Bionic Commando and the Nerd Word

Lilfut asked a good while back about a line in Bionic Commando:

I’ve been playing the Bionic Commando games recently and there’s a specific bit I’d like to read an analysis of. An enemy soldier in Area 16 infamously says “GET OUT OF HERE, YOU NERD!”, which is obviously a result of NoA’s censorship. I’ve been playing the Game Boy version of the game, and there’s a similar character in that game’s Area 02 who says something along the lines of “Leave here immediately before I really get angry!”. Could you check if it’s the same in both versions?

Come to think of it, BC in general would be an interesting game to look at. Its english script has this weird feeling like it was translated by a native English speaker and proofread by a Japanese person or something.

I was never a big fan of Bionic Commando as a kid, but I’ve always known that it sports a pretty wacky English translation, so this is a nice chance to dive into it again. And wow, yeah, there’s some really interesting stuff in here! For now, let’s just look at the stuff Lilfut was curious about, though.

First up is this pretty well-known line among NES gamers:

So the question is, what was he saying in the original Japanese version? Here’s a look:

Japanese Version (basic translation)English Version
Smelly guy! Get out of here!Get the heck out of here, you nerd!

At first glance it looks like he’s saying “smelly”, but on occasion this phrase can also mean something like “dubious” or “suspicious”. So either this soldier is offended by your smell or doesn’t really trust you. For context, this level is a neutral area where good and bad guys mingle.

So why does the English translation call you a nerd instead? I… really don’t know! Maybe nerds are smelly? I’d like to find out more about this translation someday, maybe even track down who worked on it and interview them. Seriously – the game changes the bad guys’ details and calls the player a “nerd” and all sorts of other stuff, but then it also goes and does things like this:

Anyway, moving on, the next question was how this line was handled in the Game Boy version of the game:

Japanese Version (basic translation)English Version
What business do you have with us, Federation scum?!Why on the earth are you here?
Get lost unless you wanna die!Get out of here before you’re terminated!!

It looks like the translation this time around is closer to the original text! The mention of death was rephrased with the word “terminate”, but it actually sounds cooler that way, I think. Also note that the Japanese line here doesn’t talk about smelliness at all this time.

So there you go! There’s a quick look at the infamous nerd line from Bionic Commando!

Incidentally, the English Game Boy line says “Why on the earth are you here?” But I’m curious, is “why on earth” and “why on the earth” some sort of regional difference, like how some regions use the word “soda” and some use the word “pop”? I did a quick search and “why on the earth” turned up way more matches than I was expecting, so I’m genuinely curious now.

If you know, let me know in the comments or on Twitter!

Get the Very First Legends of Localization Book!

My very first Legends of Localization book is now on sale! Check it out!

This book covers the original The Legend of Zelda and includes tons of new content, updated info, and more! It features a hardback cover, 208 full-color pages, a reversible book obi, a localization survey card, and many extras!

Whether you're a fan of the Zelda series, a fan of Legends of Localization, a retro gamer, or even just an aspiring translator / localizer, this book is for you!

Related Reading

Read more articles »


  1. Hitler was such a touchy issue that game localizations had to be careful about these things. Persona 2 Innocent Sin wasn’t originally released on the PS1 here due to the gruesome content (hanging the school principal in the clock tower) and of course, wait for it…Hitler’s revival! And let’s not forget him appearing in Fullmetal Alchemist. Seems like the whole Hitler issue has been lightened for a long time (look at all those silly “What Hitler thinks of” videos on YouTube), but it makes you think back to how touchy these issues were for fear of offending potential concerned parties.

    Good thing we got the PSP port so we could finally enjoy Innocent Sin officially without relying on a fan translation. Too bad most skipped it because it wasn’t enough like Persona 3 or 4 for them to care. Seriously, it’s not all about Social Links and wooing every girl on your team and in your school, people!

      1. Yeah, instead of hunting down Jews, the Nazis were ordered to hunt down Persona users. Quite a bizarre theme indeed. Doesn’t help Hitler is one of the harder boss battles in Innocent Sin (he and his Nazis hit like trucks).

    1. Well, the PSP version of Innocent Sin did get censored, though. They gave Hitler sunglasses and a trenchcoat and called him Fuhrer ([German for “leader”] which really should be Führer [or at least Fuehrer] but I guess they didn’t want to bother inculding the ü into the game for one name). I, personally, think that Sunglasses-Hitler is better than the original one. It’s so funny to look at. Also, I think this change wasn’t a localisational (is that a word?) change, but was also present in the Japanese version. Although I’m not too sure about that.

      I’m actually surprised that the game was released in Germany, since it’s even more of a risk there than in most other countries. And it got a “12” rating by the USK, too. Crazy.

      While I’m at it, ratings are a really interesting topic as well. Persona 4, for example, got the same rating of 12, even though, in America, Persona 2: Innocent Sin got a T and Persona 4 an M. PEGI’s ratings are different altogether. Those can tell quite a bit about the cultural differences, too. But that’s a different topic, I guess.

      1. I’ve seen PS1 Innocent Sin and there were no sunglasses or trench coat on him. He was dressed exactly like you’d remember him. And seriously? They did that? Gave him sunglasses and a coat (sounds funny), and released it in Germany? Dang, I’m surprised nothing happened, like the game being banned.

        They certainly are. The earlier Megami and Shin Megami games, as you likely know, had much touchier subjects than the more lighthearted current ones do (and were likely the reason many of them never saw the light of day officially here). Stuff like religion, politics, choosing morality or blasphemy, these would never have been allowed. The U.S. was just too stuck on its moralistic high chair to want that sort of stuff “contaminating” the children. 9_9

        I wonder, do you know where Europe draws the line with what they consider inappropriate content for a game? Does it worry about smut, dismemberment and all that other stuff better or worse than the U.S.?

        1. From what I’ve seen, PEGI ratings usually match their ESRB counterparts quite well. When it comes to USK (so Germany) though, things can be quite a bit different.

          For one, as I’ve said, Nazi topics are really touchy. If a game features the Nazi flag, it will get banned/indexed (banned being forbidden, indexed being “not to be sold in stores”) unless the game gets censored. Most of the time, the flag will be changed to Germany’s World War I flag.
          I’ve heard of some military strategy games set in WWII that had the German flag changed accordingly, along with Hitler’s name as leader of the Germany army being cut and changed to Otto von Bismarck (after the guy that established the German Empire in 1877).

          If you can cut of body parts in a game, it will most likely be indexed (and in some cases banned) or of course censored. For example, GTA San Andreas (where you can shoot off heads/dismember people lying on the ground) got those aspects cut and was eventually released with a rating of 16 (18 being the highest). The original Doom was indexed for a long time (it’s available since 2011, I think), and recently Ninja Gaiden 3 Razor’s Edge was indexed, too (although I heard that they reverted that decision).

          When it comes to sex related stuff, the USK seems to be a bit more lax, though. Persona 4 is probably a good example of that, but there are better ones that I can’t think of now.
          Also, I have noticed that games that are released in English and not in German seem to get lower ratings than their scripts would suggest. Persona 4 is a prime example for that. A game in German with that kind of vocabulary would not get away with a 12.

          And as a funny side note, there’s a game called Panzer Corps: Wehrmacht that has a PEGI rating of 7 and a USK one of 18 (both refering to ages). I don’t even know how that’s possible. Looks pretty funny on the cover, too.

          1. I see. Seems Europe has it rougher than we do when it comes to this stuff.

            Cases like that with Panzer Corps seem amusing. It’s like they don’t know what to rate and forgot to be consistent.

      2. I’ve heard speculation that some Shin Megami Tensei franchise games tend to get M rated less over the game script, and more based on the specific demons/persona in those games.

        A particular individual of note would be Mara (a big, throbbing pun in Japanese as it is), though a few other examples exist. I’ve seen it suggested in places that most SMT games that have Mara get rated M in North America, while the ones that get rated T tend to lack Mara’s presence.

        1. I know Incubus was an infamous early example in the first Persona, yet somehow they didn’t bother censoring it while at the same they cut out the Snow Queen quest.

    2. There’s also a taboo of having anything Nazi related in certain countries like Germany. (It’s only recently that video games were classified as an art, and therefore, are allowed to have Nazi-related stuff there, but even so, game devs are reluctant to have Nazi imagery in their games.)

      That could be why Hitler would be censored, there.

  2. clearly nerds are suspicious because they have their magic shiny glasses

    also I got the same amount of results for “why on earth” at “why on the earth” but I think “why on earth” sounds better

    1. Hm, When I google “Why on the Earth” (with quotation marks before “Why” and after “Earth”) I get around 11 million hits.

      When I do the same with “Why on Earth (again with quotation marks since I want to search for this exact phrase, not just pages that contain all these words) I get around 148 million.

      Also, in Google Trends “Why on the Earth” barely seems to register at all in comparison to “Why on earth”.

      My best guess from this data is that usage of “Why on the Earth” is either a mistake or something used only in very limited regions.

  3. I know you probably got over 9000 requests to deal with so it could be annoying getting a hundred more, but I’m adding another question to the pile once again.

    In “No More Heroes” by crazy stylized game director Suda Goichi (often written as Suda51) near the end of the game there’s a gag in the dialogue about plot twists being so heinous that they could “jack up the age rating of this game even further” and there’s a question that the game might get delayed, causing it to become “No More Heroes FOREVER”, an obvious play on the in limbo at-the-time Duke Nukem Forever.

    I tried to see if this was back in the Japanese version but I can’t read the language and since the Wii version uses English voices I can’t do a half-assed attempt to hear it. The Japanese 360/PS3 version of NMH, subtitled “Hero’s Paradise”, has a Japanese dub option though, which adds another complication to the whole mix: IF the joke IS intact, did they rewrite it or do the Japanese voiceovers basically read existing subtitles?

    1. Interestingly, the original Japanese Wii release doesn’t have Japanese vocals, instead subbing the english dialog (also, the US version of the Wii release has more blood, and yet more violence that the Japanese version doesn’t…it’s almost in this case like the English version IS the original version, IMHO).

  4. Added an extra I to my name there. You aren’t the first. :p
    Cool to see that my question got answered, too! Bionic Commando’s localization is really weird to me in general – hell, even the original Japanese has some oddities. I downloaded Top Secret when I first started learning Japanese hoping it would be a good introduction, so you can imagine I was pretty shocked to see heavy kanji usage in a plot-light Famicom action-platformer!

    1. Ack, sorry, I fixed it. Must’ve been a case of quick typing and not thinking.

      And yeah, I was actually really impressed with the size of the Japanese font and the use of kanji in places too!

      1. Still says Lilfut in the second paragraph. :p
        At least you didn’t call me “Lillifutt”, which is somehow a thing that has happened before. I have no idea why people have such a hard time spelling my name right.

  5. I always wondered what the Japanese text of Bionic Commando was like in both the case of the wrong communicator text (ga ga ga…) and in regards to the robot boss text (pi pi pi…) Maybe you could touch on this if you get a chance, Tomato?

  6. Bionic Commando ReArmed took the liberty of making fun of the NES game’s typos and translation oddities, usually when you’re tapping enemy communications and listening to the commander gripe about his annoying subordinate.

    How they handled Hitler and the Nazis is also interesting. They only ever call the group “a fascist regime”, and Hitler (known only as “The Leader”) is seen wearing a breathing mask to hide his face, though you can just barely see his mustache beneath it.


Post a Comment

Your email is kept private. Required fields are marked *