RetroVision – Fatality!: Nintendo’s Former Content Guidelines

If you ever played Mortal Kombat on both the Super Nintendo and the Mega Drive/Genesis, then you may have noticed a fundamental difference between the versions.  Namely the distinct lack of blood and all things gory, in essence everything the Mortal Kombat franchise is infamous for.  Wondering why Mortal Kombat had all the gruesome bits present within the version released for SEGA’s platforms, but not Nintendo’s?  Then read on.

Most know of this difference, where by Nintendo forced Acclaim to turn red blood into white ‘sweat’ and to replace some of the Fatality finishers with less gory versions in order to make it less violent.  Other high profile games that had alterations forced on them, primarily when they came from Japan over to Europe and the Americas, include the censorship of religious symbolism within Final Fantasy IV, and numerous alterations to Super Castlevania IV that included modifications to religious symbols, namely crosses, alongside removal of the dripping blood on the title screen, and the covering up of breasts on several background statues as this was was considered sexual content.

All of this occurred due to Nintendo’s strict content guidelines. These were originally set out by Nintendo’s President at the time Hiroshi Yamauchi, who feared that the company’s family friendly image could be permanently damaged if content such as nudity and sex was allowed on their console.  Nevertheless, Nintendo of Japan did allow graphic violence, with this sort of content only being put under heavy scrutiny outside of Japan.  Hence the censorship of one of Japan’s most popular franchises, Castlevania, only existing outside of its native homeland.

Box Art for Super Castlevania IV in Japan

Differences in censorship came about as Yamauchi didn’t want Nintendo of Japan to impose Japanese ideals and standards on the rest of the world.  This was especially true in relation to America, where there was a considerable amount of negative backlash on Japanese companies, due to the political situation of the time, and the high levels of Japanese products and popular culture permeating American society.  This was a time known as ‘Japanese bashing’.  As such Nintendo of America and Europe, were given greater autonomy in policing content.  This led to both divisions going even further, and saw them block degrees of graphic violence and blood, drug references, political messages and religious symbolism, on top of sex and nudity.  As such leading to the forced alterations that were famously depicted within Mortal Kombat.

mk1-1

Due to the negative backlash and subsequent sales decrease that surrounded the release of Mortal Kombat on Super Nintendo, Nintendo did subsequently allow Mortal Kombat II to be released unedited, albeit with a warning printed on every box.  This was then followed by Nintendo dropping its content policies with the advent of the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) in 1994, taking the opinion that the consumer can make the decision themselves based on the guidelines.   This opened the door for many mature games to come to Nintendo’s platforms, with Nintendo even making deals to secure Mature content, most clearly seen through the ill-fated ‘Big-5’ deal made with Capcom that was meant to exclusively bring games such as Resident Evil 4 and Killer-7 to the GameCube.  Moreover, Nintendo even published many of these mature games themselves including; Perfect Dark, Conker’s Bad Fur Day and Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem.

Simon Aubrey Drake

A lifelong gamer with a fanatical love of all things Nintendo and Japan. So much so that I've written a thesis on one and lived in the other. Currently on a quest to catch every last Pokémon. Follow me on twitter via @DudeXChill or @RingsandCoins.

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