When my uncle—the only other gamer in my family—babysat me in the late 90s, he wouldn’t even bother asking what I wanted to play, because the answer was always, “Smash Bros.!” It’s no wonder I was fascinated by it, since it was the first time so many characters I loved met in a single game. With an active Nintendo Power subscription and endless free time, the Nintendo 64 mascot fighter had become an obsession for me.
This held true for most of the kids at school, too. When we weren’t talking about Pikablu and Mews under trucks, we were talking about Smash. We had heard you could unlock Master Hand by beating the game as every character on Very Hard with 1 stock. My friend Clinton claimed a complicated button input would unlock Ness’ secret Yo-Yo Thunder super move. And of course, we all knew Hitmonlee was actually saying “Psyduck! Psy-psy-psy-psy-psy!”, meaning Psyduck was supposed to be in the game but got cut.
Y’know, now that I’ve studied Japanese, that really doesn’t sound like “Psyduck” at all! Maybe playground rumors aren’t as reliable as I thought…. So what is Hitmonlee saying? Since we know Pokémon say their species name, you might think it’s the Japanese version of “Hitmonlee”, but it’s not that simple. Hitmonlee’s Japanese name is サワムラー (Sawamurā), and it’s also clearly not saying that.
By the way, that name is an unmistakable reference to Tadashi Sawamura, a nearly-undefeated Japanese kickboxer who was famous for his flying kick. Sawamura was so beloved he got his own anime, named キックの鬼 (Kikku no Oni, The Kick Demon) after Sawamura himself. Many pieces of Japanese media pay homage to his flying kick!
Perhaps Sawamura’s fame is why the Japanese trademark for Sawamurā’s Romanization is “Sawamular”. It may help insulate Pokémon’s creators against lawsuits like the infamous one spoonbender Uri Geller filed against Nintendo over Kadabra (a.k.a. ユンゲラー, Yungerā in Japanese) being an alleged parody of him.
Digression aside, there is a connection to Sawamular in the cry. I found that the source of Hitmonlee’s cry is its appearance in Pocket Monsters‘ 29th episode, かくとうポケモン！だいバトル！ (Kakutо̄ Pokemon! Daibatoru!, Fighting Pokémon! A Great Battle!). In the 4Kids dub, it’s known as The Punchy Pokémon. Take a look:
The initial cry of Smash 64‘s Sawamular is a dead ringer for the one in this clip, and the subsequent cries seem to come from the end of its flurry of kicks. Naturally, reusing these recordings would be cheaper than getting Katsuyuki Konishi (Sawamular’s voice actor) back in the studio.
But that still doesn’t answer what Sawamular is saying, and why it’s not its name like we’ve come to expect of Pokémon. As it turns out, the “Pokémon say their own name” rule isn’t as strict in Japanese. For example, Gengar has the same name in Japanese (ゲンガー, Gengā), but its cry is ゲンゲロゲ (gengeroge):
So, there’s a little wiggle room on their cries. That in mind, I hear Sawamular saying サイラ！セイセイセイセイ！ (Saira! Sei sei sei sei!). This seems to be as a play on the generic martial arts vocalization of “haiya!” Rather than “Psyduck”, it’s simply a voice line that wasn’t localized. It’s not the only one in Smash 64, either:
Onix is known as イワーク (Iwāku, Iwark) in Japanese. While its cry is the same in both the Japanese and English dubs, it’s clearly using its own name as a basis for its cry of “Iwā!”, so I’d say it counts as unlocalized. As an aside, Iwark is a portmanteau of 岩 (iwa, boulder) and “bulwark”.
Similarly, Charizard’s Japanese counterpart is リザードン (Rizādon, Lizardon), and its cry is “Don!”, which was left untouched both in the anime and Super Smash Bros. Pretty strange since related Pokémon such as Venusaur, Blastoise, and Charmander all have localized cries.
I’ve read assertions that Porygon’s cry in Smash 64 is “Kicklee”, the German and French name for Hitmonlee, but that’s not the case. In fact, it’s クェクェ (kwe kwe), a bird-like sound most strongly associated with Final Fantasy‘s chocobo.
You’re probably aware Porygon’s episode でんのうせんしポリゴン (Dennō Senshi Porigon, Computer Soldier Porygon) was never aired in the West due to numerous seizure complaints from its Japanese airing. However, Porygon did eventually appear in the 4Kids dub in episode 98, where its cry is “Porygon!”
A Smash Hit
Why so many unlocalized cries? Well, this might be apocryphal, but I’ve heard Smash 64 had a rushed localization. Apparently, Nintendo didn’t expect the game to perform nearly as well as it did in Japan, and scrambled to ready a North American release as soon as possible. If that’s true, Nintendo of America likely had no more than 2 months to work on the game. With a timeframe like that, not dubbing a couple minor characters would be the least of their concerns!
Recently, Masahiro Sakurai—the director of each Super Smash Bros. up to and including Ultimate—posted a YouTube video detailing the origin and development of the Nintendo 64 entry. In it, he notes that it was difficult to get in-house support for the use of Nintendo characters, even once the game was finished. It seems likely voices wouldn’t have been added until late in development, which would explain the cost-cutting measure of reusing of anime clips.
On top of that, it doesn’t seem like the game got much press until after it had already proven itself. Ordinarily, one would expect a first-party Nintendo game to be hyped up months in advance by Nintendo advertising magazines Nintendo Power (North America) and 64Dream (Japan), but Smash 64 received almost no coverage in comparison to games like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Hey You, Pikachu!
In March of 1999—2 months after the game’s release—64Dream gave Smash 64 a meager 4 pages of coverage. Next issue, a chart showed that Smash 64 had topped sales from January 7 to February 7, moving over 3 times the units Ocarina of Time and Mario Party had in the same timeframe. I’m guessing March was around when they started getting those sales figures back, and realized they had a hit on their hands. That may be when the localization process began.
Thanks for reading this far! If you have friends interested in Super Smash Bros. or Pokémon, it’d help me out tremendously if you sent them this article. I’d also appreciate it if you followed the official Lost in Localization Twitter, where I not only post articles as soon as they go up on the site, but also various localization trivia throughout the week. If Twitter’s not your style, you can also follow the Lost in Localization subreddit or RSS feed.
If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy this one about how Link to the Past mistranslated a hint for the fourth bottle. There’s also this article discussing how Sonic Adventure‘s multiple perspectives allow for a nuanced story that’s easier to pick up on in Japanese.