Now is a great time to be an Earthbound fan. The last year or so has seen the first two games finally made available legally again on the Nintendo eShop, the heavily Earthbound-inspired Undertale releasing to borderline obnoxious amounts of praise, and the darkly comedic Lisa closing out 2014 by reminding us that humanity will always be terrible. Continuing to carry the Earthbound torch long left abandoned by its progenitors, is En House Studios’ Glitched, here to demolish the fourth wall and put frogs in suits.
Currently sailing toward the end of a successful Kickstarter campaign (which as of this writing has earned over 4.5 times its goal, with almost two weeks remaining), Glitched is billed as a quirky 16-bit RPG in which, through a digital anomaly, your character has become privy to the player’s existence. This isn’t entirely dissimilar to what was attempted in Evan Tognotti’s 199X, but where that game focused more on how the presence of the player contradicted their character’s own autonomy, Glitched is (at least so far) noticeably less preoccupied with philosophical implications. Its goals seem to align far more with exploring the contrivances that games often employ in order to mask our role in guiding them, doing so primarily by bluntly dismantling the sort of façade typically found in this sort of game. And being rather cute about it.
During the demo, which covers the introduction of the game, Glitched spends as much time within the world of its characters, as it does a sort of intermediate place run by the before mentioned frogs in suits. Here Glitched presents to the player their assigned character, essentially framing the act of playing the game as a sort of servant-like contract between the player and game. The idea that the role we play in games is often little more than a power fantasy has long been discussed, and its use in Glitched so far isn’t reaching toward any new conclusion, but that said its relative lack of seriousness works to make it more than a little unsettling.
As any Earthbound imitator ought to be, Glitched is very odd and very unconcerned with pointing out that oddness. Ball shaped birds are listed with the town’s population, a squid-man scientist resides on the city council, and the butcher is named Mr. Salami without the least bit of irony. And this is all great. But when mixed with the inexplicable middle-ground occupied by business frogs (agents for the simply named, “Frog Inc.”), it becomes that special mix of quirky unpredictable weirdness that has made Earthbound and its descendants so beloved.
It remains to be seen if Glitched will reach the same level of acclaim as those games. Certainly large portions of its design (especially its unconventional combat system) seem informed directly by Undertale’s success, but there is likely room for more than one kooky RPG with a preoccupation with morality, and Glitched is shaping up rather nicely to fill the niche.