Monday, October 11, 2010

MOTHER 3 and the Masses: The Long Road to Success

Borrowed from Eb Central.
When Earthbound, known as MOTHER 2 in Japan, was released in the United States in the summer of 1995, it didn’t make quite the splash Nintendo had hoped: It flopped. Earthbound’s failure might have been because the game was released close to the end of the Super Nintendo’s life span; after all, exciting new 3D gaming systems, like Sony’s Playstation and Sega’s Saturn, were just around the corner. (Personally, I blame Sega’s fantastic 32X.) Or it might have been the slightly outdated graphics, which many reviewers dismissed as “squashed” or “childish.” But ironically, the biggest factor might have been the Big N itself. Perhaps much of Earthbound’s failure can be attributed to Nintendo’s hideous advertising campaign - the ill-conceived “This game stinks” tagline may have actually done more damage than good. While normally, this would have been a refreshing dose of truth in advertising, it wasn’t true of Earthbound at all. But whatever the reason, Earthbound found itself with a small but devoted band of followers and little else. The American gaming public had failed to take notice of one of the best games on market. Six months later, everyone was playing Battle Arena Toshinden on the new but soon to be overheated PlayStations they had received for Christmas and Earthbound had been banished to bargain bins across the United States, lost in the eternal video shuffle.

MOTHER 3 logo, from the box.
If MOTHER 2 didn’t do so hot in the States, what could be done to increase sales of its sequel? If it ever got an English release, would MOTHER 3 be just as unnoticed as its predecessor? In response, I’ve devised with a few ways to make MOTHER 3 more palatable for the general American audience. I know some of these changes might seem radical, but please, bear with me. This might be the only way we’ll ever see MOTHER 3 stateside.

One thing what would make MOTHER 3 a success here in America is lasers. And some sort of rocket launcher as well. These weapons could be used to blow up the space marines that will inhabit MOTHER 3’s lush, 3D environments. Lucas and his friends would wear green armor that conceals their faces, so everyone in the game looks exactly the same. Next, there would have to be tanks that require the use of nine analogue sticks to drive. And check it out – once you get to the end of MOTHER 3, you’d have to turn around and play through it again… only BACKWARDS! What could possibly top an innovation like that? Finally, I’d like the game to appear on Xbox 360 (and six years later, PC) as MOTHER 3: Reaching for Combat Evolved. Shigesato Itoi, MOTHER 3’s creator, will make millions!

MOTHER 3: Reaching for Combat Evolved

For MOTHER 3 to be commercially successful over here in the States, it would pretty much have to be Halo. That’s because many of today’s gamers expect all graphics to be photorealistic, and most games to involve firing giant doomsday rockets, or at least setting something on fire. These people probably can’t even remember what a Super Nintendo looks like, let alone an obscure, decade old Super Nintendo role playing game. MOTHER 3 would look absolutely prehistoric to them. So without completely redoing the gameplay and graphics, only devoted fans, old school gamers and those willing to accept the game’s 2D graphics will take notice of poor MOTHER 3.

However, making any changes would ruin the game’s integrity. MOTHER games are supposed to have squashed, cartoony graphics and midi music. Those are hallmarks of the MOTHER series. It’s never been about an intense audio/visual experience or cutting edge gameplay – MOTHER has always been about getting the most out of what little the programmers had to work with. MOTHER and MOTHER 2 gave us wonderful, enduring stories many gamers will never forget and music that we still hum while stopped at a traffic light or while falling asleep on a long bus ride. These elements are the essence of MOTHER, and cannot be altered. So the question still remains: If not reworking the graphics and gameplay, what can be done to make MOTHER 3 a success in America?
I actually don't like MOTHER 3, but I wish it would come out in the States anyway.

Nintendo must take a drastically different direction with MOTHER 3’s advertising, one that is sure to turn heads and create such a buzz that everyone in America will want their very own copy of MOTHER 3: Nintendo must lie mightily. Their first course of action is to drop quotes to gaming magazines such as “MOTHER 3: Now with 250 percent more exploding heads than Grand Theft Auto,” “MOTHER 3 will be the greatest racing game since Gran Turismo 5,” and even “MOTHER 3 is shaping up to be the best Metal Gear Solid game yet!” Next, Nintendo should invite the press to their headquarters and play footage of the newest Legend of Zelda game, only refer to the game in question as MOTHER 3. (“As you can see, Link has many new and amazing abilities in the latest Legend of Zelda game, MOTHER 3.”) Most people in America have no idea what MOTHER 3 really is, and they’ll believe anything Nintendo tells them. After all, it’s worked in the past; remember when Nintendo told us there was going to be an Earthbound 64? Oh, and it wouldn’t hurt to say that MOTHER 3 can get you a better job, more friends and lots of money.

Those of us in the know will smile silently to ourselves, waiting patiently for the day MOTHER 3 takes over America. Yes, I know lying is wrong, but once the masses are exposed to MOTHER 3’s brilliance (well, I actually don’t like it that much, but everyone else does), they’ll forgive Nintendo for any lies the company might have told. It’s like hiding a nasty pill inside some delicious cookie dough, only for all the gamers in America. See, they’ll feel much better after playing MOTHER 3, even if they had to be tricked into trying it. A similar campaign can be used in Europe. All Nintendo needs to do is spell everything with extra U’s, change all references to elevators to “lifts,” and make a few more references to soccer. Ta-da! Nintendo will have themselves an international best seller! Itoi will be revered as a God, and true MOTHER fans will finally have received a sequel to one of their favorite games of all time!

But the game’s biggest hurdle looms large in the background, overshadowing every aspect of its development: MOTHER 3 has little, if any, time to spare. The other two games in the series came out right at the end of their respective console’s life cycle – for MOTHER 3 to be a success, it must be released before the already obsolete GBA hardware is totally obliterated from American stores, which at this point, seems to have already happened. Time is what Itoi and his team must fear the most, because it’s timing that would determine whether MOTHER 3 is a hit or just another obscure footnote in gaming history like its brethren. We all know the effects poor timing had on the no-show American release of MOTHER 1, the lucky to exist Earthbound, and perhaps the greatest causality of the series, Earthbound 64. MOTHER 3 or not, let’s hope that Nintendo has learned from the mistakes of the past and will finally find a way do the MOTHER series proud.

Well, they could do all that, or they could just put Super Mario on the cover. That’s been selling games for years.

It'sa me, Mario! And I'ma badly Photoshopped onto thisa box. WOO-HOO!


  1. So it’ll be like when Bioware’s advertising department portrayed Dragon Age as a non-stop action bloodbath, and instead the teenagers had to deal with alien concepts like a paced story and characterization. Still, as you said for it to be successful in America it would have to be a shooter. Bringing back long forgotten franchises like Fallout and X-Com, then turning them into shooters is fast becoming the stupidiest trend since lead face paint.

  2. "...the stupidiest trend since lead face paint." If you came up with that one yourself, Mr. Sigar, you deserve a cookie! At any rate, shooters are what's hot with what I called "meathead" gamers today, and that seems to be where a lot of revenue is coming from. Arthouse games with emotional impact like the MOTHER series stand much less of a chance now, unless they appear as downloadable titles via PSN, Xbox live and Wii shopping channel.

  3. Meathead is an apt term, if a little generous. French-smelling, knuckle-dragging mouth-breathing, troglodytes with all the social charm of a used teabag would be my description. When they’re not swearing like a Greek sailor at complete strangers on Halo’s multiplayer, they’re probably out burning down a community centre.

  4. Heh heh. Adorable. In the time and space in which I exist, surrounded by kids who want more philosophy to their game, just as they do to their indie song lyrics (seriously, my sister went to a "philosophy jam" two nights ago in the back room of a lounge bar) I feel like I know so many who would want to get their hands on Mother 3. They all PURCHASED Braid. They all want to think and smile, etc. Not just to blow things up.

    I only wish this was at all close to an accurate portrayal of the gaming market, rather than just my little friend group.