Since its inception, Nintendo has always represented a family friendly, clean image, as represented in its two biggest franchises: Mario and Pokémon. Both of these series feature loveable, iconic mascots, formulaic plots, and simple gameplay that will appeal even to the youngest of gamers. But while these franchises were at the forefront during Nintendo’s early years, there was always cult classic games to balance them out, including darker titles such as Perfect Dark and GoldenEye.
It was only in the mid-2000s that Nintendo actually seemed to actively cultivate such an image. In 2004, the Nintendo DS was released, a system which valued fun, simple gameplay over complicated plots or well-developed characters, and which brought us games like Nintendogs and Cooking Mama. Two years later in 2006, the Wii was released, which along with games like Wii Sports and Mario Kart Wii brought us the Wii Fit, an add-on designed to show us that Nintendo really cared about our health and wellbeing.
This form of benevolent branding means that Nintendo is the gaming conglomerate which gamers feel most connected to out of the three big players in the industry. And yet, as with all organizations, there’s a dark underbelly to Nintendo that their fans don’t want you to know about. In recent years, Nintendo has faced negative press at just about every point in their supply chain, from inception to production to rollout — and try as they might, the company has found it hard to eradicate these blights from their public image. In this article we’ll be examining fifteen such times that Nintendo done goofed. Be warned: you may never play Mario Party quite the same way again.
15 Their Horrible Factory Conditions Caused Workers To Commit Suicide
Like many other companies including Sony and Apple, Nintendo manufactures many of its products including the Wii and Wii U at the Foxconn City industrial park in China. The park made headlines back in 2010 when it was confirmed that an astounding 18 suicide attempts had been made there that year, with international media speculating that the horrible working conditions at the factory were what led to the suicides.
Critics of this theory pointed out that suicide rates in the workplace, which at that point accommodated 930 000 people, were actually low compared to the rest of China, which has a suicide rate of 22 deaths per 100 000 people. Nintendo also raised salaries by 20% and offered to counsel to its 350 000 employees at the park. But the idea of someone killing themselves over something so banal as a Wii U is shocking nonetheless.
14 They Worked Their Underaged Interns To The Bone
In another scandal straight from Foxconn City, the facility was later found in 2012 to have employed underage interns and forced them to work ridiculous hours. One fourteen year old, who came forward with the alias of Xiao Wang, explained that he was instructed to work from 7:40 at night until an unspecified time in the morning, and that he was unable to finish his shift until all his work had been completed. He was told that if he complained about the working conditions he would face expulsion from school.
In what was a bad look for Nintendo, it was further confirmed that the products Wang had been moving were the Wii U devices. Once again, Foxconn admitted that the violations had occurred and apologized to the children for their working conditions, but there was no fixing the damage done to Nintendo’s reputation.
13 They Use Minerals That Were Mined Against People’s Will
Conflict minerals are a hugely controversial issue in our current climate, even though for the average gamer they're probably not even a consideration at all. The term refers to minerals gathered from mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where workers are often forced, threatened, or coerced into working against their will.
While Nintendo does have an official policy on conflict minerals, analysts for the charity organisation 'The Enough Project' slammed the statement, saying that it “looks like a meaningless piece of paper without concrete steps behind it.” Their main contention was that Nintendo’s suppliers didn’t know where their minerals came from and thus the company couldn’t either. Nintendo still hasn’t changed their stance on conflict minerals, and so it’s unlikely that this issue will stop haunting them anytime soon.
12 They Performed Poorly On The ‘Slavery Index’
For reasons listed above and more, Nintendo was subject to a poor rating on Baptist World Aid Australia’s ‘Slavery Index,’ a listing which ranked electronics companies based on the standards of their ethical principles. The charitable organization gave Nintendo a C- in their list based on issues such as paying a living wage, allowing collective bargaining, forced labour, child labour, and tracking their supply chain to ensure legality at all times.
To be fair to Nintendo, they weren’t the only organization which faced a negative review from the organization. For example, of the 56 companies analyzed only one was found to in fact pay their workers an amount described as a “living wage," which is distinguished from a minimum wage which is often insufficient in developing countries. It might be time to break out the N-Gage again, because that company was, surprisingly, Nokia.
11 They Were Savage AF Towards Twitch
Twitch has to be the most famous live streaming service, and its impact on the gaming world has been phenomenal. Companies like Blizzard have made the most of the service by partnering with them exclusively to host their tournaments. But it doesn’t look like Nintendo will be joining the party anytime soon, with the company refusing to implement Twitch apps on any of their systems.
Their reasoning? That Twitch just isn't fun. "We don't think streaming 30 minutes of gameplay by itself is a lot of fun,” said Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime. He later attempted to backtrack by stating that Nintendo has a strong relationship with Twitch, working with them on the Nintendo Treehouse event, and that they are focused on creating a more curated approach to streaming as seen in the Mario Kart TV function. But there’s something somewhat elitist about Nintendo’s viewpoint that just doesn’t sit right with us.
10 They Target YouTubers Who Support Them
In case you needed more proof that Nintendo is 100% against online video creators using their games, take their stance on YouTube as an example. The company regularly issues content recognition warnings to YouTubers who upload any footage of their games, regardless of whether they’re simply reviewing the games or performing entire ‘Let’s Play’ series on them. This makes it incredibly hard for creators to continue paying bills with their videos and has led many to embargo the gaming company altogether.
While Nintendo does have the legal right to put an end to these kinds of videos, doing so essentially strips them of all free publicity that the creators were providing for their games. Moreover, it simply destroys any notion of goodwill that the company had with their consumers, which is a hard thing to earn back.
9 They Don’t Allow Fan Projects
Nintendo isn’t just dismissive towards the video-making section of their fandom; they’re also actively destructive towards any fan projects dedicated to their franchises. Take Pokémon Uranium, the fan-made game which was built over nine years from the ground up by two superfans of the series. The game featured newly designed Pokémon, entirely new maps and a more difficult plot than any of the official titles. And although it received over one million downloads in under a month, support was shut down after Nintendo threatened the creators with legal action.
If you’re interested in playing it, Pokémon Uranium is back up online after being pieced back together by fans. But that game is just one of many in a long line of quality fan creations that Nintendo has shut down overnight. While we understand the protectiveness over their franchises, we don’t see the harm in letting fans make the games of their dreams.
8 They Discontinued The NES Classic Edition Because Fans Liked It Too Much
The NES Classic Edition, a re-release of the classic Nintendo Entertainment System with thirty games included, was an immediate hit during its release in the holiday season of 2016. But although the system sold over 2.3 million consoles worldwide, production was ceased after only five months. And even while the system was in production, an incredibly limited amount of stock was sent to retailers, meaning that thousands of fans were either left out or forced to pay exorbitant prices on eBay just to get their hands on it.
When asked why Nintendo may have ended the system's production so early, Wedbush Security Analyst Michael Pachter pointed to the fact that the NES Classic was becoming a competitor to Nintendo’s own Switch, and thus had to be stopped. Essentially, the system was too well-received by fans and discontinued to force them into buying the overpriced Switch. How is that fair?
7 They’re Too Cheap To Maintain Wi-Fi Services
The internet plays a major part in many games of the 21st century, often working not only as a tool for promotion but as an integral part of gameplay. Significant Nintendo DS and Wii titles like Pokémon Black and White and Super Smash Bros. Brawl all make use of multi-player features that relied on Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection to function. Sadly, Nintendo shut down their Wi-Fi services in May of 2014, leaving players who wished to trade Pokémon or battle their friends high and dry.
It’s not a totally unprecedented move from Nintendo, and it wouldn’t be an issue for fans if the consoles had well and truly run their lifespan. But considering that the last DS title came out in January of 2015 (Big Hero 6: Battle in the Bay) and Wii titles are still being released in 2017 (weirdly, Just Dance 2018), it seems unfair to players that they’re not getting the full experience they paid for.
6 They Probably Avoid Paying Taxes
This one’s a little less of a sure thing, but according to Ethical Consumer Nintendo has been identified as a company that possibly engages in tax avoidance strategies. According to them, Nintendo has a trust company in the tax haven of the Cayman Islands, as well as a subsidiary in the tax haven of Hong Kong, both of which are red flags when it comes to companies that avoid paying taxes.
If you’re unconvinced, remember that Nintendo admitted to pulling their game and console distribution out of Brazil back in 2015 entirely due to the taxes the government was putting on their sector. In that case, the taxes were leading to markups of up to 63%, so it was understandable that they wouldn't want to pay the overly high taxes, but it makes you wonder what else they might be up to.
5 They Could Cause Your Children To Go Blind
When the 3DS was first available to be played by the public at events in early 2011, there were complaints that large numbers of attendees were suffering from dizziness and nausea after sampling the hardware. But the medical issues the 3DS has the potential to cause are far more drastic than just some passing illness. Experts warned that children under the age of six should not use the 3D function due to the possibility of the feature causing a lazy eye or a squint. “It could effectively act as a negative exercise [...] and it can leave [the eye] underdeveloped," explained Karen Sparrow from the Association of Optometrists.
Nintendo did take the feedback into consideration and introduced a slider to turn off the 3D, alongside parental controls that allow it to be permanently disabled. It’s still worrying that a device that could permanently affect someone’s eyesight is being given to children as a toy.
4 They Used Ableist Slurs
Nintendo may not have thought it was a big deal when they released the game in North America, but Mario Party 8 features a pretty obvious ableist slur. In the board ‘Shy Guy’s Perplex Express,’ the character Kamek casts a magic spell which goes, “Magikoopa magic! Turn the train spastic! Make this ticket tragic!”
The slur clearly wasn’t deemed offensive enough to be removed in the North American edition of the game, but in Europe, the word “spastic” is seen as much more disrespectful than it is in America. Nintendo was so worried about the backlash they expected to face that they pulled the game off European shelves entirely just hours after its release. In a press release, they gave the ambiguous reasoning that “a small number of games contain the wrong version of the disk due to an assembly error.” Later copies of the game replaced the word “spastic” with “erratic."
3 They Plagiarized The Music For Mii Plaza
If you’ve ever made use of the DS’s Mii Plaza function, you may have stumbled into StreetPass, a feature which allows players to swap information from one device to another. And if you were playing with the sound up, you may have noticed that the theme song for the feature was awfully familiar. Well, if you’re a fan of early 1960s bossa nova you’ll note that the tune is suspiciously similar to ‘Summer Samba,' a well-known standard which hit #26 on the Billboard Hot 100 back in 1966.
To be fair, we’re as yet unsure as to whether or not Nintendo had a license to sample the song legally. However, neither Nintendo or Marcos Valle, the composer of the original song, have commented on its usage. It makes us wonder if they’re hiding something or just hoping that no one will notice their plagiarism.
2 They Were Sued For Ripping Off Donkey Kong
Donkey Kong has been the subject of several lawsuits against Nintendo, not least from Universal Studios which claimed that the gaming conglomerate had ripped off their own franchise King Kong. But a more serious allegation came from Ikegami Tsushinki, who had worked on several arcade games for Nintendo. Tsushinki had exclusive rights to the Donkey Kong arcade boards, but claimed that Nintendo had produced around 80 000 of them on their own. He also alleged that he created and owned the code for Donkey Kong which had later been used illegally in Donkey Kong Jr.
In what was probably an unofficial loss for Nintendo, the case ended up being settled out of court. However, it’s most likely this lawsuit that explains why re-releases of Donkey Kong’s arcade version are non-existent. Not a good look.
1 They Stole The Idea For Mario 64
Super Mario 64 is one of Nintendo’s most iconic titles, becoming the best selling title on the Nintendo 64 and having a lasting impact on all future games in the series. But if reports from game developer Jez San are to be believed, it wasn’t really Nintendo’s game to sell. According to San, his company Argonaut was working with Nintendo on a 3D platform game for Yoshi, but the deal fell apart when Nintendo expressed reluctance to let an outsider use one of their characters. Argonaut later reworked that game as Croc: Legend of the Gobbos, while Nintendo recycled the look and feel of the Yoshi game for Super Mario 64.
According to San, Director of Nintendo Shigeru Miyamoto even admitted to the theft at a party, apologizing for not going ahead with the Yoshi game and thanking San for the idea of a 3D platform game. Are you questioning your Nintendo obsession yet?