Nintendo's Mortal Mistake
Suggested by _Absynthe_

For better or worse, Nintendo has earned the reputation of being a "kiddy" company, contrasting sharply with the harder, more mature images of Sony and Microsoft. This is not without cause. While many of Nintendo's biggest games have always starred a cutesy cast of mascot characters, it used to take its image control one step further: It actually censored many Nintendo-licensed games to remove any language, graphic, or idea that it deemed too controversial for its customers.

In the early '90s, just about anything could raise Nintendo's ire. A tombstone in Super Castlevania IV was adorned with a cross; that had to go in the American version. The popular, violent cyber-RPG Shadowrun was forced to remove any textual references to the player "killing," despite the fact that urban gunfights were a huge element of gameplay. Even sillier, a bar could not be called a bar, and any references to alcohol had to be removed. Such examples were par for the course for the Nintendo of the day, but it wasn't until 1993 that the issue came to the forefront.

The controversy was sparked by Midway's 1992 arcade hit, Mortal Kombat. The first game to challenge the popularity of Capcom's megahit Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat caused a sensation with its digitized graphics and gratuitous gore. The decision to make home versions was a no-brainer, and Acclaim walked away with the publishing rights. A developer called Probe worked on the Genesis port, while Sculptured Software created the SNES rendition. The Genesis version was a little iffy in terms of conversion quality, but it had one thing the SNES game did not: the graphic violence that made the game popular in the first place!

The Nintendo version had the blood replaced with "sweat," eschewing the crimson arterial sprays that people loved in the arcade. Worse, and I mean really, horribly worse, the game's trademark "fatality" finishing moves were completely neutered. (I believe the technical term is "wussified.") For example, in the arcade and Genesis versions, Johnny Cage punched his opponents' heads off. In the SNES game, he ... well, he delivered a firm kick to the chest. Granted, it was a solid kick -- a kick anyone would be proud to execute if they were called upon to perform a fatality and lacked time to improvise something better. Regardless, the perceived loss of coolness was just too high to measure.

Customers were quick to notice, and sales of the graphically inferior Genesis version far outpaced the censored SNES game. In David Sheff's book Game Over, Nintendo's Howard Lincoln discussed the uproar. "Instead of getting a lot of letters back from parents praising our position, we got a huge amount of criticism -- not only by gamers, but even by parents saying that we had set ourselves up to be censors."

It seems that consumers talking with dollars finally got the message through to Nintendo. 1994's SNES port of Mortal Kombat II was fully intact, spine-ripping and all, and actually proved to be the best overall console port (32x fan in the back row: please sit down). Once bitten twice shy, as they say.

Ben: Looking back, Nintendo's heavy-handed censorship in the early '90s is actually pretty offensive, especially since I'm now an adult. Who are they to determine what I can and can't see in a game? In any case, imagine if it adopted those policies today. Message boards across the Internet would be positively abuzz with outrage, and that stupid online petition site would go down due to traffic overload. Come to think of it, it's quite possible the government would have to step in and ask Nintendo to ditch the censorship, lest the Internet be destroyed from gamers' collective outrage. Such is the awesome power we wield.

ferricide: If you think this is bad, Nintendo actually made Square remove the word blood from Final Fantasy IV's dialogue in 1991. Nintendo's draconian censorship policies were pretty hilarious. As is always the weakness of Nintendo, it's not really fair to say that its ideas are bad -- it's that it clings to them after they become completely outdated. To say that the Genesis version of MK was slightly worse than the SNES one, technically, is a lie. It was a complete and utter dog that looked much worse. But it had buckets of blood, and it sold tons. For MK II, Nintendo imposed its own faux rating system on the packaging just so the game could come out with violence intact -- a rating system that was used for that game only. Thankfully the ESRB came along with standardized, industry-wide ratings a couple of years later.

hardcore_pawn: Hailing from the U.K., my video-game playing days were resplendent with classic examples of European censorship -- and not just from Nintendo. It wasn't bad enough that PAL console games ran slower and were letterboxed, oh no. Often, globs of juicy red blood would be replaced with green snotty liquid, and human civilian targets would be replaced with mindless androids. Possibly the worst example of this was the German release of Konami's Contra III on SNES. Called Super Probotector, the human marine characters were replaced with dumb-ass robots. And let's not even mention Wolfenstein-style games, which were sensitive for a completely different reason.

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