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Costume Changes

by Todd Ciolek, Jan 22nd 2014

Certain game-industry pundits believe Candy Crush Saga to be a monster, a puzzle game that entices casual players with its simple mechanics and soon has them shelling out dozens of tiny payments to complete levels. It leads the vanguard of free-to-play diversions on smartphones, and some think that this will unravel the foundations of the video game itself. I never understood those people before, but I see more of their point now that King, makers of Candy Crush Saga, trademarked the word “candy” in video-game parlance.

So far, King has defended their legal right to candy only in the realm of apps, as a Gamezebo story has it that the makers of Candy Slots were asked to remove the game from the app store. Even if King ventures beyond the hundreds of candy-themed apps out there, it may not affect consoles and handhelds too much. After all, it's hard to think of many games that feature “Candy” in the title. Well, Konami might not make their long-awaited Mario Kart clone, Rumble Roses Gaiden: Candy Cane's Rock 'N Roll Wrestling Racers.

But King's also pursuing a similar trademark on "saga," and Stoic Studio's The Banner Saga in is their sights. This opens the door on all sorts of dreadful legal problems. And what if King trademarks “Crush”? Crush Roller and the Crush Gear Turbo game will never be the same!

NEWS

NINTENDO ANNOUNCES WII U LOSSES, AND EVERYONE FORECASTS DOOM
You've no doubt heard that Nintendo isn't doing so well, at least not in the console market. The Wii U didn't bring the sales surge that Nintendo anticipated during the holidays, and now the company's looking at a loss of $335 million when the fiscal year closes in March. The Wii U will move about 2.8 million units in the holiday span, well below Nintendo's estimate of 9 million. Fingers are pointing at company president Satoru Iwata, the rise of tablets and smartphones as gaming platforms, and, well, the fact that we still don't know what Shy Guys look like under their masks. It's been twenty-four years, Nintendo.

Yes, I think we're a little quick to assign blame here. The Wii U is little over a year old, and it has yet to receive most of Nintendo's reliable standards, a new Zelda chief among them. It's true that iPads and their kin provide more versatile platforms for cheap, simple games, yet there remains a sizeable contingent of kids and older fans who remain loyal to Mario, Link, and the vast tide of Pokémon. Nintendo doesn't need to abandon consoles and make iPhone games. Nintendo just needs to treat developers better and give consumers the things they can only get from Nintendo.

MONSTER MONPIECE COMING HERE, FOR THE MOST PART
Compile Heart's Monster Monpiece is…well, it's one of those games safely embodied in a lone screenshot.

Yes, the point of Monster Monpiece is to rub anime women on the PS Vita's screen. In this case, the women all represent monsters, and the player strokes the Vita display to excite a particular creature-lady and improve her stats and allegiance. There's more to it, of course. The game around it is a strategy/RPG with card battles, and all of the touchable female characters correspond to cards.

This is the sort of thing that usually stays in Japan, as SNK's Doki Doki Majo Shinpan series did. Yet Idea Factory has Monster Monpiece set for a digital-only North American release in the spring, and Idea Factory knows what it has. That's why the company's removing some character cards due to “strong sexual content.” According to the company's press release, the following monster-girls are limited to the first three stages of their “evolution” in the U.S. version: Vampire, Kraken, Goblin, Cockatrice, Kobold, Skeleton, Titania, Bahmut, Fia, Brownie, Pegasus, Mandragora, Mau Sibau, Rafflesia, Death Scorpion, Phantom, and Tengu. I don't know what a “Rafflesia” is in the context of Monster Monpiece, but I prefer to assume that it's a type of plant. The less I know about this game's inner workings, the better I feel about myself.

RUNE FACTORY 4 SKIPS EUROPE AFTER ALL
Some unfortunate happenings for our European readers: Rune Factory 4 won't come to their shores. The farming-action-RPG arrived here courtesy of XSEED Games, but MarvelousAQL Europe canceled plans to bring it to their market. Might this have something to do with the closing of Neverland Company, developers of Rune Factory and other fine games? Possibly, but Rune Factory 4's English localization was already complete. There's likely more here than a developer's doors closing. Worse yet, Europeans can't just import a U.S. copy as easily as they could a DS game. The 3DS has region locks, and getting past those…well, that's a little bit of work.

This would be a good excuse for me to go on and on about Neverland Company, but I did that last month. So here's what I think about the history of censoring clothes in video games!

OPINION: ALTERED OUTFITS

Square Enix's Bravely Default made news in recent weeks, and it wasn't entirely good news for some. Nintendo's European release of the game edits a few things: several of Agnes and Idea's revealing outfits are now less suggestive, a speedo suit for Ringabel is gone, and all of the main characters are a little older, presumably to soften the game's occasional doses of sexual innuendo. This upset several types of fans, ranging from outright creeps to those who claim that Bravely Default's doll-like, large-headed characters aren't the point and that it's the principle of the thing.

This is nothing new. There's a long history of companies censoring revealing character costumes during the localization process, and there's a somewhat shorter history of fans noticing and complaining about it.

Most regional alterations slipped completely past the game players of the 1980s, an age at first ruled by Atari consoles and arcades. Nintendo rebuilt and dominated the market after a mid-decade crash, and Japan-made games arrived in the home more than ever. Numerous releases had religious, sexual, and violent content excised on the trip to North America, but the Nintendo generation was largely unaware of any changes made to their NES games. Magazines weren't in the habit of pointing out how, for example, an Astyanax boss had its chest altered from mammary glands to a reptilian ribcage, or that some background statues in Castlevania III put on clothes for the English-speaking world. And compared to the bizarre overhauls made to games like Bionic Commando and Blaster Master, a few wardrobe adjustments were minor.

As games grew and gained more detail, however, such changes drew attention. True, only players who made it to the end of Sega's Mystic Defender noticed that Alexandra, the main character's girlfriend, was naked while she was trapped within the monstrous form of the final boss. And only those who bought and finished the game twice might've noticed that Sega released a second version with a dress on Alexandra.

Slightly more controversy gathered around Razorsoft's Stormlord, a Genesis port of an Amiga side-scroller. A May 1991 issue of GamePro detailed Sega's fight with Razorsoft over the game's naked statues and equally unclothed fairies. Razorsoft defended the game's nudity as the equivalent of “a Dial soap commercial,” but later relented, and the final version of the game put rather obvious swimwear on the statues. No one raised a ruckus, because Stormlord is a terrible game. Or perhaps it didn't matter that much.

As fighting games became the ruling class in the mid-1990s, publishers tweaked suggestive outfits to little outcry. GamePro casually noted that “risque Chun-Li moves” (apparently referring to animation frames) were gone from the Super NES version of Street Fighter II, but no one bothered complaining. In other cases no one even realized the edits; the press never pointed out that Aska, a character created for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Tournament Fighters, had her shorts and win pose adjusted for tender North American sensibilities. Most of the period's controversies about fighting games dealt with violence and not sexuality, particularly as the Sega Genesis version of Mortal Kombat trumped its bloodless Super NES counterpart.

One curious case of averted censorship emerged with Super Street Fighter II on the Super NES. Rare early images of the game showed Cammy wearing shorts instead of her more revealing arcade costume, a change possibly mandated by Nintendo's family-friendly standards. Yet this didn't appear in the final game, and the only evidence that such a change even existed comes from screenshots in the Mexican magazine Club Nintendo (as discovered by Lost Levels poster ReyVGM). Would anyone have written angry letters if the Super NES version of Super Street Fighter II had stuck with bike-shorts Cammy? I suspect they would have.

Odd censorship also cropped up in SNK games, most prominently with The King of Fighters. One staple character of the series is Mai Shiranui, known for bouncing and jiggling around in her impractical ninja attire. At seemingly random times this became too much for SNK to allow overseas; the domestic version of The King of Fighters '94 kept Mai's chest fixed in place during her standing animation, and the U.S. incarnations of The King of Fighters 2000 and 2001 did the same.

This prompted complaints when the PlayStation 2 collection of The King of Fighters 2000 and 2001 used the U.S. arcade editions with no option to switch, leaving the games without Mai's animations, Whip's firearm, or negligible flashes of blood. Ignition Entertainment released the collection uncensored in Europe, leading to one of the rare game-industry press releases extolling boobs and blood. How uncommonly honest.

There are numerous other cases of games covering up bare skin, from the cover of Psychic Force 2012 to curtain-shielded bikinis in Fire Emblem: Awakening. I'm sure that many of you could name plenty of examples I missed (and I hope you do). I agree that it's a bit silly in most cases. The costumes foisted on women in video games can get downright ridiculous, but many of the alterations made in the past weren't about improving portrayals of female characters. They were tied to Western proclivities about revealing attire and the status of video games as children's entertainment, and the examples above didn't change anything that really mattered.

Then again, that's the point. Try as I might, I can't think of any case where altering a suggestive outfit detracted from the important stuff, from a game's underlying tone or characterization or gameplay. I can think of many instances where other forms of censorship damaged a game, such as the sanitized version of Cybernator diluting most of the ending's impact, or the blood-free cutscenes of Xenosaga III making some of the dialogue nonsensical. Well, more nonsensical.

Then there's the Super NES version of Final Fight, where censorship went beyond a costume change. The widely successful arcade version and the Japanese Super Famicom release featured female gang members Poison and Roxy among the many street thugs (later on, Poison's transgender status would be debated throughout CAPCOM canon, while Roxy just up and disappeared). Upon starting the Super NES game, young Final Fight fans found that Poison and Roxy were gone. There were, however, two new palette-swapped punks named Billy and Sid.

Compared to that sort of alteration, a few added scraps of clothing are minor meddling. And I think they're welcome meddling if they make Bravely Default's semi-childlike characters less “sexy.” Some maintain that we must oppose censorship in all forms, even when it ameliorates things we find repulsive. Well, we also should pick our battles and admit when censorship merits not outrage and boycotts, but rather a shrug, a laugh, and perhaps even our grudging approval.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

DRAGON BALL Z: BATTLE OF Z
Developer: Studio Artdink
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: PlayStation 3/Xbox 360/PS Vita
Release Date: January 28
Best DBZ Character: Puar
MSRP: $59.99

The fisticuffs of Dragon Ball Z are best when shared: watching the show with friends, practicing Kamehameha stances on the playground, and, of course, playing one of the manifold Dragon Ball Z games together. That's probably why Battle of Z focuses greatly upon multiplayer combat in the flying-punching-narrating tradition of Dragon Ball Z. It lets four players team up and take on other groups in various online matches, including regular battles, eight-character melees, and team-based races to collect seven Dragon Balls scattered around the playfield. The last of these can be taken for an abbreviated version of a Dragon Ball Z plotline.

Battle of Z is the first Dragon Ball Z outing from Artdink, a developer proficient in recent Gundam and Macross games, and it explores new methods of aerial control. Goku and Vegeta and the rest of the game's 70-plus Dragon Ball Z characters don't twirl and bank like Macross Valkyrie fighters, but they glide around using controller buttons to ascend and descend, and it results in battles slightly different from past Dragon Ball titles. The formula of dashing moves and energy beams is easy to learn, though of course it doesn't really approximate a “serious” fighting game. It's more about recreating the Dragon Ball Z mythos in rapid-fire combat and serving it up to eight players at a time. To that end, there's plenty of fan fodder, and not just from the series proper. On top of all the character customization and multiple Super Saiyan incarnations, there's a Naruto costume for anyone who reserves the game. Yes, kids. Now your parents will have even more trouble telling the two shows apart.

THE FIREMEN 2: PETE AND DANNY
Developer: Human
Publisher: Human/Hamster/MonkeyPaw Games
Platform: PLAYSTATION Network
Release Date: January 28
Backdraft game: Close enough
MSRP: $5.99

Yes, firefighting games really do exist. Look close and you'll find Sega's roughly innovative Burning Rangers on the Saturn, Jaleco's halfway decent The Ignition Factor on the Super NES, Arc Development's best-forgotten Roscoe McQueen: Firefighter Extreme on the PlayStation, and the only known series of firefighting games, Human's multi-platform The Firemen. The original was a somewhere creative Super Famicom action title starring two cartoonish rescue workers who made their way through a fire-engulfed office building stacked with haywire robots and other hazards people expected by 2010. Human came darned close to releasing it in North America (there's a prototype out there), but The Firemen had to settle for Japan and Europe.

There was no such consideration for The Firemen 2. Human dropped it quietly on the Japanese PlayStation in 1995, and it was mocked for looking a lot like its 16-bit sire. It finds protagonists Pete Grey and Danny McClean in much the same circumstances. The stage this time is an amusement park come aflame, but the gameplay is unchanged: Pete carries a firehose while Danny swings an axe (and provides the second player's character). Their approach is much like an overhead shooter with strafing, dashing, and crawling—only you're dousing fires, rescuing the injured, and perhaps facing down mechanical dinosaurs. It never has the creative style of Burning Rangers, and The Firemen 2 actually loses the original's radar feature. Still, any firefighting game is a notable one, if only for its choice of genre.

ALSO AVAILABLE: Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII isn't out until February, but you can play a demo of it right now on XBox Live and the PLAYSTATION Network. You can nab a demo of Toukiden for the Vita, too! Then you can argue about both games with everyone online!
Todd Ciolek occasionally updates his website, and you can follow him on Twitter if you want.


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