The gaming community talks a lot about its love for Nintendo's 1995 Super NES RPG EarthBound (I know I certainly do), but while that one game has a rabid cult following in North America, the game is the middle installment of a full-blown trilogy in Japan. Entitled Mother rather than its localized name, the original game was released for the Famicom in 1989 and very nearly came to North America at the tail-end of the Nintendo Entertainment System generation. It was fully localized with marketing and packaging designed, but with the Super NES era running at a healthy pace and the NES rapidly showing its age, the company shelved Mother (retitled to Earth Bound (note the space)) and instead brought the sequel, Mother 2, to North America instead under the familiar EarthBound moniker. The NES Earth Bound went into the vault, sales of EarthBound were underwhelming, and those poor sales kept the later Game Boy Advance sequel Mother 3 in Japan despite international fans begging for a release.
Usually that's where the story would end, but that localized Earth Bound prototype escaped the Nintendo vault in 1998 and made its way to the Internet where anyone with a NES emulator could track it down, download it, and play it. Fulfilling? Sure. Violating all kinds of copyright laws? You bet! But that didn't really stop those interested in trying the first game in the series from digging into it. Retitled by fans as EarthBound Zero to set it apart from the 16-bit sequel, the online community has had plenty of time to explore the game and chronicle it.
And once again, that's usually where the story would end, but Nintendo surprised everyone this week by resurrecting Earth Bound, retitling it EarthBound Beginnings to denote its prequel nature, and releasing it on the Wii U's Virtual Console section of the eShop in both North America and Europe. Now for $6.99 you can buy a legal copy of the game for yourself and see what all the fuss is about. While the EarthBound faithful seem to have dismissed this release as "so what, been there, done that, blah" with that special brand of cynicism that the Internet breeds anymore, I'm overjoyed to see the game made available by Nintendo itself at last. While EarthBound Beginnings is not as polished as its sequels (remember, it is a NES-era RPG and is rough around the edges), it's worth your time if you're a fan of the series who has yet to experience it, and if nothing else I'd hope that throwing some money at this release would show once and for all that Nintendo is leaving money on the table by not localizing and releasing Mother 3 for the Virtual Console. Beginnings is the easier title to release because its localization was completed decades ago, so it's only natural that it would arrive before any thought of the GBA sequel does (not to mention that Mother 3 would greatly overshadow Beginnings if it came first), but I'm more hopeful now than ever that we'll see the whole series available on Wii U before this hardware generation is over.