Ever since the ESRB rating was first introduced in 1994, the organization has been giving games ratings to let players know if they contain any mature content. Titles can be given classifications that inform everyone whether they are suitable for children, adults, or teens, whilst also providing an indication of whether they contain violence or sexual themes.
Although ESRB ratings are trusted, it doesn’t mean they are always right. Sometimes they can be too strict and give games unnecessarily high ratings when they don’t deserve it. The opposite can also be true. Many games that have been rated E contain content that is simply not suitable for young children. This was especially true in the early 90s when the ESRB system was first established. So despite their rating, these games really shouldn’t be played by kids.
20 Pokémon Red & Blue
It is hard to argue against the idea that Pokémon Red & Blue were not suitable for children despite the fact they were given an E rating. You constantly force animals to battle against each other, see some truly terrible backstories to Pokémon like Cubone, and visit haunted cemeteries that contain the trapped souls of creatures that have been mistreated. It was all a bit dark for a supposed kids game.
19 Rings of Power
Rings of Power is a 1991 game that was created by Naughty Dog for the Sega Genesis. It was a pretty standard fantasy role-playing game that didn’t include any particularly risky content. While it technically did not receive a rating because it came out before the ESRB was established, it was marketed at children. Yet, entering a cheat code would allow you to remove the clothes of a woman featured on the menu, something kids should certainly not be seeing in a game.
Many of Rare’s games feature innuendos and adult references, despite the fact that their games are often meant to be played by children. However, the eyebrow-raising remarks are most evident in Banjo-Kazooie. Kazooie constantly jokes about things most kids will be too young to understand, but is still inappropriate for them to hear.
17 Zombies Ate My Neighbors
Zombies Ate My Neighbors is the type of game that makes you wonder how it ever received an E rating. It contains lots of violence as you shoot your way through various stages using a rocket launcher and other weapons. Even worse is that you have to battle against and defeat giant baby enemies that come with diapers and a bottle of milk.
16 Super Mario RPG
Almost every single Mario game in existence has been given an E rating. They are meant to be fun and are marketed at everyone from children to pensioners. However, Super Mario RPG might not be entirely deserving of its rating. That is because it contains a character known as Valentina. Not only does she have a huge and unrealistic chest, but she constantly brings attention to her sexuality by moving provocatively as well.
15 The Sonic Series
If there is one thing that fans of Sonic know, it is that the female characters are almost always made to be as attractive as possible. This can include giving them skimpy outfits, exaggerating their body parts, or giving them innuendo-laden dialogue. The fact that the female characters even wear clothes when all the male ones do not also raises an eyebrow, as it suggests the characters have parts that need covering.
14 Decap Attack
In the Japanese version of Decap Attack, players battled enemies with a robotic boxing glove and a magical item that they would throw. However, the Western edition is far more brutal. Players take control of a mummy who uses his own decapitated head as a weapon. Despite the rather creepy change, the rating stayed as E.
The Punch-Out series is a colorful fighting game that has been around since the 1980s. There have been many releases since, but there is one common theme throughout that makes them less than ideal for children. Almost all of them contain stereotypical portrayals of different races and cultures that a lot of people would find offensive. This includes giving characters designs and traits that pigeonhole them.
12 Nuclear Strike 64
Originally released for the Nintendo 64, Nuclear Strike 64 saw players use an attack helicopter to wipe out enemies running around on land. These aircraft have a tremendous amount of firepower that ruthlessly dispatch the troops on the ground as they scream out in terror, something that should probably have garnered a higher age rating.
11 Super Mario Bros.
The various Super Mario Bros. games might seem like a strange choice considering they are fairly tame on the surface. Scratch below that, though, and it becomes clear that the original games and their remakes in the 90s are not as innocent as they seem. After all, Mario is mindlessly taking huge numbers of enemies for no reason and then melting Bowser in the fire. To say nothing of the original manual claiming that blocks are made from Toads.
10 Super Street Fighter II Turbo Revival
Street Fighter games almost always receive a high rating from the ESRB, with the lowest generally being a T rating. This is mainly due to the large amount of violence that is inherent in these games as the characters brutally pummel each other. That wasn’t the case with some editions of the game on portable consoles like the Game Boy Advance. Although they didn’t tone down the action, they still manage to be rated lower.
9 The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time
Undoubtedly one of the best games of all time, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time sees Link travel around Hyrule in his battle against Ganon. While most of the action is just what you would expect to find in an E-rated action-adventure game, this title does have some moments that are not really suitable for all ages. This includes a quest in the well below Kakariko Village, enemies like Dead Hand and the ReDeads, and the highly sexual depictions of the great fairies.
8 Super Smash Bros.
Seeing the likes of Mario, Link, Peach, and Yoshi bashing each other with various weapons and pummeling into one and other with their fists is a bizarre sight. They usually work together or take part in fun activities like karting rather than unleashing fighting moves. Yet, that is exactly what they do in this violent series that exclusively features children’s mascots. Later entries would be rated more appropriately.
7 Kirby's Dream Land 3
At face value, the Kirby franchise looks cute and friendly. However, if you actually play the games, you will notice some moments that children probably shouldn’t see, including a depiction a male body part in the second game. The worst offender, though, is Zero. This boss character is a giant bleeding eye that floats around weeping blood— which would give most children nightmares.
The story of EarthBound sees Ness and his companions attempting to defeat Giygas and stop this alien force from completely transforming life on Earth. The game contains many adult references and mature humor, but the thing that really makes it inappropriate for kids is the final boss battle with the terrifying Giygas, that is like something straight out of a nightmare. The ESRB later changed the rating when it was released again in 2013.
5 Super Metroid
As with many other Nintendo properties, the Metroid games were generally given E ratings when they released in the West. This is surprising considering the fact Super Metroid deals with adult themes, contains a lot of violence, and sees the boss character Crocomire slowly perish as his flesh melts away from his body.
4 Castlevania Series
Considering the subject matter of the Castlevania series, it is surprising that so many of the games have been given E ratings. They see the player battling vampires and even Count Dracula himself, trudging through dark and brooding castles filled with horror imagery and using vicious weapons. Later games would be rated closer to T, but the earlier games are all E for Everyone.
3 Heart of Darkness
Heart of Darkness is a game that sees the player attempting to rescue their dog after it is kidnapped by spectral forces. It contains a variety of puzzles and action elements, however, it is the variety of ways in which you can be killed that make it unsuitable for children. Some of these deaths are particularly gory, but didn't stop the game from getting an E rating.
Lemmings have been a gaming staple for several decades. The vast majority of the games in the series have been rated E. This is despite the fact that the entire point of the games is to stop the small creatures being killed in a variety of awful ways. The lemmings can be burned, chopped up, hacked with saws, drowned, and more in all of the titles— something that children might not want to see.
Much like its predecessor, Banjo-Tooie also includes a lot of innuendos and adult jokes that will probably go over many young player’s heads. However, it also contains some characters, like Mrs. Boggy, that seem to have been designed to purposely exaggerate certain body parts. There’s even a level that is shaped like a man’s private area.
Sources: cbsnews.com, gamesradar.com, kotaku.com, ign.com, polygon.com, and arstechnica.com.