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Killing time at the airport the other day, I got that whisper of a question in my head — that whisper I'm sure we've all heard… the one that says:
"Hey... just how many coin-operated arcade games were there that had a female protagonist?"
Now, I'm talking about arcade games where the only possible protagonist was female (unlike games where you could choose a different character one of which was female [Gauntlet], or games where you were female for just one particular part [Return of the Jedi], or games where player one was female, but player two was male [Aliens]). I'm also not talking about games where the gender could have been either [Space Invaders, Asteroids, PONG].

Searching my little mind I could come up with only the following:

  • Black Widow - Atari, 1982 - a vector graphics game, you played a spider endowed with the ability to shoot. Gameplay was controlled via two joysticks a'la Robotron. From your web you had to shoot approaching bugs before they touch you. Once killed, the bugs turned into "$" symbols which you could then collect. One wonders how exactly an arachnid would dispose of said monetary income...
    I'm pretty sure this was a female spider because I think it had the "hourglass" mark (which I believe the male lacks).
  • Granny and the Gators - Bally-Midway, 1983 - one of those combination arcade/pinball games (like Baby Pac Man) that never really seemed to catch on. I never played the game myself, but it alternated between the pinball portion and the arcade portion — the latter having you paddle down a river avoiding alligators.
  • Kangaroo - Sun Electronics (Atari license), 1982 - in this game you played a mother kangaroo whose child is kidnapped (by monkeys?) and taken high into some trees. Luckily you happen to be wearing a pair of boxing gloves. No question what a mother needs to do — save that baby by climbing ladders and jumping from branch to branch while protecting yourself from (by punching) thrown coconuts.
  • Ladybug - Universal, 1981 - a Pac Man-like game that went a step further as most of the walls could be turned like the hidden wall in Young Frankenstein ("pt duh cndl beck!"). This made for gameplay that wasn't as black and white as Pac — a quick escape by turning a wall might save you from one baddie only to put you into the hands of another. Although ladybugs come in both genders (see A Bug's Life), I think this one was meant to be female.
  • Ms. Pac Man - Midway, 1981 - of course. This was a spruced up version of Pac Man. You'll still see it every once in a while in the corner of some restaurant in a town you're passing through. If I recall, she had lipstick, a mole, and a hair ribbon (yet no hair).
  • Ms. Pac Man Plus - Midway, 1981 - same gameplay, same characters, same everythi... wait a second, different mazes. See gamemaker, see gamemaker with a hit on it's hands, see gamemaker milk theme for all it's worth — I'm still waiting for Ms. Super Pac Man Junior Plus Plus Deluxe myself...
  • Pooyan - Konami, 1982 - you played a mother pig trying to keep her wee piglets safe from the clutches of little wolves. You piloted a little elevator (powered by two of your offspring) up and down, shooting arrows at the wolves who glided up and/or down on balloons. I don't think you could actually shoot the wolves — they would raise a hairy arm and deflect the arrow (that's some tough skin!) — you had to shoot their balloons. It had cute cartoon-looking graphics.
Here are games that I have been /msg'ed about:
  • Rod-Land - Jaleco, 1990 - Clone tells me that in this game, which he says is very much like Bubble Bobble, both players are female.
  • Money Puzzle Exchanger / Money Idol Exchanger - Face, 1997 - koala let me know that every character in this game is female — even the opponents.
  • Sailor Moon - Banpresto, 1995 - virtual fount of knowledge holliman gave me the heads up about this Final Fight clone. Sailor Moon? Yep, she's female.
  • Athena - SNK, 1986 - that wacky holliman told me of this one as well; from a screenshot I found, it looks like Ghosts 'n Goblins but cuter.
  • Wonder Momo - Namco, 1987 - never having heard of this game that holliman /msg'ed me about, I looked online and got the 411. Apparently, it's a weird little action game. The character of Momo is not a super heroine that protects the Earth from aliens, but she plays one on stage. Seriously. Gameplay takes place on a stage floor, there is a cheering audience, and if you walk to the edge you see the curtain. Hmm...
  • Legend of Valkyrie - Namco, 1989 - yet another holliman addition. In this overhead action game you are a female warrior. Word on the street has it that the music is "catchy".
  • Um Jammer Lammy - Namco, 1999 - that holliman, is there no stopping him? All I can say is that this game has the most frightening cabinet I've ever seen.
  • Ninja Princess (it's the Japanese version of Sega Ninja) - Sega, 1985 - Ladies and gentleman... holliman! Hey, I remember this one! As a female ninja, you walk up the screen hucking ninja stars at attacking ninjas. (Since Sega Ninja is identical I won't add it to the list)
  • Cotton - Success, 1989 - holliman, holliman, holliman. In this horizontal shooter you controlled a cute little witch. Ain't life grand?
  • Alice In Wonderland (US) - Namco, 1988 - "drink me" says holliman. In this game you moved Alice along a scrolling platform. Enemies? No problem, just knock them off with your handy bubble blower. Don't forget to jump over thrown marbles! Tidbit o' trivia: the Japanese version was called Marchen Maze.
  • Psycho Soldier - SNK, 1986 - Thanks to Brian Feldman for pointing this one out. In this multi-level side-scrolling game you play Athena (who first appeared in the aforementioned game Athena). Player number two is Athena's good friend "Kensu", also female. Although no specific mention is made of when they first became friends, I like to imagine that it involved some sort of madcap mix-up at a Scandinavian bakery. From the screen shot I've seen, the game looks like a cross between Son Son and Rolling Thunder. At the end of the game both characters perform a concert — it was one of the first video games to have a full-length vocal soundtrack — because of this, the board was comparatively huge; it consisted of three printed circuit boards full of integrated circuits all sandwiched together. Athena and Kensu, the two Psycho Soldiers, would make a later appearance in Neo-Geo's "King of Fighters" series — that Athena's building quite the résumé. Note: since adding Psycho Soldier there has been some question as to the exact gender of Kensu — I'll leave the game on the list until I learn more.
  • Metroid (PlayChoice-10) - Nintendo, 1986/87 - Guide Samus Aran on her quest to reach the "Mother Brain". Didn't know she was female? Make it to the end and you'll see her whip off her helmet revealing long flowing tresses of hair. "But couldn't it just be that Steven Seagal guy?" you ask... not unless he also sports a green bikini. I owe both erikbjo and Truffle a coke for spotting this one.
  • Flashgal - Sega, 1985 - The game that seeks to answer the question: "What would happen if a mysterious evil man sent his goons to stop a dead-ringer for Wonder Woman from taking a stroll?". Props to UncleNick for taking me to school.
  • Tropical Angel - Irem, 1983 - In this water-skiing game there's no tellin' the gender of who's driving the boat, but the skiier is most-definitely female. A milk-and-pepsi to TheBooBooKitty for letting me know.
I just know I am over-looking some, if you think of any, drop me a /msg and I'll add them. Got a hankering to play these old games? MacMAME (for Mac) or MAME (for PC) will let you play most of them... Also, you can play a couple of them using the magic of Java on your browser; just go to http://web.utanet.at/nkehrer/jae.html

Special thanks to gamebase.retrogames.com, www.klov.com, and www.mame.dk who unwittingly played the Sam to my Quincy, M.E.

Games that almost but not quite make the cut:

  • Twinkle Star Sprites - SNK/ADK, 1996 - "has a female main character, although it also has a battle mode which allows other characters (mostly female), to be played as well. But the main game (story mode), is a female." — TheBooBooKitty
  • Metal and Lace: Battle of the Robo Babes - "A fighting game with anime girls where all the characters on screen (as far as I got, at least) are female." — StarChaser_Tyger

Computer or video games (but not coin-op games) with female protagonists:

  • althorrat says "They're not exactly arcade games, but [Sierra's] King's Quest IV and VII both had only female protagonists." and "Again, not arcade games (to my knowledge), but No One Lives Forever and its sequel both have a female protagonist (Cate Archer). There was also a Wheel of Time game where you play as a female Aes Sedai.
  • Pseudo_Intellectual points me to Moby Games' page at http://www.mobygames.com/game_group/sheet/gameGroupId,712/ where they've compiled a similar list for computer and video game machines (Nintendo, XBOX, etc).
  • Kilbaba says "Something missed by Mobygames is the Arkanoid clone Blocken. (http://klov.com/game_detail.php?letter=B&game_id=7161 In fact, all characters are female except for the final boss' bodyguards (refs to anime series) and Masaya's gay gay FLAMING gay flagship character, the bodybuilder Samson. (Cho Aniki) Translated only into other Asiatic languages, so I don't know the story. (They seemed to have a lot of unreleased M.A.M.E. games so I'm surprised they missed this.) It appears that the evil princess steals something from the protagonist, a magical girl. Gameplay functions like a cross between Arkanoid and a Tetris battlegame. Throughout the stage there are star blocks. Hit them to release stars. Grab the stars to build up the power meter. The more it's filled up when you hit the button, the more blocks your opponent gets. Play continues until they're pushed off the screen or miss the ball."

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