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.
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）.
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）.
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!
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）.
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).
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.
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.
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!?
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.
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!