Nintendo Myths: Mature Content and Censorship

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

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10 thoughts on “Nintendo Myths: Mature Content and Censorship

  1. Nintendo supports good games, unfortunately there are quite a handful of games that try to ride on the coattails of their violence and mature content. The rest that are good on their own merits seem to find homes with Nintendo.

    1. Nester

      Wow, I think this is the fastest I’ve ever gotten a comment on a new blog post! 🙂

      Yeah, game violence can be exploitative, but if Nintendo publishes the game itself, I would be inclined to expect it to have substance from a gameplay standpoint. However, even exploitative games can be found on Nintendo’s consoles.

      1. Eh, I had the reader open and like being part of the community with comments and the like!

        I do find that there are SOME exploitative games found on Nintendo consoles, it seems like something that can never be removed however the ratio seems to be a lot nicer and the severity of the exploitation to be less than other consoles.

  2. I think there’s a half truth to this myth. As far as NCL is concerned, pretty much anything can go with them. Remember that they developed a lot games with some heavy themes like Time Twist, Fire Emblem, Disaster Day of Crisis, and the continuing collaboration with Fatal Frame.

    On the other hand, NoA does deserve it’s reputation. Very often they DO sidestep games which don’t fit the whole Mario/Zelda/Pokemon mould.

    1. Nester

      I agree that NoA was more strict than NCL, and their reputation is mainly due to NoA’s censorship practices, but I think differences today are due more to cultural differences in what’s acceptable and what’s taboo. For example, Resident Evil 4 and No More Heroes were censored for violence in Japan when they were originally released (although later versions were uncensored).

      As for the emphasis on Mario/Zelda/Pokemon, well, they’re what make the most money.

      1. I’m not saying NoA shouldn’t release Mario/Zelda/Pokemon, but they should releasing as many different kinds of software as possible. As a fellow NinDBer you know quite well that there’s a mountain of games on both the DS and Wii which were never localized by NoA. By localizing these types of games it changes public perception that Nintendo only game colourful, dare I say childish games.

        1. Nester

          Oh, I agree. I don’t think NoA is necessarily being a bottleneck right now, though. We did get Bayonetta 2, and Xenoblade X and Devil’s Third are on the way. And as I pointed out in my post, NoA published Ninja Gaiden 3 in North America. I have no idea what’s going on with Fatal Frame, but it’s like an exception at this point.

          Nintendo may not have published any M-rated games in North America on the original Wii, but they didn’t prevent other companies from providing games of that ilk. That’s what I’m trying to say with this editorial.

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