At long last, Earthbound is on Switch. Nintendo added the 1995 RPG to its online offerings earlier this week alongside its NES predecessor, Earthbound Beginnings. New players and longtime fans alike, including the series’ director, Shigesato Itoi, can now enjoy the colorful acid sci-fi journey on a beautiful OLED screen wherever they want. But there’s only one right way to play this masterpiece, and that’s with the official EarthBound Player’s Guide at your side. Fortunately, it’s free and easy to download.
Strategy guides are a lost art. Good ones help you get past a tough boss or find a secret you missed. The best ones give you a completely new way to experience the game they’re about. Nintendo’s strategy guide for EarthBound does both, adding a rich layer of context to one of the most vibrant and warmly crafted SNES games of all time.
There are made-up newspaper clippings, fictional ads, menus for restaurants, and photographs from the real-life locations that inspired those in the game. Margins are filled with 3D-sculpted enemy designs showing hit points and secret items they can drop after battle. And of course there were the infamous scratch-and-sniff cards at the end of the guide. They looked awesome but smelled god-awful. The digital version has them but you’ll have to imagine the unique foul odors yourself.
These things helped give the guide its personality, but what made it such a great complement to the game was the fact that it went to great lengths to not just spell everything out for you. EarthBound’s sprawling dungeon mazes are efficiently laid out and diagrammed, but information for how to get around obstacles or progress the story is offered as clues rather than explicit directions. The guide nudges you forward, teasing all of the interesting locations in a new city or land, but without preemptively ruining the intrigue and mystery. The guide tells a story, but it’s one that’s incomplete until you also play through the relevant sections in the game.
Original print copies of the EarthBound Player’s Guide, which came packed with the game in the U.S., are hard to find and go for hundreds of dollars. Nine-year old me cut out all the art for collages and only scraps remain. I don’t have a time machine like Ness to go back and right the past, but Nintendo has done the next best thing and published high-res scans of the entire guide on its website.
My only gripe is that the guide isn’t also viewable on the Switch. Nintendo points players to it in the console’s newsfeed with a handy QR code, but you still need another device to view it on. I’d love to see the Switch Online’s retro library get better in-game access to memorabilia like this, but it’s better than nothing in the meantime. Especially since it’s the only way you’ll ever figure out the password to get into Master Belch’s secret hideout.