Nintendo’s Wierd Regional Differences in Video Games

Surely, playing a game, whether it’s PAL, NTSC, or JP region will be exactly the same, right? Well, I may not have been the first one to tell you, but that’s simply not the case. Especially in Nintendo games it seems, it’s very common in video games for details to be completely changed or re-worked depending on the region that the game is intended for, but these changes range from very subtle, to huge overhauls. There are some truly shocking examples, so I figured, “Heck, why not!” I’ll write about it. Here you go, a present from me to you.

We’ll start by taking a quick look at a very subtle detail in a series of games that’s very close to my heart. Kirby games have always been about as cute as a button, but I think for a while, someone in Nintendo’s marketing team maybe thought that North Americans would think it was a bit too cutesy. The box art was therefore just slightly modified, to make Kirby more serious.AngryKirbyOn the left column, we have the North American (NTSC) version box art and on the right column we have it’s (JP) Japanese region equivalent box art. As you can see, in some cases it was just a matter of literally drawing lines over his eyes to make them more slanty. In more recent titles, there have been more extensive changes to him. Poor Pit from Kid Icarus: Uprising, gets the same treatment.

On the right is the Japanese artwork for Pit, and on the left we see the North American version. Somehow, closing his mouth makes him seem more serious.

A lot of these kinds of choices are actually very similar, in that they’re done to reduce the cutesy factor. It almost feels like they’re worried that their products that are too feminine or cute won’t get picked up as much as something a little more wide-spectrumed. One of the biggest changes to a game I’ve seen, and a very good example of my point is a game called Panel De Pon, or, if you’re not in Japan, you may know it as Tetris Attack.

Meet Lip (pictured left). Lip is an honest to goodness Nintendo mahou shoujo (Magical Girl) who’s never appeared in a game outside Japan’s borders beyond vague references and allusions. In the game Panel De Pon, you basically match up coloured panels to complete a line of three, and clear them. Combos will send garbage blocks to your opponent stopping their progress in clearing blocks, meanwhile your opponent will do the same to you. Does the premise sound familiar?  Tetris Attack

That’s because you may have played Tetris Attack, which is literally a sprite swap of Panel De Pon, with Yoshi replaced as the mascot, and bosses from Yoshi’s Island substituting in for the other characters. If you don’t believe me, here’s a screenshot of both games on the same level. Literally the only thing they changed is the character inserts. Once again, probably this was done for marketability. Everyone seems to love Yoshi, regardless of their gender, but Nintendo may have been worried that there wasn’t a big enough female market for this game here in North America. Times have changed, and now is a time when I can openly admit that I would totally be down for buying Panel De Pon, despite being a 25 year old male, but back in 1996 when this was released in America, I’m not sure there would have been as many like-minded guys.

Sprite swapping had been done before too, and rather successfully I might add, regarding a game called Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic. LiterallyTheSameGameIn another case of literally-the-same-game, Super Mario Brothers 2 was the result of the fact that the Japanese Super Mario Brothers 2 was deemed too hard for North American players. That game has since been re-released here as Super Mario Brothers: The Lost Levels.

Basically, while minor differences between Doki Doki Panic, and Super Mario Brothers 2 exist, the game itself is a literal copy/paste operation. Re-branding this game was actually widely successful here, and actually shaped a lot of the current Mario universe. Shy Guys, and Birdo were at first not actually intended to become Mario enemies but are now staples of the series.

Speaking of Birdo.BirdoTransThis is an excerpt from the instruction manual for Super Mario Brothers 2, referring to Birdo as “Ostro” and outright stating that he’s basically transgendered. This, and pretty much all other references to gender confusion get retconned in most modern Nintendo games. Vivian, a very popular ghost character from Paper Mario 2: The Thousand Year Door is another example of this.

OtokoInRedVivian is a party member, and so, a vital part of the game. He appears to be a very cute girl, but in the Japanese version, she’s a he. He wants to be accepted by his sisters as part of their group. He refers to the group in the Japanese version of the game as the 「カゲ三姉妹」 Kage Sanshimai, the “Three Shadow Sisters”, but Beldam corrects Vivian, saying it’s the 「カゲ三人組」 Kage Sanningumi, the “Shadow Trio”, making sure to emphasise that he’s a boy. (See screenshot on the left, with otoko, “boy” in red kanji, so you can’t miss it.) In the game’s english version, they lampshade this completely, replacing all dialogue referring to Vivian as a boy with insults like calling “her” ugly, and writing in an inferiority complex.

Moving on, how about a game I’m sure a lot of you out there are playing right now? Nintendo’s Super Smash Brothers for Wii U/3DS  shows us that even a high profile modern international release like this game can’t avoid a few interesting differences.

NES ROB Vs. Famicom ROBR.O.B.’s default colour actually changes depending on what region game you’re playing. R.O.B. was an …. accessory?… peripheral…? for the NES. Japan has a Famicom equivilent, of course. I actually personally prefer the famicom coloured R.O.B. anyways, but it just goes to show you the wierd tweeks that are necessary in localizing a game, so that that two people who actually had one of these guys out there doesn’t go, “Wait, but mine’s arms were grey!” This was actually done in the previous entry in the series as well, Super Smash Brothers Brawl. In cutscenes for Subspace Emissary (Brawl’s story mode), Rob’s appearances use his Famicom appearance, rather than the greyscale NES appearance.

Also, a few details were changed between the PAL and NTSC releases, despite being both mainly for English Language use. The voice actors for the Wii Fit Trainer changed to the PAL version with British accents. Also, “Duck Hunt” was renamed to “Duck Hunt Duo”, which actually makes more sense to me.

This just barely scratches the surface on the topic of regional differences in Nintendo games, but as you can tell, it’s quite a big deal. Is it necessarily for the better? I think in some cases, details like R.O.B.’s colour scheme are nice. Most other things I get a little bit frustrated about though. I sometimes almost feel like Nintendo is treating us North Americans like little kids, not trusting us with certain things. I do think that some progress is being made, but at the same time, when they make decisions like not releasing the standard-sized New 3DS here, and only releasing the larger sized “XL” model, I think there’s a long way to go. I hope that someday, regions won’t have quite the culture gap that currently exists, and there won’t be as much censoring, but until that day, don’t expect changes like these to go away.


Interested in more articles, spotlighting a more in-depth look at regional differences? Do you want to hear about any specific game? I’d love to write about them! Please let me know in the comments section below!

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