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That Earthbound Smell - by RaveFury

That Earthbound Smell

With massive, screen shaking explosions, emotional, CD-quality music at every turn and controllers that rumble as our on-screen counterparts dish out and receive punishment, there’s no denying that video games do their best to dazzle our senses of sight, hearing, and even touch. With audio-visual feasts like Dead or Alive 4 and Metal Gear Solid 3 currently on the market and the likes of Final Fantasy XII and Resident Evil 5 on the way, today’s games might seem like they have it all. However, even thought 1995’s Earthbound didn’t have steller, life-like graphics and cutting edge, orchestrated music, it did do something that, to my knowledge, hadn’t been done before and has yet to tried since – Earthbound choose to appeal not only to the player’s eyes and ears, but to the player’s nose as well.

One knew they were in for a unique gaming experience upon seeing the bizarre ads for Earthbound, which usually consisted of one or more of the Your Sanctuary bosses, a massive green cloud of what can only be described as “fart gas,” and some sort of wacky quip about how the game’s wicked stench plastered above it all. For example, imagine Mondo Mole standing in a green stink cloud with the following text floating above his head: Holy Moley! Earthbound smells like unclean nocturnal creatures who live underground and play in the dirt! ...BUY IT NOW.

Included on the next page was a picture of Master Blech, a random piece of pizza found nowhere in the game, a semi-accurate description of the game’s plot and a coupon that said, “Cut this coupon not the cheese.” (By the way, there should be a comma in between the word “coupon” and the word “cheese,” but I won't get into that.) Yes, it all sounds like a generic video game ad from the mid 90s (Interplay's Boogerman comes to mind), until you notice a curious circle of... something... on one of the screenshots. “What is that odd circle thing doing on my ad?” the reader would ask predictably, and try to scratch it off. Then he or she would notice that ad was daring them smell the little circle they just scratched. So, not wanting the ad to think they were a sissy, most people rammed their noses into it was reckless abandon. And that’s when you’d get a nosefull of stink. “Earthbound. It's like living inside your gym shoes,” the ad proudly proclaimed, as readers bolted to the window for some fresh air. Bravo, Nintendo! You know, looking at it on paper, it all seems rather ingenious. I really have no idea why an ad campaign that literally smelled like old socks and puke was so ineffective. Perhaps there just weren’t enough references to disgusting bodily functions?

All right, so the “smell the ad” gimmick was just that – a gimmick. Once one actually starts playing Earthbound, he or she quickly realizes that little of the game has anything to do with “stinking,” with the possible exception of Master Belch’s factory. But wait a minute! Luckily for Nintendo’s legal department, it’s not false advertising quite yet! Turn to the back of the player’s guide, and what do you see? No, not the warrantee information, before that… Indeed, the “rancid smell” theme actually wafted into the player's guide too! Inside were six scratch-n-sniff cards, similar to the ads, each with a different, somewhat pungent odor. And if one could figure out the mystery scent on the last trading card, Nintendo would send them a free Mach Pizza air “freshener.” Players probably needed it after all those atrocious odors, assuming it didn’t smell like sweaty monkey feet or something. (I, unfortunately, never got my hands on one.)

The scented cards were a fun diversion while waiting at Master Belch’s waterfall for three long minutes before someone answered the door, but that was about it. Oh, and maybe you’d sniff them if you brought the guide to the bathroom, or when you showed it to your friends at school. But it’s not until you take a snort of one of the cards after a few years of ignoring them that you realize how much of the Earthbound experience those odors really are. Remember that crazy burning smell on the Ness card? If that came drifting towards you while walking down the street, what would be the first thing to pop into your head? “Hey! It smells like Earthbound out here!” That’s right, kids. Those aromas are forever ingrained in our heads. They ARE Earthbound. Nintendo has trained us well.

As I discovered when I first played it eleven years ago, Earthbound defiantly does not “stink” as Nintendo’s ill-fated ad campaign would have customers believe. In fact, it smells pretty good to me... literally. The real “Earthbound smell” wasn’t printed on a scratch-n-sniff card, and if you’re lucky, you can see (smell?) what I mean. First, grab your player’s guide and open it to a random page. Now stick your nose in a take a big whiff. If the fragrance of the trading cards hasn’t taken over every page in the book yet, you should have just gotten a nosefull of one of the best aromas in the world – that of a new SNES game. This, my friends, is most difficult to come by nowadays. If only one of the scratch-n-sniff cards had smelled like that! Oh well; I guess it’s more entertaining to hide in my room with my nose stuck in between the pages of random NES/SNES manuals, sniffing the pages like a cocaine addict in search of that ever-elusive scent of my childhood. Maybe it’s the thrill of being caught that makes me do it. I guess I just like living dangerously.

You know, maybe it’s better that more video games don't try to appeal to our sense of smell. After all, I'm not too keen on the idea of taking in the “fine” aromas of the blood and rust world of Silent Hill or the dirty, drunken sailors of Dragon Quest VIII. However, I must commend Nintendo for trying something unique with Earthbound’s marketing. The company knew what an off-beat product Earthbound was, and they took a gamble on a different kind of ad campaign. In the end, the “smell” angle wasn’t a bad idea, it was just executed incorrectly. And while it might not have helped sell the game as well as it should have, Nintendo’s innovative approach certainly made a lasting impact; the “Earthbound stinks” campaign really did add to the Earthbound experience more than we could have ever known at the time.

Too bad it didn’t do the same for sales.

Other Submissions by RaveFury

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When I passed this on my way to work one day, I thought it looked a lot like something you'd see in EarthBound. Thankfully, no one noticed the weird kid stopping his car in front of their house and snapping a picture of it. I totally didn't even have a cover story, so I guess I lucked out.
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RaveFury Ego Orbs Invade Local Mall
The other night, my girlfriend and I were tooling around this store called the Bonton, and this stopped me dead in my tracks; Firstly, because it looked so much like an Ego Orb, and secondly, becasue it cost $40. Sure, it was 30 percent off, but it's still creepy at any price.
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