This article contains moderately explicit images and videos. You have been warned!
Nintendo: the family-friendliest of companies. They make innocent games on innocent consoles for innocent children, to take home to their innocent families and buy with their innocent credit cards. I mean, look at Kirby’s Epic Yarn, a game about controlling a pink bundle of joy through a world of rainbow-colored arts and crafts. How can this world get any more adorable than that? I’m sure a really nice developer at Nintendo had the idea: “Let’s make the perfect essence of happiness and put it in video game!”
“Great!” some guy said. “Now give the pink blob a Glock.”
Yeah… Nintendo isn’t that strict on the family-friendly policies anymore. They’ve allowed fairly violent games like DOOM and Dark Souls on the eShop, as well as more sexual titles like Senran Kegura. Most recently, Joker from Persona 5 arrived in Super Smash Bros Ultimate, and as you might know, he wields a knife and a pistol–not a laser gun, a freaking pistol. And, as one of my kind co-workers reminded me, Joker is the first Smash Bros character who has (canonically) had sex. Stay away, Peach…
But Nintendo’s shift to a more mature stance hasn’t been just in the past few years. No, no–they’ve discretely accepted the darker side of video games since the late 90s. So, to celebrate Joker’s odd but triumphant Smash Bros inclusion, let’s look back to see some of the strangest times that Nintendo went full-on adult.
The Infamous M-Rated Nintendo Games
Resident Evil 4 was exclusively on the GameCube for 9 months in 2005. That’s right: a Resident Evil game, only on Nintendo. Weird, right? You don’t need me to tell you how great a game RE4 is, but it’s an incredibly violent one, nonetheless. Protagonist Leon Kennedy shoots his way through an army of villagers infected with the plague, dismembering or exploding enough heads to fill a bowling alley. And let’s not forget that Leon makes a remark or two about maiden-in-distress Ashley’s bum. Clearly, there’s some sexual tension going on here. I think we should call the Nintendo cops–oh but wait, Capcom brought their own cops first. Due to poor GameCube sales, they called off the exclusivity deal, brought RE4 to PS2, and have since ported the game to more platforms than the original DOOM–including the Nintendo Switch!
Now, Conker’s Bad Fur Day looks precisely nothing like Resident Evil 4, but it might be even more explicitly adult. This game is filled with all sorts of beer humor, bathroom jokes, swearing, and boatloads of sexual innuendo. The kicker? It’s made by game studio Rare, the same folks who made Donkey Kong Country and Banjo-Kazooie. Imagine being a kid of the early aughts, playing Banjo-Kazooie for the first time, and saying to yourself “I want to play more games like that!” So you buy Bad Fur Day, pop it in your N64, and Conker himself starts swearing and drinking and bouncing on a sunflower’s boobs. Then you’re grounded for three months. Thanks mom.
Nintendo and Grand Theft Auto are words you never, ever hear in the same sentence… but there’s an exception. Rockstar once made this spin-off set in GTA IV’s Liberty City called Grand Theft Auto: China Town Wars. It’s basically a call-back to the GTA I and II days, with a top-down camera and a cel-shaded art style. Once again, the kicker? It was exclusive to Nintendo DS. But don’t be fooled; China Town Wars is just as gruesome and mature as any other GTA game. The only difference is that you can use the DS’s touch-screen to chuck Molotov cocktails.
There are buckets and buckets of more mature Nintendo-related games. For example, there’s the Bayonetta series, where the main hero’s clothing and hair are one and the same. For a series about slitting baddies with knives and breaking the fourth wall, see No More Heroes. Of course, we can’t ignore the N64 first-person shooters: Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, and Turok. And finally, there’s this terrifying SNES horror game, Clock Tower, where a freaky elderly guy follow you around a mansion. Oh, he also has a massive pair of scissors larger than his own body–happy trails!
Commercials and Marketing
Video game commercials used to be much riskier, especially in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Sega’s ad campaign focused on dissing Nintendo at every possible turn, coining the phrase “Sega does what Nintendon’t.”
Was Nintendo impervious to the edgy marketing of the 90s? No way! Check out this gut-busting ad for Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island:
What the heck? Why would I want to watch that? Why would anyone want to watch that? Nintendo, don’t bother me about Yoshi’s Island–I’m too busy trying to hold my own lunch down after that ad.
Oh, but it gets worse. Here’s a video of an lab rat raw-dogging a Game Boy Micro:
Seriously, what audience were they marketing to here? If I were an unaware parent, I don’t know if I would be more mortified at the mouse’s sexual practices or concerned for my children. And a kid that’s young enough for the system wouldn’t get the joke. I don’t get it!
But the rabbit hole goes deeper–Nintendo has gone beyond mice when it comes to sexy Game Boy ads. See exhibits A and B:
While the first photo is concerning enough, the second one seems to imply some form of non-consensual situation, or a bondage scenario. What gets me especially is the “seriously distracting” font, which looks like the cover art of a horror movie.
Remember that game I mentioned earlier, Conker’s Bad Fur Day? It had some very, very promiscuous commercials, but the most infamous had to have been the one where a prostitute vigorously pets a squirrel. Don’t question it!
I also found a Pokémon ad that isn’t mature, per say, but it sure is dark. This bus driver takes a crew of innocent Pokémon to a trash compactor, and leaves them all inside to be squished to a bloody pulp–or that’s what you’d think would happen. Instead, the bus magically transforms into a Game Boy and the promo reel for Pokémon Red and Blue begins. But wait, were all my Pokémon crushed by a trash compactor, too? I feel very uncomfortable.
Mature Moments in Innocent Nintendo Games
Nintendo games are brim-filled with secrets, sometimes naughty ones. Take Super Mario Land 2, for example. In one of the game’s six zones, The Mario Zone, you control Mario and clear levels in a replica of Mario’s body. One of those levels just so happens to be in that special place between the stomach and leg levels. Want to know the one thing that covers every square inch of this level? Balls! Big balls, little balls, moving balls, stationary balls–enough to fill a basketball court. If that’s not a dirty innuendo, I don’t know what is.
In Earthbound, the schoolboy hero Ness follows a scantily-clad woman into a hotel room. Nothing becomes of it; it turns out this woman was luring Ness into a monster-filled trap, which he quickly fell for. But more alarmingly, the Japanese version of Earthbound has Ness enter a dream-state called “Magicant”, where he’s completely naked! This was censored for the American version, thankfully. I doubt the ratings board would have been too fond of that.
An obvious example of Nintendo naughtiness is Samus Aran. Since the first Metroid game, the series has rewarded players for fast completion with a view of Samus taking off her armor, wearing nothing but her skimpy zero-suit. You may interpret that as sexist or not; regardless, it’s a staple feature of the series.
Kirby is Nintendo’s star-child, a perfect embodiment of innocence. That is, when he’s not holding a gun, and he isn’t in a game with a naked woman. In Kirby’s Dreamland 2, there’s a level where Kirby travels downward, and if you’re observant enough, you’ll notice the blocks next to him resembles an unclothed woman.
Link might use a sword, but Zelda combat has always been non-violent. Instead of falling over in a pool of blood, octoroks and bombchus explode in a poof of smoke. But in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Link battles against Ganon (as you’d expect) and stabs him square in the forehead. There’s no blood, but the image is still a startlingly graphic one, especially for a game as adorable as Wind Waker.
Well, there’s the evidence! Nintendo is a horrible adult company, and we should all boycott them for their non-family-friendly decisions… or instead, we can appreciate their acceptance of mature content, when they don’t get too weird with the adult material. I mean, Kirby has a pistol now! How can we really complain?
For more on Nintendo, Smash Bros, and everything else video games, stay tuned to Culture of Gaming.