A couple of years ago, the Devolver-published indie Genital Jousting was held from sale in Australia and New Zealand. At the time, the publishers said they were “proactively saving ourselves time from a likely ban” down under after their experience with Hotline Miami 2.
Mother Russia Bleeds launches this week on the Switch. And despite being available through Steam right now, the publisher has tweeted that the Switch version won’t be available locally because our “government folk do not approve of this video game”.
Mother Russia Bleeds, a side-scrolling co-op brawler, first launched in September 2016. The console versions of the game have an M rating from the ESRB, which under most circumstances would translate to an M or MA15+ rating in Australia and New Zealand. Under PEGI, which oversees ratings for content in Europe, Mother Russia Bleeds has an 18 rating.
UPDATE: Not in Australia or New Zealand because their government folk do not approve of this video game.
— Devolver Digital (@devolverdigital) November 6, 2018
The difference is pretty crucial and an indicator of Devolver’s reluctance to sell the game locally. On the ESRB page, the content descriptors note “use of drugs” and “sexual content”, along with nudity, blood and gore. None of these appear on the PEGI listing – only violence and bad language – but it’s the drug use that, as always in Australia, is the kicker.
As enemies are killed in Mother Russia Bleeds, their bodies begin to spasm. The player can then take a syringe to extract a drug called Nekro from the corpses of those bodies, which can be injected into the player character to either go berserk or regain health.
Other drugs have different effects: Bloody Mary turns enemy corpses into walking bombs, White Russian increases player damage more than usual, Blue Lagoon heals more than other drugs, and so on.
Even though none of the drugs are based on real-life counterparts, it’s easy to see why Devolver opted not to try their hand with the Classification Board. Mother Russia Bleeds, despite being available on Steam, hasn’t been officially rated in Australia. And given the Board’s approach to incentivised drug use, it’s hard to see how this could fit under current guidelines.
I’ve asked Devolver and their local representatives to clarify what happened, and why the Steam version is available given the circumstances.