Nintendo Wii takes a murderous turn

In a video game universe, the pairings do not get much stranger than this: family-friendly Nintendo and controversial video game developer Rockstar.

The horror title Manhunt 2 ($30-$40) will hit stores on Halloween for Nintendo Wii and Sony's PlayStation 2. Since the Wii version uses the motion-sensitive controllers, it literally gives players the hands of a killer. Manhunt 2 was originally rated Adults Only — equivalent to an X in films — and now carries an M for mature audiences (17 and up).

"It is a technological fit, and the gameplay works," says Newsweek's N'gai Croal. "But culturally, it's not a fit."

Nintendo doesn't need to expand its user base to help the Wii continue to outsell its pricier and technologically superior competitors. Since launching in November, Nintendo has sold 4 million Wiis; in the same time, Microsoft has sold 3 million Xbox 360s and Sony 1.75 million PS3s, according to market tracking firm The NPD Group.

Wii remains so successful that Nintendo doesn't think it can supply enough to meet this holiday season's demand. "People need to keep in touch with their retailers as to when shipments will come in," says Nintendo's Perrin Kaplan.

Manhunt 2 is simply the most radical example of Nintendo's ongoing strategy to provide "a breadth of games of all story lines and all genres," she says.

A flood of new Wii titles is on the way, including Super Mario Galaxy (Nov. 12), horror game Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles (Nov. 13) and Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Dec. 3).

But Manhunt 2 goes the furthest. Players take the role of a psychiatric escapee who has murderous rages as he tries to uncover his past. On the Wii, players physically make killing motions with the controllers — slashing for stabs and lifting to strangle — rather than simply pushing buttons. Rockstar's goal is to put players in the horror genre in ways that films like Saw or Hostel cannot.

"It's a different level of engagement in video games," says Rockstar's Rodney Walker. "You can literally experience the emotional responses of the character."

The Entertainment Software Ratings Board tagged Manhunt 2 with the Adults Only rating in June, essentially banning the game. Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony do not permit AO games to be made for their consoles, and many retailers will not stock AO titles. Rockstar changed the game and resubmitted it to earn an M rating.

Walker concedes that some might be turned off by the game. "But what about other people who should have a choice whether or not to play it?" he says.

Geoff Keighley, host of Spike TV's Game Head, says the Wii game "proves once and for all that Nintendo is ready for gritty M-rated content. Fifteen years ago, Nintendo wouldn't even allow blood on the console in Mortal Kombat."