Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Perils Of Pauline: A 40 Year History

Lady, Louise, Paula, the beautiful girl, the maiden - she's had quite a few aliases before officially being named Pauline!

First and foremost Pauline is notable for being the original video game damsel-in-distress. However, that storyline had seen a change with the release of 2017's Super Mario Odyssey. Along with it came a renewed interest in this damsel turned mayor, and after almost 40 years Pauline has finally become a playable character!

"HELP! HELP!" cries the beautiful maiden as she is dragged up a labyrinth of structural beams by the ominous Donkey Kong. "SNORT. SNORT." Foreboding music warns of the eventual doom that awaits the poor girl, lest she somehow be miraculously rescued. "But wait! Fear not, fair maiden. Little Mario, the carpenter, is in hot pursuit of you this very moment."

It was a game made out of a last minute change, and might never have been made if certain events went as planned. The game was originally set to feature the characters of Popeye as he rescues Olive Oyl from Bluto. When the licensing deal fell through the new characters of Mario, Pauline and Donkey Kong were created. The gaming atmosphere of 1981 was very different from today. You would typically need to visit a local arcade with a handful of quarters, hanging out there with your friends on a weekend or for a birthday party. The role of women in games was also different, and with the exception of Ms. Pac Man, they were often the damsel to be rescued. This was Pauline's roll at that time.

Some people find the storyline of a man rescuing a woman to be heroic or gallant. Others find it to be misogynistic or an outdated archetype. Either way, these were Pauline's origins in Donkey Kong. At the time the storylines for games were short and simple, and characters didn't get much fleshing out either. There was also a discrepancy in Pauline's design. Her appearance in the game, with her orange hair and long pink dress, might have drawn influence from a 1914 movie serial named The Perils of Pauline. Coincidentally, the films were about the title character escaping or being rescued from danger. My guess is the game sprite for Pauline was adapted from Olive Oyl, since the Popeye characters were supposed to be featured. The arcade cabinet gave Pauline a red dress and poofy blond hair, seemingly to fit more in style with Mario. The marketing materials gave her a more Farrah Fawcett-like appearance with wild blonde hair and a tight, ripped red dress. While she was mainly referred to as "Lady" she was eventually named after Warehouse Manager for Nintendo of America's then-wife, Polly James.

Pauline was almost one of the first video game characters to speak. During development, she was supposed to yell out "Help! Help!" in the opening scene and say "Nice" when Mario would jump over barrels. The sound didn't really gel and was replaced by Donkey Kong grunts and catchy jingles. Aside from the rescue attempt at a dangerous construction site, Mario could pick up items that belong to Pauline (a hat, purse and parasol) to gain bonus points. Pauline also has the distinction of being the first person attached to Mario. As stated in interviews with Donkey Kong creator Shigeru Miyamoto "The story is about Mario's pet, Donkey Kong, kidnapping and escaping with his girlfriend."

Donkey Kong was Nintendo's first big hit (both as an arcade game and when it was released for the NES). This lead to all the trimmings one would expect to see in 80's pop-culture - Donkey Kong cereal, stickers, coloring books, trading cards, figures, board games, and of course a Saturday morning cartoon. The cartoon expanded on Pauline's character and made her seem less like a damsel and more involved in helping Mario capture the giant gorilla. In certain depictions, she was the only one who could actually talk to Donkey Kong.

With Nintendo in everyone's household by the late 80's, new games and characters were keeping everyone entertained. Enter Super Mario Bros. and the main objective of rescuing - Princess Toadstool. It seems Mario had left the construction site and was side-scrolling through the Mushroom Kingdom. The Princess was surrounded by mystery, as only those who finished the game even got a glimpse of her. This changed a few years later with the release of Super Mario Bros. 2, a unique sequel that added the choice of four playable characters - Mario, Luigi, Toad and The Princess. From then on The Princess was the female lead in the Mario Universe, also serving as a love interest. She received a bit of a redesign having blonde hair and keeping her name from the original Japanese players manuel, Peach. She was a playable character in many games by the late 90's and was later joined by Daisy (Princess of Sarasaland). The two of them have appeared in countless games over the years apparently leaving no room for Pauline.

There was a character named Daniella Verducci who appeared in the Super Mario Bros. movie from 1993. It's often stated that the middle name of the character is Pauline in scripts, but I have yet to find that evidence. Though it does seem the character is supposed to be based on Pauline. There might be small references to the game, such as she does wear a pink dress and carries a purse throughout the movie. There's also a scene at the end in a construction site with her present as a character gets turned into a monkey.

Donkey Kong was released for the GameBoy in 1994 and this is were she received her make-over. Her 80's version too closely resembled Princess Peach, so she was given dark brown hair, purple eyeshadow, black shoes and big gold earrings. She almost resembled Jessica Rabbit in a way. After that, Pauline disappeared. Mario churned out tons of games over the following years, even Donkey Kong had his own, yet Pauline was nowhere to be found.

A Mario vs Donkey Kong game was made which restarted the rivalry between the two in a more innocent nature, but it did not include Pauline. Then in the 2006 sequel game, Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis, Pauline's twelve year absence finally came to an end when she was surprisingly reintroduced to audiences. Mario invites Pauline as his VIP guest to the ribbon cutting of Super Mini Mario World, during which a jealous Donkey Kong kidnaps her. Mario tries to grab Pauline but accidentally rips her dress, explaining why she has a damaged garment. At the end of the game Pauline is found unharmed and she has an apologetic Donkey Kong swooning when she accepts a mini toy of himself. A followup game Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again! from 2009 sees the same scenario play out, but in the end Pauline is revealed to be holding a clipboard and the whole thing was merely a test run for the new Mini toys.

Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem! released in 2010 sees the introduction of Mini Pauline. The Mini toys look like little wind-up robot versions of the classic Mario characters, and the players task is to get them all to an exit door while avoiding obstacles. Once the Minis are activated by swiping the stylus on the Nintendo 3DS screen they do not stop, increasing the challenge. This would be the first playable version of Pauline but it's just the Mini toy of her. The crux of the story sees the kidnapping scenario play out again only to have it end in a celebration with no harm done. In 2013's Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move, Pauline helps Donkey Kong run Mini Land. This game forgoes kidnapping and sees her as more of a host for the player, who once again guides her Mini toy through challenges. 2015's Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tripping Stars utilizes the kidnapping again only to have it revealed as another prank on Mario to get him to a surprise party.

After this, Pauline made cameos in certain games through mentions or as a trophy statue. In Street Pass Mii Plaza the Puzzle Swap game included a constructible photo called Nintendo Starlets of Peach, Pauline, Rosalina, and Zelda. Once complete a video played of the starlets all gesturing to the camera. Pauline flips up her hair and rose petals float around her. In the meantime the character of Rosalina, who first appeared in 2007's Super Mario Galaxy, quickly became a playable and marketed character in the Mario Universe. She was popular enough that she appeared in tons of games since her debut including Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. There was even a female Toad character, Toadette, added. All of this seemed to dim any chances Pauline had to be a playable character.

One man did hack the original Donkey Kong game to create Pauline as a playable character. Game Designer Mike Mika changed up the game because his daughter wanted to play as Pauline instead of Mario. With some modifications he was able to change the game and add Pauline as the main character and stated that his daughter did seem to enjoy the game more. Most games of today do have characters selections available, though the games of yesterday typically saw the main character as male. Even with new options, gamers both casual and advanced have wanted more playable female characters in Mario's world.

A fully open and explorable world game was being created for the new Nintendo Switch platform that would utilize Mario and just about everything associated with him. Slowly, news began to surface of a stage in the game called New Donk City. At the time it seemed it would be a place just filled with past references, however there was a big surprise ahead. Pauline was revealed to be the city's mayor, and had an active purpose in the game. When the extended trailer for Super Mario Odyssey was shown during the 2017 E3 Expo there was a notable new and catchy tune playing. Jump Up, Super Star! was the main theme to the game and was a first in that it had lyrics - the singer was none other than Pauline! Voiced by Kate Higgins, Pauline was a prominent figure in the game, but it was unclear if she remembered or knew Mario. The events of her kidnapping were briefly discussed as well as collecting her bonus items. She gave Mario different missions to complete through dialog boxes. Pauline is referred to by the people of the city and appears to be highly respected. The city does reference the Donkey Kong games a lot and there are billboards of Pauline's old look from the original game throughout.

Players and fans were pleased that Pauline's role was no longer the damsel and is instead a mayor. She still appeared in her more familiar red dress, though this time topped off with a hat for the game's storyline. This not only marked the first time Pauline appeared in a main Super Mario game, but Pauline and Peach finally appear together. Ironically, Pauline witnesses Peach yelling Help!, reminiscent of what Pauline had done decades ago in Donkey Kong. She is also taken to the wedding of Bower and Peach for the game's finale, with its last stage including another Pauline song - Break Free (Lead the Way).

The game was a huge success and with it Pauline was in the spotlight once again as well as gaining a newfound following. Cosplayers began to copy her Mayor Pauline outfit, the song was playing with every commercial, and her image was often seen alongside Mario. This had many people asking - who should Mario prefer, Peach or Pauline? There was an excitement and buzz around the character again, but it now begged the question - would Pauline ever be a playable character?

Pauline seemed to be heavily associated with Mario Odyssey due to the theme song. When the one year anniversary of the game was promoted Nintendo included her in their artwork. One showed Luigi, Bowser, Cappy, Tiara, Mario, Peach and Pauline all dancing together. There was also a new 2D rendering of her with the group. It seemed clear Nintendo knew she was becoming well known by now. A Mario Odyssey figure set by Furuta Japan was released and included Pauline, though there had yet to be anything released in the US.

Mario Tennis Aces was announced for Nintendo Switch and, like most games, utilizes DLC (downloadable content) for a player to keep adding. This could be new levels, accessories or characters. In 2018 Pauline was announced as a playable character, for the first time in her nearly 40 year history. This news was met with great enthusiasm and people speculating that Pauline could reach a new level of popularity similar to Rosalina. In the modern Mario games each character has an icon to represent them, Pauline's is a heart shape with an open smile in the middle. Her outfit is a short red tennis skirt with black trim and red visor hat. Her sneakers, visor and tennis racket bear the heart icon. She stands with her hand on her hip, then runs it through her hair, a possible callback to the Starlets puzzle. She's one of the faster characters and features a special move that calls on all the powers of - New Donk City.

Speaking of New Donk City, Pauline, her band and the city hall became a playable stage in Super Smash Bros' Ultimate. Though she was not a playable character, she also had a special stage to defeat in the World of Light adventure mode. This stage became very well known for its increased difficulty.

After her addition to Tennis, speculation began to circulate about Pauline joining one of the most beloved Mario titles, Mario Kart. When the game was released in 1992 it became a big hit, with many iterations released over the years. By now every character who's any character simply must be included. 2019 proved to be a good year for Pauline as it was announced that she would be added to the roster of the Mario Kart Tour mobile game.

It's taken almost 40 years, but Pauline has finally become a playable character. I'm surprised how people have really taken to her all these years later and it's encouraging to see their support for more. From one-time damsel to truehearted mayor, Pauline has undergone quite a transformation. When all seemed lost, and the character nearly forgotten, she is now joining the ranks of the most popular and recognized gaming characters in the World of Mario.