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History Lesson: Mother and Earthbound

By Matthew Castle on Sunday 21st Jul 2013 at 8:00 AM UTC

A bloodthirsty lamp. An angry pooch. A sassy grasshopper. What's the link? They're the first enemies encountered in each of the three respective Mother games, the third starring Super Smash Bros. Brawl favourite Lucas.

Yes, this seemingly innocuous stick-waving tyke may have earned his place on the Brawl roster with mole smackdowns, but beyond his critter-worrying ways lies a proud heroic lineage - and one that's been largely withheld from our unlucky shores.

With the original Mother opening with a tablelamp straight in the mush, you don't need us to tell you that it doesn't occupy your usual RPG territory. Blur your vision and the 1989 Famicom original may seem to have the vague shape of Enix's Dragon Quest.

In fact, both the simple visual style and the rules for the turn-based battling are directly cribbed from it. However, even its limited original form showed far more ambition than Horii's slime-stabbing epic ever did.

The original Famicom version of Mother

It was designed by Shigesato Itoi - copywriter, designer and all-round genius. He abandoned the swords and sandals of the Square and Enix outputs, opting for a modernised world.

Waking in your safe suburbs and being nagged by your mum for trying to leave the house in your pyjamas - a cute domestic touch reused in all three titles - the ensuring adventure threw out HP potions for burgers, goblins for possessed hippies (no doubt 'possessing' themselves) and medieval weaponry for yoyos and bats.

Itoi says each game follows a very set routine: "The first part is daily life, the middle part is the story and the drama, and then the last part is a rollercoaster." The Japanese Mother 2 even includes a sign towards the end that tells players to get a move on.

The name Mother itself was partly chosen for its non-gamey connotations, and partly in reference to the John Lennon song of the same name. Itoi is a great admirer of Lennon and The Beatles, no doubt the influence behind the two Fab Four-esque bands, DCMC and The Runaway Five, that appear in Mother 2 and 3.

Lennon's love-centric peace philosophies also prevail throughout the series, as each game concludes with a villain getting his come-uppance through an emotional overload.

On a larger scale, music is key to the world of Mother. Both quests in Mother 1 and 2 deal with a child protagonist (the not-so-subtly-named Ninten in the first, and the even less subtly named Ness in the second) awakened to a mystical melody buried deep within the earth itself.


Where Link traverses Hyrule harvesting the Triforce, Ninten and Ness piece together eight musical snippets into a grand musical force - the tune plays out on Smash Bros Melee's Onett stage.

Mother 3 splits with the tradition: Lucas is just one of many heroes in the eight chapter structure that makes up the game. And although he isn't cracking out the eight melodies for yet another symphonic smackdown, the battling is complemented by rhythmic attack commands. Match your attacks to the beat of the enemies' theme and you'll dish out stronger attacks.

Not that we ever got to play Mother 1 or 3, or course It was revealed in 1998 that localisation was completed for an English language Mother, but Nintendo had shelved it in 1991 to focus on pushing the SNES.

Of course, Nintendo has never admitted as much, and the NES Mother would have gone unseen it if weren't for the fan translation group Demiforce spotting a beta cartridge of the translated version in an internet auction. Money was raised, the cart was purchased and the game was then released in ROM form as EarthBound Zero.

Why the name change? While Mother never made the cut, Mother 2 had seen a release in the West as EarthBound. For the sake of ease, they named the game to fit in with the western timeline of events. And as for Mother 3? Now that's a messy story.

Intended originally for the N64, but transferred to the 64DD mid development, EarthBound 64 sought to bring Itoi's universe into 3D - with the Rumble Pak contributing a rhythmic element to attack timings. Sound familiar?

What was EarthBound 64 was canned in 2001 - Itoi citing inexperience with 3D development as the reason - and then rebuilt as Mother 3 for the GBA. In the move, the West was cut out of the equation completely, with Mother 3 launching as a Japanese exclusive in 2006.

Rumours persisted of a DS compilation of the three, but it sadly never came to fruition.

Instead, western gamers had to wait until last week to see a re-release of a Mother game, with EarthBound (Mother 2) now available on the Wii U Virtual Console in North America and, for the first time ever in the series' history, in Europe.

Itoi Baby One More Time

Shigesato Itoi, the creator of the Mother series, has had his fingers in more pies than a wayward quality control worker at Ginsters.

Here's a selection of just some of the stuff he's been involved with over the years, Mother or otherwise.