Why Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is not an M-rated Borderlands, A Series First

Bricks point to Tangledrift, an area in Tiny Tina's Wonderlands.

Screenshot: Gearbox

Long time Border areas players will notice something … different by Little Tina’s Wonderland: It is relatively tamer than its predecessors. It’s on purpose, as it’s the first game in the series to have a “T” rating, something its creative director called a “pillar” in its design in a recent interview that should bring the franchise to, in their words, “a wider audience.”

Released last month for consoles and PC, Little Tina’s Wonderland is a spin-off of the gearbox Border areas series of loot shooters. Seen between the events of the second and third game, it basically takes place inside a tabletop RPG in the game called Bunkers & Badasses hosted by the divisive character Tiny Tina. (In fact, the only indication Wonderland exists in the “real” Border areas the world is occasionally a brief glimpse of Tina’s cave between the beats of key history.)

Border areas games may be known to offer billions of procedurally generated weapons, but they have also gained a (reasonable, completely deserved) reputation for relentless horror. Limbs are shot off and spray fountains of blood. Characters swear with sufficient frequency to make an entire fleet of sailors blush. There is enough suggestive material to make these sailors blush even redder. These games are rated “M” / Mature by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) – basically comparable to an “R” rating in the movie industry – for a reason. Moving to a “T” / Teenager rating is a remarkable developmental shift.

“In the beginning, there might have been a little concern,” said Matt Cox, creative director Little Tina’s Wonderland (who has previously instructed the terrific Bounty of Blood expansion to Borderlands 3) told Kotaku in a recent video chat. “But in reality, outside of a few words, and then pieces from, say, humanoids, we honestly found it not that limiting.”

I have played a whole lot Little Tina’s Wonderland over the last month, and was not aware that it was rated as T until about halfway through the campaign. Part of this is simply due to the fact that I did not even think about checking its rating (see: the whole past Border areas cannon). Part of this is due to what the game gets away with. At the end of an early mission, the villain beheads a protagonist out of nothing. Although it is an openly brutal, shocking act, in hindsight not a drop of blood is in sight.

“We pushed the boundaries of that teen assessment to some degree,” Cox said.

Torgue looks at an ocean he's just dropped a lot of bombs on in Tiny Tina's Wonderlands.

Torgue, blows the shitty sea into the air.
Screenshot: Gearbox / Kotaku

It shows. A side-quest involves helping a sentient bean find a new place to “sprout,” a line said the bean delivers with undertones of vulgarity. The ultimate goal of the quest is literally to “flick with the prayer.” The lewd undertones are hard to miss. But it’s all (technically) overboard! Or take the famous profane Border areas character Torgue. IN Wonderland, his curse words are piped out with the staccato crunch from a distorted guitar. Typically, beeping swear words can be intrusive or take you out of a moment, but in this case, it actually ends up giving some extra comic weight to overtly ridiculous lines like “Let’s blow that f ****** sea into the air. ! !! ”

At times, though, Gearbox’s intention to avoid an M rating is anything but natural and even rubs the wrong way. During an early mission, Frette (a robot buddy played by Wanda Sykes) refers to a bullshit plot moment as a “dragon dookie”. Sykes, who is without a doubt one of the funniest stand-up comics of the modern era, is not exactly known for avoiding swear words, so for anyone who knows her work, line reading may seem forced. But The ESRB rules are quite clear only to allow “mild to moderate use of swear words” in T-rated games.

“We had a pretty good understanding [of] what we could and could not, “said Cox, though noting that there were some surprises. For example:” We did not know we would get a ‘partial nudity’ for mushroom shutters. “