There is no shame in the SP game
It may not be the virtual console I loved on my Wii and 3DS, but I have to say that I’ve really been digging for the Nintendo Switch Online retro game package lately. A few years ago I got my first good look at how I could enjoy playing these decades old games as I went through and completed Zelda II: The Adventure of Link for the first time. Since then, the library of available titles and consoles has expanded, with Sega Genesis and Nintendo 64 finding their way into the subscription service, albeit at a more expensive level than what you pay to play NES and SNES titles. Thankfully, I have no interest in revisiting anything from the Nintendo 64, and I already own all the Genesis titles worth owning with one of the 1,000 Genesis collections that Sega has released over the past two decades. So I stick to these NES and SNES titles, and there’s a game that was added to the service not so long ago that I see as my next conquest: EarthBound Beginnings.
The Mother/The soil the series has a complicated history with audiences outside of Japan. As early as 1989, it was released in Japan to huge sales, which caused the localization work to begin with the title for North American audiences under the name The soil. Unfortunately, that did not happen. The game’s release in North America was interrupted, even with a fully localized version that bounced around Nintendo’s office. It was not until 2015 that audiences outside Japan got their first non-pirated look at the game with the launch of EarthBound Beginnings for the Nintendo Wii U. This followed the launch of the SNES The soil on the platform, which is one of the best virtual console gifts ever given its inclusion in the legendary guidebook. EarthBound Beginnings‘release was a much less spectacular event, but it was still remarkable. After all, this was the first time millions of people would have a chance to play this “lost” title. And if they are something like me, they stopped playing within three hours because that game is very unbalanced.
A balancing act
It’s easy to take for granted how challenging it is to balance any video game, let alone a role-playing game. There is a lot of math at stake here, and if you are not careful it can go wild and games can be much harder than expected. The biggest culprit for ruining the fun of these early role-playing games was random battles. Now I do not mind a mission with invisible enemies in the outside world as long as I do not play that type of game with a meeting every five steps. EarthBound Beginnings is unfortunately such a game. Add some incredibly low XP from battles, and you get an absolute gate.
Is it worth that grinding? Perhaps. Each review of the game points to the excellent location 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 do not know, several titles available through Nintendo Switch Online have alternate versions of the game with an SP icon above the box art. These SP, or special, versions of the games allow players to experience classic titles with many of the limitations (and challenges) removed. For example, the SP version of The legend of Zelda will launch Link with all the tools he needs to kill Ganon right outside the gate. Super Mario Kart SP gives players access to 150cc mode from the start, which is a boon for anyone who has wasted enough of their life driving through these 50cc games. There is no drawing for what an SP version looks like, which is how you get some really odd inclusions like Dr. Mario SP level 20 intermediate sequence.
More like Kid Quickarus
The other day, after being reminded of the Eggplant Wizard and therefore, Kid Icarus, I dived into the SP version of the NES original, not really sure what to expect. I thought it would just give me all the power-ups in the beginning. While I gained access to the three sacred treasures immediately, Kid Icarus SP throws players straight into the final level, a miserable flight step with questionable controls and a fight against Medusa that would probably be super difficult in the regular version of the game. I rolled through that level in a few minutes and watched the credits roll before I started back at the beginning of Pit’s mission with all his weapons unlocked.
Now, despite how much I love Kid Icarus: Rebellion and how much I tell myself to play completely Of myths and monsters some day I have very little love for the original Kid Icarus. As with Ice climber, it’s a clumsy-ass game that can’t stand the test of time, even though it’s claimed to be beautiful in 3D. So I had zero plans to ever play this game. But with a super powerful Pit thanks to the SP version, I am more than willing to put up with this sluggish vertical adventure to see what I have been missing all these years and to find out why people seem to hate the eggplant Trollkarl so much.
Let this be a new beginning
The same goes for EarthBound Beginnings. I gave this game a shot back on the Wii U, but I really had no intention of dealing with it again because of how uncomfortable it was to play. But if Nintendo could find it appropriate to create an SP version that gives me a completely even Ninten, Lloyd and Ana, I would love to fight enemies every four seconds if it means I get to experience and enjoy the world that 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 try if that were the case. Hell, I would even settle for an SP version that only balances the game by reworking earned XP and the frequency of random battles.
I have a deep admiration for many of the amazing games of my childhood. Some like Zeldas and Marios and two of Metroids, are timeless in their execution and are as playable today as they were then. Others need a little 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 are on.