The EarthBound universe, also known by its Japanese name the Mother universe (マザー, MOTHER) refers to the Super Smash Bros. series' collection of characters, stages, and properties that hail from Nintendo's cult-classic trilogy of Japanese role-playing games. The series was created by Shigesato Itoi, and the franchise's symbol is the Earth, which itself is a recurring motif in the EarthBound series (being represented in both EarthBound and Super Smash Bros. by the Blue Marble). Despite receiving poor sales in its initial release, the EarthBound series has become massively successful retrospectively due to its dedicated fanbase and representation in the Smash Bros. series. The games' re-releases have been constantly topping the charts as best sellers on the Nintendo eShop, most notably EarthBound is currently the fourth best selling Virtual Console game on the Wii U's eShop (surpassed only by Super Mario World, Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Bros. 3) and the sixth best selling eShop game of all time. The Smash Bros. games represent the franchise with Ness and Lucas as playable characters, along with various other characters appearing as items and enemies.
An influential Japanese copywriter, actor, and television personality named Shigesato Itoi took a foray into the Nintendo-dominated video game market of the late 1980s despite some initial skepticism from Nintendo's higher-ups about working with celebrities. He and then-Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi formed a new subsidiary called Ape Inc. (later rebranded as Creatures) and Itoi designed and directed the Japan-exclusive RPG Mother. Released for the Famicom in July 1989, it was an unconventional take on the primarily sword-and-sorcery themed RPG genre. The game was set in a humorous rendition of contemporary America and had the player assuming the role of Ninten, a neighborhood boy with psychic powers. It featured conventional objects such as baseball bats and yo-yos as stand-ins for weapons that could be equipped and a variety of bizarre and comical enemies such as possessed automobiles, crazed animals, and hippies and gang members. It also featured a very odd blend of simplistic character designs and dark themes and undertones. The game sold very well in Japan, and an English localization immediately began, with a planned fall 1991 release date with Earth Bound as the intended Western title. However, marketing executives anticipating the mid-1991 release of the Super NES decided that the prototype NES game would be too costly to produce and market, and the localized product was shelved with no foreseeable plans for a future release.
Itoi returned to design a sequel for the Super Famicom, Mother 2, though the title's development was troubled by a new inexperienced development staff and was stretched across five years, nearly facing cancellation. The project was only saved when late veteran programmer Satoru Iwata joined the development team, now making the Mother 2 project a joint effort by Ape and HAL Laboratory (HALKEN at the time), separate studios based at separate locations (employees would regularly have to travel between studios to work). It was released in August 1994 in Japan and, unlike its predecessor, actually saw a Western localization the following June, under the first public occurrence of the name EarthBound. However, while the game's Japanese sales figures were relatively close to the original's, it sold poorly in the West because of an unusual and ineffective marketing campaign and the fact that American audiences were largely indifferent to JRPGs at the time (this would only end with the 1997 release of Final Fantasy VII, which brought the genre to the mainstream). These poor sales even prevented the game from being released in the PAL regions. Critical retrospectives, however, portray it as not only one of the best RPGs in the 1990s, but also one of the most original, both in its approach to established JRPG mechanics and in its uniquely quirky humor, storyline (which is comparatively more light-hearted than its forerunner), character, and bizarre psychedelic aesthetic, as well as its many parodies of American culture and JRPG - and science fiction - storytelling conventions. Some publications have named it the defining example of a cult classic, with substantial fanbases in both Japan and North America.
More development and release date woes awaited the Mother franchise following EarthBound. Itoi immediately began development of the series's second sequel for the Super Famicom in 1994, which was then moved to the Nintendo 64DD add-on for the Nintendo 64, popularized by the media as the then-upcoming EarthBound 64. When the ill-fated disk drive peripheral was met with commercial failure, the game was cancelled and restarted its development cycle on the Nintendo 64 itself, where it was initially expected to be a launch title for the console's Western release. But Itoi's development team was inexperienced with developing three-dimensional titles and the Nintendo 64 hardware itself, and the project remained unreleased even as EarthBound was included by Masahiro Sakurai as an unlockable franchise in the original Super Smash Bros. in 1998. Itoi eventually announced the official cancellation of EarthBound 64 in August 2000, citing that he did not want to make anything other than "something truly special" in addition to the project becoming too complex with its interest in three-dimensional graphics. Shigeru Miyamoto subsequently became interested in finding ways to salvage some of the work, though this had to be put on hold because the Mother 3 development team was put on Nintendo GameCube projects. Meanwhile, the translated prototype of the Western version of the NES game was discovered and purchased by a fan translation group, which was modified, retitled "EarthBound Zero", and distributed through the Internet as a ROM image.
Itoi and Nintendo eventually decided to rerelease both Mother titles in Japan as ports compiled on one Game Boy Advance cartridge, Mother 1 + 2, which was released in June 2003 in Japan and included all of the enhancements the English prototype had made to the original Mother; to the dismay of fans, this was never released in the West either. However, Itoi realized he would once again be pressured into reviving Mother 3, an idea he was initially opposed to, but encouragement from fans led to his decision to restart development for the game for Game Boy Advance, which he approached as though he were developing his magnum opus. After three years of development, Mother 3 (essentially now a Game Boy Advance recreation of EarthBound 64) was finally released in Japan in April 2006, twelve years after development began and over a year after the launch of the handheld's successor, the Nintendo DS. This Game Boy Advance title returned the series to a two-dimensional aesthetic but placed more emphasis on a serious plot and character interaction and tweaked gameplay elements of its predecessors. It was released to critical acclaim that praised its new rhythm-based but otherwise simple approach to turn-based combat and, most significantly, tragic storytelling and characterization that achieved a rarely seen degree of depth in titles in the genre.
Unfortunately, Nintendo of America would once more decline to localize the game for Western audiences, once again apparently because of fears that its inconvenient timing at the end of the commercial lifespan of the platform it was based on would negatively affect its sales. The fansite Starmen.net made headlines in October 2008 when it released its own English translation patch that could be applied to a copy of the ROM image of Mother 3. This monumental translation effort was spearheaded by professional translator Clyde "Tomato" Mandelin and the patch received over 100,000 downloads from the website in the first week of its release. Despite the project not being completely legal, it became one of a handful of unofficial video game localization projects that officials in the video game industry did not formally object to, but instead expressed admiration for. In the meantime, the Mother series has regularly appeared in every subsequent Super Smash Bros. game to date, including Mother 3 being focused on in 2008's Super Smash Bros. Brawl, though Itoi has announced that he has no plans to direct a fourth Mother game and reaffirmed this statement several times. In the years to come, developers large and small would create role-playing games that would draw heavy inspiration from the world, humor, and battle system of the Mother series, including the critically-acclaimed Undertale in 2015. Although the series is seldom referenced directly by Nintendo, the rights held to it by Itoi have enabled the continued development of merchandise and other projects honoring its legacy, such as a collaborative tribute book and a rearranged version of the first game's studio album.
Eventually, EarthBound was rereleased in the west on the Virtual Console service, and throughout the recent years the series has had multiple rereleases across different platforms:
Each of the Mother / EarthBound games are relatively loosely connected stories set on a fictional rendition of Earth, with the setting and scenario being different each game:
EarthBound is one of the "bonus franchises" in the original Super Smash Bros. - contributing one unlockable character and a song (his victory theme). There are no stages based on EarthBound in the game, so Ness instead has to be fought on Kirby's stage in order to be unlocked.
EarthBound's representation in the Smash series was expanded significantly upon in Super Smash Bros. Melee, with a returning character, two new stages, a new item, and many new trophies.
Melee is the first game to introduce stages for the EarthBound series.
Melee introduced an item for the EarthBound series as well:
Main article: List of SSBM trophies (EarthBound series)
Lucky and Nice of the Runaway Five appear in the introduction movie in Onett. There is also a sign showing a picture of both members that is absent in the Onett stage. The equivalent sign in the stage is moved further to the right and has a different design, with only Lucky being present in the picture.
Sound effects from EarthBound can be heard in the beginning of the Special Movie.
The content from the EarthBound franchise have been given a boost in representation since Melee with two total playable characters and another item in Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
On the final character select screen (after all characters are unlocked), the EarthBound characters occupy the eighth column alongside the Fire Emblem characters. Both of these series were originally Japan-only RPG series that later saw at least one entry released in the West.
Bold italics denote an item new to the Smash Bros. series.
Hackers have found unused music in the Brawl, and EarthBound has more of it than any other series in the game.
Main article: List of SSBB trophies (EarthBound series)
Main article: List of stickers (EarthBound series)
Main article: Masterpieces
The EarthBound universe is once again represented in Super Smash Bros. 4. Initially, Ness returned while Lucas was cut, but Lucas was later on released as a DLC character.
for Nintendo 3DS
for Wii U
Bold italics denote an Assist Trophy new to the Smash Bros. series.
Smash Tour items
Smash Tour enemy
Main article: Alternate costume (SSB4)/Mii Fighter
Main article: List of SSB4 Music (EarthBound series)
Arrangements and remixes unique to SSB4.
Arrangements and remixes from previous Smash titles.
Main article: List of SSB4 trophies (EarthBound series)
Main article: Masterpieces
The EarthBound / MOTHER universe returns in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, with its content from across the Smash series being curated for this installment. All past fighters, music tracks, stages, items, and Assist Trophies return, with new elements such as a new item and music remixes being added. In English, the original Mother is now consistently referred to as EarthBound Beginnings. This is the first time since SSB where all of the EarthBound series fighters must be unlocked.
All EarthBound stages from previous titles return.
Bold italics denote an item new to the Smash Bros. series.
Main article: Alternate costume (SSBU)/Mii Fighter
Main article: List of SSBU Music (EarthBound series)
All music tracks from the original Mother are now labeled under EarthBound Beginnings.
Arrangements and remixes unique to Ultimate.
Arrangements and remixes returning from previous Smash games.
Main article: List of spirits (EarthBound series)
Media with elements in or from the Super Smash Bros. series