EarthBound is a very special game. It’s difficult to explain why if you haven’t been a part of the online community. Heck, I haven’t been a part of it for very long comparatively, I’m essentially just an onlooker too. But even with my years of being in this fandom I struggle to find the words to express just how much these three little games and the people who adore them as much as I do matter to me. Thankfully, EarthBound USA is here to fill in the gaps where words fail me. Created by FanGamer and Jazzy Benson, EarthBound USA tells the story of Starmen.net, a fan website centered around the EarthBound or, as it’s known in Japan, Mother series. At its heart, this is a very human story about people coming together over a common passion and finding something more within each other.
The film begins with an overview of EarthBound’s failure in the US. Thanks to poorly thought out marketing (even for the mid 90’s), bad timing with the Nintendo 64 just around the corner, and many other reasons, SNES RPG EarthBound sold very poorly. Something I learned from this film is that it also reviewed very poorly too. For whatever reason, EarthBound just didn’t click with most critics. From there, the movie goes on to focus on the fans of this weird game and the establishment of Starmen.net, putting the spotlight on founders Reid Young and Clyde “Tomato” Mandelin. Everything the fandom got up to between 1997 and the release of the Mother 3 Fan Translation in 2008 makes for a great story, and it’s all put together wonderfully.
The film embraces the weird, “cringey” vibe of the old internet which makes it super charming. There’s some over the top voiceover and intentionally bad special effects that still somehow look good; it all captures the earnest nature of the games and the fanbase. It all culminates in a very sweet interview with creator of EarthBound and general renaissance man Shigesato Itoi. If you’re familiar with EarthBound but don’t know much about the fandom, this will certainly surprise you in the things they were able to do. If you are familiar already (like I am), this is still a great watch and will bring back some fond memories.
While this is a documentary, they certainly have a lot of fun in telling the story, like building up intrigue around EarthBound 64 before ultimately revealing its cancellation. It does take things seriously when it matters though. For example, it was interesting to see Mandelin’s conflicted feelings about translating Mother 3. It’s all very human – people struggle yet also find love, kindness, and connection within this community. It does focus mostly on the positives, the call-in campaign growing out of proportion and… let’s say messages to former Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aimé about localzing Mother 3 are only briefly touched on. Then again, those certainly aren’t the worst things fan communities on the internet have done so perhaps that’s for the best. There can be a lot of negativity surrounding being a fan of anything these days, so it’s nice to be reminded of the good it can foster too.
Something that surprised me going in was how good the music was. Again, it really captures what EarthBound is all about while remaining original and different. I don’t usually think this about movies but I would totally go out of my way to listen to this soundtrack outside of the film (aside from watching Stephen Georg’s “I am EarthBound” rap again out of nostalgia). I somewhat expected EarthBound USA to feel a bit cheap, like a passionate fan project, and while it still does at times it’s clearly intentional and still with a large amount of polish behind it.
My only real complaint about the film is that you’ll probably be a bit lost if you’re not at least familiar with EarthBound. It’s nice to not have someone explaining the entire game as a lengthy preamble, but I would encourage anyone curious to at least play an hour or so of EarthBound to get the general idea first. The movie does go into the overall premise as described through the marketing, but EarthBound has a very unique vibe that some audiences may be put off by through how well the film captures it. EarthBound’s humor outside of simple text boxes and animations might be a bit of an assault on the senses if you’re not aware of the basics. Still, EarthBound USA is a work of passion made by fans for fans, and that’s who will enjoy it the most.
David is the kind of person to wear his heart on his sleeve. He can find positives in anything, like this is a person who loved Star Fox Zero to death. You’ll see him playing all kinds of games: AAAs, Indies, game jam games, games of all genres, and writing about them! Here. On this website. When not writing or playing games, you can find David making music, games, or enjoying a good book.
David’s favorite games include NieR: Automata, Mother 3, and Gravity Rush.
EarthBound USA presents a heartwarming glimpse into the lives of EarthBound fans, the history of Starmen.net, and the things a community can accomplish. It’s strange, funny, and heartrending in all the right ways. The film is pure passion upheld by polish and production value that you don’t often see in works like this. Just remember, no crying until the end.