Thursday, May 25, 2017

Five favorites: Famicom leading ladies

Here's an admission that should shock no one: I've preferred female protagonists in video games to male ones since my earliest experiences with the medium.

Unfortunately, NES games that let you play as a girl or woman were far from common--or at least that was the case for the ones I owned or rented back in the day. Metroid is an obvious stand-out, as is Super Mario Bros. 2, but other than that pair? The only additional examples that come to mind at the moment are Athena, Ice Climber (you can control Nana in two-player mode), Mickey Mousecapade (in a way) and Final Fantasy (I'm one of those folks who have always considered the white mage to be female).

Thankfully, I'm no longer a kid, which means imports are no longer off limits. That's a big deal, because Famicom games weren't as sexist as their North American counterparts--as should be evident by the time you finish reading the following blurbs about five of my favorite female protagonists to grace the Japanese iteration of Nintendo's 8-bit console.

Altiana (Space Hunter)--Full disclosure: I've never actually played this Kemco-made, flick-screen action game, but I've long wanted to give it a try. Admittedly, its gameplay looks a bit rough (see it action here), but its spritework--protagonist Altiana's, especially--is right up my alley. I know some folks wish the in-game version of Altiana looked a bit more like the version showcased on the Space Hunter box cover, but I think she looks great in both forms. Plus, based on the footage above, she seems to be a kick-ass-and-take-names kind of gal, which means I'd bow down to her even if her sprite was gnarly. (To learn more about this Japan-only release from 1986, check out Video Game Den's Space Hunter write-up.)

Clarice (City Connection)--What do I like least about this console port of Jaleco's arcade classic? That you only get a glimpse of its main character, the blue-haired lady in the screenshot above, between stages. Sure, the rest of City Connection also is as cute as can be, but I find Clarice's design to be so pleasant that it's a real shame players don't get to see more of it. Oh, well, at least she's the star of this banana-yellow Famicom cartridge. After all, how often does a driving game--even one that's more of a platformer than a racer--feature a female protagonist? (Bonus content: I first rented the NES iteration of City Connection back in the day because I thought its logo was adorable.)

Lum (Urusei Yatsura: Lum no Wedding Bell)--I've got to be honest here: I don't know a whole lot about the Urusei Yatsura manga and anime series in general or the Lum character in particular. (Besides what I've read on Wikipedia, I mean.) That unfortunate ignorance hasn't kept me from lusting after this Jaleco-made platformer, though, which is a remake, of sorts, of the same company's Momoko 120% arcade game. Chiefly responsible for the blossoming of that long-distance love affair: Hardcore Gaming 101 writer Neil Foster's declaration (in this article about Momoko 120%) that both Lum no Wedding Bell and its predecessor are "more or less standard arcade flair in the Donkey Kong vein." Add to that the fact that the blue-coiffed Lum can zap on-coming baddies with lightning bolts, and the appeal should be as clear as day.

Myu (Insector X)--Before I say anything else, I've got to give a shout-out to the 1CC Log for Shmups for educating me as to this red-headed gal's name. Before I came across the post linked to above, I assumed this 8-bit reimagining of Taito's quarter-muncher of the same title simply referred to her as "girl," or something similarly lazy and disappointing. Speaking of disappointing, Insector X's character-select screen suggests players should only choose Myu if they're girls themselves. Ugh. On a positive note, at least a female option exists. Related aside: I prefer Myu's design to that of her male cohort (his name is Anny) many times over.

Sayo (Kiki KaiKai Dotō Hen)--I've had a soft spot for the Shinto shrine maiden that serves as this Famicom Disk System's protagonist ever since I played through Pocky & Rocky with wide-eyed gusto as a teenager. That soft spot only grew when I became aware of the PC Engine port of the original KiKi KaiKai. (FYI: you can peruse the entirety of that game's instruction booklet in this "Manual Stimulation" post.) In the beginning, I liked Sayo because she was cute. Later, I came to appreciate that she single-handedly sets out to rescue not just one god, but seven of them, in this multi-directional shmup--which differs from both the arcade original and the aforementioned HuCard release in a number of important ways--with nothing more than a fistful of o-fuda scrolls.

Do you have any favorites when it comes to women who have starring roles in Famicom games? If so, let me know which ones in the comments section that follows.

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