Nintendo has a remarkably squeaky-clean image. In large part, this has to do with the first-party titles the gaming giant develops in-house. This reputation is surely by design from a business standpoint. Being known as the “family” platform instantly opens up a broader audience to doing business with the company.
Despite their image, Nintendo is not going to turn developers away at the door just because they want to develop M-rated titles. The company obviously recognizes there is a demand for titles aimed at older consumers, and as such, many M-rated games have made their way to Nintendo’s consoles and handhelds over the years.
Even though we can get our hands soaked in the blood of high-tech armored Nazis in Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, bloodthirsty experiences weren’t always available on Nintendo consoles. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) was formed in 1994 following a very public discussion over the graphic portrayal of violence and sexuality in games. Prior to the ESRB’s creation, Nintendo stood on the side of censorship in games while Sega allowed the mature content on its platform. For instance, Mortal Kombat’s SNES port removed the blood and gore content within the game, while Sega allowed its inclusion.
Following the ESRB’s creation, Nintendo became more relaxed regarding the censorship of games on its platforms. In honor of this decades-old policy shift at Nintendo, I want to highlight five of the best M-rated games across all Nintendo platforms.
That’s right–I’m not talking about the visceral and frenetic gorefest that is the modern reboot of this classic (although that is a stellar game in its own right). Doom came to PCs in the latter part of ’93. It was actually the first “violent” game I ever played. I woke up one summer morning in ’94 with a note from my dad stuck to a floppy disk. On the note were his instructions to me on how to install this game called “Doom” for MS-DOS.
After following the instructions and booting up the game, I found it was only the shareware demo of the game that came with the episode “Knee-Deep in the Dead.” However, I was shocked to see the titles of the other episodes that I could not access: “The Shores of Hell” and “Inferno.” As an avid eight-year-old gamer, I had never encountered something with such intensity in the title alone. My dad actually didn’t know what kind of game to expect. When I showed him the game after he came home from work that day, he was thrilled but told me to keep it our secret. In other words–don’t play it around mom. I can envision lots of dads (including myself) nodding our heads as we know exactly how that plays out.
In 1995, Doom was released for the SNES. This came just after the formation of the ESRB, and thereby had an M-rating slapped on the cover of the box. When I saw the game hit the shelves at my local video rental store, I instantly arranged a sleepover with a couple friends, used my dad to rent the game, and had one hell of an evening ripping through hordes of demons with my friends. (We took turns.) Doom was one of the earliest games that signaled a change in Nintendo’s policy towards violent games.
In 1997, Rare developed Goldeneye 007, which will forever remain a legend in the corridors of first-person shooter (FPS) gaming. Rare built off the success of Goldeneye 007 to bring fans Perfect Dark. While the gunplay of Goldeneye 007 only received a T-rating, the display of human innards was far more prevalent in Perfect Dark.
Players could take control of Agent Joanna Dark through a handful of missions in solo or cooperative play. Additionally, the same multiplayer we loved from Goldeneye 007 made a return but with expanded features. New outlandish gadgets (for the time period) were introduced such as the enemy-seeking sentry gun. Players could even join forces against an array of AI-controlled avatars at any difficulty setting. My friends and I spent countless hours lined up in front of the TV taking each other to task in Perfect Dark through its numerous multiplayer options.
Turok 2: Seeds of Evil
Turok: Dinosaur Hunter hit the Nintendo 64 launch window at a time when dinosaurs were the “it” thing for kids my age. Jurassic Park had only been released 4 years prior, and its sequel, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, was well on its way to theaters in a few short months. Seeing a warrior combat a velociraptor much in the same way we’d expect Chuck Norris to do was all I needed. The game was just as thrilling as I had anticipated.
The sequel, Turok 2: Seeds of Evil, left an even larger mark than its predecessor. Critics praised the visual quality and advanced enemy AI. Detailed graphics went far beyond other Nintendo 64 games at the time, and the enemy catalog was expansive. And unlike Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, the sequel included addictive multiplayer with various game modes including Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and the comical Frag Tag. In Frag Tag, one player became a monkey with no attacking ability. The player had to reach a specific point without dying in order to return to being an armed combatant and transform another player into the monkey.
Additionally, this game featured one of the most gruesome firearms to date: the Cerebral Bore. This weapon would lock on to an enemy, drill into the enemy player’s skull, and explode once inside. Many fans of the title might have that squealing drill sound mixed with a bloody spatter effect seared into their memory. This weapon was highly coveted because of its instant-kill quality and possibly tested a few friendships.
Capcom brought survival horror to the gaming masses in the form of Resident Evil on the PlayStation, Sega Saturn, and PC. Players were introduced to the world of the Racoon City Police Department as they sought to survive a viral zombie plague started by the sinister Umbrella Corporation. The game’s content was so horrific and violent that Capcom felt the need to include a warning prior to the game’s menu.
Six years after the release of the original game, Capcom reintroduced the franchise on the next generation of consoles. In 2002, the first Resident Evil received a makeover on the Nintendo GameCube. While the game would later come to other consoles in the generation that would follow, Nintendo maintained a period of exclusivity during the GameCube’s era. This game is, perhaps, one of the most well-known remakes in the history of gaming.
The game was rebuilt from the ground up. It was praised for being highly atmospheric and truly terrifying. The graphical upgrades ditched the prerendered backgrounds of the original trilogy and replaced them with true 3D models for objects. New voice actors and actors for motion capture were hired to elevate the story-telling immersion. As a series fan, I remember being awestruck by the level of realism this remake brought to Resident Evil in 2002. Death resulting from being torn apart by zombies, undead dogs, enormous snakes, and other gnarly creatures became instantly more intense and gruesome.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is a masterclass in game design and storytelling. William Joseph “B.J.” Blazkowicz is back as our actionable hero attempting to dismantle the Nazi regime in an alternate future. Being a fan of the original from 1992 and playing future sequels like Return to Castle Wolfenstein, I never would have imagined that the Wolfenstein series could achieve a perfect blend of drama, comedic timing, emotional resonance, and artistic design as I’ve witnessed in this latest title.
While there are some graphical sacrifices that had to be made for the Nintendo Switch, this iteration has captured all of the fun, action, and spirit that was originally intended. And the argument that I always find myself making for the Nintendo Switch is simply that it’s hard to beat the portability factor for gamers on the move. For this reason, I hope Bethesda continues to bring their gaming experiences to the Nintendo Switch.
There you have it: That’s my top five list of Mature-rated titles on Nintendo platforms over the years. Yes, I do realize that the majority of my M-rated picks are first-person shooters. That doesn’t change the fact that all of these titles left an indelible mark on Nintendo fans. Furthermore, brutality and mature content are slightly more visceral when experienced in the first-person view.
Do you agree or disagree with my picks? If you disagree, I’d be thrilled to hear your top choices in the comments below!
Accountant by day, video games enthusiast by night. Somewhere in between all of that, I’m a husband, dad, and generally a giant man-child, too. If a game is all about action, there’s a safe bet I’m playing it. I started laying waste to virtual worlds as a youngin’ on the ol’ Atari and haven’t stopped since.