Thursday, April 28, 2011

It's Peanuts Time Again, Shigesato Itoi!

I’ve written about this before, as seen in a previous post. But on this, the final day of’s MOTHER fanfest, I think it’s appropriate to revisit the topic for just a few moments. After all, MOTHER deserves a little more love before we all put it away for another year!

With the original MOTHER title – known in some American circles as Earthbound Zero – series creator Shigesato Itoi crafted a video game for people who don’t necessarily enjoy traditional gaming experiences; a sort of “anti-video game.” Similarly, Peanuts by Charles Schultz caries the strange distinction of being both quintessential funny paper fodder and an anti-comic strip, rarely noted for its belly laughs but adored and venerated all the same by thousands and thousands of loyal readers. The strip’s got such staying power that as of 2011, it’s still being printed in hundreds of publications around the country, despite Schultz’s passing more than a decade earlier.

I don't know why he expected this time to be different.

So what could these two things possibly have in common that wasn’t already explored in “Its Itoi’s World, Charlie Brown?” Not much really; just a small tidbit I cut from the original essay. It’s something that I was reminded of when I finished MOTHER today.

It's a crumby game.
The more I ponder it, the more impossible I think it would be to make a “true” Peanuts game; a game that captures the essence of the comic strips and animated TV specials. There would be nothing to do in a Peanuts game but match philosophical wits with Linus, pay too much for psychological advice from Lucy, and have footballs pulled away just as you’re about to kick them. The only other choice is an action game starring that pudgy bald kid who’s falling down all the time. It would make as much sense as all those Garfield games that have everyone’s favorite lazy kitty doing triple flips over his neighbor’s fences and gallivanting through haunted houses. The few attempts at capturing Charlie Brown’s world on the gaming screen have been bizarre, Snoopy-based affairs like Snoopy’s Silly Sports Spectacular for the NES in 1990, but it’s worth noting that in Japan, this game stars Donald Duck and a bunch of other Disney characters. If that doesn’t speak volumes on the genericness of the title, I don’t know what does.

I realized this long ago: MOTHER is a better Charlie Brown game than what was officially attempted with the Peanuts license – and probably anything that will ever come along in the future. Though the RPG genre isn’t an exact fit for good ol’ Chuck and the gang, it’s probably the best suited for that classic Peanuts dry humor and somewhat melancholy atmosphere.

Ninten at home.
Ironically, the greatest tribute to Schultz’s work was created 11 years before his death by a man who lives thousands of miles away from the birthplace of everyone’s favorite blockhead. Perhaps Shigesato Itoi understands American culture better than many of those living within her borders.

Or perhaps he just knows how to craft enjoyable games rife with dry humor and a somewhat melancholy atmosphere.

1 comment:

  1. It's Itoi's melancholy that sucks me in every time. It feels like children have been thrust into shoes too big for them. I'm not talking about the heroes of the games, I'm talking about the naivete of all the characters (something accounted for in Mother 3, but still present in the first 2) and the way in which characters approach the world in such a black and white manner.

    I love the (self-professed) worldly wise (wo)man juxtaposed against the eternally perplexed, Lucy/Charlie Brown relationship. I think the same is present when the player becomes the protagonist.