Known for iconic characters like Mario, Kirby, Link and Samus; Nintendo’s largely known as being a family-friendly company when compared to rivals Microsoft and Sony. While there have been exceptions on it’s consoles, it seems now more than ever that it is embracing more mature themes and content on their systems. This cultural shift could reinvigorate Nintendo’s franchises if they continue to embrace it.
Beginning with games like Mortal Kombat —although censored— for the Super Nintendo, games with blood and violence are no stranger to Nintendo consoles. But these games have always been outliers in it’s library of titles and have always been from other publishers. Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Resident Evil on the Gamecube and Geist are just a few titles released in the 1990s and 2000s that received an M rating from the ESRB on Nintendo consoles. With the exception of Resident Evil, these are generally niche titles not tied to a large franchise. Nintendo themselves hasn’t developed an M rated game on their own and no one could reasonably expect them to. This changed with Bayonetta.
Coming onto the scene in 2009 Bayonetta was yet another violent and sexual hack and slash title for Xbox and PlayStation. What came as a surprise was the game’s release on the Wii U in 2014 alongside the sequel Bayonetta 2 that was surprisingly a Nintendo exclusive, not launching on other consoles. Nintendo had seen mature exclusives before, more notably No More Heroes on the Wii. While it was unusual it wasn’t unheard of for this to happen, though the sudden change to becoming an exclusive was a surprise. In 2015, Nintendo announced that Bayonetta would be a DLC character in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS/Wii U. A character from an M rated game was being put in a place of prominence with other Nintendo characters. While Snake had done this first, games from the Metal Gear franchise weren’t being regularly released on Nintendo systems, meanwhile, Bayonetta was now an exclusive character. This shows it is willing to acknowledge their mature characters in official titles like Super Smash Bros.
Since then we’ve begun to see more M rated exclusives from Nintendo. Senran Kagura: Skirting Shadows —later released as Senran Kagura: Burst— was the first game from the now known Senran Kagura franchise. A musou-style beat’em up in the style of Dynasty Warriors titles, Senran Kagura: Burst features kunoichi who lose their clothes as they take damage. While other titles have released on other consoles and PC, exclusives are split between Sony and Nintendo. But the point remains is that they’re on Nintendo consoles with regularity, Senran Kagura Reflexions and Peach Ball: Senran Kagura are both late 2018 titles exclusively for Nintendo consoles.
Finally, it’s difficult to not talk about SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy releasing as a Switch exclusive. With provocative costumes and an all-woman cast of fighters, SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy is unapologetically sexual in its content and marketing. Normally titles like this and the Senran Kagura series may have been on Playstation if they even made it to consoles at all. But it seems it is no longer backing away from sexual content in games.
What does this all mean for Nintendo? We could begin to see more provocative indie titles enter Nintendo’s marketplace. Already we’ve seen The Binding of Isaac with its controversial religious themes hit the Switch. But the most hopeful possibility is that we’ll begin to see more mature themes and content in Nintendo’s in-house titles. While no one is expecting Mario to be squishing around in viscera, this could be a big deal for the Metroid franchise. The Metroid series has recently come close to pushing mature themes, particularly as far as Nintendo has been willing to go in the past. However, even Metroid: Other M only got a T rating from the ESRB. I don’t mean to conflate a more mature ESRB rating with quality, only using it as a barometer for how far it has gone with their own franchises. But could the story of Metroid: Other M have been better if Nintendo had been more open? The story, the level of violence and detail; these can be limited when trying to keep a game underneath a certain rating. Maybe an M rated Metroid game is what’s needed to reinvigorate the franchise after the disappointing Metroid Prime: Federation Force.
Nintendo doesn’t have to be a mature company. This isn’t an encouragement for it to become more sexual, violent or edgy. But Nintendo should have the capability to tell those stories if they want instead of limiting themselves. They might find success in the margins.