Nintendo Co., which made its name producing kid-friendly video-game characters such as Mario and Pikachu, is shocking parents and surprising the industry by introducing its first raunchy game.
"Conker's Bad Fur Day," which hit the market Monday, tells the story of a squirrel who passes out after drinking too much and awakens in a world inhabited by a group of foulmouthed and unsavory characters.
Analysts said the game, which costs $69.95, probably will be a big hit with hard-core gamers. But some parents used to Nintendo's family-friendly games are horrified, and retailer KB Toys, which operates more than 1,300 stores and KBkids.com, has refused to carry "Conker's."
"This is disgusting, sophomoric humor, and I'm disappointed in Nintendo," said Susan Jeffereys, a mother of two and a part-time elementary school teacher in Sherrerville, Ind. "It's like Disney releasing pornography."
Jeffereys, who has not played the game, said she mistakenly bought "Conker's" for her 15-year-old son for his birthday. "Now I know why the clerk smirked when I paid for this," she said.
"Conker's" is a marked departure for Nintendo, which last year made three-quarters of its U.S. revenue from games deemed appropriate for all age groups, according to the NPD Group Inc. in Port Washington, N.Y.
It is only Nintendo's second game to earn a Mature rating from the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, primarily for its foul language and sexual innuendo. The first, "Perfect Dark," an espionage first-person shooting game released last April, drew an M rating for graphic violence.
Nintendo executives say the two titles are an attempt to retain players who grew up on its games but have matured beyond simple, character-driven titles.
"Kids who were 6 when they played the first Mario game are now 26," said Perrin Kaplan, spokeswoman for Nintendo of America, the U.S. arm of Kyoto-based Nintendo Co. "Our demographics are getting older, and we don't want to lose them."
Adult game players account for more than half of video-game sales in the United States, and they're giving "Conker's" rave reviews.
"It's about time Nintendo has finally come out with a game that appeals to me and my age group," said Michael Arthurs, a 35-year-old comedian from Los Angeles. "I have literally laughed out loud playing. I mean, this is something that no one else has come up with. And because it's Nintendo, others will likely follow. And they should."
That's just the reaction Nintendo needs to succeed with its upcoming Game Cube console, set to launch in the U.S. this fall.
"In order to launch a new console, they need hard-core gamers," said Billy Pidgeon, analyst with Jupiter Research in New York. "They're trying to establish the Nintendo name with more than just kiddie content. The other thing is that younger kids want to play what older kids are playing. If Nintendo isn't perceived by older kids as cool, that's going to be a problem."
Kaplan said Nintendo is taking pains to market the game only at adult venues, such as bars and colleges. "Conker's" promotions are due to hit the beaches during spring break, and television advertising is slated for late-night shows such as "The Man Show," which airs on Comedy Central.
To help promote the game, Nintendo has posted a risque trailer on the official "Conker's Bad Fur Day" Web site. The ad, dubbed "69 Uncensored Seconds," involves a half-naked woman lying on a bed in a trashed room, talking on the phone about what a wild time she had the night before. Sounds of vomiting emanate from an adjacent bathroom. Then, a small squirrel walks out, wipes his mouth and climbs into bed with the blond.
Other characters in the game include a singing feces monster, a busty sunflower and a furnace with brass testicles.
Nintendo's Kaplan said the Web site, like the game it promotes, was designed for mature viewers and requires visitors to enter their birth date. "Only visitors ages 17 and older will be able to view the site and its contents," Kaplan said.
The site has been registered with content-filtering services and child-protection software packages, including Net Nanny, Surf Control, Cyber Patrol, N2H2 Filtering, AOL for School and Surf Watch. There also is no link from Nintendo.com to the "Conker's" site, Kaplan said.