Nintendo Myths: Mature Content and Censorship

November 21, 2014 10 comments

Icon - M-ratingRecently, Nintendo has been gaining some attention for producing and publishing games like Platinum Games’ Bayonetta 2 and Valhalla Game Studios’ upcoming Devil’s Third, both of which feature overt “adult” content, such as graphic violence and sexual themes. Some news outlets are proclaiming that these games signal a shift in Nintendo’s policies away from the colorful family-friendly games that permeate their platforms to games with more mature content. Interviews with the developers often include questions about whether Nintendo is enforcing any kind of censorship. It’s clear that Nintendo’s reputation for making “kiddy” games or having strict content policies is taken at face value, but is it really accurate?

In fact, Nintendo’s consoles are no strangers to mature-themed games. Bayonetta 2 is far from the first M-rated game Nintendo has ever published. It’s not even the first M-rated game Nintendo has published on the Wii U. (Launch title Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge was published by Nintendo in North America.) Nor does Nintendo prohibit third-parties from releasing mature-themed games on their consoles, or force them to censor content to make it more family-friendly. This is a misconception about Nintendo that has lasted for the better part of two decades.

Screenshot - Bayonetta 2

Bayonetta 2 is far from the first M-rated game Nintendo has published.

But before we go any further, there’s an issue of semantics that needs to be addressed. What are we really talking about when we say “mature” games? Games with explicit violence, sex and foul language are often deemed “mature,” strictly for the fact that the content may be inappropriate for children. Some people like to point out that “mature” has a more literal meaning, and that it pertains to how content is handled rather than the content itself. (For example, some argue that Mario Kart 8 is a mature game.) For the purpose of this editorial, I’m sticking with the vernacular use of the word to describe the presence of explicit violence, sex and foul language. This, of course, is a bit subjective, and it varies across different societies and rating systems, but the ESRB’s ‘M’ rating (signaling content for players 17 and over) is a convenient guideline.

Now that that’s out of the way, it must be said that Nintendo’s reputation is not unearned. Most of Nintendo’s in-house developed games are whimsical and kid-friendly, and contain very little objectionable content. Some games occasionally venture into darker territory (for example, Super Metroid, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess), but never really go too far. It’s also true that in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Nintendo did enforce strict content guidelines (mostly in North America and Europe), although some surprising things still occasionally slipped past the censors. Nintendo of America even went so far as to flaunt their policies in front of the U.S. Congress in 1993. However, competition from the less stringent Sega, as well as the foundation of the ESRB rating system, began loosening Nintendo’s policies almost overnight.[1] Let’s not forget that the SNES received a completely uncensored port of Mortal Kombat II in 1994, and that Nintendo, itself, published the SNES port of Killer Instinct (T-rated, but still quite violent) in 1995.

Screenshot - Mortal Kombat II

Unlike the first game, Mortal Kombat II was completely uncensored on SNES.

Now, I’m not saying that the number of games with explicit content that have appeared on Nintendo’s consoles is necessarily equal to those of rival platforms, but they’re not quite the rarity that they’re often perceived as. In fact, I would argue it’s not even a numbers game. The mere presence of them in the first place disproves the notion of Nintendo having severe content restrictions.

Still, I think it’s worth pointing out that several notable “mature” games have appeared on every Nintendo console of the last 20 years. I hate to turn this into a list, but I almost feel it’s necessary as some people seem to ignore that these games existed.

Nintendo 64:

  • Conker’s Bad Fur Day (ironically, the Xbox remake was censored)
  • Doom 64
  • Duke Nukem 64 and Duke Nukem: Zero Hour
  • Killer Instinct Gold (published by Nintendo)
  • Perfect Dark (published by Nintendo in Japan, Rare elsewhere)
  • Quake 64 and Quake II
  • Resident Evil 2
  • Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, Turok 2: Seeds of Evil, Turok: Rage Wars, and Turok 3: Shadow of Oblivion

GameCube:

  • Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem (published by Nintendo)
  • Geist (published by Nintendo)
  • Killer 7 (originally part of the “Capcom 5”)
  • Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes (published by Konami, produced in collaboration with Nintendo)
  • Resident Evil (2002 remake), Resident Evil Zero and Resident Evil 4

Wii:

  • Dead Space: Extraction
  • The House of the Dead: Overkill (at the time, received the Guinness World Record for most profanity in a video game)
  • MadWorld
  • No More Heroes and No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle
  • Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles and Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles
  • Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

Wii U:

  • Bayonetta and Bayonetta 2 (published by Nintendo)
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Director’s Cut
  • Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge (published by Nintendo in North America, Koei Tecmo elsewhere)
  • Resident Evil: Revelations (originally a Nintendo 3DS title)
  • ZombiU

This is a selective list and by no means comprehensive. This also does not include several popular multi-platform games, such as Mortal Kombat, Call of Duty, Splinter Cell, Assassin’s Creed, etc., all of which have had several installments appear on Nintendo consoles. I have also not included Nintendo’s handheld systems, which have been home to games like Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. But I think it provides a good overview of the more significant titles, and it demonstrates that Nintendo hasn’t prohibited violent or sexual content for many years.

Screenshot - Conker's Bad Fur Day

Conker’s N64 game was more profane than the Xbox remake.

However, there have been a couple of known instances of censorship in recent Nintendo games that are worth addressing. The North American release of Chibi-Robo! Photo Finder on the Nintendo 3DS removed a depiction of a naked cartoon butt that was present in the Japanese version. Also, an image of a scantily clad female character in the 3DS title Fire Emblem: Awakening was also partially covered for its North American and European releases (ironically making it look even more suggestive). In light of what Nintendo does allow on their platforms, it’s not likely that this was done for the sake of internal content guidelines, and more likely that it was intended to manipulate the ESRB and PEGI ratings to fit the games’ target audiences in their respective regions.

Screenshot - Fire Emblem: Awakening

A recent example of censorship in Fire Emblem: Awakening.

It must also be said that Nintendo does prohibit games that are rated “AO” for Adults Only, signifying the most extreme depictions of sex and violence, but this is also the policy of Sony and Microsoft who do not allow such games to be published on their PlayStation or Xbox consoles, and many retailers refuse to carry games with the “AO” rating.

Of course, whether or not a game includes “mature” content has no bearing on the actual quality of the game, but that’s not really the point of this editorial. Nintendo consoles do have a lot of family-friendly games, but more in the sense of a classic Disney or Pixar film: enjoyable by players of all ages. Some games, however, aim at an older audience, and as such, may include some content that’s inappropriate for younger players. The point here is that Nintendo does not prohibit or object to those types of games. The notion that it does is about twenty years out of date.

Footnotes:

1 – Nintendo’s Era of Censorship – http://www.jjmccullough.com/Nintendo.php

Deeper Waters – Sonic the Hedgehog, Part 6

November 14, 2014 Leave a comment

Sonic iconFrom the Green Hill Zone up through the Labyrinth Zone, there’s been a steady increase in difficulty. You might even say Labyrinth Zone cheated a little by not only taking away Sonic’s speed, but even inhibiting his normal movement. Thankfully, the Starlight Zone gives us a little bit of a breather by easing way up on the challenge level. It also continues the trend of the zones alternating between “fast and open” and “slow and linear” by taking things back to the speedy, exploration-based style seen way back in Green Hill.

And boy, does it ever. Starlight Zone bring back the hills and loops we haven’t really seen since Green Hill, and it’s probably the most speed-oriented zone in the whole game. It’s also very large and open, allowing for multiple pathways through the zone. The upper path, as usual, takes a little more work, but clever players can find some stashes of ring monitors.

The theme of the zone seems to be some kind of construction site after hours. There are a lot of girders and unstable platforms, as well red street cones. The lower part of the background seems to be an unfinished building. As the name of the zone suggests, the night sky is filled with stars, continuing on from the Spring Yard Zone’s dusk sky (Labyrinth Zone was completely enclosed).

Screenshot - Sonic the Hedgehog

Enemies consist of the generically named Bombs, whose fuses light when you get too close, resulting in a small explosion and some flying debris . I assume their practical use would be demolition. There are also some Uni Unis that are left over from Labyrinth Zone.

Obstacles include seesaws with spiked balls that Sonic must use to launch himself to higher platforms. Wind from fans either prevent Sonic from moving forward or give him a boost of speed, depending on the direction. There’s also one unique obstacle: a large half-sphere with spikes that swings back and forth. Sonic can stand on the upper part like a platform, but it doesn’t help you reach anything except for a few rings. It’s interesting, because this object doesn’t appear anywhere else in the game (that I know of ), so it seems a little random.

Screenshot - Sonic the Hedgehog

The battle with Robotnik isn’t quite as bad as chasing him up a shaft full of spikes and fire-spitters while being chased by rising water, but it’s still a little tricky. There are three seesaws on the ground, and Robotnik flies back and forth across the top of the screen dropping spiked balls on them. This actually gives Sonic two methods of attack: either leveraging the seesaws to launch himself up, as he has done previously in the zone, or just use the spiked balls, themselves. The tricky part is that there really is no safe spot. Where Robotnik drops the spiked balls is random, although he never drops more than one on a seesaw. But if you wait too long, the spiked balls explode in a similar fashion to the Bombs, so the debris can reach you just about anywhere. The key here is to be quick.

Screenshot - Sonic the Hedgehog

All in all, the Starlight Zone is like a reward for trudging through the Labyrinth Zone. Speeding through loops at high speed is likely why we’re playing Sonic the Hedgehog in the first place. The only problem is that because it emphasizes speed, it goes by just a bit too quickly. Still, it kind of brings the pace of the game full circle before throwing you into the final challenge.

Screenshots taken from a longplay video by RickyC.

Arcade Mania – Smash T.V. (1990)

November 7, 2014 Leave a comment

smashtv_iconIn the near future, TV game shows will evolve beyond simple quiz questions and embrace a more reality-based format in which contestants are openly hostile towards each other. Don’t believe me? Well, get ready, because the year 1999 is just around the corner!

Smash TV is an arena shooter that is often seen as a follow-up to the arcade classic Robotron: 2084. You play as a contestant in a violent game show in which your objective is simply to survive an onslaught of relentless enemies, all of whom are trying to kill you. If you make it, you’re rewarded with big money and big prizes like toasters and VCRs.

One of the best things about Smash TV is how well it uses its theme as a TV game show being filmed in front of a live studio audience. The crowd cheers and groans with your successes and failures, and the host (seemingly modeled after creator Eugene Jarvis) pops up to taunt you every now and then. The satirical edge of it works quite well.

SNES version

SNES version

Fortunately, the gameplay is also really good. Just like in Robotron, the classic dual joystick controls allow you to run and shoot in different directions simultaneously, which is a must, as you’re constantly surrounded by enemies. Unlike in Robotron, new enemies are always entering the play field, so the intensity is sustained for much longer periods of time. There are also plenty of power-ups and the ability for two-players to help you survive the hoards. The challenge level is extremely high, but Smash TV is the kind of game where you can “get into the zone,” and it becomes almost hypnotic.

I admit I prefer Smash TV over Robotron (and the lesser known follow-up Total Carnage), but I actually didn’t play it a lot in the arcade. I spent most of my time on the SNES port, which is actually really good. I got good enough at it to get to the coveted Pleasure Dome and finish the game on its limited continues. Unfortunately, I no longer have my SNES cartridge.

SNES version

SNES version

Still, Smash TV was ported to many home consoles and computers. The arcade version is also part of Midway Arcade Treasures on the GameCube, PS2 and Xbox.

Eugene Jarvis talked about doing another twin-stick shooter for years. What’s interesting is that his current company, Raw Thrills, has made a lot of arcade games that could be seen as spiritual successors to classic Midway games, yet he still hasn’t returned to the arena-shooter genre. I think it’s time for a true follow-up to Smash TV.

Until then, be prepared.

The future is now.

You are the next lucky contestant!

More info:

Hardcore Gaming 101 – Smash TV/Total Carnage

Screenshots captured from a longplay by Schlauchi.

Castlevania-thon 2014 – Wrap-up

November 5, 2014 5 comments

Richter Belmont iconI hate to say it, but I think I have mixed feelings about Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. I mean, I always look forward to playing it. After all, it’s a return to the straightforward action of the original Castlevania while adding in branching paths and multiple playable characters. It sounds great, but the problem is that I come away from it feeling more frustrated than satisfied.

At its worst, Dracula’s Curse suffers from poor design decisions that are even more irritating than anything in Simon’s Quest. Granted, most of this is because the game came out at a time when videogame rentals were becoming popular, and some publishers decided they had to increase the difficulty of their games for the North American release to make sure players couldn’t easily finish it in a day or two. In the case of Castlevania III, it affected the amount of damage you took from enemies and where you re-spawned after losing a life. Couple this with some really aggravating stage gimmicks, like having to wait for blocks to fall from the top of the screen in order to reach a high platform, and you end up having to replay the same tedious sequences over and over. It really tries my patience, and it’s just not fun.

Screenshot - Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good challenge, but this isn’t the good kind. I sorta wish Konami would go back and re-translate the Japanese version of the game and release it as a kind of “director’s cut.” I imagine it’s a more balanced experience, not to mention it would have the extra sound channels for the music and a few better special effects. But oh well.

At it’s best, Dracula’s Curse has some really cool bits in it. It is fun playing as the different characters, and the branching paths add a lot of replayability.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to finish Dracula’s Curse before the end of October. I’m not sure if I’ll continue to pick away at it until I do, but as it is, I managed to play at least a little bit of Castlevania every day of the month. That included beating Dawn of Sorrow, Dracula X, the original NES game, and Simon’s Quest. So, I’d say it’s been a successful Castlevania-thon.

And now we return to your regularly scheduled blog posts.

Castlevania-thon 2014 – Simon’s Quest-roid-vania

October 28, 2014 1 comment

Richter Belmont iconOutside of a couple of genuinely nonsensical puzzles, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest really doesn’t seem that bad to me. Admittedly, it is the weak link in the original NES trilogy, suffering from some really poor design decisions and sloppy programming. Maybe I’m just familiar enough with the game that its curve balls don’t catch me off guard, or maybe my gamer instincts are subliminally guiding me. But it’s not quite the impossible mission that its reputation suggests.

The two sticking points to me are: 1) having to equip a crystal and crouch next to a “lake” to make a secret path appear (this is actually done twice in the game), and 2) equipping a crystal and crouching next to a dead end to make a tornado appear and sweep you to another part of the game world. But if you have these two parts memorized, it’s not too hard to fumble your way to the end of the game. Even the invisible pits in the mansions aren’t really that bad. Early on, they line up with background objects, like columns and gates, so you can easily guess where they might be, and enemies don’t walk over them, providing yet another clue. Even when they do catch you off guard, they never drop you to instant death (as far as I’ve experienced), so it’s not entirely unfair.

Screenshot - Castlevania II: Simon's Quest

Simon’s Quest is generally considered the precursor to the “metroidvania” formula (if not the first) that would eventually become the norm for the series. In a way, however, it sort of feels more like it’s modeled after Zelda II: The Adventure of Link rather than Metroid. It doesn’t have an overworld, but it does have dungeons in the form of mansions, towns with people you can interact with, and some awkward RPG elements. Interestingly, Koji Igarashi (who did not work on Simon’s Quest) once mentioned that when he was working on Symphony of the Night, he thought he was imitating Zelda instead of Metroid.

Simon’s Quest is a flawed game, to be sure, but I wouldn’t call it bad. It’s mechanically sound, and even though I’m always reluctant about going into it, I still usually come away satisfied.

In any event, I’ve finished Simon’s Quest. I didn’t try to do anything special for this playthrough, so I didn’t go for the best ending or anything. But now I’ll move on to Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, and it will probably be the final game in this year’s Castlevania-thon. I’ve never beaten it with recruiting Alucard before, so I think I’ll give that a go.

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