Retro Video Games in Chinese

There’s been a resurgence of retro gaming recently with lots of game publishers releasing updates of 8 and 16bit classics through Wiiware and Xbox Live Arcade. I even dusted off the Wii that I bought back in 2006 during a trip to Japan just so I could play Castlevania Rebirth. Anyway, it started me thinking about the Chinese names for video games and how they compare to the English equivalents, so here I’ve picked out ten retro games that any gamer should be able to recognise.

As with the English titles in some cases a game has a few different variations on it’s name so i’ve tried to include those variations where possible, but if you know one that I’ve missed then post it in the comments. I also did my best to find images of the games with their Chinese names, but this isn’t always possible since although most games do have a Chinese name, they aren’t always localised completely.

超級瑪莉歐兄弟(超级玛莉欧兄弟)

Pinyin: chāo jí mǎ lì ōu xiōng dì
English: Super Mario Brothers

The game that everyone should recognise right away, Super Mario Brothers. The translation of the name is simple enough as well – 超級 (超级 chāo jí) for “super”, then a phonetic translation of “Mario” as 瑪莉歐(玛莉欧 mǎ lì ōu) followed by the word for brothers, 兄弟(xiōng dì).

音速小子

音速小子(音速小子)

Pinyin: yīn sù xiǎo zi
English: Sonic the Hedgehog

Probably the second most well known video game character of all time is Sonic the Hedgehog, and along with Mario was the content of many a playground argument about who’s console (SNES or Megadrive) was the best. Interestingly, in the Chinese translation the word for hedgehog, 刺猬 (cì wèi), was not used. Sonic was translated to the Chinese for ‘speed of sound” which is 音速(yīn sù )and then instead of hedgehog the word 小子(xiǎo zi) was used which is sort of like “guy”, or “little guy”, possibly “dude” or something similar, so the rough re-translation back into English would be Speed of Sound Guy, doesn’t have the same ring, does it?

Worth noting is that within the game Sonic is referred to as the phonetic translation of Sonic: 索尼克 (suǒ ní kè).

大金剛

大金剛 (大金刚)

Pinyin: dà jīn gāng
English: Donkey Kong

Donkey Kong has been around for almost 30 years and is the game in which Mario first appeared. It was also the reason behind a lawsuit between Universal and Nintendo over the name being too similar to “King Kong”, which makes the choice of Chinese name even more surprising. In Chinese King Kong is 金剛, and Donkey Kong is 大金剛, it’s the equivalent of calling the game “Big King Kong” in English, such a blatant rip off!

太空侵略者

太空侵略者(太空侵略者)

Pinyin: tài kōng qīn lüè zhě
English: Space Invaders

A simple game by today’s standards and the translation is just as simple too, “space” 太空 (tài kōng), and “invader” 侵略者(qīn lüè zhě).

街头霸王 2

街頭霸王 2(街头霸王 2)

Pinyin: jiē tóu bà wáng
English: Street Fighter

In China Street Fighter got a more literal translation in 街頭霸王(jiē tóu bà wáng), which translates back as something like Street Leader, or Street Overlord. While in Taiwan the game was named more after the style of play and was named quick hit 快打(kuài dǎ) whirlwind 旋風(xuàn fēng) which translates as Whirlwind Speed Fighters or similar. This also seems to be a common trend in that the Chinese names are usually more or less direct translations while the Taiwanese names represent more the meaning behind the game itself (I’ll look for some more examples to back this up in the future).

立體俄羅斯方塊

立體俄羅斯方塊 (立体俄罗斯方块)

Pinyin: lì tǐ è luó sī fāng kuài
English: Tetris

Another literally translation, and they don’t come more literal than this: 3D 立體(lì tǐ) Russian 俄羅斯(è luó sī)blocks 方塊(fāng kuài), not much more to say really.

薩爾達傳說

薩爾達傳說(萨尔达传说)

Pinyin: sà ěr dá chuán shuō
English: The legend of Zelda

Probably my favourite game series of all time, especially the N64 versions, it’s The Legend of Zelda. Here the name Zelda is translated phonetically as 薩爾達(sà ěr dá) and then 傳說(chuán shuō)is legend.

洛克人

洛克人(洛克人)

Pinyin: luò kè rén
English: Mega Man

After reading the Chinese name for Mega Man you might be wondering how on earth they came up with the name “洛克人”. Well, the Japanese version of Mega Man is actually called “Rockman”, so the Chinese name is a phonetic translation of the English name of the Japanese version of the game, phew! Get it? Rock… R-ock: 洛克(luò kè), yeah I know 落 starts with a L sound, but they couldn’t very well call him “弱客” could they!?

炸弹人

炸彈人(炸弹人)

Pinyin: zhà dàn rén
English: Bomberman

Another game that ends in 人 is Bomberman, though the explanation a bit simpler than Rockman. 炸弹人(炸弹人 zhà dàn rén) literally translates to bomb 炸彈(炸弹) person 人. I found another few names for Bomberman while looking this up, such as Bomb Superman 炸彈超人 (炸弹超人 zhà dàn chāo rén) which in English would probably be Super Bomberman from the SNES version, and also the translation of the Bomberman Land series: 轟炸超人樂園(轰炸超人乐园 hōng zhà chāo rén lè yuán)where he is referred to as 轟炸超人(轰炸超人 hōng zhà chāo rén), which actually seems more accurate since 炸彈人 is simply bomb man, while 轟炸超人(轰炸超人)is super bombing man.

真人快打

真人快打(真人快打)

Pinyin: zhēn rén kuài dǎ
English: Mortal Kombat

The Chinese name for Mortal Kombat is interesting and I am sure 真人 “real people” or “actual person” is used because at the time this game was first released the graphics and movement of the models was so realistic it almost felt movie-like. The full literal translation being “actual person quick fighter”, which sounds really weird. If you were to really translate this back into English then going with something like Actua-Fighter seems better, along the lines of Virtua-Figher.

Well that’s it for this post, this was actually quite enjoyable writing up so expect more posts like it in the future. If you have a favourite retro game that I didn’t include here then please post it in the comments!

  • The best post ever. I like retro games quite a lot. I played all these games mentioned.

    Just interesting things that I noted: In the transliteration for Sonic (索尼克), 索尼 also means Sony. Pretty cool!

    Also, in Mortal Kombat, I think the choice for 快打 was for the similar sound to Kombat. Also, wouldn’t 快打 be quick hit/strike? Rather than fighter? Another interesting note: 打 is also used in the sense to play a game, for example 打篮球. Double meaning there perhaps? But I like your back translations of Actua-Fighter and/or Virtua Fighter.

    In the end an awesome post.

  • I love the Tetris and Mortal Kombat translations.

    And you asked for it…

    The Final Fantasy series
    Outrun
    Did Worms ever make it out there?
    Monkey Island…

  • I learned 真人快打 a few weeks ago when someone mentioned to me that there was a new one coming out on PS3. Mortal Kombat sounds so cool in English and so lame in Chinese. “Real men hit fast”

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  • These are great! Really good stuff. The only one I knew was Super mario Brothers. I’ll have to ask MX, my wife, if she knows the other ones!

  • Great article Dave. I’d never really thought before about the Chinese names for all of these retro games. It’s really interesting how literally some of them have been translated. I’ve only been living in Chengdu for two weeks, although I did live in Chinese between 2005 and 2008, but I doubt that I will be able to continue my hobby of retro game collecting here.

    I imagine you don’t have too much trouble getting you hands on classic titles in Taiwan but I think Hong Kong would be the closest place to me that I can do a bit of retro hunting.

    You mentioned at the end of the article that you’d have a look for the Chinese name for other people’s favourite retro games. Well mine is the Sega classic ‘Space Harrier’; if you can find out I’d love to know how that is translated.

    Thanks for posting the article and I look forward to checking out your blog.

    • Hi Psiman, Well, while there are games shops here, it’s nothing like Japan. I did find the name of Space Harrier: 太空哈利 (tai4 kong1 ha1 li4), quite funny since 哈利 is the name “Harry” in Chinese so the game is basically called “Space Harry”. I wonder if the Chinese players thought the main character’s name was Harry?
      Thanks for the comment, I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog 🙂
      Dave

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