If you’ve been a gamer since back in the day, you will no doubt have encountered one or two entertaining video game translation and localization fails over the years. These days, video games can command bigger budgets than movies, but there was a time when development and production were done on a shoestring. That meant precious little budget available for game localization. The result? Plenty of amusing mistranslations to keep gamers chuckling.
We’ve rounded up a few of the most entertaining video game translation fails below, but first, let’s take a look at what’s involved in video game translation and localization.
How do I translate a video game?
Translating a video game isn’t just about the spoken dialogue. It’s an extensive undertaking that will cover visual elements of the game as well as spoken language. Game developers need to work with professional translators who have experience within the gaming industry if they want to obtain the best results.
Game localization is also relevant here. What is the concept of localization? It is reshaping the game to meet the needs of a particular audience. That can mean changing any number of elements, from practical details such as currencies to more fundamental elements such as the way that characters look or the locations that they visit.
Why is localization important?
Video game localization is important because it impacts how engaged with and connected to the game players feel – and it is those feelings that will keep gamers coming back for more!
According to SuperData, video game spending hit its highest monthly record of all time in March 2020, at $10.8 billion, with the COVID-19 pandemic playing a significant role in this. Meanwhile, the company projects that the industry will grow from annual revenue of $119.6 billion in 2018 to $196 billion in 2022.
This massive growth means that producing the perfect game has never been more important, with plenty of revenue available for successful developers. Poor translation and localization can seriously hurt a game’s chances of success, which brings us on to our list of video game translation and localization fails.
Lost in translation
There are so many examples of video game translation fails out there, but this first one is an absolute classic. Launched on the Sega Mega Drive after success as an arcade game, Zero Wing has become an internet legend thanks to its terrible translations. Even gamers who haven’t played it are likely to be familiar with lines such as “All your base are belong to us” and “Somebody set up us the bomb.”
Metal Gear, released on the NES, also has plenty to offer when it comes to suspect translations. Our particularly favorites are, “The truck have started to move” and the charming, “I feel asleep.”
For some games, the play was spot on and offered a slick gaming experience (for its time!) but was let down by the language. Pro Wresting on the NES, for example, provided plenty of gaming fun before players reached the final screen informing them that, “A winner is you!”
Indeed, victory screens have provided some of the most amusing translation fails over the years. The Japanese MSX version of Stop the Express offered the classic, “Congraturation! You success!” while the arcade classic Samurai Showdown IV simply announced, “Victoly!”
Over on the NES, Ghostbusters ended with the screen reading “Conglaturation” while Ghosts ’n Goblins went with the delightful, “Congraturation – this story is happy end.”
Arcade games provided plenty of entertaining translation to those playing as well. One of our favorite mistranslations is the instruction in the arcade game Aero Fighters 2 to players to “fry” to the rain forest in order to “save the nature.”
There are plenty of classic translation and localization fails from video games of this era to entertain and amuse, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t also some more recent examples. One of the most notable related to Nintendo’s then-latest Pokémon released in 2016. Nintendo sparked controversy in Hong Kong when it diverged from its former policy of providing consumers in Hong Kong with a choice between Cantonese and Mandarin versions of the game. Instead, the use of a solely Mandarin name for the lovable Pikachu character touched a nerve and saw protesters converge outside the Japanese consulate in Hong Kong.
A localization expert could have saved Nintendo a headache here. In recent years, the increasing use of Mandarin by immigrants has begun to chip away at Cantonese’s status as the de facto language of Hong Kong’s streets. A native expert providing insights and guidance into such matters could have encouraged Nintendo to rethink their strategy of moving Pikachu’s name to a solely Mandarin version.
A final word on video game translation
The gaming industry is simply huge. According to ResearchGate, around 91% of children and teenagers play video games. They are a key form of entertainment and, increasingly in recent years, of education as gaming companies reach out to families with younger children.
From big-budget games to new gaming apps developed in the hope of breaking into the big time, there are companies around the world participating in the gaming industry’s success. The role of translation and localization in this cannot be underestimated. Accurate, thoughtful translation and localization can result in a game that feels beautifully crafted, in which gamers can immerse themselves entirely, without the distraction of clumsy phrasing and nonsensical grammar to break the spell of the game.
Of course, that’s not to say that certain video game translation fails don’t have a soft spot in our hearts! Neo Geo’s Magician Lord translation (“Your are very dangerous. Be dead down here”) and “You are a sucking baby” from the Dragon Master arcade game can still raise a smile after all these years.
We’ll leave you with one more classic mistranslation from back in the day, this time courtesy of Blazing Star on the Neo Geo. Just remember, when all is said and done, “Stay cool! Someone wakes the noise up!”