All-female protagonist September: Rebooting 8-bit damsels in distress

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Blog by Lindsay M.

The appeal of saving the princess is universal. It’s quite simple: if you save the princess, you also save the world from imminent disaster. The damsel in distress is a common element across video games as a whole, however the theme is especially defining of the 8-bit era. I can name off early games on Nintendo platforms with ease: Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Ninja Gaiden, Final Fight, and more used saving the ‘princess’ as an excuse to pick up the controller. There have been some attempts at giving these damsels a shot of their own — such as Super Princess Peach — but in the end there is nothing more to the character than there was when they were off-screen 99 per cent of the time. I’ve got much better plans for them.

Related reading: Forget why Lindsay’s doing this? Catch up with her first post of the month.

Everyone’s favourite bubblegum princess, Princess Peach, had her time to shine in Super Princess Peach for the Nintendo DS. Well, kind of. She uses her emotions throughout her quest to save Mario, Luigi, and Toad, because she is a girl after all. Oh, and the game was super easy. Removing her from Mario’s supercoloured world would be a mistake in any reboot, but these other factors could definitely be removed. Let’s give her access all of Mario’s infamous powers and let her go on her own adventure. Bowser has kidnapped her about a thousand times by now — Peach has ample reason to fight with a vengeance to defeat her ultimate tormentor. The only thought in her mind should be revenge.

Unlike Peach, Zelda is the title character in many games — yet Link remains the focus. Link, Link, Link. Zelda’s the princess, let her do her job and save the world from Ganon while Link goes off and plays with horses in greener pastures. Zelda is super-smart, so her game would be loaded with environmental puzzles. The Legend of Zelda series has explored so many style varieties that Zelda’s game could borrow from any of them, but I picture it as being more realistic and gritty (think Tomb Raider reboot) versus cutesy and colourful. Essentially, Zelda’s game would be the opposite of Peach’s. I feel Zelda’s situation is more dire. Peach is trying to defeat her personal demons, but Zelda… Zelda needs to save the world. Everyone she loves, everything she’s worked for, it could all be destroyed if she doesn’t save the day.

The Legend of Zelda could keep its name with Zelda as the protagonist, but I don’t think Ninja Gaiden could do so if its tables were turned. It would have to become CIA Ninja or something like that, because that’s what Irene Lew would become. Ryu wouldn’t be saving the world and CIA agent Irene; instead, Irene would be a badass CIA agent saving the world while rescuing some ninjas who found themselves in distress. Well, maybe not quite that, as we all know ninjas wouldn’t be ninjas if they ever needed rescuing. But maybe Irene could team up with the ninjas. I’m definitely thinking CIA Ninja should keep the 8-bit style of the original Ninja Gaiden. Don’t we all need a little more retro in our lives?

Speaking of retro, what is more retro that Final Fight? I vaguely remember playing it in arcades and I also have faint memories of its SNES version. This game’s damsel in distress is Jessica, the mayor’s daughter (so she’s kind of like local royalty). Mad Gear have kidnapped her because her former pro-wrestler father refused to ignore the gang leading the city’s underworld. Her father teams up with her boyfriend and a ninjutsu master to save the Jessica and the city (sound familiar yet?). In my version, Jessica would be kidnapped then have to fight her way out of a literal criminal underground — vast mazes of tunnels buried far beneath the city. When she defeats the last enemy and arrives as the surface, the trio of rescuers would arriving just a little late. I don’t know what the game would be called, but it would definitely need contemporary graphics and controllers to make the beat-em-up nature worth it.

– Lindsay M.
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