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For whom the Victreebel tolls: 8 regrettable video game portmanteaus

When wordplay goes wrong.

By Matt Gerardi, Joe Keiser, Matt Kodner, Derrick Sanskrit, and John Teti • July 18, 2013

1. Bewarewolf, Dragon Quest IX (2010)

Portmanteaus—words formed by combining two words into one—proliferate in video games in part because they proliferate in Japanese. A common Japanese term for a digital camera is dejikame, just like a personal computer is a pasokon. This penchant for borrowing and recombining words form other languages (mostly English) has given rise to plenty of groan-inducing wordplay in video games. Since we’re no strangers to groan-inducing wordplay here at Gameological, we’ve taken notice. The Bewarewolf in the role-playing game Dragon Quest IX is a typical example. The strained pun recasts a reasonably frightening werewolf as a neutered shadow of itself. The fearsomeness of a creature named Bewarewolf clocks in somewhere around the level of “yapping neighborhood dog.” The game also features a stronger variety of Bewarewolf known as the Scarewolf, which is a reasonably good rhyme, if a bit obvious. But then the strongest wolf of all in Dragon Quest IX is the Tearwolf. Sorry, no. Step away from the dictionary, Dragon Quest.

2. Drivatar, Forza Motorsport 5 (upcoming)

Not every regrettable portmanteau is the product of Japanese studios. Video game marketing departments in this hemisphere regularly wage war on their hated enemy, the English language. At Microsoft’s E3 press event this year, a producer of Forza Motorsport 5 took the stage to demonstrate a new feature for the game’s multiplayer mode. Forza 5 uses Microsoft’s network of not-NSA-like-at-all servers to observe your behavior when you play, and it uses this data to create an artificial-intelligence clone that emulates your driving tendencies. When you’re not around, friends can race against your clone avatar, and it’s just like you’re there instead of doing something else with your life like some sort of selfish non-Forza-playing asshole. The true-to-life avatar technology has the potential to be a monumental breakthrough in artificial intelligence, so what name did Microsoft slap on it? That’s right, Drivatar™®©, the brand name that practically begs message-board trolls to add a letter at the end as they declare that the XBONE SUCKS! The Forza team must be so proud.

3. Angewomon, Digimon series

Games’ most prolific dungeon of tortured portmanteaus is most assuredly the long-running pet-raising series Digimon. Every creature in the menagerie of hundreds has its name painfully welded to the suffix “mon,” just in case you forget they’re all digital monsters. The result is often a twisted wreckage of language. Take Angewomon, which is an angel-woman-monster. Figure out how to pronounce it, and you’ve got perfect shorthand for capturing every source of straight teen male existential angst at once. But in the game, Angewomon is depicted as a kind of faceless bondage fairy, which…is pretty much the same thing. So it’s still a horrible word, but at least it’s consistently applied.

4. Cabbage-pult, Plants Vs. Zombies (2009)
Cabbage-pult

Plants vs. Zombies is stuffed with more puns than a chile relleno stuffed with puns. They’re the lowest common denominator of comedy, and PopCap knows how to cast a wide net. For the most part, these are benign plays on the botany-meets-tower-defense theme—pea shooters, wall nuts, cherry bombs. It’s only toward the end of the fourth stage where audible sighs transition into eye rolls at the introduction of the Cabbage-pult. It’s a cabbage. It’s a catapult. What more could you need to know? The truly terrifying part, though, is that this anthropomorphic cabbage seems to be continuously lobbing slightly smaller cabbages at the enemy. That’s like Mario throwing tiny Marios instead of fireballs.

5. Victreebel, Pokémon series (1998-present)

Considering how fearsome Victreebel is, this plant pokémon is the doofiest looking of the original 150 monsters. The team in charge of localizing Pokémon was apparently so in awe of Victreebel’s power that they felt compelled to name it in honor of victory, the most important concept in Pokémonafter obsessive monster hoarding and trafficking. Given its rotund, bell-like figure, “Victorybell” would have been perfectly fine. (Read: acceptably bad.) But no, the crack team decided to take its name a step forward and stick “tree,” in there, because Victreebel is a grass-type pokémon, and trees are like grass. This tortured double portmanteau then forced the team into a tighter spot, as the 10-character limit on pokémon names meant they had to misspell “bell” to squeeze everything in there. Victreebel’s two younger forms, Bellsprout and Weepinbell, maintain the proper spelling, as they are not saddled with the wounds of a thousand misbegotten puns. In the video above, you see that even Victreebel can’t utter its own name—pretty much a baseline skill for pokémon—presumably out of shame.

6. Escargoon, Kirby: Right Back At Ya! (TV series, 2002-2005)

It’s tough to find good help these days, but the greedy and narcissistic King Dedede managed to find himself a right-hand snail who is as snide and conniving as the king himself—and is also one of the most intriguing characters in the Kirby games’ animated TV spinoff, Right Back At Ya! Escargoon’s name tells us that he is a snail (escargot) who is also a lackey (goon), but Escargoon shows more heart and gumption throughout the series than most of the good guys. His speech and mannerisms seem to be descended from Paul Lynde, which helps maintain his charm. He’s often dancing and singing when he thinks no one is watching, dreaming of the day that he gets to be king and wear a fancy crown.

7. Gloomerang, Kid Icarus: Uprising (2012)
Gloomerang

Kid Icarus: Uprising is a game of grandiose mythology and false perceptions. A hovering beast from the Underworld, the Gloomerang wears a large metal mask to shield its true visage. Like a hockey goalie shuffling in place and singing “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now,” the “gloomy” creature is both terrifying and somewhat sad. Poor Gloomerang. It probably just needs someone to talk to on the swing-set. Like most emo kids, though, the Gloomerang lashes out when players get too close, throwing its bladed mask like a boomerang (duh). The poor thing doesn’t realize that—without its mask to hide behind—it’s now completely vulnerable, both emotionally and physically. It could be worse, though. Gloomerang’s names in other regions, according to the character’s official info card (sold separately), include “Bummrangler” and “Lamerango.” Those sound like taunts you’d hear on the junior-high school bus. At least Gloomerang has a certain glum dignity.

8. Remembrane, Remember Me (2013)

In the future, everything we see and feel is uploaded to the internet, and everything is a portmanteau. At least, that’s the vision of Remember Me, a cyberpunk adventure from Capcom and the French game studio Dontnod. In the game’s world, most of the population has adopted a brain implant called a Sensen (Sensation Engine), which can capture all of a person’s memories and share them on the web. The Sensen can also create “remembranes,” holographic projections of other people’s memories—that you’ve downloaded into your implant—into your reality. The “membrane” half of remembrane is a stretch. Perhaps it refers to the layer of staticky augmented reality the Sensen projects atop the world around you when a remembrane is activated. Either way, it’s a dumb name, and no company would ever—what’s that? There’s a real biotech company named Remembrane? The future is here.

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167 Responses to “For whom the Victreebel tolls: 8 regrettable video game portmanteaus”

  1. Mr. Glitch says:

    Huh. Well, I guess that explains the Famicom. I know it’s a portmanteau of Family and Computer, but I was always under the impression that it had a different Japanese name, or at least different pronunciation.

    • GhaleonQ says:

      Famicom sounds pretty awesome, though.  MonHun and DraQue?  Hideous.  MonHun even gets used on packaging for the spinoffs.

    • Citric says:

      Capcom is Capsule Computer, but it’s snappy. Unfortunately, they started a subsidiary to do some non-game stuff, and called it Suleputer, which is not snappy.

  2. The_Helmaroc_King says:

    Gameological, I’m disappointed in you. A play on words is the noblest form of wit, and I will not stand to hear otherwise. To the pungeon with all of you!

  3. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

    When Pokemon first came out, I thought I was a real smart dude thinking it was some sort of bastardization or variation on Bakemono, a general-purpose term for a mythological Japanese monster.
       I was doubly surprised to discover it means pocket monster and I’m not actually that smart.

    • Girard says:

      I remember “Pocket Monsters” would always get a write-up in those Nintendo Power articles about “Wacky Japanese games that never came out over here!” Usually they’d mention that the game was wildly popular, and that kids used the slang portmanteau ‘Pokemon’ to talk about it. Then, when it finally did come out over here, I was kind of baffled why, in localizing it, Nintendo opted to use the Japanese slang nonsense English portmanteau as the brand, and not the already English normal name of the series. Obviously they knew what they were doing, as the Pokemon brand is a license to print money, But it struck me as weird at the time.

    • Chum Joely says:

      It can be both, right?

  4. CrabNaga says:

    What about Revengeance? I wasn’t sure if it was a real word or a made-up portmanteau, and a something search is inconclusive.

    • caspiancomic says:

       My mind went straight to ‘Revengeance’ as well. I think that title was invented for the game, but funnily enough, MGR wasn’t my first exposure to that term. My local film rental place (they still exist!) used the term ‘revengeance’ to describe the Shane Meadows film Dead Man’s Shoes. I can only assume that both Suspect Video and Konami invented the word independently of one another though- it’s just too gloriously stupid to be real.

    • dreadguacamole says:

      That’s a good one. There’s also “Infinite undiscovery”, which makes my brain bleed a little bit whenever I think about it…

      • DrFlimFlam says:

        Thank you, that was the one I hated. What on earth is an UNdiscovery?

        • I would speculate that it’s like an “unbirthday”: a routine object/experience that you encounter every day.

        • DrFlimFlam says:

          @facebook-100000590707081:disqus, so in some way life is made up largely of undiscoveries, in fact an almost infinite amount of them?

          Whoa.

        • dreadguacamole says:

           I don’t think I’ll ever find out, since the game quickly put me off ever playing it again. It’s a terrible mess of formulaic tropes, not once breaking any new ground… so I guess its title is strangely apropos.
           A game about undiscovery would be, to me, about some guy who refuses to pick up on any clues for adventure and obstinately carries on with his life: “Oh, what’s this – all the virgins in the village have been carried off by the dastardly Yak Men to their mountain hideout? I’d love to help, but I’ve been planning this Buffy marathon for days now…”

    • Aurora Boreanaz says:

      The “Illusive Man” in Mass Effect 2 confused me as well.  At first I thought it was a combination of “Ill” and “Elusive”, but apparently illusive is a real word.

      • CrabNaga says:

        I always just mixed up Illusive with Elusive. Then again, I feel like the name choice is meant to evoke that idea as well (i.e. he works in the shadows and there’s doubt as to if he even exists). Honestly a pretty clever name choice, even if he does (ME3 SPOILERS) end up going cartoon villain evil by the end.

  5. Colonel says:

    Whenever I name my Pokemon I always feel the need to out-pun the initial pun.  The one I’m most pleased with is naming the gear-like Klinklang “Gearermo.”  Yes, I just wanted to share that and only that… 

    • DrFlimFlam says:

       I used to rename them as lazily as possible, throwing a Y at the end when appropriate. Squirtle? You’re Squirty! Geodude! Your Geodudy! Meowth? You’re awful Meowthy!

    • CrabNaga says:

      The mechanical guys in the Super Mario Galaxy games are named Gearmo (Guillermo) for pretty much the same reason.

  6. GhaleonQ says:

    I swear that there are so many Japanese role-playing games that have horrible names (with item descriptions that, worse, explain the joke), but I can’t remember any for the life of me.

    However, I do remember the Magical Vacation sequel localized as Magical Starsign and, otherwise, horribly did the worst sort of non-jokes.  From TV Tropes: “Magical Starsign has a town full of Pyrites with Punny names, like Nun Toobrite and Tawks Lykeahippy, that represent how they talk.”  Nun Toobrite would be good, but I don’t think there were any quasi-Christian-dress characters.  Tawks Lykeahippy, on the other hand, bleck.  Not even a joke, Brownie Brown translators.

  7. PaganPoet says:

    I guess this is the part where I submit “Metroidvania” as a platforming subgenre. One of my favorites, as a matter of fact. Great recent examples include Outland and Guacamelee (another portmanteau!!!!)

    • NakedSnake says:

      Yes. I love this type of game, but I feel like a complete idiot whenever I say Metroidvania. Initially I refuse to say it at all. But then I start explaining that the game is like metroid, or SOTN, and the other person says ‘oh, it’s a Metroidvania!’ And then I still had to hear it said, but I wasted a minute of my time trying to get around saying it. So I usually just bite the bullet and say it to get it over with, as my cheeks burn with shame.

      • Marozeph says:

        The problem with “Metroidvania” is that it’s both inelegant and imprecise – it makes sense when referring to a Castlevania-game that’s kinda like Metroid, but it’s pretty nonsensical when describing a game that follows Metroids structure but has nothing to do with Caslevania.
        Which leads to the question: what would be a better word to classify Metroidvanias?

        • DrFlimFlam says:

          I think working in the words labyrinth or maze would be ideal. Something like “Labyrinth”, perhaps, or “DrFlimFlam always gets lost and/or stuck and frustrated.”

        • Steve McCoy says:

          I just call them Metroids, because I’m one of those people that remembers the games before Symphony of the Night.

        • Power-up-driven adventures?

        • NakedSnake says:

          I would go with “Adventure” if that wasn’t already taken. Action Adventure?

        • CrabNaga says:

          I was under the impression that Metroidvania was a term originally used to describe the Castlevanias that followed the Metroid exploration style. It has since been co-opted to include practically any game that has that sort of semi-open-world-platforming-exploration style.

        • George_Liquor says:

          Endless back-tracking romps?

    • neodocT says:

      Not to mention just “Castlevania”, which is a ridiculous non-word, when you think about it.

      • NakedSnake says:

        Whenever I type it, which is apparently frequently enough for me to notice this tendency, I always write castlevanie for some reason. Probably because yea, there’s no such thing as a castlevania either.

      • Sa3ad says:

        I always assumed it was a play on castle and Transylvania.

  8. caspiancomic says:

    Hey look at this, a perfect opportunity to mention MediEvil, one of my favourite action/adventure titles for the original PlayStation!

    Man, I can’t believe I never noticed that ‘L’ missing from the end of ‘Victreebel.’ Now that name is always going to look misspelled.

    Also: I adore that clip from the Pokemon cartoon in this context.
    “Victreebel, go!!”
    *shrieks in humiliation and terror*

  9. LoveWaffle says:

    I’m surprised none of the killstreak medals from the Halo franchise wound up here. Killtrocity, Killimanjaro, Killpocalypse…cheesy stuff.

  10. Cloks says:

    I’m just disappointed that the electric zebra in the newer pokemon games wasn’t named Zapbra.

  11. Real_Irwin says:

    Victreebell is hardly the “doofiest” of the first generation monsters.

    DOES ANYONE REMEMBER LICKITUNG? 

  12. Mercenary_Security_number_4 says:

    wii-mote.
     

  13. feisto says:

    The funny thing about the Dragon Quest games is that the original games aren’t all that portmanteau-heavy; if anything, the creature and spell names are, for the most part, more onomatopoeic or atmospheric than punny.

    If you want to give credit (or blame) where credit is due for the punny direction the English localization has taken since VIII, give it to the person who localizes them, who I happen to know and is an absolute pun FIEND, who’ll use puns wherever they can, even to the point of overkill. If anything, this person’s portmanteaus remind me more of the Asterix comics than Japanese games…so see, it’s not just a Japanese thing!

  14. Dave Dalrymple says:

    I think the Rabite from the Mana series is my favourite. 

    • SamPlays says:

      My personal favorite is the Esquilax, the legendary horse with the head of a rabbit and the body of a rabbit. Ligers and zedonks come in a very close second and third place. The runner up, of course, is the sheep-goat hybrid, otherwise known as the Toast of Botswana.

  15. fly says:

    actually kinda like ‘Bewarewolf.’ it’s certainly no whywolf, but it certainly gets a little chuckle out of me. 

  16. SamPlays says:

    I’m all for portmanteaus. Portmanteaus. There, I said it. On a slightly related topic, this article reminded me of a local convenience store specializing in Middle Eastern foods. It was called (not joke) Taste East Inc. (i.e., “tasty stink” in case you missed it).

    • DrFlimFlam says:

       Or is it portmanteaux?

      • SamPlays says:

        Mirriam-Webster is indifferent on that matter. In my opinion, the “x” seems to weigh it more in favour of being luggage. 

      • SamPlays says:

        I just cross-referenced and validated Mirriam-Webster with my definitive source for definitions… my 8th Ed. of the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English, originally published in 1990. As far as I’m concerned, any new words since 1990 are jargon and street talk.

      • John Teti says:

        I actually did some research over the weekend to determine which would be correct, because there was some debate over this. AP style prescribes “tableaux” for the plural of “tableau,” for instance, but it doesn’t make a ruling on “portmanteau.” However, AP style defers to Webster’s when there’s not a specific ruling, and Webster’s says that, for English usage, “portmanteaus” is the preferred plural. I was bummed because I really wanted to use the “X” plural.

        • SamPlays says:

          I guess you’re gonna have to do an inventory on regrettable video game tableaux.

        • DrFlimFlam says:

          I was really just screwing around; I didn’t look it up or check my French; I just wanted to type it out that way. It’s good to know that the people that write here (and presumably are paid to do so) actually think about this stuff.

        • LeGrandSigh says:

          Hi John Teti!  I know this is off topic, but a new Project Runway is premiering tonight.  You’re probably too busy and cool to do a review of the show, but how about a capsule review of the Project Runway Wii game http://www.amazon.com/video-games/dp/B002HWUUDQ

        • Cliffy73 says:

          Portmanteaux for luggage, because it’s a loanword. Portmanteaus for words, because it’s an original English usage (french people don’t refer to these things as portmanteau words, or if they do, it’s because they’ve read Alice Through the Looking-Glass same as us).

        • John Teti says:

          @Cliffy73:disqus Feel free to spell it however you like in your own work; Webster’s lists the “S” plural first for all English-language usage of the word, regardless of meaning. The French word is “portemanteau,” so the spelling differs from the origin language regardless.

    • Raging Bear says:

      Why, coming up with them can be a game in itself! A sort of…sportmanteau, if you will.

    • mizerock says:

      Better to go to a DC-area asian restaurant, like Thai Tanic or Thaiphoon.

    • Marozeph says:

      That reminds me: in the german version of Zelda: Wind Waker, Windfall Island is named “Port Monee” – a pun on Portmonee/Portemonnaie, the german word for Wallet.

    • OldeFortran77 says:

      I still swear that a portmanteau is a piece of furniture, usually found in your great aunt’s foyer for the display of bric-a-brac, knicknacks, tchotchkes, geegaws, and gimcracks.

    • WarrenPeace says:

      You realize, of course, that the word portmanteau is a portmanteau itself. As Wikipedia describes it: “a portmanteau was a suitcase that opened into two equal sections. The etymology of the word is the French portemanteau, from porter, to carry, and manteau, cloak (from Old French mantel, from Latin mantellum).”

      • SamPlays says:

        I get it, it’s inspired by the old carry n’ cloak routine. (I really do enjoy etymology.)

  17. jeffk says:

    I think the Dragon Quest localizations are full of wit and personality. I welcome the puns.

  18. blue_lander says:

    Does Beelzebutt from Mighty Bomb Jack count?

  19. Aurora Boreanaz says:

    Cloudy With a Chance Of Meatballs is pretty much full of portmanteaus, as will be the sequel.

    “Shrimpanzee!” “Steve!” “Shrimpanzee!” “STEVE!” “Shrimpanzee!” “Shove! ….Steve!”

    See also: Mosquitoast, hippotatomous, cheespiders, fruit cockatiels, “tacodile…SUPREME!”

    • DrFlimFlam says:

      Back when we used to have a Sonic Drive-In, they had a pack-in toy that was dinosaurs and ice age mammals. Little plush things that were actually pretty good quality for supposedly free toys. Anyway, my personal favorite was a Triceratops with a perfectly cylindrical body, which was of course an intentional design reminiscent of their famous tater tots.

      Naturally, this creature was named the Triceratot, and years later I still have the tag pinned to my cubicle because it’s a great portmanteau that makes me smile.

      I miss Sonic.

      • Raging Bear says:

        Not to rub it in, but we have Sonics here and I frequent them frequently. A member of my household collected the wind-up Tot Bots – not a portmanteau, but nevertheless super cute.

    • SamPlays says:

      I still find humour in Rhymenocereos and Hiphopopotamous. Thanks, Flight of the Conchords!

  20. O Superman says:

    I’ve always delighted in the fact that the word portmanteau is itself a portmanteau. And my favorite of the Japanese portmanteaus is for sexual harassment, which just becomes sekuhara.

    • Xtracurlyfries says:

      I thought portmanteau was a type of luggage.

      Anyway, I’m sad now because your comment reminded me that onomatopoeia sounds like NOTHING, which is a crime.

  21. OldeFortran77 says:

    Presented for your approval: dynamitard.
    I heard it in a 1980’s failed Sci-Fi pilot, but is apparently an actual word, archaic and obscure.

  22. Portemanteaux takes an “X” not an “S”

    • SamPlays says:

      Already addressed by @JohnTeti:disqus several comments up.

      • Sorry, it just makes me cringe every time my mother tongue gets massacred in the name of “hip”

        • DrFlimFlam says:

          By this point we all know that English is a massacre of other languages. Also it’s own. I will never forget my French teacher (don’t test me, it was years ago) railing against all the rules English breaks all the time.

        • SamPlays says:

          @drflimflam:disqus That said, it’s also an amazingly flexible language. Lighten up, French teacher!

  23. His_Space_Holiness says:

    Story time: in my one and only video game-related job, I was hired to write for a startup mobile-game company. At first my assignment was to write dialogue for boss characters and whatnot, but it soon devolved into coming up with names for all of the Pokemon-like critters who populated the game. So I spent a good two weeks, 9 to 5, coming up with equally tortured portmanteaux for various combinations of animal and superpower. And then at the end of the day I’d turn them in and get helpful notes like “Could be better” and “Needs more work.”

    The point being, sometimes these things slip through because the creators would rather pull out their own teeth with electric pliers than work on them for another goddamn minute.

  24. Cornell_University says:

    One of the many, many reasons I love the Venture Bros as much as I do is they embrace wholeheartedly the worst ideas of this genre.  Killermanjaro, Unicornelius, even just this past week with Conquistadorable!

    • His_Space_Holiness says:

      My favorite is still Nat King Cobra.

      • Cornell_University says:

        I can’t decide if my favorite is Truckules (That guy is almost a truck!) or the simple fact that the universe contains both Crime-o-dile AND Were-o-dile

  25. Mike Wolf says:

    Surprised with the inclusion of Dragon Quest that there’s no mention of the weapons-level pun in Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies. There’s a place called Alltrades Abbey, where you can change characters’ jobs. The guy running it is called Jack, and he later becomes a boss due to some macguffin.

    He gets a line of dialogue before the fight, something along the lines of “Once I was Jack of Alltrades Abbey… now I am the Master of Nu’un!”

  26. Who cares about trees… what about corn?  IS CORN GRASS?!

  27. TeaCaddy says:

    Love off-the-cuff concatenation, but hate portmanteaus (aside from Sharknado!, natch). My two primary hates are banoffee pie, which I refuse to eat on principal, and that shitty fucking hybrid bastard, the Gruffalo. Jesus I hate that damn name! When my sister’s kids were small and stupid she’d hide little clusters of tissue-wrapped chocolate raisins under bushes and rotting logs for them to find… it was supposed to be ‘Gruffalo poo’. That’s some seriously fucked-up shit right there. Our children deserve better.

  28. nemryn says:

    Special Runner-Up Honorable Mention: Waluigi. It’s only a portmanteau in Japanese, though; the English version would be ‘Eviluigi’.

  29. Matt Koester says:

    How could you forget about Team Fortress 2’s classic, Axtinguisher?

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