Changes to the console port of a 28-year-old Neo Geo baseball game have some fans suspicious that SNK’s new ownership might be carrying out a political mandate.
SNK’s Baseball Stars 2, ported to PlayStation 4 by Hamster Corporation in March 2019, has scrubbed all references to Taiwan and Taipei in a recent update. Taiwan’s political status is a sore and sensitive subject with the political leadership of China, and Hong Kong-based Leyou acquired SNK and its intellectual properties in 2015. (A recent report from Bloomberg indicates that Chinese company Tencent is in negotiations with Leyou to take the company private.)
Published in 1992 when SNK was still a Japan-owned and operated company, Baseball Stars 2 features 18 fictitious teams, two of which are the Taipei Hawks and Taiwan Dragons. Their location names have been removed in an update to the Hamster-published ROM, so now they are just the Hawks and Dragons.
Taiwan formed in 1949 following the end of the Chinese Civil War, when the defeated Kuomintang nationalist party fled to the island. Since a 1992 agreement signed by both China and Taiwan, the governments of both claim sovereignty over a single China, while not recognizing the other. So any recognition, diplomatic or otherwise, of Taiwan as separate is sure to raise flags with Chinese censors.
Baseball is more popular and has a stronger history in Taiwan than on mainland China, where it was banned from 1959 through the Cultural Revolution. China formed a national team in 1974, and today competes in the Little League World Series and World Baseball Classic.
Neo Geo fans on Reddit spotted the peculiar changes to Baseball Stars 2 last week, and looked for other instances where Chinese censorship might have altered SNK games in current release. One example cited is Art of Fighting 2, where the Japanese “Rising Sun” flag in the background has been replaced with a generic banner. The Rising Sun flag, as a symbol of imperialist Japan, is offensive in much of East Asia, and particularly China and South Korea.
That's where I got the romset image from.— Foxhack / Dave Silva (@Foxhack) August 26, 2020
I used a graphic extractor to compare the images from the downloaded files to the ones in MAME: It looks like they changed the flag in Takuma's stage to remove the Rising Sun colors. Left is MAME, right is the Humble romset. pic.twitter.com/LKBRpD35x3
Redditors have reported that a DotEmu version of Baseball Stars 2, available on Steam, has removed all nation or city names from its teams. Super Baseball 2020, another SNK baseball game (first appearing in 1991, ported to PS4 in 2017) had a team called the Taiwan Megapowers in the lineup; they say the full name still appears in that game, as of now.
This is certainly not the first modern-day alteration to popular media done with the apparent goal of satisfying mainland China. In 2019, the jacket that Tom Cruise’s character wears in the Top Gun films was apparently updated to remove the flags of Taiwan and Japan for the 2021 sequel, Top Gun: Maverick. That change, seemingly done to placate investor Tencent Pictures, made headlines.
Polygon has tried to reach representatives of Hamster Corp. for further comment on the changes.