Welcome to the Character Spotlight! This is a new recurring segment wherein we will be talking about various video game characters, discussing and (over)analyzing how they changed over time, contemplate their place within their corresponding franchise or franchises, and overall conclude what they've contributed to both their respective companies and pop culture. Today, we direct the light to Pauline from the Donkey Kong and Super Mario games!
Pauline is the O.G., Ground Zero, Prima Signora, FIRST LADY of the Mario franchise. Not even Princess Peach with all of her false modesty can make such a claim. And since Mario spun off from Donkey Kong, that also -- by extension -- makes her the First Lady of the Donkey Kong franchise. Yes, Pauline beat Candy, Dixie, and Winnie to the punch. She's quite literally the First Lady, her original name was "Lady".
Created by Shigeru Miyamoto, Pauline/Lady made her first appearance in the 1981 arcade classic Donkey Kong. She was merely Mario/Jumpman's blonde, pink dress-wearing girlfriend who needed saving from the titular ape. Seeing as how Donkey Kong pastiches the finale the classic 1933 film King Kong, Pauline as Lady is stand-in and dead-ringer for Ann, the female lead of that movie. The name "Pauline" was a creative liberty fabricated by Nintendo of America to make her less generic. Good call, I'd say! After Donkey Kong's arcade release, Pauline was depicted with crude LCD graphics in the Game and Watch version.
Her next appearance was a Bonus Stage cameo in Vs. Pinball for the arcade, later ported to the Famicom (and later the NES) as "Pinball". This would be the first time that she would be portrayed as a brunette in game, all because of color limitations. Pauline was meant to be player 2 for the then-upcoming music-themed Famicom game Donkey Kong no Ongaku Asobi, but the game was ultimately canceled.
Aside from her appearance in the NES port of Donkey Kong, her inclusion in the Saturday Morning Saturcade cartoon and a few panels in the screwball Super Mario-kun manga, Pauline more or less languished in a state of obscurity and non-representation for almost a decade. Why is this? Presumably, because Mario moved on to Peach and Daisy? Was it because the Mario games moved on from an exaggerated, cartoonish urban fantasy setting to the Alice in Wonderland-inspired fantasy world of the Mushroom Kingdom? Could Pauline not fit in this Brave New World?
Pauline's second major game appearance was in 1994's Donkey Kong for Game Boy (sometimes nicknamed “Donkey Kong GB” or “Donkey Kong ‘94” to prevent confusion). There's still not much to be said of personality, she's still a damsel-in-distress who needs to be rescued, but her artwork was finally updated to officially make her a brunette and obtained got her now trademark red digs. In fact, some lay people I speak to think that it was Peach who Mario had to rescue in the original game. So, I'm not opposed to this change.
In the mid-'90s, there seemed to be a certain degree of confusion and uncertainty as to WHO Pauline was on the Japanese side of things. Some Japanese material treated Pauline as if she was a new character created for Game Boy Donkey Kong. Other sources (Such as the Japanese book Mario Character Encyclopedia) identified and Lady as two seperate people.
After a few Game and Watch Gallery cameos, Pauline would go out-of-focus once more. in 2004, Pauline returned in Mario vs Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis for Nintendo DS. She's invited as a V.I.P. guest at Mario's toy factory. Sadly, she is ultimately a damsel-in-distress again, but at least she gets a cutscene. She would make further appearances in the Mario vs. Donkey Kong sub-franchise, which are the successors to the classic Donkey Kong arcade game and GB Donkey Kong.
After many, many years of being relegated to cameos, Pauline finally returned as a prominent supporting character in Super Mario Odyssey for Nintendo Switch. Here, Pauline is presented as the mayor of New Donk City, explicitly and retroactively establishing where the original Donkey Kong took place. It's revealed that the traumatic events of the original game inspired her to pursue office and ensure that they never happen to anyone else With Kate Higgins providing her voice, she gets some dialogue in and even gets to perform the game's breakout musical number "Jump Up, Super Star!" (a.k.a "NDC Festival") Whoever had the idea to give her a Camern Sandiego hat deserves a million bucks.
In March 2019, with 38 years of game history behind her, Pauline finally became playable as a DLC character in Mario Tennis Aces for the Nintendo Switch.
Starting off as the female lead, knocked to an obscure character and eventually rising to the ranks of supporting character, Pauline is a darkhorse of the Mario franchise. She’s been a part of the lore from day one. Super Mario Odyssey gave her some much needed exposure and a new generation of fans. Who knows where the next Mario games will take her!? Has the groundwork to being a Mario Kart racer or Smash Bros. fighter been laid for her!?