Last year, I wrote about Francesca, the hero an NES-era video game that shamelessly ripped of Mega Man, and I pointed out how the relative suckiness of this game, The Krion Conquest, was a shame, given how unusually boss Francesca looked on the box art. It was unusual to see a female character — playable or otherwise — looking neither cutesy or sexed-up, I posited, and I asked if anyone could think of examples of similar female characters. I got some good ones, and compiled them in a collection of old-school box art featuring women you wouldn’t want to fuck with (and also one so hilariously early ’90s that it threw me down a Full House rabbit hole). I thought it might be cool to do the opposite and make a collection of old-school NES-era box art that was sexist, but that quickly became depressing and lame. But if it weren’t for that search, I wouldn’t have found how why Samus Aran is only (arguably) number three in the succession of Nintendo leading ladies.
So back in the early days, Nintendo had a hard time with clearly, obviously feminine protagonists. Technically the first was the Clu-Clu Land main character, a fish named Bubbles (Gloopy in the Japanese version). While any text you’ll find online today character uses feminine pronouns to discuss the character, someone just playing the game could scarcely tell that that Bubbles is a fish, much less a female one.
|ripped by vile10, via spriter’s resource|
You could say the same thing about Samus, really. Even if you had the Metroid instruction booklet, you wouldn’t know she was female because the text refers to Samus as being male, presumably to preserve the surprise of her true gender when you meet all the necessary requirements. That revelation, in case you’ve forgotten, involves Samus’ space armor coming off to reveal this:
|via obsolete gamer|
It looks like this, if you’re not familiar:
The game has Mach Rider racing from city to city in a post-apocalyptic 2112, dodging various Mad Max-looking bad guys. The game never received a sequel, but did spawn an arcade version, Vs. Mach Rider, that offered a clearer look at what the protagonist’s appearance.
Here’s what the character looks like at the start of the game:
|via metroid database|
|via metroid database|
In 1987, Nintendo (in partnership with Fuji Television Network) released Doki Doki Panic in Japan, and that game featured two clearly, indisputably feminine characters, and in 1998, that game was remade and released as Super Mario Bros. 2 in the United States, starring Princess Peach, pink dress and all.
Gender and video games, previously:
- Another forgotten Nintendo leading lady: Alice from Balloon Kid
- Female characters in Metroid and Kid Icarus > female characters in Mario and Zelda
- The legend of Zelda’s considerably less famous little brother
- Gender in Smash Bros.
- Video games for girls (but only sexy girls)