This is reprinted with permission from Chris’s personal blog. Chris is a hardcore retro video game enthusiast and when he isn’t play old games so bad they’ll make your eyes bleed he’s performing with his video game band, Gimmick! or playing bass for brentalfloss.

It's no Zelda 2 but it will do.

I don’t have to tell you that the game Metroid was a milestone in gaming. On top of being an early console game that favored dark, foreboding atmosphere over colorful, poppy backgrounds, it was a huge, complex, and excitingly dangerous shooting game that made you think.

Also, oh yeah, that’s a lady in that bounty hunter space suit, son!

Samus, get down from there, you don't belong in outer space without a suit, you're a human!

Often considered one of the most shocking, revolutionary moves in gaming, the “Samus is a GIRL” surprise ending (that the instruction book didn’t seem to know about) rocked our collective gaming world, and proved once and for all that women CAN star in video games!

While this is great (essential, even), the only thing is, despite what you may have heard, Samus isn’t the first lady to star in a video game! Not by a long shot! In fact, she’s not even the first to pull the “gender reveal” move! But I’m getting ahead of myself.

While I don’t have to tell you about Metroid, I’d like to tell you about 13 other women who, considerably less popularly, starred in video games made before Metroid‘s 1987* U.S. debut!

In order to keep the amount of entries to an arguably reasonable number, I set a few rules:

  • No Ms. Pac-Man or other abstract shapes, no matter how feminine.
  • No “player 2′s”, that is, no games where you can choose to be a male instead of a female or where the lady of the game is relegated to second player. These are women of default player status.
  • No previously-established literary characters; all of these characters are either original to the games or the other pop media for which they were created.
  • Nothing from games that were designed for the early childhood set, such as 1986′s Cabbage Patch Kids: Adventures in the Park, because what the hell.
  • None of those Atari-era porno games, because no. NO. (no no no)

So, without further adieu, here are our 13 mostly original, mostly non-children, mostly non-nude human heroines of pre-1987 gaming, in somewhat chronological order:

1. Benthi, Galactic Saga IV: Tawala’s Last Redoubt (1981)

Goodness, what a title…

Tawala’s Last Redoubt is the fourth title in a series called Galactic Saga, which was a text-based strategy game developed for computers, most notably the Apple II.

WHOA NICE GRAPHICS

While each game is considered (by folks much older than myself) to be a large influence on other text-based strategy games on the Apple II, Tawala was the first and only title in the series to star Benthi, a rebel leader and, presumably, all around badass.

Mind you, given the earliness of these games, that badassery doesn’t really come across graphically, in fact I watched this video of the game being played and she seems to be represented by little more than a tent and some words.

Another option could be "Finish Coloring Mountains", but this is cool too I guess.

Still, you’re a lady in a tent who is attempting to take down the established world government in the form of the titular despot Tawala, and conquer an entire planet with a starting army of only 100 soldiers and 15 guns. I’m not sure how that isn’t awesome.

2. Kim Kimberly, Snowball: Return To Eden (1983, 1984)

IN SPACE

Next in the text-based is the protagonist of the first two “interactive fiction” games out of a trilogy called Silicon Dreams, which was released on pretty much every ancient computer.

Yes, even this one.

Your adventure starts with Kim Kimberly waking up from a space-nap on board the Snowball 9, en route to colonize a distant planet, whereupon she discovers that her shipmates have been murdered and the ship has been set on a collision course with the sun. Man, hate it when that happens.

Anyway, her remarkably content-heavy adventure takes her across an impressive 7000 locations (250 in the sequel; considerably less because they actually had graphics in that game!) In them, her character is actually written to be somewhat gender neutral; the name “Kim” supposedly chosen to be androgynous, but it’s established in small ways that she is in fact a lady, and the third game in the series (set way after the events of the first two games and starring a nameless male), she is quite clearly described as a “tall, athletic, intelligent woman with brown eyes and fair hair.”

Google Images tells me this is her, but I think we may be dealing with an imposter, or at least a plagiarizer.

3. Papri, Girl’s Garden (1984)

This Japan-only title is probably most notable for being the first title developed by Yuji Naka, the dude who not only co-created Phantasy Star** and invented its innovative “3D scrolling” dungeons, but was also the main programmer behind Sonic The Hedgehog.

Can't you tell?

The female lead in this game is rather notable for at least one reason: the game had a rather unique approach to mixing its adventure game qualities with an early “dating sim” feature, and so one of your tasks is to charm the pants off your darling boy toy Minto.

We only have 2 love and 5 monies, but boy do we have the CRAP out of flowers. Will you marry me?

While certainly not significantly girl-powered or anything, it’s at least an interesting thing to behold, as it’s kind of a role reversl for the time. Minto is real fond of flowers, and Papri picks them for him while avoiding bears and what-not.

That’s right, this game has you running away from all kinds of crazy things that want to kill you on your way to woo your little blue boy, and most of those things are freaking BEARS.

Aww he looks so cute OH NO HE'S CHEWING ON MY FACE AND BODY

Best part is, since this is an early video game, your darling Minto will run away with your rival if you don’t succeed in bringing him enough slightly ursine-gnawed flowers. Who said games for girls were easy? (Editor’s Note: Only dicks.)

4. Barbie, Barbie (1984)

OK, I know, this one breaks 2 of my rules (no children’s toys and no previously-established literary characters), but I can’t help myself.

So just deal with it <3

The first video game to feature everyone’s favorite ode to sexism, Barbara Millicent Rogers, Epyx’s Barbie was also apparently one of computer gaming’s first “talkies”!

Neat right? But I didn’t say it was going to be all good.

As this video illustrates, a nearly comatose Barbie is invited by her equally lethargic plastic boyfriend Ken to go to the pool, and your sacred quest is to make sure she does enough shopping to find the right outfit for the job. It’s no blasting aliens on a desolate planet, but man you’d think it was gaming gold based on the YouTube comment section!

"this was my favorite game in the whole world. i would play it everyday " - Youtube user

5. Princess Kurumi, Princess Ninja (Sega Ninja) (1985)

Designed by Reiko Kodama, one of the more famous female developers during Sega’s early console days (credited as Executive Designer on Phantasy Star), Princess Ninja was a top-down shooter in the vein of Ikari Warriors or Guerrilla War. You play the titular (tee hee) Princess, who was apparently designed to not wear pants, but oh well.

Why are all those dudes standing behind her... ohhhhh

Kurumi’s adventure takes her across Edo-era Japan, where she pantslessly shurikens everything in sight, and I’m not going to lie, it’s awesome.

Something that’s interesting to note, however; its home port, on the SG-1000 system in Japan, was re-titled Sega Ninja and then actually brought over to America’s Master System as The Ninja (a no-nonsense title if I ever heard one). That’s all well and good, but what’s wrong with this picture?

Besides that forced perspective thing making that flying ninja star look like a hub cap.

That’s right! Our ninja princess has suddenly changed into a male character!

At least he got some pants on the trip overseas.

Future compilations of old Sega arcade games corrected this and put the Princess back in her place (throwing ninja stars at everything, duh), but they were too late. The Ninja wound up being a proverbial drop in the bucket in terms of classic ninja games, whereas Sega could have really set themselves apart by boasting a lady in the lead role.

By the way, on top of being a female-fronted shooter predating Metroid by about a year, Princess Ninja also predates Sega’s most famous ninja, Joe Musashi of the Shinobi series, by 2 years! That’s right, she’s the original Sega ninja; so sneaky that we didn’t even know she was supposed to be a girl in the first place. Hence, the best ninja.

6. Reika Kirishima, Time Gal (1985)

Hey you! Do you remember Dragon’s Lair? No not that one!

Well, in case you’re not hip to the laserdisc era of gaming (which I’ll understand because it was brief and not all that great), basically it was the first in a series of games wherein you control a character through a fully animated adventure, where you must push the right button at the right time in order to not die. Nowadays this gimmick only appears briefly in some games and we now know it as “Quick Time Events”.

In this niche of niches, there existed at least one particularly excitable girl named Reika, and her quest was a confusing romp through time called Time Gal!

Also, surprise, no pants.

The game was beautifully animated and rather well-made for the time (remember, this is BEFORE Metroid), and was met with a fairly good reception. Personally, I really like that the game actually gives you some kind of damn clue as to what you should be doing to proceed. I’m still peeved at Dragon’s Lair for offering no such information as I continually dumped quarters into it as a kid, waiting for some kind of gameplay to show up.

Anyway, despite the game’s quality, 1985 was actually a bit late for this kind of game, and not enough people were still into the interactive-movie thing enough to make this one much of a classic.

It’s really too bad, because I would have liked to see where else Taito could have taken the character. Reika has a LOT of personality (bordering on some kind of personality disorder, if we’re being honest here), and though her design was clearly based off of Manga eye-candy, she brought a lot of life and humor to the table, even if in a declining format.

Interestingly, however, she is one of the few ladies on this list that has seen the light of day since the Reagan era; Reika is a main character in Castle of Shikigami III, which is the newest in my favorite shooter series. Naturally, she brought her garrulous nature and knack for bad jokes with her, with often-amazing results.

In the process of being updated they decided to give her more clothes…also a hat for some reason.

Can you even tell which one is Time Gal though?

“Space is an ocean of Space.” – Never truer words were uttered.

7. Toby “Kissy” Masuyo, Baraduke (1985)

There was indeed a character in gaming that, at least on paper, was as close to a Samus Aran progenitor as this list can get.

For this cover alone, if Baraduke was an NES game I would have bought it twice already.

Baraduke (also known as Alien Sector) was a level-based arcade shooter that Namco came out with in 1985. It stars, get this, a person of indiscriminate gender, wearing a yellow space suit with red accents, plowing further and further into an alien planet, destroying things with a wave gun and collecting items, until finally the end goal is reached and you find out it was a woman the whole time!

In the most confusing way possible!

Remember, this was a year before Metroid debuted in Japan, and “Kissy” had already established some of Samus’ most famous tropes. Of course, the game is totally different, albeit totally awesome, but the similarities are interesting to note. I mean, look at her:

Seriously, at first glance you would swear this was Samus fan art that was just taking some liberties with her weapon.

As far as the character goes. while Metroid went on to be a heavy hitting (if not chronologically confusing) series for Nintendo spanning 11 main titles, Toby “Kissy” Masuyo starred in exactly one sequel before retiring from being a badass female video game hero. That’s not where her story ends, though…

What I am about to tell you is completely true and taken straight from Namco’s official canon: after the events in the Baraduke games, Toby settled down with the main character from Dig Dug, and they had three children together before separating for reasons that were never explained. (She caught him drilling another woman?)

One of those children was the freaking main character from Mr. Driller.

Not even a joke, that’s Namco’s official story. She actually makes appearances in the Mr. Driller games under the name “Masuyo Tobi”.

Also she looks like this now:

This is supposedly a woman in her 40's by the way.

8.Lady Master of Kung Fu (1985)

I could find very little information about Lady Master of Kung Fu, but it was definitely an arcade game that came out in 1985 and stars another pantsless female martial artist. (Editor’s Note: What were they allergic)

The game was made by Taito. In the early days that means we were guaranteed two things: goofy platforming action and at least one silly typo or mistranslation.

We have met our quota!

As this helpful gameplay video demonstrates, your mission is to go into some rooms, defeat some bad guys, then do the whole thing over again in the same rooms with the same bad guys until the game stops making you do that.

Like Metroid and its infamous “bikini” ending, however, you are rewarded for your gameplay with the unnamed heroine being seen, in the same pose as on the cover screen, with less clothes on. The difference here being that, unlike Samus ultimately stripping down to a tasteful two-piece (SPACE two-piece), your ultimate reward for Lady Master of Kung Fu is that the main character goes full topless.

I… good for her, I guess?

9. Valkyrie, Valkyrie no Bōken: Toki no Kagi Densetsu (1986)

Another game from Namco starring a lady, Valkyrie tells the story of a brave Valkyrie named “Valkyrie” (ok so Namco wasn’t the best at imagination) who must venture forth to defeat baddies and… actually I think that’s pretty much it. There’s something about an evil Wizard in there somewhere.

Interestingly, being an action RPG, the game has you level up as you hack and slash your way through the various dungeons, but your method of growth is determined by two factors you choose at the beginning of the game: your blood type and horoscope!

Other than that… uhh… I really got nothing. There were some much more popular arcade-style sequels (largely on the TG-16) that gave her a cute amphibian sidekick named Krino Sandra (also known as Xandra), who got to star in one of the sequels as “Whirlo”. Incidentally, Whirlo was the only game in the Valkyrie series to ever be initially ported to consoles in English, albeit only in Europe and Australia.

That’s right, Valkyrie got the multi-regional shaft and we very nearly got this thing:

Because we definitely needed another anthropomorphic animal mascot!

It wasn’t until 1997 that a Valkyrie game was finally translated and released in the U.S.: The Legend of Valkyrie, which was included on NamcoMuseum Vol. 5 along with… surprise! Baraduke!

10. Yuko Ahso, Valis: The Fantasm Soldier (1986)

While this one didn’t find its way onto a console for the first time until a year after Metroid‘s release (nor in America until 4 years later), the Valis series is at least comparatively well-known, particularly to Sega and TurboGrafx/CD fans, or perhaps, exclusively to Sega and TurboGrafx/CD fans.

The lack of pants are actually the lesser of my worries with this one.

As it happens, the first game in this cult classic series was available for Japan’s exclusive MSX, PC-88, and PC-98 computers as early as 1986. Heck, it was even released on the Famicom, albeit poorly.

Looks fine to me

As it happens, the Valis we all(?) know and love eventually found its American home on our Genesis and TurboGrafx systems. Apparently the most thorough Valis ports were released on the TurboGrafx CD attachment, where the 4-part series enjoyed CD quality music, smooth gameplay, really interesting story-lines, anime-styled cut-scenes…

OH COME ON

Yeah, so the “anime style cut-scenes” tended to favor a bit of ol’ ribaldry and peekaboo while also telling the story of an unassuming school girl who is thrust into high adventure by a magical sword and courageously confronts evil in an awesome side-scrolling adventure, but at least in the actual game she doesn’t show her underwear during every jump animation!

Oh wait.

Well at least it’s better than the cover for Valis III:

The ultimate in shoulder and boob protection!

11. All cast, Gall Force (1986)

I really hope the person who romanized this knew that "Gall" and "Gal" are two different things in
English, and that this game really is about a force of pure gall.

Released by Hal Laboratories (yes, the Kirby/Earthbound people), this vertical shooter stars not one, but seven female protagonists, and they’re all wearing pants!

The game is actually based off an anime/manga series, which I know breaks one of my rules, but this is awesome.

If I'd seen this on the back of a NES cart at any point between age 10 and right now, I would have bought 4 of them.

12. Ki, Ki no Bouken (1987***)

Here’s a game you probably know if, like me, you’re an obsessed GameCenter CX fan.

Seriously, how could you look upon this man and not spend hundreds of hours watching him fail?

One of the craziest things Shinya Arino (pictured) ever did in his quest to beat really hard games despite not being able to, was to challenge Ki no Bouken, or Quest of Ki.

"NAMCOT"? Is that like Malk?

Ki no Bouken was developed by Namco (man did they love their female protagonists!) as the third game in the four-game series that began with The Tower of Druaga, Namco’s rather famous maze-based hack ‘n’ slash dungeon crawler.

How could you see this in an arcade and NOT play it, I ask you.

In Tower of Druaga, you play as Babylonian hero Gilgamesh, who is sent to rescue Ki from the clutches of the evil demon Druaga. Despite what you may think, Ki was no ordinary maiden in distress, in fact she’s a rather capable magician, which the sequel, The Return of Ishtar, aptly demonstrates.

Ki no Bouken, the third adventure and Ki’s break-out solo game, was actually a prequel to all of this, as it chronicles Ki’s failed quest to retrieve some blue thing from the clutches of Druaga.

See there it is

I say “failed” and I meant it: you are given no weapons or means to defend yourself within the monster (and, oddly, Pac-Man ghost)-filled dungeon, and instead must float pacifist-like over the dangers that can take you down in one hit. Understandably, this makes for a very tough game.

I feel like I've seen these red bricks before...

The best part is, at the end, when you’ve finally reached level 60 (the same level Gilgamesh must reach in Tower of Druaga), you go to grab that beautiful blue MacGuffin and are instantly turned to stone. The end!

Oh uh spoiler alert I guess

No…wait. Then the game throws 40 more stages at you, because it very likely hates you. At least that one song is pretty catchy.

While fireballs, floating, and insane difficulty make Ki a badass in my book, she eventually did become a simple damsel in distress in 2008′s Nightmare of Druaga, in which Ki, now engaged to Gilgamesh, is kidnapped and you have to go rescue her again and etc.

And they've hung her upside down by her skirt and everything...

Personally, I would have preferred it the other way around… in fact…

13. Lucia, Wing of Madoola (1986)

In Wing of Madoola, created by Sunsoft in 1986, you play as a badass warrior called Lucia who is charged by the royal family with the task of finding a sacred artifact (called the “Wing of Madoola”, appropriately enough) by hacking and slashing her way through multiple stages of action platforming.

You know what, nevermind

But that’s not all! In a move that makes Wing of Madoola one of my favorite entries in this list, you also have to save a goddamn Prince.

Thank you Lucia but your prince is in another vacuum of time and space

The game itself is pretty kickass (if not slightly repetitive); it includes item collection, powering up, using the relic you were sent to obtain to fly around way better than Ki up there, and you even get to have a flamethrower-sword battle to the death with a gosh-darn dragon at the end.

What tickles me about this game is that it’s totally the biggest cliché in literature turned on its ear! I mean, of course the Princess has rescued the Prince before (heck, sometimes even within the same universe), but that it occurred in a video game released before America even knew non-circular females could
exist in video games as anything other than the princess is kind of mind-blowing.

And the game doesn't even give a crap. It'll kill you good either way

The even more mind-blowing thing about Wing of Madoola becomes kind of obvious as you watch the game play (especially the ending):

Minto, is that you?

Why wasn’t this game released in America? It’s already entirely in English.

In fact, “brighted over the world for peace” notwithstanding, it seems to be in better shape than the ending to Metroid, which had entirely questionable grammar and a rather obvious misspelling.

Space bikini time!

There just seems to be no real reason why Sunsoft wouldn’t have released the game over here. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the game wasn’t too old (they ported 1983′s Spy Hunter over here for goodness’ sakes), it certainly wasn’t too hard, considering Sunsoft’s legacy of making difficult games, and it was at least popular enough in Japan that GameCenter CX had it on as a challenge…

Maybe it has something to do with that whole “games are for boys” attitude that’s been pervading American gaming culture since it began unto today?

Heavy Handed Conclusion

Feel free to draw your own conclusions from all this, but it seems to me that the perception of American gamers in the 1980′s was perhaps that we weren’t “ready,” somehow, for females to be the lead in our video games. Maybe that’s the reason that Metroid is rightfully regarded as being a milestone in the gaming world. Sure, it took a roundabout way of doing it, but the fact that Samus was there, blasting away aliens along with the big boys, being in no way in any kind of distress (well, unless I’m playing; I’m awful at Metroid) really opened a door that none of these other ladies could. It’s a shame that gaming in America had to take decades to openly accept women as video game heroes and, even then, we hardly ever seem to get it just right (in fact, Samus herself had to take a huge blow to her equality for no real reason). Had we learned to accept the fact that great video games can totally have women in the lead, we could have had a few more really great games over here getting that equality party started early. You know, except for Barbie and all that.

So, you know, write to your congressman (or woman) and stuff. (Editor’s Note: Or buy Tomb Raider in March.) I’m going to play some Valis

DAMMIT

Thanks for reading!

*I picked 1987 because, while Metroid was indeed developed and released in Japan in 1986, so were a few of the examples I want to talk about, and some of the dates are cloudy at best. While some of these may not technically predate Metroid‘s 1986 release, they were at least close enough to not be considered derivative. Anyway, if you’re really the kind of person who has to be nitpicky about calendar dates, understand that you’re reading this well after the world was supposed to explode.

**And it’s a real shame I had to go with 1987 as well because Phantasy Star, Sega’s flagship RPG series that stars an awesome lady by the name of Alis Landale, was released toward the end of that year. She’ll show up on this blog though, worry you not.

***There seems to be a lot of confusion on the internet about exactly when Ki no Bouken was released. While Wikipedia claims 1988 a lot, that episode of GameCenter CX claims 1987, and some other sources have claimed 1986, though this is unlikely since The Return of Ishtar has 1986 tagged as the release year. 1987 (and definitely 1988) would have probably knocked Ki off this list, but she’s a little bit of an exception to the rule because she definitely was in a game as a playable character in 1986 (and was introduced as a character in 1984), but didn’t star in her own video game until some questionable date somewhere around Metroid‘s release. Either way, I think she’s awesome so she’s in. It’s my blog and I’ll do what I want with it!