Wednesday, January 28, 2009

MGS4: A Stunning Story Offsets Deja Vu Gameplay

We've all been waiting for years for a true sequel to 2001's Metal Gear Solid 2; a game that will hopefully tie up some of the loose ends Sons of Liberty left us with. Who are the Patriots? How are they connected to Solid Snake? Will Raiden's girlfriend ever stop whining? Will Snake continue to sport his rockin' mullet?

Some of those questions are answered and some are left up in the air; however, none of that really matters, because I'm convinced that thanks to its storyline, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is already one of the most socially relevant games of the 21st century. Kojima's newest work paints a horrifying vision of humanity where perpetual war is the backbone of the world economy; a vision that comes uncomfortably close to current world events. Militia groups – soldiers for hire – now fight all of our wars. On the surface, it sounds great: Wars take place and citizens can rest easy, knowing only hired goons will be killed in action. However, when war is necessary for the economy to flourish, combat becomes commonplace, and it's not long before the lines between citizen and soldier are blurred. Behind all this is a familiar face or two, carrying on Big Boss's ideals and creating a world where soldiers will never be obsolete.

Outer Heaven lives once more.

Snake, now an old man thanks to his unstable clone DNA (and the FoxDie disease that was injected into him during the first game couldn't be helping much either), must infiltrate a remote Middle Eastern location to find and neutralize the cause of the resurrected Outer Heaven, but time is not on his side. His youth failing, the combat-weary “Old Snake” must fight one last time as an independent force, representing the closest thing to justice the world has seen for some time.

The graphics failed to impress me very much. Of course they're pretty good, with major attention paid to detail is in most of Kojima's works, but there's little about them that makes me want to stare in awe and drop my annoyingly-expensive yet sort-of-necessary Dualshock 3 controller. Everything looks as it should, with the Middle Eastern setting sufficiently “hot” looking and such, but I've come to expect more from both the PS3 and the hype surrounding MGS4. Then again, as any true gamer knows, graphics do not make a game entertaining; gameplay does.

And gameplay is an area where MGS4 certainly delivers. With wide open environments thrown into the mix with the standard enclosed environments MGS fans have come to expect from the series, the newest Metal Gear Solid title offers a welcome change of pace from earlier titles, playing like a mixture of Snake Eater and the aforementioned Sons of Liberty. With lead swapped between non player characters almost constantly and bombs flying feely through the air, confusion reigns supreme on the battlefield. Thanks to this mechanic, the player's tension levels reach an all-time high in the series, however, there's an in-game map to tell you what direction to go to reach your next objective. In this way things are a lot more liner than previous titles. Also, sneaking is even more imperative in these situations, forcing the player to really think about the route they're going or face the swift, deadly consequences.

The controls are much like the other Metal Gear Solid games, meaning that there're slightly confusing and unintuitive, but responsive overall and effective in the right hands.The sound is good too. Bullets whiz past the player in excellent stereo sound, going from one speaker to the other as they pass you by. The music is on target for the series, popping up at appropriate times and sufficiently suspenseful, but the omission of the main theme of the series made popular by the intro movie of the Sons of Liberty is a bit disappointing.

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is not going to win over gamers who hated the other entries into the series, but it will please fans. The storyline is the main draw here, giving intellectual types hours of ammo for their late night thinking sessions. Those of us less inclined to question the world around us will still enjoy the game for the fun gunplay, the atmospheric sound and the nice graphics, but I wonder if these aren't the same people who would most benefit from Kojima's message. Metal Gear Solid 4 is a solid purchase for fans, action gamers, and those who want to wrap their heads around some veiled political commentary – and it just might mark the turnaround point for Sony's ailing PS3. Give it a whirl and salute the final appearance of one of gaming's greatest heroes.

Score: 8 out of 10


The special edition of Metal Gear Solid 4 is a Gamestop/EB games exclusive, and if you didn’t preorder it, you might be out of luck. It contains the game itself (duh), a soundtrack CD and a Blu-ray featuring two hours of additional content, including a making-of documentary. The release comes in a handsome, sturdy box, unlike the special edition of Devil May Cry 4 a few months back that crammed all the content into a cheap plastic sleeve (with a decent metal box under everything to be fair).

Without going into spoiler territory, the documentary is a nice outing for fans who want to know more about the project and the man himself, Hideo Kojima. However, chances are if you don’t know who Hideo Kojima is, you won’t get much use out of the extras that come with special edition. The included soundtrack is nice, if only for completeness’s sake, but it’s nothing one can’t live without – especially if one is a casual player who’s just looking for some quick espionage fun.

You really have to be dedicated to Metal Gear Solid as a series to appreciate the extras in the special edition box set. With no new game content, there’s little for the causal player to appreciate, and watching the documentary will become a chore for the player in this case.

The special edition of Metal Gear Solid 4 is a treasure trove of fun for fans, but an unnecessary expense for all others. Collectors, this box will look awesome on your wall, proudly displayed next to the other titles in the series; so buy with abandon! Everyone else, however, should be satisfied with the normal release.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Mortal Mediocrity: MK1 on Sega CD

It's bigger... than the Genesis cartridge.
While Midway Games was programming the Sega CD version of the arcade powerhouse Mortal Kombat, the publisher, Acclaim, promised the result would be "bigger, better, louder and meaner" than any of the other home versions available. What they finally heaped on violence-starved customers was essentially the old Genesis/Mega Drive version with a CD-quality soundtrack.

Soon after making a killing in the arcades, Mortal Kombat was released on several home systems, including the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo. Both of these ports underwent drastic changes in the process, including audiovisual alterations and downgrades in order to compensate for both of the home systems' limitations. The result was still Mortal Kombat all right, but the Genesis version lacked the visual punch of its big brother, and the graphically-superior SNES version suffered from watered-down violence and stinted controls.

But for the arcade perfectionist, there was a light at the end of the tunnel: The much anticipated Sega CD version was supposed to remedy all the problems of the previous releases and deliver a true arcade experience.

It didn't.

Those who had waited months for the definitive home version of the bloody brawler were sorely disappointed with the final Sega CD product. Instead of emulating the superior graphics of the quarter-cruncher, or even the problematic but pretty Super Nintendo offering, the programmers had simply added a few more frames of animation to the existing Genesis game. It seems like a cheap move, and it was. But thankfully, the reinserted frames turn the stiff, "cardboard cutout" characters of the Genesis version into much more fluid and realistic fighters. Kicks and punches flow much better, and characters bob up and down instead of performing the same three frames of animation indefinitely. Moreover, Sub-zero looks like he did in the arcade, meaning he no longer has to share his fighting stance with his palette swapped rival, Scorpion, in the name of saving ROM space.

It's the same washed out, grainy screen as before.

Unfortunately, the fluid animation doesn't save the graphics from looking grainy and washed out, thanks to the Sega CD's limited color choices and the already lacking Genesis game on which MKCD is based. Johnny Cage's portrait on the character select screen, for example, is a blotchy mess. His teeth are nothing more than a white blob, where as in the arcade version, one could practically count his fillings. Most backgrounds look decent, but some are mysteriously empty (such as the Buddha temple stage). Given the abilities of the Sega CD unit, there is no reason why the graphics couldn't have at least come close to those of the arcade original, yet we're left with a half-hearted hack job that rests somewhere between the Genesis and the SNES ports.

Mercifully, the sound fares much better. The music seems to have been sampled directly from the arcade game and it sets the stage for battle nicely. Foreboding, vaguely Asian tunes compliment the game's dark themes and seedy locales. The fighters grunt and yell during battles, but a few of the screams and groans from the arcade game curiously go missing. The sounds of combat are bland and uninspired, but they get the job done: Generic punching noises accompany every successful hit and a forgettable "wooshing" noise plays whenever a character whiffs a roundhouse kick or takes to the air.

Get over here!
Although there's not much in the way of extra features in the game itself, there is some extra content on the Mortal Kombat CD that can't be found elsewhere. When they first power up the game, players are treated to a grainy video splicing gameplay footage with the old Mortal Kombat TV commercial. (Laughably, the in-game footage is all from the SNES version.) While it's not much on its own, it brings back some fond memories for those of us old enough to remember these infamous ads. Also included are extra songs tacked onto the CD after the normal game music. These tracks are remixes of the now famous Mortal Kombat theme song heard in the intro video, tracks that aren't even on the official Mortal Kombat album! Lastly, the programmers were nice (or lazy) enough to leave the original Genesis cart's "bloodless" fatalities intact in the programming, accessible via a code. While they're all rather shoddy reworkings of existing moves, when you've seen Sub-Zero tear off everyone's head at least 14 million times, it's a fun change of pace.

While the extras on this disc shine, sadly, the actual gameplay doesn't. There are only seven selectable fighters versus the ten or twelve that were common in fighting games of the early 90s, and each character has the same set of basic moves. Ironically, the same uniformity that makes this game so easy to pick up also destroys much of its replay value. What few moves you are in control of are drastically overpowered. Uppercuts send players reeling, foot sweeps can easily be used over and over again to "cheap" your way to victory, and to quote what my friend Ian used to say, "Your jump kick is like a super move." The entire game can be easily conquered with these three attacks alone. There's not much in this game to keep head-to-head fighting freaks battling each other, and even less to keep the solo player interested. Mortal Kombat is fun for a while, but like bouncing on a trampoline, you're eventually going to get a headache from the repetitiveness of it all.

With a six-button controller, it's easy to make the characters do pretty much whatever you want. Impressive uppercuts, deadly fireballs, and crazy flying kicks are mere button taps away. Even the fatalities are easy to perform. Due in part to the simplistic design of the original, a three-button pad works better than one might expect with this game. A pause feature, however, should have been implemented. The start button is used to block incoming attacks on both pads, giving players with the six-button controller their choice of three separate block buttons. Call me old fashioned, but three block buttons is two too many.

Some players have a problem with the loading times in between battles, but it's actually not too bad. It takes about ten seconds for a fight to load, which is about the norm for CD games of the time. And the load time for the fatalities? Milliseconds. Actually, the time in between a successful fatality input and the actual execution (excuse the pun) serves to increase the player's anticipation. Like one of the Sega CD's other fighting games, Eternal Champions, once you hear that CD drive spinning, you know that digitized death is coming your way!

With Mortal Kombat on Sega CD, gamers received a mediocre port of a lackluster game. This disc delivers a better experience than the Genesis cart, but in the same way that Bush managed to defeat Gore in the 2000 United States presidential election: Barely. Though not without its occasional charms, like uppercutting hapless victims into a spike-filled pit below or catching the opponent off guard with Scorpion's notorious spear move, Mortal Kombat on Sega CD (or in any form, for that matter) will likely leave players unimpressed. However, if one boots up this game with few expectations, they're likely to catch themselves having a bit of fun, especially with a second player to face for Mortal Kombat supremacy. The game provides a decent challenge without being too difficult, and it controls easily enough that one can pick up a game pad and, within a few moments, have a fighting chance.

The era of Mortal Kombat dominating the arcades has come and gone, and without the hype (both negative and positive) we are left with a mildly entertaining martial arts romp that's more fun as a nostalgia piece than an actual game. If you can find a copy somewhere on the cheap, pick it up and give it a whirl, especially if you've played the Genesis cart to death. (Ha! That was a pun!) It won't be the best money you ever spent, but it's likely to inspire your friends to imitate whatever it is that Rayden yells during his "superman" move.

And that, my friends, is priceless.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Of Laser Beaks and Exploding Killer Bees

Kolibri, for Sega’s 32X, is your basic hummingbird-based shoot ‘em up.

I'll say it again: Kolibri is a hummingbird-based shoot ‘em up. I know it sounds ridiculous – and it is – but that’s just part of this overlooked title’s charm.

I feel I should start with a confession: I never liked Ecco the Dolphin. It’s kind of boring and I never know what I’m supposed to be doing. That’s why I’m so surprised that I like Kolibri as much as I do. Like Ecco the Dolphin, the goals of each stage are never very clear and rounds begin and end in nondescript areas, but the game’s asinine concept, stunning visuals and haunting tunes keep me coming back.

In a medium that prides itself on shattering one’s nerves, Kolibri sticks out as the most serene game I've ever played. The photorealistic graphics use the 32X's increased color pallet to the fullest. Foliage, water, animals and sunsets (the glorious sunsets!) are truly a sight to behold. Happyish, new age synthesizer music floats through your speakers during half the levels in the game and can be very soothing at times; the other tunes are panicky and urgent, but both sets fit the action in an odd, “I’m a badass, rapid-fire hummingbird off to save the Earth,” kind of way. The gameplay is only average, blending the action sensibilities of a spacer shooter with the free-roaming gameplay mechanics of Ecco, but it’s the atmosphere that keeps sucking the player back in.

The controls are decently responsive, with the d-pad taking on the movement responsibilities, one fire button and one “speed burst button.” Most of the cavalcade of available weapons are easy to use, but the few that aren’t pretty much kill any fun you may have been having before picking them up. Here’s a tip: Ditch the small bullets or the “ring beam” for something heat-seeking, like the laser beams or the blue and yellow sphere thingies. Trying to control the inferior weapons is akin to typing a midterm with just your nose – it’s possible, but why would you put yourself through the frustration when you could have had a much easier time of it all?

If you like Ecco the Dolphin (for some reason), if you’re looking for something unique, or if you just need a reason to take Virtua Fighter out of your 32X, give Kolibri a shot. Check it out: The manual even gives you tips on how to build your own hummingbird feeder. I’m just upset that when I made a feeder after buying the game 14 years ago, the hummingbirds that came to visit didn't start blowing up the beehives around my house with their laser beaks.

You lied to me about nature again Sega, (see: Sonic the Hedgehog, Dynamite Dux, Talespin, etc.) but it’s so much better than the truth that I forgive you.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Falling In Love Again with Castlevania

Ahh, Castlevania. How you used to frustrate me in my bright-eyed NES days with your impossible jumps and chunky controls. Every set of stairs was another potential death trap and jumping was always a leap of faith. And yet, I still loved you. But like the shining brilliance of a shooting star, our romance soon burned out. It was just puppy love, we thought. Time to move on.

Four years later, I heard about the newest Castlevania game, this time on the Sega Genesis. But Castlevania: Bloodlines, I was told, was not worth playing. “It’s not Super Castlevania IV!” exclaimed the masses, “therefore it isn’t fun!” But something inside me just couldn’t let it go, and I was drawn to that new Castlevania game anyway. I learned two things the day it finally found its way to my Genesis: the masses are pretty dumb, and Bloodlines is freakin’ awesome.

The sloppy controls of Castlevanias past have vanished; in their place is a responsive layout that hardly ever has my hero careening into a bottomless pit unless it’s my own stupid fault. The graphics are detailed and creepy, with rotting flesh, severed heads and bloody skeletons populating some of the most interesting locations early 20th century Europe had to offer. And let me tell you, that sunset over the lake in the second stage is permanently etched into my mind as one of the greatest video game moments of all time: Even with the Genesis’s limited pallet, the colors of the setting sun are brilliant. Combined with the urgency and hope inherent in the soundtrack, Bloodlines establishes a sort of heroic duty within the player that lasts throughout the offering.

Huge, detailed monstrosities await players who dare to infiltrate Dracula’s strongholds, leading to some truly epic – and often unexpected – battles. But perhaps the greatest surprise is that the standard whip-toting character, John Morris, is no where near as fun to use as his spear-wielding comrade, Eric Lecarde. As Eric, you can vault up to higher platforms in a single controller motion! You can spin your lance around and use it as a makeshift shield, shredding the undead (and innocent candles) with ease! You can finally stab demons where it hurts instead of just whacking them with a vaguely taboo piece of leather!

It’s great fun to square off against massive bosses, tear all manner of snarling fiends limb from limb, and find the rancid meat that Dracula hides in his walls. The only problem is this: Though by 1994 standards it was about average length, some might say that Bloodlines is kind of short. However, in the age of 200-hour-long epics that require refresher courses every time you play, a quick and moody action romp from the past might be just what the doctor ordered. Besides, both characters have their own somewhat different path though the game, a la Sonic and Knuckles, and there are three difficulty settings, so there’s still plenty to do after you finish the game for the first time.

Without a doubt, Bloodlines was, and still is, a great game. When I first played it, I couldn’t put the controller down for hours. And that’s when I knew I had fallen back in love. Hard.

I’ll never leave you again, baby. Never again.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

It's Itoi's World, Charlie Brown

For a kid who can’t do anything right, Charlie Brown sure does know how to capture the hearts of a nation.

Oct. 2, 1950, the first Peanuts comic strip ran in seven newspapers. Since then, Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang have become cultural icons, as synonymous with American culture as baseball, apple pie and the paintings of Norman Rockwell. Charlie Brown’s animated exploits are now an indelible part of our holidays, and rarely does a Christmas, Thanksgiving or Halloween go by without the likes of Linus, Snoopy and Peppermint Patty performing their yearly rituals on our television screens. Even before passing away from the complications of colon cancer in February of 2000, Charles Schulz, creator of Charlie Brown and the rest of the Peanuts gang, was an American legend.

However, it seems that the unlucky kid in the yellow shirt and his precocious beagle have been an inspiration to more than just the people of the United States.

Approximately 7000 miles away from the land of Rock n’ Roll, Superman and I Love Lucy lives Shigesato Itoi, one of the most talented writers Japan has ever produced. During the late 80s, Itoi found himself leading a new project for the Japanese electronics giant, Nintendo. In yet another new situation of his already eclectic career, Itoi’s first foray into the video game market was to use the formula of the massively popular Dragon Quest series of video games, but present a story and style completely counter to what Dragon Quest had been delivering to eager players for the past three years. Instead of a testosterone-laden title dealing with dragons and glory, Itoi named his game after the gentle woman who raised us all: Mother. Friendly neighbors and typical kids next door littered the urban landscape, and in place of swords, castles and brawny warriors from the “times of yore” were baseball bats, shopping malls, and four young American children who set out to save the world from an alien invasion – or have fun trying.

According to Phil Sandhop, head of the unreleased English translation of Mother, Itoi’s game was designed to have a Peanuts “feel” in both the graphics and gameplay. Apparently, it was the programmers’ intent to make Mother seem more authentically American by alluding to one of the United States most cherished creations. After all, what could be more American than good ol’ Charlie Brown?

“I don’t believe that [Mother] was meant to directly copy Peanuts,” Sandhop explained in an interview with the retro-gaming website The Lost Levels, “but that’s what the designers knew the typical Japanese game player would perceive to be a typical American boy growing up outside a small town.”

Although as Sandhop suggests, the game is far from a mere copy of Schulz’s comic strip, the Schulzian influence on Mother is undeniable. At first glace, Mother could easily be mistaken for a Charlie Brown game. Ninten, the game’s main character, doesn’t just look like Charlie Brown; he almost IS Charlie Brown. From his bulbous nose and boyish grin to his slightly chubby stomach and cartoony, oval feet, Ninten is the spitting image of everyone’s favorite blockhead. The only difference is Ninten’s trademark red hat and a blue – not yellow – t-shirt. Furthermore, many of the locales that he and his friends travel to in Mother, like small, rural homes and an unassuming elementary school, could have flowed directly from Schulz’s pen.

But the similarities aren’t limited to just Ninten and the game’s landscape: One look at some of the other inhabitants of the world of Mother conjures memories of Chuck and the gang as well. One female character Ninten encounters during his journey wears glasses and has short, black hair, just like Peppermint Patty’s yes-woman, Marcie. Another character is surrounded by a perpetual cloud of dust and has a mass of unkempt, “naturally curly” locks. He (or possibly she) is a cross between Fredia, a girl who appears briefly in A Charlie Brown Christmas, and Pigpen, a chronically filthy yet perpetually polite young man of the Peanuts universe.

In Earth Bound, the Marcie look-alike sports pigtails instead of her old, Schulz-inspired hairdo, and the Pigpen-like character has cleaned up his act, losing the dust cloud completely. As Sandhop said in his Lost Levels interview, the revisions were probably made during the translation process to “make the game Peanut-less,” for fear that a Schulz lawsuit might spring up otherwise. Yet, in a seemingly counterproductive move, Ninten was reworked to receive a very Charlie Brownesque stripe on his shirt. (Good grief, Nintendo! Make up your minds!)

One of the hallmarks of Schultz’s comic is the fact that the youngsters often act like the adults, revealing deep thoughts and saying poignant words, yet they still display the qualities inherent in all children. While kids in the Peanuts world drag around security blankets, play football, and worry about homework, they also ponder the true meaning of life in very mature ways.

Once again, Itoi takes a page out of Charlie Brown’s book with the children of Mother. While they are saddled with the gargantuan task of defeating an evil alien presence, just like the Peanuts gang, Ninten and his friends still find time to interact with other kids their own age, enjoy a home cooked meal, go to school and develop their first crushes.

Part II: “I don’t believe in pain.”

It all begs a very simple question: Why? Aside from the American flavor Itoi was searching for, why was Peanuts such an influence on Mother? Itoi isn’t one to haphazardly throw elements into his games, as evidenced by the harrowingly long development cycles they often go through. With this in mind, we are left with several unanswered questions: Did Itoi have other motives in adding many Schulzian elements to Mother? And if so, what were they?

In an interview with journalist Charles T. Whipple entitled “Words of Wisdom,” Itoi remarked, “I don't believe in pain. I don't believe things should be difficult. I don't believe perseverance conquers all.” Although Itoi was talking about his own philosophy, it’s interesting to note that this is basically the underlying ideology of the Peanuts comics in a nutshell. Every year, Lucy sets up the football, telling Charlie Brown that she’ll actually allow him to kick it this time – and every year, poor Charlie Brown winds up flat on his back, wondering why he always falls for the same trick. Linus forgoes Trick-or-Treating each Halloween to wait in the pumpkin patch for a visit from the Great Pumpkin, but all he ever gets is a cold and a broken heart. And Snoopy is constantly trying his hand at being an author, yet everything he writes is barely fit to line Woodstock’s birdcage.

There are many more examples, but Schulz’s lesson is clear: There is such a thing as too much perseverance. Many Peanuts strips and television specials illustrate the consequences of this – namely, unnecessary pain and unhappiness. Charles Shultz wasn’t telling the people of America to never try to reach a goal nor attempt to better themselves; he was simply saying that after trying our best again and again, there eventually comes a time to move on. Like Linus tells Charlie Brown when he blows the spelling bee in the film Snoopy Come Home, “And the world didn’t come to an end, did it, Charlie Brown?”

Itoi has definitely applied this philosophy to his own life. Through much of the 90s, Itoi put his heart and soul into crafting Mother 3, even moving it to the lesser Nintendo 64 platform when the company abandoned the N64 Disk Drive. But as the end of the N64’s life span drew near, however, the humble Itoi knew it was time to put his baby on ice. The cancellation came as a huge shock to Mother fans, but the project was becoming increasingly unfeasible and was causing Itoi much hardship and pain. It hurt him greatly that he was disappointing his fans, but it would have hurt much more to rush the project thought to completion and deliver a substandard product.

Knowing this, it’s not a stretch to infer that even during his work on the original Mother, Itoi lived by his “too much perseverance causes harm” philosophy. There’s probably no better representation of this ideology in the U.S. than Schulz’s comic characters, and Itoi knew Japanese players already associated Peanuts with the small town America setting of Mother. It only made sense then, for both Itoi and the players, for Itoi to reference his kindred spirit, Charles Schulz, on the video screen.

Part III: Itoi’s Charlie Brown Nation?

Does this mean Itoi views America as a carefree world akin to Charlie Brown’s? Put simply, no. However lightheartedly they do so, Mother games often delve into human nature – and the results are less than flattering to mankind. The series is rife with humanity acting badly, from miserly band managers and power mad policemen to self-serving politicians and gangs of wayward teens. Itoi may be a dreamer, but he’s far too intelligent to think that the innocence of a Charlie Brown lifestyle could exist fulltime on a planet full of hate, war and money.

More likely, the Peanuts-like world of Mother is the way Itoi wishes America – and for that matter, life itself – were. How wonderful it would be if the only woes we ever faced were simplistic, childlike difficulties, and the answers to our problems always lied within ourselves!

How wonderful indeed – especially for a man like Shigesato Itoi, who has plenty of problems and questions he can’t answer on his own. When Itoi was young, his parents were divorced. Later, Itoi rallied against Japanese tradition and left his school, Hosei University, in his late teens. Branded an outcast by society, Itoi was left with nowhere to go but the streets. Most people would have turned to their family for help – but, with the divorce, Itoi's family had been shattered; besides, he had quit University. How could he ever go home now?

It was kind of like Trick-or-Treating all night and coming home with a bag full of rocks.

"I got a rock."
In the end, the world of Mother has little to do with America or even Charlie Brown, although it does resemble it. No, Mother isn’t about Charles Schulz or Peanuts, it’s the video representation of what Itoi wishes his childhood had been. With a broken-up family, an unwillingness to attend University like everyone else, and no place to call his own, Itoi was forced to grow up fast.

Through playing his games and examining his other works, it’s easy to see what an introspective man Itoi is. It should come as no surprise, then, that Mother is just another part of Itoi’s endless search for answers; or at the very least, comfort. His hunt for fulfillment and his desire for the “normal” family he missed out on in his younger years led Itoi to create an alternate childhood, a better one, for himself – and anyone else who was looking for one as well. Ninten's got everything one could ask for – a sister, a loving mother, and a father who works hard to support his family – and now, so could Itoi.

A person’s mother is supposed to be the one who will always love them no matter what. Fittingly, Mother was Itoi’s labor of love; unlike most other video games of the time (and current games, for that matter), Mother wasn’t a generic piece of crap slammed together in six months for the sole purpose of generating profits. Itoi's opus was a gift to anyone who never had someone to call mom or dad, or those who came from a broken family. In fact, it was surrogate mother for everyone who needed one, regardless of why. Like the exploits of Charlie Brown, Mother presented players with a kinder view of life they could escape into whenever they choose.

Part IV: A Boy Named Shigesato Itoi

The first animated Peanuts special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, originally aired on CBS in the winter of 1965, when Itoi was about 17 years old. Near the end of this now-classic holiday tale, Charlie Brown is asked to bring back “a great big shiny aluminum Christmas tree” to be placed on stage during the children’s Christmas play. But good ol’ Charlie Brown goes with his heart, and instead of purchasing a more commercial product, he returns with a sickly, yet natural Christmas tree. At first, everyone is appalled with his choice. “I told you he’d goof it up. He’s not the kind you can depend on to do anything right,” says one little girl. “You’re hopeless, Charlie Brown,” adds another.

However, the Peanuts gang soon gives the little tree a second chance. “It’s not bad at all, really. It just needs a little love,” says Linus. They gather around and decorate it, and the once pathetic little tree stands beautiful and mighty.

In 1965, Itoi was a lot like that sad little tree. He was drifting through life aimlessly, with little hope. But, like that Charlie Brown tree, all he needed was “a little love” to blossom into something beautiful. By quitting University, Itoi had failed as far as conventional wisdom went; but after attending night school, putting in a lot of hard work, and a little help from his friends, he blossomed into one of the most sought-after copywriters in Japan. Soon, the kid who had dropped out of school was on televisions across Japan, reporting, hosting game shows, and more. And eventually, he would take the helm of the Mother series, a set of games that would inspire not only the people of Japan, but also fans in America. Against all odds, Itoi had become a Japanese cultural icon.

You know something? For a kid who couldn't do anything right, Shigesato Itoi sure knows how to capture the hearts of a nation.


Charlie Brown Christmas, A. 1965. Paramount.
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. 1966. Paramount.
Offical Peanuts Website, The. (2005) Retrieved 12 Apr 2006. Retrieved 12 Apr 2006.
Whipple, Charles T. “Words of Wisdom.” Retrieved 12 Apr 2006.
Wirth, Jonathan. “Spotlight Earthbound.” (2003) Retrieved 12 Apr 2006.