And so we return to my annual blog series, (previous years here and here) with one of my favourite video game villains of all time. This year – Earthbound and Mother 3‘s Porky Minch. (in case it needs saying, SPOILER ALERT – if you have any intention of playing Earthbound or Mother 3, you might want to leave this post for another day and go off and actually play the damn things, go on you wretched unrepentant philistine)
There he is on the right, there, being confronted (in a non-canonical ding-dong) by the central hero of Earthbound, Ness.
For those who haven’t played Earthbound, it’s a lovely romping SNES RPG in the traditional top-down style of yore, featuring the random battles, item shops and levelling up that are staples of the genre. In it, you play Ness, a little boy with burgeoning psychic powers who sets out to save the world from the evil alien Giygas after he receives a dire warning from ten years into the future.
The game starts with Ness heading out to investigate the meteorite that has crashlanded on the hill behind his house. He takes his dog with him, and also his next door neighbour, Pokey Minch. Pokey is a tubby, anxious boy who proves absolutely no use in battles, cowering behind you or eating instead of fighting. Pokey isn’t unsympathetic though – as an overweight coward myself, I can totally see his point of view. I wouldn’t go steaming into a ruck either. Basically, at this stage of the game, Pokey comes across as a bit of a comic loser – he’s never going to be a hero like Ness, but he’s Ness’s friend, and we hope things turn out all right for him. Yes, he’s cowardly, yes, he’s greedy, but these seem to be minor, comic flaws.
When the boys reach the meteorite, a tiny alien called Buzz Buzz informs them that he has travelled back in time from a future where the evil Giygas has conquered the world. They need to stop Giygas in the present, before he grows too strong to be defeated. Then Buzz Buzz gets killed, when Pokey’s glassy-eyed mom swats him, mistaking him for a dung beetle.
After that, Ness sets off on his adventure and leaves his neighbour Pokey behind. But it turns out Pokey isn’t quite the spineless slob you had him pegged as. Intrigued by Buzz Buzz’s story of an all-powerful being, Pokey eventually decides to side with Giygas and harnass some of the beast’s vast power. After a series of encounters with Pokey throughout the game, you finally face off against Giygas in the final battle, with Pokey fighting alongside in a massive robotic spider-walker.
Naturally, good wins out and Giygas is defeated. Pokey, however, does a runner. In the post-game section of Earthbound, you can walk around the world speaking to every character in the game… except one. Pokey leaves you a gloating message daring you to come find him.
Let’s move on now to Mother 3, a game that was released on the GBA (Earthbound is called Mother 2 in Japan, a sequel to the original Mother, Earthbound on the NES). For the majority of the game, it doesn’t have any apparent link with the previous games in the series, apart from the battle system, the quirky artwork and the jaunty humour. Indeed, even the surreal, often meta, jolly humour of the previous games is leavened with something far darker. The story concerns Tazmily Village, a utopian community that has no concept of crime, or money, where everyone works together and lives in harmony with nature. Predictably, the situation can’t last. First, a family gets torn apart when the mother is killed by a rampaging dinosaur, enraged by soldiers who apparently belong to the Pigmask Army. One of her twin sons heads off to avenge her death, only to vanish in an accident. The father spends the next years relentlessly searching for his missing son, despite everyone telling him it’s futile. Meanwhile, a mysterious stranger comes to town, and begins introducing people to a new concept – ‘money’. Soon, he has convinced most of the residents to get flashing, TV-like objects called ‘Happy Boxes’ installed in their homes. The Happy Boxes leave them mesmerised. In a few years, the village has become a hive of commercialisation, the residents all taking transport out of town to work at the nearby casino.
Eventually, the residents are all moved to New Pork City, a glitzy metropolis of neon and concrete run by the Pigmask Army in service of their leader, ‘King Porky’. Hmm… that statue looks kind of, uh, familiar…
Turns out little Pokey Minch used Giygas’ power to escape through time. He’s been back and forth across history, collecting up an army – but fundamentally, inside, he’s still just a spoilt (and probably lonely) little boy. The fast food restaurant you go into is staffed entirely by robotic clones of his mother (who are about as lifeless as the real thing). When finally you confront Pokey/Porky, it turns out he’s not so little anymore. Years of travelling through time have turned him into a wheezing old man, kept alive in a grim sarcophagus version of his original spider-walker. The warping effects of travel through space and space have made Pokey immortal, and it turns out all the devastation and tragedy caused by the Pigmask Army is the result of his meddling. You can watch a Japanese version of the final conflict here:
Ultimately, our heroes nearly defeat Pokey, but at the last moment he retreats inside a special invulnerable sphere, rendering him completely immune to all attacks. However, it turns out the the capsule can never be reopened, leaving Pokey trapped inside for all eternity. Thus he is doomed to spend forever sealed within a cramped metal prison – a fate worse than death?
I love the story behind Pokey. It starts off cutesy and comic, and rapidly grows darker, until he’s killed people and ruined lives and you end up really hating him. But although the story develops around him, Pokey Minch never really changes. He’s just a greedy, cowardly little boy who happens to get his hands on some very big toys. In the end, even though he’s responsible for some terrible atrocities, I can’t help feeling a little sorry for him. All through Earthbound, Ness gets phone calls from his father, who gives him all sorts of encouragement and advice, and even reminds the player to take a break if they’ve been playing the game too long. I wish Pokey had had a dad who was that nice. Maybe he would’ve been a little kinder, a little less wimpy, and this whole mess would never have started in the first place.