’s understandable that Squeak Squad was met with a more lukewarm reception. After Canvas Curse marked a creative departure for the series, Squeak Squad felt incredibly safe. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that it remains a fun game in its own right.

Squeak Squad looks and plays a lot like the GBA entries in the series, but with even cleaner sprites due to the more advanced hardware. The characters are cute and well animated, and the gameplay remains simple, smooth and fun.

Kirby still goes through levels, eating enemies to copy their abilities. He still jumps, flies and slides. But Squeak Squad did introduce a somewhat intriguing addition in the form of bubbled powers and items.

When Kirby grabs a bubbled-item, he stores it in his tummy (displayed on the lower screen as an alternate dimension). You can store up to five items at a time, and many of which, including powers, can be combined by using the touch screen.

Don’t get too excited though. The ability to mix powers isn’t nearly as creative as it could have been. Kirby 64 remains the only title in the series where you could truly combine powers. In Squeak Squad, combining one power with another usually just results in a random roulette wheel to get another power. The only two powers that can be properly combined are Sword, which can be merged with Fire, Ice, and Spark, and Bomb, which can also be paired with Ice and Spark.

Though the ability to store powers for later comes in handy, you can’t help but feel that it was a hugely missed opportunity for the series to bring back Kirby 64’s mechanics and do something new with them.

Squeak SquadSqueak Squad does include some new powers though, most of which are pretty cool, but have yet to show up again in later entries. Some of the new abilities include Ghost, which allows Kirby to possess enemies, Animal, which gives Kirby sharp claws to dig through dirt and attack enemies,  Metal, which turns Kirby into an invincible metal form at the expense of speed and jumping height, and Bubble, which may be the most useful power in the game as it turns enemies into bubble powers.

Additionally, the Magic power from Amazing Mirror has been tweaked to become a proper power. With merging powers serving as a randomized roulette wheel, Magic Kirby can now attack with throwing cards, doves, and jack-in-the-boxes from a magic top hat. There are over twenty powers in the game in total, so there’s a good amount of variety in that department.

The story of the game is that Kirby had a strawberry shortcake stollen from him. He initially believes King Dedede to be the culprit, but his cake has actually been stolen by a gang of mouse-like bandits called the Squeak Squad. The Squeaks have bigger schemes brewing, but all Kirby wants is his cake, and he’ll take out the entire Squeak Squad in order to get it back.

The plot is probably the silliest in the entire series, but it’s not too important anyway. Still, when Kirby is usually out trying to save his planet, the whole cake rescue mission thing is kind of underwhelming.

Squeak SquadLevel progression in Squeak Squad is incredibly straightforward. There are eight worlds total, each consisting of five required level, a boss fight, and a secret level. Kirby goes from one level to the next, beats the boss, and moves on to the next world in line. Considering how flexible level progression has been even in early Kirby titles, the point A to point B approach feels like a little step back for the series.

The levels themselves are pretty quick, but fun. Most won’t take much longer than two or three minutes to complete, if that. There has been some depth added to them through the use of treasure chests, which return from Kirby and the Amazing Mirror.

Each level has one to three treasure chests, many of which require a specific power to find them. When Kirby claims a chest, they are stored in his tummy along with any bubbled items (and yes, the chests count among the five maximum items you can store. So pick what items you want to keep wisely). Upon completing a level, the chests are opened and reveal the items inside, which range from spray paints to change Kirby’s color, music to listen to on the sound test, keys to unlock the aforementioned secret levels, and heart pieces, which work similarly to those in Zelda and increase Kirby’s maximum health when you find enough of them, to name just a few of the prizes.

While the treasure chests add some depth to the levels, most are pretty easy to find, and don’t extend the game’s replayability very much. You might be able to complete the entire game and find every chest in about two hours or so. There are a trio of mini-games which can be played in multiplayer if you’re playing the original DS version, but the multiplayer option is absent in the Virtual Console release. Still, they only add so much to the package.

If you simply want a quick dose of traditional Kirby goodness, then Squeak Squad is still a thoroughly enjoyable game. But if you’re familiar with the series, you’ll know that Kirby can do better, whether as a platformer or something else entirely.

 

7.0

Kirby’s Avalanche Review

Kirby's Avalanche

Though the Puyo Puyo series has become one of the more popular puzzle games out there, in the mid-1990s the series was still getting off the ground. In order to get the series some attention in its western release, the game was given various makeovers that implemented established video game characters into the puzzle game. While the Genesis version became Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine and used aesthetics from the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon series, the Super Nintendo version became Kirby’s Avalanche.

As you may have guessed, Kirby’s Avalanche gave Puyo Puyo a heavy dose of Kirby. In single player, you take control of Kirby, who challenges various enemies from his series as he makes his way to King Dedede and claim the title of Avalanche champion.

Of course, the aesthetics are as far as the Kirby element goes for the game. This is still very much Puyo Puyo title. But the Kirby characters give the title a great sense of charm, and the game includes some excellent remixes of classic Kirby music.

If you’re familiar with Puyo Puyo, you know how the game plays. Groups of two colored blobs fall onto your board, Tetris-style, and you have to match up four blobs of the same color in order for them to disappear. If the blobs stack to the top, you lose.

Kirby's AvalancheThe blobs come in five colors: red, blue, yellow, green and purple. The blobs can be connected vertically or horizontally, which not only gives you a greater opportunity to clump four of them together, but if you can strategize quickly enough and react fast enough, you can link one elimination to another, which will send marble-like blobs onto your opponent’s board. Naturally, your opponent can do the same to you, and the only way to eliminate the marbles is to complete a set of four blobs adjacent to the marbles.

That’s really all there is to the gameplay. But as simple as it is, it’s equally fun and addicting. It really will have you strategizing every little move in hopes you can outlast your opponent. It can become a genuinely hectic, head-scratching challenge.

As fun as the gameplay is however, it should be noted that the game becomes devastatingly difficult pretty quickly. The first few stages won’t be a problem, but later levels increase the speed in which the blobs fall drastically, giving you very little time to plan ahead. The later stages will leave you absolutely no room for error, which becomes very difficult with how your every decision becomes an on-the-fly one.

Kirby’s Avalanche also features a multiplayer mode where two players can go head-to-head. Sadly, the game lacks any additional modes of play. So unless you haven’t played a number of the other Puyo Puyo games before, there’s not a whole lot here that you can’t find elsewhere.

Really, the only real problems with Kirby’s Avalanche are the insane difficulty and the lack of freshness for those with previous Puyo Puyo experience. Still, it’s hard not to get sucked into the gameplay, and the addition of Kirby characters and music just adds that much more charm to it.

 

7.0

Super Smash Bros. Really Needs More Donkey Kong Characters

Super Smash Bros.

Super Smash BRos. for Wii U and Nintendo 3DS saw another major update recently, with a lot of additional content including Tournament Mode, the ability to upload videos to YouTube, and DLC stages and costumes for the Mii Fighters.

Unfortunately, one of those Mii Fighter costumes includes King K. Rool, the recurring antagonist from the Donkey Kong series. Why is this unfortunate? Because K. Rool has been one of the most requested characters to join the Super Smash Bros. roster, and him being included as a Mii Fighter costume almost feels like a mere token. He’s included as a Mii costume, so will Sakurai just stop there?

Now, it is possible that if K. Rool (or anyone else) gets enough votes in the Smash Bros. character poll he could potentially still be added. But that really depends on how many new characters the poll will allow. It’s an uncertainty.

I understand it’s difficult to write coding and add a whole new character to the game, so I understand people can’t get every character they want as DLC. My problem though, is that the Donkey Kong series, one of Nintendo’s premiere franchises, is sorely underrepresented in Super Smash Bros. DK shouldn’t have to wait for DLC.

"Not like this... Not like this..."

“Not like this… Not like this…”

Donkey Kong and Diddy are great characters in Super Smash Bros. But considering the series’ importance to Nintendo’s history (it was their first full-fledged franchise, the Mario series itself is a spinoff from it, I could go on), having just two characters when it has more to work with seems unfair to the beloved series. Especially when one considers that Kid Icarus, a series that didn’t even have a new entry for over two decades, has three characters. And don’t get me started on the small army of Fire Emblem characters.

I’m not even saying that the game needs to include the whole Kong family (no one wants Chunky Kong), but Dixie Kong should have already been in Super Smash Bros. some time ago. Not to mention her prehensile hair could give her a unique moveset. King K. Rool would also be a great addition, since he’d not only bring more DK representation, but the series could use some additional villain characters (the current games only have Bowser, Bowser Jr., Ganondorf and King Dedede filling the villain roster), and K. Rool could add to that category nicely. Even Cranky Kong makes more sense than a lot of the characters who actually made it into Smash Bros. (because seriously, Dark Pit)!

Metroid is another series that is sorely underrepresented in Smash Bros., also having only two characters (both of which are two versions of the same character). But I understand that Metroid has a bit less characters to work with. So while Metroid definitely deserves more characters, it isn’t quite as baffling as DK’s underrepresentation. There’s no shortage of material to work with when it comes to Donkey Kong.

Again, there is still some shred of hope for the DK faithful with that character poll. But the big question is, why should Donkey Kong, one of Nintendo’s greatest franchises and one of gaming’s most iconic series, have to rely on the character poll just to get one additional character?

Hopefully, the K. Rool Mii Fighter costume is just an appetizer for something better for the DK crew around the corner, and not just compensation.

EarthBound Beginnings Review

EarthBound Beginnings

It’s been a long time coming. Mother – the predecessor of beloved cult classic Earthbound – was released on the NES in Japan back in 1989. It was intended to make its way to the rest of the gaming world, but due to the rise of the 16-bit generation, the game’s (finished) English translation went unreleased, as Mother wasn’t an immediate success even in Japan. Its Super NES sequel would create a cult following unlike any other in the world of video games, and for over two decades fans have waited (often hopelessly, or so it would seem) for Nintendo to give the original an official worldwide release. And now, after all this time, we finally have just that. Mother has been revived under the new English title of EarthBound Beginnings through the Wii U’s Virtual Console! But does it live up to its almost mythical reputation?

On the surface, EarthBound Beginnings is a tried and true, old school RPG. Players traverse an overworld where they encounter various locations and meet many characters as they progress through the plot, while a traditional, Dragon Quest-style battle system provides the action. What sets EarthBound Beginnings apart from other RPGs is its personality.

EarthBound BeginningsWhereas most RPGs of its day (and today, for that matter) boast traditional fantasy or sci-fi settings, EarthBound Beginnings is set in a contemporary American-esque backdrop. Swords give way to baseball bats, potions are replaced with hamburgers, and filling the roles usually reserved for orcs and goblins are hippies and bag ladies.

The world of EarthBound Beginnings is funny and charming, complimented by fun character designs (the main cast resemble Charlie Brown and company from Peanuts). Though some of the visuals show their age, the game’s personality shines through its technical limitations. Better still, the soundtrack is one of the most versatile in the NES library, with the overworld tracks ranging from upbeat and catchy  to melancholic and somber. The battle themes are similarly versatile, with riffs on rock and roll and more psychedelic inspirations accompanying appropriate enemy types. The music never quite reaches the heights of its successor, but it’s a standout NES track nonetheless.

But what of the gameplay? It’s here that EarthBound Beginnings, while mostly solid, can sometimes show the effects of both age and a lack of polish. The core gameplay itself is a fun enough RPG, and although it’s obviously retro, the simplistic battles grow on you the more you play it.

EarthBound BeginningsThe trouble is these battles occur in the form of the most poorly-aged of all RPG conventions: random encounters. These random battles happen at an annoyingly frequent rate, and often when you just want to get from one place to the next you find the trip takes considerably longer than it should because of the amount of random battles you’re bombarded with.

What’s worse is that you’ll still run into weaker enemies once you’re strong enough to make the rewards they give you not worth the time. You have the option to run away, but it only works so often, and when it doesn’t it just drags the battle on that much longer. EarthBound would later fix these problems by removing the random aspects from battles and having weaker enemies either run away or being instantly defeated upon contact.

Another problem arises in the game’s difficulty. There are various points in the game where the challenge takes a steep difficulty curve. Even in earlier portions you’ll find yourself running into enemies that are well beyond your level. This, of course, means that you are often required to level grind for large chunks of time before you can progress further. Grinding isn’t a problem in RPGs when it’s optional, but when the player feels forced to take extended periods of time to level up just so they can continue the story, it really breaks the flow of things.

If you’re used to the more refined EarthBound, then going back to EarthBound Beginnings can feel like a big step backwards in these regards.

EarthBound BeginningsThe narrative serves as another highlight overall, but it too is hampered by some underdeveloped aspects. The plot itself is simple, as an evil alien presence is creating a dark influence in the world. People and animals are acting strangely, robots are invading towns, and inanimate objects are coming to life and attacking people. It’s up to a young boy named Ninten (or whatever the player chooses to name him) to save the day. The plot is simple enough, but builds into something more profound, with the ending in particular being emotional in a way that’s rare to find even in today’s games, making it a piece of gaming narrative that was ahead of its time and then some.

On his travels, Ninten is joined by a young girl named Ana who, like Ninten, can use psychic powers in battle. A geeky boy named Lloyd, who makes up for his lack of supernatural abilities with his knowledge of fire crackers and laser beams, is the first mainstay partner Ninten encounters. Finally there’s Teddy, the leader of a local gang who uses more traditional video game weapons.

The game doesn’t include extensive moments of character development, but the moments it does have can be genuinely touching. Ana, Lloyd and even silent protagonist Ninten all leave their mark. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Teddy, who ends up only joining the party temporarily, leaving you to wonder why he was added to the game to begin with.

As stated, the story itself was ahead of its time in some ways. Sadly, the progression of  that story isn’t always consistent, and sometimes it can be downright cryptic where you’re supposed to go next. I had to resort to online walkthroughs for much of the game, often because I wasn’t sure where I was supposed to go.EarthBound Beginnings

Still, the game has enough novel ideas to keep players engaged even in its confusing moments. Having Ninten calling his largely-absent father in order to save is a nice touch, and the dialogue of just about every character you encounter further displays the game’s uniqueness, with NPCs saying things both trivial and contemplative. Rarely do they just point out the obvious goings-on with the plot.

When EarthBound Beginnings works, it’s a roaring success. The more dated elements do prevent it from reaching the same heights of its sequel that we’ve grown to cherish, but the simple fact remains that there are so few games that feel like this. Its personality, sense of humor and sentiment create a unique experience out of a tried and true foundation.

Mother was a unique oddity in its day, and its reputation has turned it into something of a legendary treasure. Today, EarthBound Beginnings feels like that treasure has been unearthed. It doesn’t always shine brightly, and may be a bit rusty. But in its own way, it’s a treasure nonetheless.

 

6.5