It feels like there has been a downright flood of video game-related documentaries over the last ten to fifteen years, perhaps starting with the success of the surprisingly-compelling King of Kong in 2007. Since then, we’ve seen the likes of Chasing Ghosts, Get Lamp, Indie Game: The Movie, Console Wars, Atari: Game Over, High Score, and… well, the list goes on. You’d be excused for missing one or two along the way.
And miss one, I did. Mother to Earth was successfully Kickstarted back in 2016, with a release more than three years later in Fall 2019. That was then followed by a general streaming release late last year. Somehow, I only became aware of it recently, but once I did, I immediately sat down to watch it.
Make no mistake, Mother to Earth is about a niche as niche gets. Ostensibly, it’s a film that traces the origins of the original English-translated leak of the NES version of cult-classic Mother 1 (aka, Earthbound Zero/Earthbound Beginnings). I say ostensibly because, while that is a significant portion of the film, it’s actually at its best when it strays from that precise topic. The story of the original leak is about what you’d expect – a former employee has a leftover prototype after Nintendo canceled the game and lost interest in it, which eventually finding its way into the hands of a collector, then finally it’s purchased by an enthusiast in order to be dumped and shared. It’s a story the retro gaming community has witnessed many times before.
Instead, Mother to Earth really shines when it steps away from the story of the leak and into the details of the game’s creation, translation, and its cultural impact. By far, the most interesting testimonies come from the lead translator Phil Sandhop, Japanese superfan “Koala,” and especially game composer Keiichi Suzuki. There are tidbits of fun information (like some interesting clandestine behavior by series creator Shigesato Itoi) scattered amongst poignant moments like those from Keiichi Suzuki. The whole film is delivered with a sense of charm and a side of amateurish passion.
Despite the sheer number of game documentaries cropping up, I’m glad the industry’s history is being recorded and preserved. After all, how many other forms of media have been properly documented from their very first days? In the case of Mother to Earth, anyone with an interest in Earthbound or retro gaming in general should give this documentary a chance. All it will cost you is $2.99 and about 90 minutes of your time over at the Vimeo stream!