Here’s why Pirate Mario doesn’t get an eye patch in China
Whether it’s skeletons or Taiwan, China’s arcane web of gaming regulations requires companies to make a lot of little changes to their games
One of the most popular games on the Nintendo Switch right now is Super Mario Odyssey. In this game, you play the titular hero as he goes from one adventure to the next while changing hats and costumes. But if you happen to be playing the game in China, you might notice that something seems a bit off.
It’s the little details: Mario’s pirate costume is missing an eye patch and a skull from its hat. And all the text is missing from the map on the game’s loading screen.
Super Mario Odyssey isn’t alone. It’s one of many popular games that get odd, small changes to appease China’s strict regulators.
Different regulations have been introduced for a variety of reasons, according to Daniel Ahmad, senior analyst at Niko Partners. Some exist to restrict criticism of China and the government, others are there to protect minors online and reduce violent or obscene content.
But there are many other ways companies need to tweak their games to enter the Chinese market, and some of them can seem quite arbitrary.
Take Mario’s pirate eye patch. China doesn’t have a specific rule forbidding pirates or eye patches, but Ahmad said the change was made to satisfy the country’s policy against promoting cults and superstitions.
And the missing text on the map? This was the result of a rule requiring all game text to be translated into Chinese. Faced with a daunting task of translating the names of a slew of imaginary places, the developers decided to just erase them.
“Many of the esoteric changes made to games are usually made preemptively to guarantee approval for the title,” Ahmad said. This helps developers avoid the hassle of re-submissions, he added.
There are many other odd rules game makers have to follow. There are regulations against showing drugs and gambling, for example. The latter prompted the makers of Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege to remove depictions of slot machines.
Chinese Nintendo has been documenting small changes Nintendo makes to its games for China and other markets. It found that even the no-English rule isn’t always followed. The English road signs in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, another game available on the Switch in China, were untouched.