List of Mario-related controversies
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The following list consists of details regarding all major controversies relating to the Mario franchise.
An issue arose over the English localization of WarioWare: Touched, specifically Ashley's Song. In the game, the Turntable souvenir allows the player to listen to various themes from the game with similar functions to a record player, which includes the ability to speed up and slow down the music using the touch screen. However, if the record is spun fast enough with the stylus, it causes the game to skip over large chunks of dialogue in the song and distort the lyrics.A concern was raised with the first solo of the song, which is sung by Ashley herself. When the record is spun at a high speed, only the very first part of each measure of the song plays. The syllables which are heard when this happens are marked in bold.
These words form the sentence "Eye-I ca gran this kit soo pan'l," which can be misinterpreted as "I have granted kids to Hell." Nintendo and Nintendo Power have both stated that it was simply a coincidence and that the words were distorted due to the game meshing pieces of the song together.
After the release of Super Mario 3D Land, the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) created a website entitled "Mario Kills Tanooki" along with an accompanying Flash game to promote their anti-fur campaign with regard to the live skinning of raccoon dogs or tanukis. The site implied that Super Mario 3D Land was promoting the use of animal furs as clothing by allowing Mario to use the Tanooki Suit as a power-up, although it originated in Super Mario Bros. 3, which was released in 1988 (23 years prior to the release of Super Mario 3D Land).
The game, entitled "Super Tanooki Skin 2D", stars the character of Tanooki, a skinless animal who is chasing Mario to get his skin back. The game has the player dodge obstacles in order to catch up to Mario, who is wearing his skin and flying ahead of Tanooki. When the player wins the game a message that reads "#$*! you Mario!! The skin belongs to an animal!" pops up.
This resulted in strong backlash from Nintendo, who released a statement concerning the issue:
"Mario often takes the appearance of certain animals and objects in his games.
A spokesperson from PETA later claimed that their allegations were "tongue-in-cheek", "a fun way to call attention to a serious issue, that raccoon dogs are skinned alive for their fur" and that "[PETA] wish real-life tanukis could fly or swat enemies away with their tails". Over 250 thousand people played "Super Tanooki Skin 2D" within the first 36 hours of it being uploaded. The website is still currently active. The game was widely criticized, however, for being "absurd" and seeming to be not researched.
Birdo thinks he is a girl and likes to be called Birdetta. He likes to wear a bow on his head and shoot eggs from his mouth.
Due to the confusion surrounding this odd translation, Nintendo of America usually distance themselves from this statement, with a clearly gender-defined Birdo appearing as early as the The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! cartoon. However, official sources have since been contradictory or vague about the ordeal:
In Paper Mario: Color Splash, there is a minigame in which the player has to identify which of five dancing Toads has a key. These Toads are referred to as the Five Fun Guys, with their dance minigame later proven as a scam afterwards (the Toad host saying, "Man, is this gonna ruin my career?! I can see the headline now: 'Shufflegate: Exposed!'"). Some news sites took this as a reference to the GamerGate controversy, with the term "Shufflegate" referring to the movement itself, and the Five Fun Guys being a reference to the five journalists Zoe Quinn was associated with at the start of the controversy.
A Nintendo spokesman later clarified the intention of the line and name, saying that "Shufflegate" refers to the Watergate scandal, while the Five Fun Guys are a reference to the "Fungi Fun Guys", Mario and Toad's team name in Mario Party 8, and that the two jokes are not meant to be connected.
Super Mario Galaxy's Canadian French localization
Super Mario Galaxy was the first Mario game to be officially localized to French for Quebec; that market had previously received Mario titles in English rather than French. This followed a deal between the Office québécois de la langue française and the video game industry to have every game available for that region in French by 2009. In the Quebec localization, NPCs (particularly the Lumas and the Toad Brigade) make heavy use of Joual accents and slang. This localization choice sparked a minor controversy, with representatives of the OQLF and the Union des artistes criticizing it for promoting poor literacy to children. A Nintendo representative responded that the localization was made with "localizing for the market" in mind, as the Quebec market made up 25% of sales for Nintendo of Canada at the time.
Following the negative reception to the localizations of Super Mario Galaxy and The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (which featured a similarly Joual-heavy localization), later Canadian French localizations would be written in Standard French (with the exception of the similarly-localized Paper Mario: Sticker Star, as well as the Pokémon series which would simply retain its European French localizations and corresponding slang).
Super Mario Odyssey box art change
At E3 2017, Nintendo unveiled the pre-release box art for Super Mario Odyssey, which comprised a collage of many photos from the game's kingdoms with Mario dressed accordingly to the location. On the lower left corner, Mario could be spotted shivering in the Sand Kingdom wearing the sombrero and the poncho, among the RP rating. This look earned the nickname of "Mexican Mario", and ever since first spotted on the Nintendo Switch Presentation on January 21, 2017 (where Nintendo unveiled the first look at Super Mario Odyssey), it has been described as a negative stereotype of the Mexican people and their culture with several sources accusing Nintendo of racism and cultural appropriation. This is believed to be the reason why Nintendo decided to later change the box art for the game, removing the "Mexican Mario" photo and replacing it with another photo of Mario swimming in the Lake Kingdom. This sudden change was also met with controversy, this time by Mexican fans of the series, who claimed that they never found "Mexican Mario" to be offensive and in fact, thought it was a nice gesture of Nintendo to acknowledge the Mexican culture that way. The removal of the "Mexican Mario" was called a more offensive move from Nintendo by part of Mexican fans than the inclusion of the outfit itself.
Mario Party 8
The launch of Mario Party 8 in the United Kingdom had several difficulties. Originally scheduled for release on June 22, 2007, Nintendo announced on June 19, 2007 that the UK version of the game had been delayed to July 13 of that year due to a production issue.
Furthermore, upon the release on July 13, 2007, the game was immediately recalled. Nintendo gave a reason for the withdrawal in a press release:
"[Mario Party 8] was launched in the UK today. Unfortunately we have discovered that a small number of games contain the wrong version of the disk due to an assembly error. We have therefore decided to recall all copies of the game from UK retailers so that this mistake can be corrected. We will re-launch Mario Party 8 in the UK as soon as possible and will announce a new launch date shortly. We very much regret any inconvenience caused."
The European retailer GAME confirmed, that the game was withdrawn from shelves because some copies included an offensive line as part of a magic spell used by Kamek in the board Shy Guy's Perplex Express:
Due to "spastic" being considered a highly offensive word in the United Kingdom, the game was declared banned and immediately recalled. Mario Party 8 was eventually re-released in the United Kingdom on August 3, 2007, with the offensive statement altered. Copies without the word "spastic" use the word "erratic" instead.
Although it is unknown if Mario Party 8 is the direct catalyst, nearly all first-party Nintendo games released after it have had some English localization differences between the American and PAL releases, rather than the American English text being used for all regions. A similar offense in Super Paper Mario with the word "shag" was preemptively altered for the PAL release.
Legal and copyrights
All subjects below are ordered chronologically.
Approximately nine months after the original Donkey Kong game was marketed in 1981, Universal Studios sued Nintendo and their production companies, alleging that the Donkey Kong name, character and story were similar to that of the character King Kong (the rights to produce another King Kong film had been recently won by Universal in 1976).
After seeing the success of Donkey Kong in Japan, Universal attempted to enter the gaming industry by producing a video game with Tiger Productions that starred King Kong and featured similar game play. However, in 1981, Nintendo exported Donkey Kong to the west where it became famous, sold 60,000 arcade units and earned Nintendo $180 million in profit (from both arcade systems and console ports). This prompted Universal to terminate all contracts with Tiger and threaten to sue Nintendo and various producers of Donkey Kong-related material because [their] "actions falsely suggest to the public that [its] product originates with or is authorized, sponsored or approved by the owner of the King Kong name, character and story."
Coleco and Atari, the producers of the game's cartridge and Atari 5200 port, promptly settled and offered to pay three percent of all profits made from the game and its production. Nintendo, however, refused to settle. On June 29, 1982, Universal officially sued Nintendo. In 1983, Universal ordered "cease and desist" letters be sent to all of Nintendo's licencees, ordering that the companies stop production and obtain licences from Universal before resuming. Nintendo later agreed to appear in court and was represented by John Kirby, whereas Universal Studios opted to be represented by a New York law firm. The trial lasted for one week, and was overseen by Judge Robert Sweet.
During the trial, Universal alleged that based on surveys of amusement arcades (conducted by Universal itself), at least eighteen percent of people believed that Donkey Kong was related to King Kong. Universal believed that the similar appearance and the use of the secondary name "Kong" was the basis for the confusion. Among other claims, Universal also protested that the game's similar story was a direct infringement of the movie's plot.
Nintendo debunked these claims by vouching that Universal had won the rights to produce a sequel by claiming that the "King Kong" series was in the public domain and that the likelihood of confusing Donkey Kong with King Kong was low. Nintendo had also discovered the attempt by Tiger and Universal to create a King Kong video game and claimed that it was an infringement on Donkey Kong.
The district court ruled in favor of Nintendo, indicating that Universal did not own the King Kong franchise, and that the two franchises were hardly similar. Judge Sweet stated that the cease and desist letters sent by Universal allowed Nintendo to receive compensation, and that Tiger's King Kong video game was a direct infringement of Donkey Kong. Nintendo opted to receive compensation and was awarded $1.8 million. Universal appealed the decision but lost again.
Crazy Kong was an officially-licensed clone of Donkey Kong manufactured by Falcon. On June 30, 1982, Nintendo of America filled a complaint toward Elcon Industries Inc., an arcade hardware manufacturer based in Michigan that sold Crazy Kong boards. The complaint alleged that the licensing agreement with Falcon explicitly forbade the manufacturing or export of Crazy Kong outside Japan. The case was taken to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, which quickly ruled in favour of Nintendo.
As Nintendo's newly established video game division lacked programming manpower, the arcade version of Donkey Kong was programmed by Ikegami Tsushinki, a contractor that had worked for Nintendo for several of its arcade releases. For Donkey Kong's development, the two companies signed a contract which gave Ikegami Tsushinki exclusive rights to the manufacturing of Donkey Kong arcade boards.
In 1983, Ikegami Tsushinki sued Nintendo on the ground that the company had violated the contract and produced around 80,000 arcade boards on its own. Ikegami Tsushinki also sought compensation for the use of reverse-engineered Donkey Kong code in Donkey Kong Jr. and claimed it owned the copyright on Donkey Kong's code (while the contract did not specify ownership of the code, a judgment relating to Space Invaders Part II set a precedent establishing computer code can be copyrighted). In response, Nintendo claimed it owned Donkey Kong's code as Ikegami was hired as a sub-contractor.
The case went to the Tokyo District Court until March 26, 1990, at which point the two companies settled out of court. The lawsuit has often been stated to be the reason behind the lack of rereleases of the arcade version of Donkey Kong and the existence of Donkey Kong: Original Edition, although Donkey Kong 64 nevertheless features a full port of the arcade version due to Rare porting the arcade game rather than doing an emulation of the code.
Donkey Kong Country counterfeit copies lawsuit
In January 1995, Nintendo of America filed a lawsuit against electronic manufacturer Samsung, alledging that the company supplied chips to groups manufacturing pirate copies of Donkey Kong Country.
Mario Party injuries
The original Mario Party features mini-games in which the player must rotate the control stick as fast as possible to win (Pedal Power, Tug o' War, etc.). Many players would use the palms of their hands in order to spin the control stick more quickly than with their thumbs, leading to blisters and other ailments. While Nintendo did not comment on the issue, their Mario Party hotline simply recommended that players use their thumb and forefinger to spin the control stick. After over 90 families filed complaints with the New York Attorney General's office, in 2000, the Attorney General and Nintendo reached an agreement, in which Nintendo would provide protective gloves to owners of the game, up to four per household. Nintendo agreed to commit $80 million for the gloves, having sold approximately 1.2 million copies and if all owners took advantage of the offer, as well as paying $75,000 for the Attorney General's investigation.
This is commonly assumed to be the reason the game has not been re-released on the Virtual Console service, instead releasing Mario Party 2. Due to the consequences of the unbalanced difficulty and self-injury, future Mario Party titles would never use these type of mini-games until Mario Party: Island Tour, which uses the Nintendo 3DS circle pad rather than a full control stick.
Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door commercial lawsuit
On June 12, 2008, film studio Morgan Creek Productions filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Central District of California against Nintendo of America. Morgan Creek alleged that Nintendo's use of Hans Zimmer's song "You're So Cool", used in the film True Romance, in a TV commercial for Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door was not authorized. (The lawsuit in question did not actually list a specific game, only that "[Nintendo] used the sound recording of 'You're So Cool' without authorization in a television advertisement for the Nintendo 'GameCube.'"; Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door was the only Nintendo GameCube game to use the song in an advertisement.)
Six days later, on June 18, Morgan Creek dropped the suit without word. Nintendo would later release a statement that their advertising agency, Leo Burnett, had presented Morgan Creek with a copy of their agreement with Nintendo of America giving them the license to use the song.
Copyright infringement of New Super Mario Bros. Wii
Before the official release of New Super Mario Bros. Wii on November 12, 2009, James Burt, an Australian gamer who was 24 years old at the time, purchased a copy from a local game retailer that had sold the game early on November 6, 2009. Before playing the game, Burt uploaded it to a file-sharing network so that other gamers could also play the game before the official release. Upon discovery of this action, Nintendo sued Burt, claiming that the distribution of the game was a direct copyright infringement and pushed to receive compensation for the loss of revenue.
"Upon the game being uploaded to the Internet, Nintendo was able to employ the use of sophisticated technological forensics to identify the individual responsible for illegally copying the file and making it available for further distribution.
On February 9, 2010, the federal court ruled in favor of Nintendo Australia and ordered Burt to pay out a total of AU$1.4 million (AU$1.3 million in damages & AU$100,000 in legal fees) to Nintendo as compensation, as the game was claimed to have been downloaded at least 50,000 times before being removed. After the case, Burt advised others not to "do what he did," stating that "It's something I'm going to have to work through for the rest of my life."
On December 10, 2013, Burt received a call from his local EB Games saying that Nintendo has selected him to pick up a package. The package had a Ganondorf statue from the UK pre-orders of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD.
Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D promo actor lawsuit
For Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D's North American launch, Nintendo organized a promotional event in the Los Angeles Zoo which, among other things, included a meet and greet with a costumed Donkey Kong. The actor, Parker Mills, sued Nintendo on December 2, 2014. Mills alleged that he was improperly supervised, not being allowed breaks and not being given refreshments for the duration of the event, and that the resulting stress caused an aortic dissection, which required surgery to install a permanent heart defibrillator.
Michael Oconitrillo lawsuit
Actor Michael Oconitrillo, who played Donkey Kong for a promotional event in a mall of Culver City, CA, sued Nintendo in June 2016 for similar reasons.
YouTube video takedowns containing unofficial Mario content
In tandem with the release of Super Mario Maker, Nintendo was responsible for the take-downs of many videos containing unofficial fan-made Mario content, including playthroughs and speedruns of modded Super Mario World levels. One notable takedown included Alex "PangaeaPanga"'s video of Item Abuse 3, a modded Super Mario World level, with Panga stating that "YouTube wrecked my channel". He later chose to make levels in Super Mario Maker itself, to post onto his channel, which were also very hard. These legal actions coincide with Nintendo's previous enforcement of copyright on YouTube, including sharing revenue from Let's Play videos, which has been met with intense criticism by fans, popular YouTube personalities, and the mainstream gaming press.
In September of 2016, Nintendo filed a report with the Japanese Patent Office asking that they revoke the trademark for MariCAR, a go-karting service in Tokyo that allows people to dress up as fictional characters (including those of the Mario franchise) and drive through Tokyo. Nintendo claimed that "MariCAR" was interpreted as an obvious abbreviation of Mario Kart. On January 26, 2017, however, the patent office dismissed Nintendo's case, stating that "MariCAR" was not a widely used abbreviation for Mario Kart.
On February 24, 2017, Nintendo announced that it was suing MariCAR for ¥10 million in damages, claiming that the company did not obtain permission to use the Mario characters and that the service was infringing on their property.