Since removing the blood in the original Mortal Kombat on the Super NES, Nintendo has earned its image as the family-friendly alternative to the more sex-and-violence-soaked console competition. New reporting from The Wall Street Journal suggests Nintendo is working to change that with the Switch, but any such effort is going to be an uphill climb that could use more direct help from Nintendo.
Speaking to a number of developers, the WSJ‘s Takashi Mochizuki reports Nintendo is explicitly encouraging game makers to release more risqué content on the Switch. “I thought it wouldn’t be possible to release such a game for the Switch, but surprisingly, Nintendo gave me positive feedback,” Inti Creates CEO Takuya Aizu told the paper regarding the provocative Gal Gun 2. Another unnamed developer said Nintendo’s stance toward more violent and sexual content in games on its console “was passive until now, but that is no longer the right word to describe its stance today.”
It wouldn’t be the first time Nintendo has made gestures to attract more “mature” content to its consoles. After the Wii lineup was dominated by family-friendly titles (along with rare exceptions like Mad World), Nintendo’s then-president Satoru Iwata said in 2012 that the company felt it had neglected “those who play games as their hobby” in favor of more casual or new gamers. “Consequently, we presume some people felt that the Wii was not a game system for them or they were not willing to play with the Wii even though some compelling games had been released.”
When the Wii U launched later that year, the initial lineup reflected the effort to get more titles targeted at that “core” of adult gamers for the system. In addition to the M-rated exclusive ZombiiU, the Wii U launch saw ports of violent, M-rated hits such as Mass Effect 3, Assassin’s Creed III, Darksiders II, Ninja Gaiden 3, and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.
By the end of the Wii U’s life, though, only about 3 percent of the more than 1,000 titles released for the system in the US sported an M rating (including digital-only releases). So far, that ratio has been mirrored on the Switch, with just seven M-rated games available among 184 total releases (about 3.8 percent). That’s pretty low in an industry where 11 percent of releases received an M rating in 2016 across all platforms. And it’s extremely low compared to the PS4 and Xbox One, where roughly 25 percent of all US releases get the “Mature” rating.
Nintendo can lead the way
There are some signs things may be starting to change for the Switch, though. Next month, ports of the M-rated Skyrim, L.A. Noire, and Doom will all hit the system in the span of a single week. Payday 2 and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus will also come to the Switch in the coming months, giving more options for those seeking blood-soaked fare on the system.
Much of the Switch’s problem with getting M-rated games so far is merely an outgrowth of its problem getting ports of any third-party games early on. That’s a problem that appears to be diminishing as the console itself continues to sell in healthy numbers and more publishers look to market their back catalogs and upcoming releases to Switch owners.
At the same time, though, having to rely on outside developers and publishers for that adult-focused content instantly hamstrings Nintendo’s efforts to broaden the Switch lineup. Microsoft has Halo and Gears of War, and Sony has games like Bloodborne and The Last of Us aimed squarely away from kids, to cite just a few examples. Since the release of Perfect Dark in 2000, though, Nintendo itself has only published four additional M-rated console exclusives (excluding ports originally published by outside companies), including Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, and Bayonetta 2.
It’s these kinds of first-party exclusives that largely come to define a console’s image, and third-party publishers can justifiably look at Nintendo’s own output as evidence that its consoles are meant for more family-friendly content. If Nintendo really wants to encourage more M-rated games on the Switch, one good way to make it happen would be for Nintendo to make those games itself.
That would require a course correction away from the company’s completely wholesome image, but it wouldn’t have to be a huge one. Even a handful of Nintendo-made Switch titles along the lines of Eternal Darkness or Conker’s Bad Fur Day could go a long way toward convincing the market, and outside developers, that Nintendo is really all right with more adult content on the system. Until Nintendo is willing to do that, it’ll be hard to see the Switch as anything but the Disney of the console world, even if and when we start seeing more “adult” games from outside publishers on the system.