Ain’t no shame in the SP game
It may not be the Virtual Console setup I loved on my Wii and 3DS, but I have to say I’ve really been digging the Nintendo Switch Online retro game package as of late. A few years ago, I got my first good look at how I could enjoy playing these decades-old games when I went through and completed Zelda II: The Adventure of Link for the very first time. Since then, the library of available titles and consoles has expanded, with the Sega Genesis and Nintendo 64 finding their way to the subscription service, albeit at a more expensive tier than what you pay to play NES and SNES titles. Thankfully, I have zero interest in revisiting anything from the Nintendo 64, and I already own every Genesis title worth owning with one of the 1,000 Genesis compilations Sega has released over the past two decades. So I’m sticking with those NES and SNES titles, and there is one game that was added to the service not too long ago that I’m eyeing as my next conquest: EarthBound Beginnings.
The Mother/EarthBound series has a complicated history with audiences outside of Japan. Back in 1989, it released in Japan to huge sales, prompting localization work to begin on the title for North American audiences under the name Earth Bound. Unfortunately, that didn’t come to pass. The game’s release in North America was canceled, even with a fully localized version bouncing around Nintendo offices. It wasn’t until 2015 that audiences outside of Japan got their first non-pirated look at the game with the release of EarthBound Beginnings for the Nintendo Wii U. This followed the release of the SNES’s EarthBound on the platform, which is one of the best Virtual Console releases ever given its inclusion of the legendary guide book. EarthBound Beginnings‘ release was a far less spectacular event, but it was noteworthy all the same. After all, this was the first time millions of people would have a chance to play this “lost” title. And, if they’re anything like me, they stopped playing within three hours because that game is wildly unbalanced.
A balancing act
It’s easy to take for granted how challenging it is to properly balance any video game, let alone a role-playing game. There is a lot of math at play here, and if you’re not careful, things can get wildly out of hand and games can end up far more difficult than intended. The biggest culprit for ruining the fun of those early-days RPGs were random battles. Now, I don’t mind a quest with invisible enemies on the overworld as long as I’m not playing the type of game with an encounter every five steps. EarthBound Beginnings is, unfortunately, one such game. Add in some incredibly low XP earned from battles, and you end up with an absolute grind.
Is that grind worth it? Maybe. Every review of the game points to the excellent localization of the script. But instead of making us farm XP for hours on end, wouldn’t it just be easier to give players a hand with an SP version of the game?
For those who are unaware, several titles available through Nintendo Switch Online have alternate versions of the game with an SP icon over the box art. These SP, or special, versions of the games let players experience classic titles with a lot of the restrictions (and challenge) removed. For instance, the SP version of The Legend of Zelda will start Link off with all the tools he needs to kill Ganon right out the gate. Super Mario Kart SP gives players access to 150cc mode from the start, which is a blessing for anyone who’s wasted enough of their life driving through those games at 50cc. There is no one blueprint for what an SP version looks like, which is how you get some really oddball inclusions like Dr. Mario SP’s level 20 cutscene.
More like Kid Quickarus
Just the other day, after being reminded of Eggplant Wizard and, therefore, Kid Icarus, I dove into the SP version of the NES original, not exactly sure of what to expect. I thought it would just give me all the power-ups at the start. While I did get access to the Three Sacred Treasures right away, Kid Icarus SP thrusts players straight into the final level, a miserable flying stage with questionable controls and a battle against Medusa that would probably be super difficult in the normal version of the game. I waltzed through that level in a few minutes and watched the credits roll before starting back at the beginning of Pit’s quest with all of his weapons unlocked.
Now, despite how much I adore Kid Icarus: Uprising and how much I tell myself I’m totally going to play Of Myths and Monsters someday, I have very little love for the original Kid Icarus. Like with Ice Climber, it is one clunky-ass game that does not stand the test of time, even if it’s supposedly lovely in 3D. So I had zero plans to ever play this game. But, with a super-powered Pit thanks to the SP version, I’m more than willing to put up with this sluggish vertical adventure to see what I’ve been missing all these years and to figure out why people seem to hate the Eggplant Wizard so much.
Let this be a new beginning
The same is true for EarthBound Beginnings. I gave this game a shot back on the Wii U, but I really had no intention of tackling it again because of how unenjoyable it was to play. But, if Nintendo could see fit to create an SP version that gives me a fully leveled Ninten, Lloyd, and Ana, I’d be happy to fight foes every four seconds if it means I get to experience and enjoy the world Shigesato Itoi created more than three decades ago. In fact, I think more subscribers to Nintendo Switch Online would be willing to give it a go if that were the case. Hell, I’d even settle for an SP version that just balances the game by reworking XP earned and the frequency of random battles.
I have a deep admiration for many of the great games of my childhood. Some, like the Zeldas and Marios and two of the Metroids, are timeless in their execution and are just as playable today as they were back then. Others need some help to appeal to modern audiences with modern standards. That’s why I really love the SP catalog of games available on Nintendo Switch Online, and why I hope it continues to expand with EarthBound Beginnings. Also, StarTropics while you’re at it.