Nintendo is no stranger to controversial material. Over the years, they’ve published and helped produce some seriously inappropriate games and characters. The company was founded in 1889 and maybe it can be argued that many of their games were created “during a different time.” But, sorry Nintendo, most of their improper characters were released in video games of the 1980s, which was not actually that long ago. There is therefore no excuse for their blatant racism and use of specific cultural and political stereotypes. But what can you expect from Nintendo? They’re known for Mario, an Italian moustache-clad plumber with a horrible mockery of an accent and, as long as he remains a popular character, Nintendo is not apologizing for this offensive stereotype.
In Nintendo’s defence, the majority of their characters have become a lot stronger and much less disrespectful over the years. They’ve popped out Kirby’s Dream Land and Yoshi’s Story, which were solid games without any controversial characters. Nintendo has tried hard to burry many of their offensive characters under the release of new flashier games, but contrary to their wishes, these characters will forever be marked down in history.
Square's Tom Sawyer is a 1989 Japanese game which was exclusively available on the Japanese version of the NES, called the Family Computer. It houses one of the most offensive and discriminatory characters ever: Jim. Based on Mark Twain’s novel, it dives into the life of Tom Sawyer and his search for treasure along the Mississippi River. Tom eventually meets Jim along his travels. Jim is an escaped slave who plans to travel to the free states where he hopes to buy back his family's freedom.
However, Jim is depicted in the game as having “blackface,” an extremely obnoxious and offensive form of theatrical makeup used to represent black characters. Thus his face is entirely midnight-black, with overdrawn lips which are a bright fluorescent red. Because of this portrayal, the game was ranked by UGO Entertainment as being the 4th most racist video game ever.
Vodka Drunkenski was the initial name of the Punch-Out!! character originally hailing from the Soviet Union, and later, after its dissolution, Russia. Punch-Out!! was originally an arcade game in the 1980s and later branched out to home systems, where Vodka’s name was changed to Soda Popinski. This was done in order to evade controversy over the Russian stereotype. Vodka is a large brooding boxer who can be seen constantly drinking from a bottle in the NES and Wii games. Though developers have attempted to state that these bottles contain soda, to incorporate Vodka’s new name and avoid any negative notions, it is obvious to most fans that Vodka is drinking something with a bit of a stronger edge.
Vodka is also resilient to most forms of harsh weather, particularly cold weather. Some suspect that this is a reference to the Cold War between the USA and the USSR which was taking place at the time. Additionally, Vodka’s is clothed completely in red and even his skin is portrayed as being more rouge than the rest of the boxers in the series.
Though Registeel appears to be your typical steel-type Pokémon originally found in Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, circling the internet and Nintendo DS systems are images of him doing a particularly distasteful and repulsive pose. In his sprite art for Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, Registeel is illustrated with his left arm extended above his head.
This created a lot of controversy, as it was seen by many as the infamous salute used by the German Nazi Party. The image was altered in the European releases, changed to depict Registeel with both of his arms down along his side, which was later incorporated into all future games. However, the original art can still be found in the Japanese and North American versions Diamond and Pearl.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day is easily the best Conker game in existence. It pokes fun at other games of its genre and is filled with humorous mature content, including some vulgar and offensive references. One of these is Jugga, the extremely tall cave woman who is in a relationship with Buga the Knut. Her attire consists of a cheetah-skinned bikini that barely covers any real portion of her body.
Conker first meets Jugga in Buga’s arena, where she is seen giggling at Buga’s every word. She takes a special interest in Conker and persuades Buga to fight him, after blatantly stating that Conker has a “bigger bone” than him. Jugga classically portrays women as mere sexual objects. Conker instantly falls for her and, despite the game revolving around the search for his girlfriend Berri, wants Jugga to run away with him, to which she promptly refuses.
One of the main antagonists of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is Lord Ghirahim. His mission is to capture Princess Zelda and use her goddess spirit to help him resurrect Demise, his master. Throughout the game he is portrayed as flamboyant and effeminate. He quickly becomes obsessed with Link, believing that their fates have been intertwined.
Though there is no official note on his sexual preferences by Nintendo, many fans believe that he is either homosexual or pansexual. This would be a huge step forward in the gaming scene… if it wasn’t for the other aspects of his personality. The other side of the coin paints him as a narcissist, who is incredibly vain and overly confident, obsessed with his “perfect” body. These are all extremely negative stereotypes and many fans question whether Ghirahim is perhaps an unintentionally offensive caricature or whether writers at Nintendo deliberately sought to create a “scary” enemy by giving him such discriminatory characteristics.
Many of the Punch-Out!! series’ characters have negative connotations and are culturally inappropriate. Another example of this is Pizza Pasta. Pizza is an Italian boxer from Naples, which is coincidentally where pizza originated. He only appeared in the arcade version of Punch-Out!! and it is not hard to see why. The fact that his full name incorporates two generic Italian foods is not a subtle approach to poking fun at other cultures.
If that isn’t enough, Pizza’s attire is set up to represent the Italian flag, with red gloves and green/white shorts and shoes. However, Nintendo seemed able to suppress their urges and did not provide him with an elegant moustache, which they've been known to do with other Italian characters (I'm looking at you Mario and Luigi).
Princess Peach deserves to be mentioned on this list because she is the most well known damsel-in-distress. Though Nintendo developers have sought to give her a more genuine and solid role in the series, an example being Super Princess Peach, many fans still think of her as the frail and vulnerable princess. This is due to the fact that sexist elements still remain tied to her character.
For instance, while Princess Peach is finally able to do the rescuing in Super Princess Peach, the entire game is based on her being overly emotional and temperamental. Throughout the story, all of her powers are linked directly to her emotions, called vibes in the game. These vibes include joy, rage, gloom, and calm. Princess Peach must unleash these vibes so as to regain her health, which is done by calming herself down, and, in order to run faster, which is done by crying.
Lenora is the Nacrene City Gym Leader of Pokémon Black and White. Her portrayal in the Japanese animated series, as well as in the Japanese versions of the games, depicted her in a headscarf and apron. This was later altered in the North American versions, where she appeared without her apron, wearing the headscarf and a pocketed shirt.
It is believed that Nintendo changed her clothing because they feared outcry from the public, which some fans suspect was due to fact that she could be tied to the “mammy” stereotype. This is a highly discriminatory image of black female slaves as happy and eager to please their white families, often acting as the main housekeepers and clothed in aprons and headscarves.
This stereotype was further pushed in the Japanese games, where her Gym Leader title translates to “Natural Born Mama.” Players are also faced with various cooking quizzes before being able to finally battle her, which creates a strong argument that this obnoxious portrayal was not at all accidental.
Bear Hugger is Punch-Out!!’s Canadian stereotype. He is from British Columbia and is the boxing champion of the entire country. He first appeared in the arcade game Super Punch-Out!! but went on to be featured in the SNES and Wii game. He is a large husky lumberjack who adores the outdoors and spends most of his time playing hockey and pulling out tree trunks with his bare hands.
Bear has a large beard and is decked out in overalls, because, really, how else can Canadians look? He is even dedicated enough to shave his chest hair into the shape of a pine tree (which is all the rage here in Canada). He spends most of his time guzzling down pure maple syrup and training to box with fellow bears.
Pauline was the original love-interest of Mario in the 1981 Donkey Kong arcade game. In the game, she is kidnapped by Donkey Kong and plays the standard damsel-in-distress. Though she was originally drawn with blonde hair, she was later changed into a brunette in Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis to allow fans to distinguish her from Princess Peach. With large gold earrings and a form-fitting red dress, Pauline is displayed as a stereotypical trophy wife.
When she is not being helplessly kidnapped, Pauline spends her time in Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move hosting the Minigames with Donkey Kong and standing on the side congratulating players on their scores. She also appears as an actual trophy in the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U Super Smash Bros.
Glass Joe is the first opponent of the arcade, NES, and Wii Punch-Out!! games. Though his background was not initially known, cutscenes in the NES game portray him as a Parisian. He is known for his overall cowardice and weakness, which plays into his fragile name. He is barely able to throw a punch or block and is the easiest opponent to defeat. This plays off the highly offensive stereotype that the French are weak and easily beaten.
Most of Glass’ spoken lines are merely him counting to 10 in French and he is depicted holding a baguette and drinking coffee during his cutscene in the Wii game. After his eventual defeat, he is showered with croissants and baguettes.
Bounty hunter Samus Aran is not always a stereotypical useless female character and, contrarily, tends to be very head strong and capable. However, in Metroid: Other M, her character is highly lacking. The game itself is surrounded by controversy, with fans either loving it or despising it, but the one thing that is clear is that Samus is not at her best. In the game, Samus acts as a vulnerable fragile flower, unable to make any consecutive decisions of her own and eager to follow every order from her superior officer, Adam, without question. This conflicts with the Samus of other games, who tends to be quite rebellious and reluctant to take orders from others.
In Other M, Samus is utterly unable to think for herself and relies on the total guidance of other, particularly male, characters to tell her what to do. The game was partly developed by Team Ninja, who also produced Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, so perhaps it is no coincidence that Samus continues to play on their stereotype that women are frail and inadequate.
Hoy Quarlow is an elderly man from Beijing. He is one of the newer Punch-Out!! characters and only appears in the SNES game. He acts as the stereotypical all-knowing Kung-Fu master, depicted wearing a long silk robe, with a long white beard. Hoy also has a weapon in his possession: a long wooden staff, because clearly the beard doesn’t make him look wise enough.
Hoy incorporates the art of Kung-Fu into his attacks and is thus an incredibly difficult character to beat and has a large arsenal of special moves he won’t pause to attack you with. In Mandarin, his name is read as Huí guō ròu (twice-cooked pork in English), which is a traditional Chinese dish and makes his character even more inappropriate and offensive.
Jynx is believed by many to be a negative racial stereotype, depicting a character using blackface, similar to Tom Sayer’s Jim mentioned above. Because she is a humanoid creature in form, it is hard not to see the connection. Her overdrawn red lips and dark skin are nearly identical to Jim’s. She also has flowing human-like hair, as well as a large bust and wide hips.
After outcry from Cultural Critic, Carole Boston Weatherford, Nintendo changed Jynx’s skin colour from black to purple in the North American versions of Pokémon Gold and Silver. Jynx was later adapted across the animated series, manga, and remainder of the games to incorporate this switch to purple skin. This has done little to appease controversy, however, as many members of the public still view her as an offensively racial symbol.
Von Kaiser is the politically incorrect German stereotype of Punch-Out!! Decked out in army green pants tucked into tall combat boots, he is viewed as militaristic and belligerent. He comes from Berlin, where he taught children how to box. He appeared in the NES and Wii Punch-Out!! games. His theme song in the Wii version was highly influence on Ride of the Valkyries, a song that has been satirized in modern day and originally comes from the infamous German opera Die Walküre (The Valkyrie).
Though there is no official connection in any of the games, many fans believe that he is a Nazi soldier due to his outfit and buzz-style haircut. While this may just be fans giving into offensive stereotypes without any sound cause, it is very like Punch-Out!! to exploit every known cultural stereotype onto their characters, so we may never know.