Did you ever buy and play a videogame when you were a kid and yet not realize that the game you bought was one of the video games changed by censors? Well, it seems that U.S. censorship of videogames has come a long way since Nintendo of America had the Video Game Content Guidelines that regulated censorship up until Mortal Kombat, which led to the creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board and others like that one around the world. And even now, with the criticism that has strengthened the ESRB since Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas' Hot Coffee mod, video game consoles are making sure that they're double-checking their games right in order to release it not just to children but to age-appropriate audiences as well. And yet sometimes they have to remove questionable content in order to release it to appropriate age groups. So now, I offer to you the list of the top 10 video games changed by censorship, whether pre-ESRB or post.

As you may know, Uninvited was one of the MacVenture Games released in 1986. Following the success of the Nintendo Entertainment System that saved video games from an early demise by the 1983 game crash,the game's creators wanted to send this game to the U.S. to have it published and compatible for the NES. Of course, since the Entertainment Software Rating Board wasn't developed until 1994, Nintendo of America had a Game Content Guideline which had strict rules to make the game suitable for children. Two of the game rules is that "Nintendo of America will not approve of games that contain... depictions which specifically denigrate members of either gender" or reflect ethnic or religious stereotypes of language, which "includes symbols that are related to any type of racial, religious, nationalistic or ethnic group". As a result, the hero's younger brother is replaced with the older sister, the address "Master Crowley, 666 Blackwell Road, Loch Ness, Scotland" was shortened to just, "Master Crowley" (which is kind of a reference to occultist Aleister Crowley, which NES unknowingly left intact), pentagrams that may relate to Satan are replaced by stars and a deadly ruby, and crosses are either removed (as decoration) or replaced (one by a goblet, which can be used later in the game). Overall, the game had modest success, even when censored, which makes it #10 on the list.

Believe it or not, this game by Data East is weirdly titled, "Bad Dudes vs. DragonNinja" in the U.S. version, while in the Japan version the name is simply "DragonNinja". It was released for arcade in 1988 and had starred President Ronald Reagan as Ronnie, who had been captured by DragonNinja and had to be rescued. The only thing different, though, is the ending of the game. In the Japan version, President Ronnie handed these bad dudes, Blade and Striker, a statue of themselves and are seen leaning toward them. In the U.S. version, Ronnie eats burgers along with the bad dudes and security guards together. Whether the ending is changed between both versions remains to be seen. A year later, on July 14, 1989, the game was released for the NES, and while Japan's version kept the "DragonNinja" title, the U.S. version that had its name of "Bad Dudes vs. DragonNinja" shortened it to just "Bad Dudes". However, there was also a bit of a problem for the U.S. version. Although NOA's video game content guidelines had a rule that says that it would not approve games that "include subliminal political messages or overt political statements", President Reagan had just left office that day, and as a result, Ronnie was replaced with a figure of President George H.W. Bush (father of his son called Dubya), and though there may not be political messages or statements that are either subliminal or overt, the Secret Service's introduction had been slightly changed from the arcade version, and the NES game was given the go-ahead for release. Anyway, this game may still be #9 on my list, though it may have been changed by censorship.

Now here is something that is a classic. It's called "Bionic Commando" for the NES, whereas the game's Japanese title was originally "The Resurrection of Hitler Top Secret". That should easily come as no surprise, given that in the original story, some neo-servants of Adolf Hitler have developed an Albatross Project, whose part consisted of resurrecting their Fuhrer to put to use in some new Master Race domination plan to capture the U.S. soldier called "Super Joe" and only the hero, Radd Spencer, must be sent behind enemy lines to try to save him and stop some Master Race domination from forming. Of course, NOA's Game Content Guidelines again had the same rule #7 as the one they had given its version of Uninvited: it would not approve of games that include "symbols that are related to any type of racial, religious, nationalistic or ethnic group", and that includes hate groups. So instead, swatstikas on flags and a general's podium were replaced by Germanic eagles, the neo-servants became "the Badds", and Hitler himself became "Master D", while retaining the plot developed by the Badds. However, NOA unknowingly had Hitler's appearance remain unchanged, especially in the graphic, bloody death scene, which was kept intact in the international version. Regardless, Bionic Commando became a cult success and spawned some remakes, including a Game Boy version (whose scenery was changed into a futuristic one), and "Bionic Commando Rearmed", which was released in 2008 for the Playstation Network, XBox Live Arcade, and the PC. But furthermore, "Bionic Commando" remains a cult classic, which makes it #8 on the list.

Here's the Sega Genesis beat-em-up game that you may remember. It's called "Streets of Rage 3", the third in the "Streets of Rage"/"Bare Knuckle" series. But unlike the previous two games, this one has a lot of story and dialogue. However, what you have never heard of in SoRIII's original Japan version is its storyline. In its Japanese title, "Bare Knuckle 3", the story opens up with the demolition of Oak City by an explosive substance called the "Rakushin", created by a certain Dr. Gilbert Zan. This also culminated in the disappearance of a certain weapons general named Ivan Petrov (whose name sounds Russian, if you ask me), and Blaze Fielding, accompanied by Axel Stone and Sammy Hunter (or Eddie "Skate" Hunter in the U.S. version), must join forces with Dr. Zan to try to save the general and prevent another war from occurring in the city while helping Zan try to put the error of his ways and the Rakushin incident to a close. When the game was sent to U.S. shores for release in 1994, however, the Videogame Ratings Council (Sega of America's version of the ESRB) would not approve of games that have references to war similar to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, politics, and homosexuality (which involves a stereotypical gay character named Ash), which would have qualified for a MA-17 rating instead of MA-13. So instead, the Ash character was removed, dominatrix clothing was switched to more modest clothing for Axel, Blaze and Skate, General Petrov was replaced with the unnamed Chief of Police, the Rakushin itself was removed along with Oak City, the White House got a different name of "City Hall", and the storyline was altered to say that the antagonist, Mr. X, has developed a research facility called the RoboCy Corporation to act as a cover for his business with the Syndicate; that he has hired a robotics specialist, Dr. Dahm (f.k.a. Dr. Zero) to create robot replacements for important official from the city; that his organization called the Syndicate has distracted and dealt with the police officers while planting bombs around the city; that the distraction results in the disappearance of the Chief of Police; and that Dr. Zan realizes what the Syndicate is up to and must be stopped at all costs. Despite the censorship and modest criticism, "Streets of Rage 3" remains a cult classic, which is why it is #7 on the list.

In "Wolfenstein 3D", a PC game released on May 5, 1992, and inspired by Muse Software computer games "Castle Wolfenstein" and "Beyond Castle Wolfenstein", William "B.J." Blazkowicz, a U.S. soldier of Polish descent, attempts to escape from Hitler's occupied stronghold, which is fortified with armed guards and attack dogs. The PC version had modest success and even spawned shoot-em-up games like Doom. When the game was to be ported for the SNES, however, NOA still had the same rule it had used for Bionic Commando: it would not approve of games that include "symbols that are related to any type of racial, religious, nationalistic or ethnic group", especially hate groups. So Hitler became the "Staatmeister", and Hitler's neo-servants became softened to just the soldiers of the Staatmeister. NOA also had the same rule that it would not approve of games that "depict graphic illustrations of death", so the blood was replaced with sweat, and dogs were replaced with rats. But this is where it happens, when the SNES version of "Wolfenstein 3D" did not have as much success as the PC version because of the censorship guidelines, and that could bring NOA to their senses and the creation of the ESRB with the release of "Mortal Kombat", which I will explain later. For now, despite a bit of failure, "Wolfenstein 3D", SNES or PC, is still #6 on the list.

This game is the first game to be changed by censorship under the NOA Video Game Content Guidelines despite the fact that it was given an ESRB rating of "Kids to Adults" (now known as "Everyone"). The game is called "EarthBound", subtitled "The War Against Giygas" (in Japan, it is known as "Mother 2: Gyiyg Strikes Back"). Oddly enough, this game is about a young protagonist named Ness, who uses weird toy weapons such as a baseball bat and a yo-yo; and is destined to battle an alien antagonist named Giygas, a weird force bent on turning the world into an alien armageddon and using people by mind-control. Odd thing is that Ness must do it to save the world, with help from a psychic girl named Paula, a young scientist named Jeff (son of the scientist genius Dr. Andonuts), and a young martial arts master prince named Poo. When the game came to the U.S. in early 1995, NOA not only had the same rule it had given Bionic Commando and Wolfenstein 3D (it would not approve of games that "reflect ethnic, religious or nationalistic stereotypes of language", which includes "symbols that are related to any type of racial, religious, nationalistic or ethnic group"), but it also had a rule that it would not approve of games that "depict domestic violence and/or abuse." As a result, crosses in hospitals are replaced with inscriptions next to the word "hospital", and the "HH" (which stood for "Happy Happyism") on the blue hood of the Insane Cultist was replaced with a white cottonball on the top of the hood to reflect the Santa Claus hat. Also, while the original had Aloysius Minch take his sons Pokey and Picky upstairs and slap them, and had Ness talk to Pokey upstairs in his room, where he said, "My butt hurts!" (which depicted domestic violence), in the U.S. version, the same Aloysius takes his sons upstairs, a scolding sound is heard, and when Ness talks to Pokey upstairs, he says, "My dad told me I get no dessert for the rest of the decade." What is ironic is that while the game had much success in Japan, in the U.S. it was released on June 1, 1995, to poor commercial response. Yet despite that, it is often and still hailed as a cult classic for its humorous depictions of U.S. culture and parody of the RPG genre, including the "Dragon Quest" genre. And even with censorship labeled on it, the game is #5 on the list.

Now here's the game that led to the creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board. The game is called Mortal Kombat, and it is a fighting game that was created by Midway's Ed Boon and John Tobias and released for arcade in 1992. And it's not just like any fighting game, as it contained a lot of blood and gore, and included Fatalities (when the player has to finish off or kill an opponent in a grotesque, bloody manner). This has caused quite a stir for the NOA and Sega companies. At first, both companies tried to modify the games as best as they could to try to get it to appeal only to children. Again, according to NOA's Video Game Content Guidelines, it would not approve of games that "depict graphic illustration of death", so instead the blood was replaced with sweat, and all the fatalities were altered or changed completely and renamed "Finishing Bonus". Meanwhile, Sega of America did the same thing that NOA did: replace blood with sweat and remove the fatalities. But unlike the SNES version, Sega started wisening up and entered a code that could restore the graphic violence and fatalities altogether, making it as good as the arcade version and giving the game a MA-13 rating by the VRC. And it is ironic that while the Sega Genesis version was well received and had great success as the arcade one, the SNES version did not go so well without the blood and fatalities and had a huge commercial failure in 1993. And due to more violent games being released to try to make it unsafe for kids, NOA started to wisen up a bit, and together with Sega, Sony and Microsoft (creators of PlayStation and XBox), they created the ESRB to allow NOA to gradually relax their censorship practices, for now they could legitimately argue that their games were being targeted to specific age groups, rather than "children" as a whole. And as for the "Mortal Kombat" franchise itself, the game went on to spawn many sequels and more finishing moves, including the Friendship, Animality, and even the Hara-Kiri (suicide) moves. This game is so good, even in spite of censorship, that it is now marked as #4 on the list.

Here's another game that has been changed by censorship in spite of the ESRB. And it's a PlayStation game entitled "Breath of Fire IV", the fourth game in the Breath of Fire series. It's kind of strange that in Japan, the game's subtitle literally means: "One Who Changes All to Nothing". This game takes place in a world divided into two kingdoms: the Fou Empire and the Eastern Kingdom, which is at war. While all this is happening, Elina, sister of Nina and love interest of Cray, has disappeared. Both Nina and Cray have to go on a search for her. Along the way, Nina encounters Ryu, a hero with the powers of the dragon, whose powers had become separated when his other half, the Emperor Fou-Lu, became divided from him six centuries ago. Now that Fou-Lu has awakened, he believes it's time to reclaim the throne and take what is his, and Ryu and his friends must try to stop him from ascending to godhood and destroying the world while trying to find Elina at the same time. When the game came to the U.S., however, it had major problems that involve violence, foul language, blood and gore, suggestive themes and content, nudity and alcoholism that would have qualified for a Mature rating. But the programmers wanted to get a "Teen" rating for it, so they removed some nudity scenes involving Nina and Ursula, Scias' slurred speech pattern was replaced with his stutter, the foul language was cleaned up, and they removed the scene (that would have been worthy of "Mortal Kombat" or "Resident Evil") in which Fou-Lu pulls out the sword from his body after Emperor Soniel has stabbed him, and proceeds to decapitate Soniel! :P In spite of censorship, the game was pretty well-received,which is why it is rated #3 on the list.

Here's another PlayStation game that had the same censorship as the Breath of Fire IV game. And oddly enough, it is a spin-off of the classic rhythm game "PaRappa the Rapper", which is (weirdly since "Bad Dudes vs. DragonNinja") titled Um Jammer Lammy. Both games are the brainchildren of Japanese game developer NanaOn-Sha, and like the first PaRappa game, though it was made in Japan in 1999, UJL has a rhythm pattern and a list of English-speaking voice actors playing the roles of the game's paper-thin characters (created by U.S. artist Rodney A. Greenblatt), with one completely new protagonist. And did I mention that the game featured the first-videogame voice-acting debut of future Grey's Anatomy star Sara Ramirez as Lammy? :D Anyway, the game was released to Japan's shores on March 18, 1999, and had the same moderate success as its predecessor. Then, in the summer of 1999, Sony Computer Entertainment and NanaOn-Sha wanted to release the game to U.S. shores to see if they can get an "Everyone" rating from the ESRB and appeal to American audiences, originally slated for the end of July. Everyone thought it would be easy, right? Wrong! Actually, there was a problem regarding the game's U.S. release. A MAJOR problem. And it's not just because of the Paul Chuck stage whose song lyrics strongly implied deforestation and illegal logging, which could be a major damage on Mother Nature, and had to be toned down so they no longer apply to "chopping down trees for fun." No, the real major problem lies in Teriyaki Yoko's stage. Suffice it to say that it was deemed too intense and problematic for the "Everyone" rating because of religious and violent issues involving hell and the devil, which would have been qualifiable for a "Teen" or "Everyone 10+" rating (the latter of which hadn't been established until 2005). To remedy the problematic stage, Sony Computer Entertainment America and NanaOn-Sha rewrote the storyline so that it involves time-travel and a tropic island feel, rewrote the song lyrics in Lammy's Stage 6 so they no longer refer to the devil, rewrote the Stage 1 song lyric to reflect the new Stage 6 storyline, and had the game's voice-actors reprise their roles in the toned-down stages and their songs. And it's strange that while the original storyline had Lammy die and battle for her life in hell's concert and then brought her back from the dead via fax machine, the rewritten storyline has her get flung back in time onto a tropical island where she has to battle the same Teriyaki Yoko in its volcanic concert in order to return to the present via same fax machine... in her new jungle camouflage wardrobe! That's right: Lammy's clothing is changed into the camo costume design (as are the appearances of Katy Kat and Ma-san in the intro to the final stage) to fit the island/jungle storyline with a twist! Also, while the original version of Yoko's song "Taste of Teriyaki" had her sing "The devil would come back to pick me up with you," the song is rewritten due to religious issues with U.S. censorship, so that she now sings, "Somebody would come back to pick me up with you." Even weird is that the word "angel" is still kept intact in the song, but not the phrase "The angel's been mean to me," which has been altered in PaRappa's version of the song; yet why they kept the word "angel" intact besides religion is beyond me. Anyways, after a final test run, the game's date was pushed back so that it was released in the U.S. on August 17. Of course, it was only in the U.S., as later in 1999, the game was released as a European PAL version in September, with all the game's content in Japan's version left intact and uncensored. Despite censorship, the game had modest success and went on to win the E3 1999 Video Game Awards for Best Puzzle/Trivia/Parlor Game and Outstanding Achievement in Sound. After 10 years, UJL still remains a cult classic, which is why it is #2 on the list of the Video Games Changed by Censorship.

Finally, we get to the part of the game that is heavily hit by censorship. And it was even in the pre-ESRB days. The game is called Maniac Mansion, and it was created by LucasArts for the Commodore and Apple computers in October 1987. The game puts you in the role of Dave Miller, whose girlfriend, Sandy Pantz, has been captured by the Edison family led by Dr. Fred and taken to their mansion, which had become haunted since the purple meteor landed 20 years ago and mind-controlled the Edisons, and only Dave, accompanied by his six friends, including Bernard Bernoulli, must find a way to save Sandy, stop the meteor and restore order to the Edison family mansion. In 1990, LucasArts began developing a Maniac Mansion video game for the NES, customized by the Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion, or SCUMM. Since LucasArts knew that NOA would not approve of games that "use profanity or obscenity in any form" or "depict random, gratituous or excessive violence", including the word "kill", they had to clean out the profanity, and replace "kill" with another word. At first, they replaced the words "Kill Thrill" on Maniac Mansion's arcade game with the m-word that ends with "Diver", but NOA later did not approve of the game because the m-word depicts "sexually suggestive or explicit content" that refers to a woman's... well, you know; so they replaced the m-word with the word "Tuna" in "Tuna Diver". But just when they thought their work was complete, the game was sent back from NOA with more rules regarding the words, "For a good time, Edna", Edna's sexual advances when capturing a player and hauling them off to a dungeon, and her sexual words while talking on the phone, referring to "sexually suggestive or explicit content"; using the word "suck", but not "sucker-face", as "profanity or obscenity in any form"; Weird Ed's words to his mother Edna that Dr. Fred "hasn't eaten in 5 years... and he carries these bodies to the basement at night" as depicting "random, gratituous or excessive violence", especially cannibalism; and using posters and Michelangelo's statue as, again, "sexually suggestive or explicit content including... nudity." NOA even mentioned the "NES SCUMM system" as a reference that they "did not understand". That left LucasArts stunned, so they cleaned all the content, including sexually explicit content involving Edna and her advances and phone number; changing Weird Ed's words to say that his father Dr. Fred "hasn't slept in 5 years", referring to Dr. Fred's room that has indeed never been used; changing Dr. Fred's words to say that Sandy is getting her "pretty brains removed"; and removed the posters and the statue that involved nudity (LucasArts tried defending the statue, and NOA complied to keep the statue only if they could remove pubic hair, which turned out to be non-existant, so they were forced to remove the statue altogether). Afterwards, they removed the reference to the "NES SCUMM system" because they didn't think NOA would want to know (though they removed only the image of the pennant, the pennant can still be highlighted at the top-left corner, which reads "SCUMM U RAH"). However, when they kept the use of the hamster as a cooking tool that explodes in the microwave when the game was released to U.S. shores, NOA raised an outcry and wanted it removed, but the "exploding hamster" thing never bothered the children in the U.S. at all. It was only when the game was sent to Europe as a PAL version that the "exploding hamster" thing was removed. As Douglas Crockford later recalled at the end of his written story "The Expugation of Maniac Mansion for the Nintendo Entertainment System", "Nintendo is a jealous god." Nintendo and other game platforms have since come a long way with the creation of the ESRB, which is now nothing to worry about regarding censorship. And as for Maniac Mansion, it spawned a sequel called "Day of the Tentacle" and a short-lived TV series and references in other video games. And this is why, despite all the heavy censorship it endured for the NES, Maniac Mansion still remains a cult classic, gaining its top spot as #1 on the list of Video Games Changed by Censorship.

So there you have it. There are many more censored video games that I haven't mentioned, like "Super Mario RPG" or "Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals", or "Castlevania IV", or even some of the "Grand Theft Auto" series. But anyways, next time you're out to buy video games, make sure you always accompany your parent if you are a child, or even if you are grown-up or are a teen or an adult old enough to buy them on your own. Besides, you may not have to worry about some "naughty or questionable bits" that may disturb you, because, just remember, it's not the censorship, but it's the ESRB and its censorship ratings that may protect you from danger and from doing harmful stuff. And that's what video game safety is for, right? Well, until next time! :)

List by angeldeb82 (09/15/2009)

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