Mechanized Attack: The Mystery of Maiko

Anyone who praises the innocence and honesty of children has never heard them discuss video games and invariably lie. This was especially common during the height of Nintendo’s popularity in the late 1980s, when millions of homes had the Nintendo Entertainment System and millions of children had excuses to make up all sorts of nonsense about it. 

The most daring falsehoods often involved nudity. Finish Metroid five times and Samus Aran will be naked. Beat Super Mario Bros. in two minutes and both Mario and Peach (known then in the West by the superior title of Toadstool) will be naked. Input a special code at Double Dragon’s title screen and everyone will be naked in every way imaginable.

These were lies, of course, and such filth was not hiding in any NES game. Except one.

Mechanized Attack is an obscure game no matter where you look. Even the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection didn’t bother with either the arcade original or the NES port. And yet that NES version is unique, for it makes those bawdy playground myths come true.

A special code, documented by The Cutting Room Floor, unlocks a "System Construction Figure" menu that lets players skip levels, adjust their arsenals, and so on. A blue-haired woman in a dress and sweater navigates the options, and certain selections cause her to gradually lose her clothing to the point where she becomes completely naked.

Going beyond that removes our hostess entirely and replaces her with a hexagram, as though the programmer who created this was intent on featuring everything Nintendo wouldn’t allow in the North American market (and Mechanized Attack was only released there). The game already has rampant violence, so why not add nudity and a potentially religious symbol? 

This secret menu is, we remind you, accessible in the standard cartridge release of Mechanized Attack. There’s no ROM hacking needed. Every impressionable child and concerned parent in America could see this just by holding down the right buttons at the title screen. 

A small mystery is hidden in the game’s code, however. The words “Maiko’s Special Mode” lie unused in the data files and definitely refer to this debug menu. It has a nicer ring than System Construction Figure, at least.

But who’s Maiko? No character with that name appears in Mechanized Attack. As far as I can tell, the game has no story scenes of note and no cast beyond its largely unseen Terminator-inspired protagonists. Its ultimate villain is a giant computer-encased brain (as in Lupin III: The Mystery of Mamo and a hundred other works) instead of a human terrorist ringleader, and the ending simply shows the enemy base exploding and thereby restoring world peace. There’s no blue-tressed woman to sell the heroes weapons, scamper across the battlefield, or await rescue at the game’s conclusion. 

Maiko could be from a different SNK title, but I find no leads there. It’s also possible she was a singer, actress, or some other real-life celebrity who caught a programmer’s fancy. And it’s not out of the question that Maiko was the actual programmer—or perhaps some SNK employee who the Mechanized Attack staff exploited with a hidden menu. That would fit with artist Hiroko Yokoyama‘s stories of SNK’s chauvinistic work climate in the 1980s. 

The most likely and reassuring theory is that Maiko is just an original character devised entirely for this menu, with no links to the real world or other games. Her purpose was merely to guide players through a debug lineup and, many years later, to exonerate those misguided youth who concocted stories about video games hiding all sorts of lascivious depths. 

Of course, those kids are only off the hook if they were discussing Mechanized Attack. The rest of them proved themselves vile little distortionists with their risque conjectures about Mario and Zelda and dozens of other games. Given Nintendo’s recent legal pursuits, they're lucky that the statute of limitations on slander has expired.