Sunday, March 16, 2014

Character Revival: Pauline

In this article I am going to discuss a character in the world of video games that has been very much forgotten over the years by many gamers. The character I will be talking about used to have a place in arguably one of the most recognizable video game series of all time. In the early 1980's everyone appeared to be just fine with having this character around as they flocked to the arcade machines and play a famous gem of an arcade game called Donkey Kong. Only the most passionate die hard Mario and Donkey Kong fans would know this character well enough and it has been the lack of utilizing this character in games today that helps keep her more on the anonymous side.

The character I am talking about is Pauline. Younger generations of gamers will be quick to ask just who Pauline is and that is quite understandable because of the fact that we rarely get any new content related to Pauline. For the record, she is not a mainstay staple character in the Super Mario universe and she hasn't been worked on as an important character in the main canon of the series for a variety of reasons. Some of us are quick to forget that while she has had the most impact as a damsel in distress, Princess Peach hasn't always been the damsel in distress that Mario has had to save. Princess Peach was one of the many changes that occurred in the Mario series and she represented a very subtle change that pretty much everybody accepted. The question now would be "Where did Pauline go?"

Pauline, along with Mario and the original Donkey Kong (who is now called Cranky Kong because of the times), helped bring to life the arcade game that was a fan favorite and she played an important role. Pauline was the first damsel in distress in the entire history of Mario and the fit was seamless. There was plenty of logic behind a story of a giant ape kidnapping a damsel in distress and keeping her away from the hero. You could obviously get the feeling that the movie King Kong was an inspiration behind the concept of Donkey Kong. Mario was the hero of this arcade game but there were a few things different about him at this time. For one thing, Mario hadn't received his name Mario yet in 1981. He was simply called Jumpman. Secondly, Mario's occupation in 1981 was that of a carpenter, so he wasn't even a plumber yet.

As the damsel who needed rescuing, Pauline was Mario's girlfriend and this was a confirmed fact by Nintendo. Now there obviously aren't extended explanations as to how Mario and Pauline got together but this fact does make for good video game trivia. The Donkey Kong arcade game was simplistic and easy to learn and the only thing that was significantly challenging was for gamers to see just how many points they could score in all the levels. When people think back to the game, though, the first thing they don't think about would be Pauline. In fact, she is probably the last thing people think about when they talk about the Donkey Kong arcade game. You are more likely to hear talk about how Mario jumped over the barrels or how menacing Donkey Kong appeared to be when throwing objects at Mario. Pauline? Well, she was just there standing helplessly at the top of each level, which is obviously not a fitting position for a damsel to be in.

What Went Wrong?

I don't believe it's a fair question to ask because nothing went wrong exactly with the implementation of Pauline in the 1981 arcade classic. It's just that sometimes companies will choose to go in a different direction altogether and they will sometimes abandon some things that made their games initially successful. Although she was fit to be a damsel in distress, most would admit that there was hardly any building blocks to use in developing the character of Pauline at the time. In 1981 Pauline didn't have the substance of a character that could last through the NES era of gaming, and in comparison, sliding Princess Peach into the role of damsel in distress later on became much more appealing and seamless. In summary, Pauline didn't do anything wrong but there wasn't enough for her to do.

How I would implement Pauline going forward...

In recent years, there has been a slight nod given to Pauline as she has become a more recognizable face in the Donkey Kong arcade game format. Pauline has appeared in any game that specifically relates to Mario taking on Donkey Kong in a competition. In the recent Mario Vs. Donkey Kong series, Pauline has returned to help Mario in running the Mini-Mario theme park and she has certainly done her part in making this theme park enjoyable for interested customers.

However, I don't at all believe that Nintendo is scratching the surface of what Pauline's potential could possibly be. You know that saying "What's old is new again"? Well, if there was any part of nostalgia that Nintendo could properly reinstate into the main Mario universe, then I strongly believe that it should be Pauline. Throughout the years since Pauline faded into obscurity, Nintendo has managed to introduce various female characters such as Princess Peach, Princess Daisy, Toadette, Goombella and Rosalina and each of these characters have been generally accepted by the public. Who is to say that a newly rebuilt Pauline with a new motivation would be a bad idea?

It has been stated in the Mario Vs. Donkey Kong series that Pauline's relationship with Mario has changed. Pauline is now just a close friend to Mario, which is understandable since Mario's new girlfriend is Peach. When we look at this character, there isn't much that we know about Pauline. We don't know what her background is. We don't know what she generally likes. We don't even know where she calls home. How do we fix this? I have a few suggestions to throw into the ring.

Option 1 - Make Pauline a heroine character

Nothing else would be able to say that a character has drastically changed than this suggestion. In certain ROM hacks we are able to see this idea play out where the roles between Mario and Pauline are swapped. Mario is now the one who needs rescuing in this sprite changed adventure and Pauline is the one doing all the jumping and climbing. You can look it up on YouTube to see what I mean by typing in "Donkey Kong Pauline Edition". Considering that she would be reintroduced in the main Mario series, if Pauline were to come back as an unlockable Playable Character without any previous hints toward her arrival, then just imagine how much buzz would be generated by the surprised gamers. In Super Mario 3D World, a recent installment of the Mario series on the Nintendo Wii U, Rosalina can be unlocked as a Playable Character after the player reaches a certain point of the game. I can definitely see a similar scenario playing out for Pauline if Nintendo ever wanted to put her back in the spotlight.

The key to this, though, is that it has to be a well kept secret, and I mean a VERY well kept secret in the hypothetical game. Sometimes good games are remembered by how many surprises they manage to pull off and this would be one of them. How would Pauline the heroine play? It's rather interesting because unique abilities have been taken by other characters. Princess Peach can float in mid air while she jumps. Luigi can jump higher than Mario. Toads are usually speedy when they run. I would suggest giving Pauline some sort of unique gliding attack. We could call it a Glide Jump and we can give specific rules for how the Glide Jump is used. For example, the Glide Jump can never be as effective as a Mario power-up like the Raccoon Suit, the Flying Squirrel Suit or the Cape from Super Mario World. I suppose the Glide Jump would be more subtle and much less powerful, able to defeat weak enemies but useless against stronger enemies.

What would be Pauline's motivation for wanting to go out and do battle against baddies? Perhaps Pauline could feel some sort of regret that she wasn't able to follow Mario in his adventures, so she would take it upon herself to prove that she can handle things just fine without getting kidnapped. Also, let's keep in mind that Pauline is not a figure of royalty. She isn't responsible for any monarchy in Mario's world, whereas Peach and Daisy have to be mindful of their kingdoms. Pauline would be free to go out and explore the world since she isn't held down by royal duties. Maybe Pauline would feel tired of not having to do anything important and would want to stop being quiet after all these years? (storyline-wise)

Option 2 - Make Pauline more available in other Mario events

While becoming a mainstay Playable Character could prove to be key, allowing Pauline to become more available on more Mario media platforms than just Mario Vs. Donkey Kong would be very wise. Nintendo has a history of bringing back beloved characters from certain games in the past and implementing them back into the fold for any Mario game, canon or non-canon, Pauline would be no different. If anything, I believe it would be a real treat if Pauline was given a chance to be playable in games such as Mario Party, Mario Kart, Mario Tennis, Mario Golf, etc. because gamers of today would be given the chance to see Pauline in action. Where did Waluigi get his first break? It was in Mario Tennis for the Nintendo 64, a non-canon game. How did Koopa become a respectable Playable Character for any kind of Mario game? Koopa got his first break in Mario Kart for the Super Nintendo (SNES). It has worked before and it can work again in Pauline's case.

Option 3 - Have Pauline betray Mario and his friends

This is polar opposite of suggesting that Pauline become a heroine character. This is to suggest that Pauline would make her triumphant return to the main Mario canon... and then pull the rug from under Mario's feet. We could play it out in one Mario game where Mario suddenly reunites with Pauline on a full-time basis, expanding on the close friendship that they have had in Mario Vs. Donkey Kong, but then the roller coaster ride would begin. We could play it out where Mario would be putting his focus on Pauline and not on Princess Peach, which would play a big role in the developing plot. Pauline would remind Mario of the various moments that they have had in the past but she wouldn't inform Mario on what's currently happening.

In this hypothetical Mario game, we could give out early implications that it would just be a situation of King Bowser has done something rotten and Mario has to go out and stop him. However, starting from the middle of the game and going forward, we would reveal that Bowser is just the decoy in all this and that he isn't the main threat to Mario and his friends. If anything, we could say that Bowser was planning on taking a vacation on a beach and Mario caught wind of a sinister side plan that Bowser wanted to execute before the vacation. I know that sounds a bit silly but it would break up some of the predictability of a Mario plot. This is a video game series for kids anyway, so we can afford to be a little bit silly.

Towards the end of the game, we would finally reveal that Pauline was the antagonistic spoiler right from the start. We could replay the sequences from the earlier parts of the game where we would show the true intentions behind Pauline's actions, tying up the questionable loose ends. Pauline would of course explain herself and she would mention the fact that she hasn't been given enough attention even as a friend. We could even show a brief flashback to the Donkey Kong arcade game to add that nostalgic punch. Mario would then be left with no other choice but to stop Pauline from causing harm to his captured friends and he would put an end to all the shenanigans. Having a plot similar to this could easily get the attention of gamers, both young and old, and it could be the type of narrative that people can refer back to and fondly remember.

In recent times Mario games have been called out by some fans and some critics as being a bit redundant, repetitive and rehashed. The plots between games generally do not change all that much and that has raised the eye brows of some fans for both neutral and negative reasons. It certainly would be a breath of fresh air for the Mario series if Pauline were to be brought back permanently and be used in a way that would get people talking about her.

Option 4 - Have Pauline be an assistant to Professor E. Gadd

This is an off the wall suggestion that would require a significant change in the character of Pauline. However, if you use your imagination for just a little bit, you could probably begin to imagine a scenario like this occurring. The objective is to give Pauline a defined purpose and a legitimate reason to be involved in Mario's adventures, and I believe that if she teamed up Professor E. Gadd and became well educated in the field of science, she might have something going for herself here. Of course, since Pauline is generally described as being pretty, we could find a way to make Pauline look more like nerd when it comes to looks. We could have her wear a pair of glasses and a white coat that professors usually wear in laboratories and go from there. This new identity for Pauline might just be enough to fool Mario when he finally does meet her in this new form, and then after a while it will dawn on Mario that the assistant was really Pauline.

I will close this by saying that there are many paths for the character of Pauline to take. I generally see the appeal of taking someone like Pauline and repackaging her into being someone more flexible in personality and more valuable in character importance. Pauline is the kind of character who can afford to be refreshed and updated to fit in with the current days of video games and I believe it would go over well. It has happened before in video game history that when a character doesn't work out in one role, it will take a change in the character for it to really blossom. Pauline is probably the prime candidate of that.

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