The Mother series, better known as EarthBound outside of Japan, has always been the black sheep of the Nintendo franchise family. It's only due to Ness & Lucas' appearance in Super Smash Bros. that many people are even aware of the series, due to how little attention the games have received.
Nintendo has no problem selling the original Super Mario Bros. game for the umpteenth time, but they have always seemed reticent to try and squeeze any money out of the EarthBound/Mother series.
It's possible that Nintendo is planning something big for the three EarthBound/Mother games, though. There have been a few unusual developments over the past two years that may hint towards a compilation of some kind, with the big draw of an official localization for Mother 3 being the main selling point.
So Where's Mother 3?
Mother 3 has been the lost gem of the Nintendo library for a long time, or at least it has to those who don't live in Japan and don't play games on emulators.
The rumors of an English localization of Mother 3 have come and gone over the years, but things really heated up when Emily Rogers and Laura Kate Dale started reporting rumors that a port of the game was coming in either 2016 or 2017, but both of these rumors turned out to be unfounded and Rogers/Dale both seemed less sure about their insider information afterward, prompting fans to wonder whether the game had been pushed back or was never coming at all.
The absence of Mother 3 is nothing new, but these rumors from seemingly legitimate sources may have been derailed by the popularity of the two Nintendo Classic consoles.
It's possible that Nintendo might be saving Mother 3 for a Game Boy Classic so that it could be used to promote the console in the same way that Star Fox 2 was used for the Super NES Classic Edition.
But it's also possible that Mother 3 could be being saved for a collection, as there are funny things going on with the other two games in the series...
No Earthbound On The Nintendo Switch Online
EarthBound only saw a release on the Nintendo Wii U Virtual Console thanks to a fan campaign on Miiverse, and it would go on to become one of the best-selling Virtual Console games of all time. EarthBound would later be released on the American and European versions of the SNES Classic.
So it stands to reason that Nintendo is ok with letting people play EarthBound - and yet, when we recently reported that the list of leaked Super Nintendo games that are coming to the Nintendo Switch Online service in the future, EarthBound wasn't there.
There is an RPG on the list, but it's Breath of Fire II, which is a Capcom game that would certainly have cost Nintendo far more money to include than EarthBound.
Why would Nintendo shell out for a third-party game when they have a perfectly good game like EarthBound sitting around, especially when the developers of EarthBound (Creatures Inc. and HAL Laboratory) are so closely tied to Nintendo?
The Mystery Of The Missing EarthBound
Nintendo opened up their 2015 E3 press conference with the announcement that the first Mother game was coming to America and Europe for the first time under the name EarthBound Beginnings.
EarthBound Beginnings had actually been in the hands of fans for a long time, as Mother had been fully translated into English during the NES' life cycle but was shelved at the last minute, with the prototype eventually being discovered and released online.
EarthBound Beginnings was released for the Nintendo Wii U's Virtual Console... and that's it. Nintendo hyped up the release of this game, yet it was never put on the Nintendo 3DS' Virtual Console (which would have drastically increased its potential audience), they never put it on the NES Classic, which they could have promoted in a similar way to Star Fox 2, and it has yet to be released on the Nintendo Switch Online service.
The absence of EarthBound Beginnings on other systems is strange and it may be linked to Nintendo not wanting to dilute its presence in preparation for a later release - why release it for free, when they could sell it as part of a collection?
The Precedent Set By Secret Of Mana
Nintendo has officially discontinued their Virtual Console in favor of their Classic line of retro consoles and the free games offered by the Nintendo Switch Online service, which many pundits believed had put the final nail in the coffin of a Mother 3 release outside of Japan.
Nintendo may be giving some of their games away as part of packaged services, but they have still allowed other companies to sell retro Nintendo games on the Switch, most notably Square Enix. In 2017, Square Enix released the Seiken Densetsu collection for the Nintendo Switch in Japan, which contains Adventures of Mana (known as Final Fantasy Adventure in the west), Secret of Mana, and Seiken Densetsu 3. This was a full-priced release that contained a Game Boy game and two Super Nintendo games, all of which had minimal upgrades.
The example set by the Seiken Densetsu collection means that a similar EarthBound/Mother collection is still in the cards, especially if some new content or features are added to the games. The fact that Mother 3 has yet to be released at all outside of Japan is enough reason for Nintendo to sell it outside of the Nintendo Switch Online service.
Does Nintendo Even Care At This Point?
The fact that Nintendo has been ignoring the EarthBound/Mother series isn't news, and the absence of the games could be due to apathy more than anything else.
Nintendo could have made more money by porting EarthBound Beginnings to the Nintendo 3DS, yet they didn't. Nintendo sought out a third-party game for their upcoming Super Nintendo lineup of games instead of tapping EarthBound, and the rumors of an English localization of Mother 3 keep coming back.
There is a possibility that Nintendo still has plans for the EarthBound/Mother series, which explains all these strange occurrences, or maybe they just hate money and promotion and are content to laugh every time a "Localize Mother 3" sign shows up at a WWE event.
The Nintendo Switch has been doing amazingly well for Nintendo, which means that a potential EarthBound/Mother collection could finally give the series a chance to prove that they have a mass-market appeal by beating the likes of Link and Mario at their own game. If such a collection does exist, then it will give all of the Ninten, Ness, and Lucas fans the chance to prove that Nintendo was wrong the whole time.