For every game so controversial that it's yanked from stores, and for every developer and publisher that ends up in court, there are dozens if not hundreds of other games that fall under the public's radar, never ending up in court and not losing sales--just creating a minor stir, not even a protest, before falling out of the spotlight. Here's a summary of a few such titles.
Platforms: Arcade, NES, SNES
Publisher: ASCII, Acclaim, Flying Edge, 1990
Developer: Williams Entertainment, Flying Edge
This side-scrolling fighter is yet another game that harks back to The Running Man-style media-frenzy violence and competition set in a sci-fi future, 1999, that isn't the future anymore. Two competitors fought an onslaught of enemies to the death. Then the final battle involved the game show's host, again, à la The Running Man. It had a simple premise and a fair amount of gore.
By the time this game hit the home consoles, people were watching and noted the graphic violence. But little was done to keep the game out of US stores.
Microsoft Flight Simulator
Publisher: Microsoft, 1996
Just three days after September 11, 2001, CNN reported that Microsoft said it would "remove images of the World Trade Center from the upcoming version of its popular PC game, 'Flight Simulator,' following the terrorist attacks Tuesday on that landmark, the Pentagon and another attempt that failed in Pennsylvania, which resulted in thousands of deaths." The game's introduction included a player commenting on the possibility of crashing into the Empire State Building and how "cool" that would be.
The simulation included scenarios where players could fly over New York, Boston, Seattle, and Washington, DC.
Command & Conquer
Platforms: PC, PS, Saturn, N64
Publisher: Electronic Arts/Westwood Studios, 1996
Developer: Westwood Studios
The Command & Conquer strategy series first launched on the PC in 1995, and aside from a couple of forays onto consoles, it has stayed true to the PC ever since. In C&C Red Alert, time travel set up the story: An assassin traveled back in time and killed Hitler before his rise to power, stopping Nazi Germany before it started. But Stalin filled his shoes, putting a Soviet-vs.-Allied-force war into your hands--and you chose which side you played.
Command & Conquer Red Alert 2 shipped in October 2000, but only after September 11, 2001, did the game step into the ranks of the mischievous. On September 14, 2001, EA announced that the C&C Red Alert 2 box art would be changed so that it would no longer reflect scenes of well-known American monuments in the heat of war.
Platforms: PS, never released
Publisher: Electronic Arts/Virgin Interactive, ~1998
Thrill Kill just might be the most controversial game you'll never play. Besides its insurmountable level of blood and gore, it was to be the PlayStation's first four-player fighting game back in 1998 when it was in development. Many game writers who had seen and played early builds of the game said that it had potential to show up Mortal Kombat, in terms of brutality. And the idea of having four fighters in the fray, at this time, was impressive and fun, but probably not as good as MK.
GameSpot associate editor Bob Colayco said, "From what I played of Thrill Kill (don't ask me how), I was profoundly unimpressed. It was just another cookie-cutter fighting game, using extreme gore and shock value to differentiate itself, not unlike one of Paradox's later games (Backyard Wrestling). Sure it's amusing for a few minutes to beat someone over the head with a dismembered leg, but the antics get old fast when there aren't any deeper design elements to lean on."
The game used a function called the "kill meter" that served as a gauge for how much damage you inflicted on the other characters in the fight. The kill meter would only fill when you struck another player, begging aggression and penalizing cowardly, flight behavior. The characters included Dr. Faustus, a madman with a bear trap for a mouth and a very sharp scalpel; Imp, a midget who walked on very sharp stilts and knew what other uses sharp sticks could be put to; and Mammoth, a colossal guy who was the "embodiment of primal rage and fury." Belladonna's outfits included a naughty nurse's outfit with stilettos and stockings and a French maid's uniform. Thrill Kill had a decidedly B-movie feel about it. For example, you could hold one opponent so that another could whale on him. It felt like a goofy horror movie come to life.
Electronic Arts acquired Virgin Interactive and absorbed the Thrill Kill project late in its cycle. Apparently the game was complete; however, an EA spokesperson told GameSpot it was "shelved because its content was not appropriate for the market." When the announcement was made, the gaming community petitioned and fought, but their efforts got them nowhere. EA also said it would not sell the title to another publisher.