Princess Peach may be Mario’s most famous love interest and damsel in distress, but she wasn’t his first. That honor would go to Pauline, the tall slender brunette (although she was blonde at the time) who joined Mario for his very first appearance back in 1981. Not only is she Mario’s OG girlfriend, but her role as a damsel in a video game was among the first of its kind. With honors like that–combined with her incredible fashion sense–you’d assume Pauline is one of the faces of Nintendo, but the character has faded in and out of obscurity through the years, especially with the introduction of Mario’s main squeeze, Princess Peach.
Pauline is slowly making her come back out of obscurity with a substantial role in Super Mario: Odyssey and as a playable character in Mario Tennis: Aces in which her wit and charm (not to mention great looks) is on full display.
Pauline (also known as The Lady) appeared in the 1981 arcade game, Donkey Kong, which marked her debut in both the Mario and Donkey Kong franchises. In the game, she is captured by Mario’s pet, Donkey Kong who takes her to the top of a tall building. She loses several accessories in the process which Mario can collect for bonuses. After four levels, Mario traps Donkey Kong, causing the gargantuan ape to plummet from the top of the building, and reunites with his first love, sharing a tender moment with her just as the game ends. The Lady received her official name of Pauline in 1985, and was named after Polly James, the wife of Nintendo’s warehouse manager, Don James.
During this time, there was some confusion about who exactly Pauline was. Some material presented Pauline as a new character created for the Game Boy version of Donkey Kong, while other sources—like the Mario Character Encyclopedia—identified her and the Lady as two separate people.
Pauline would again appear in the Donkey Kong Game and Watch and Game Boy versions, and in a pinball game, in which she is trapped on the top of the screen and must be rescued by Mario. She was also featured in the Saturday Supercade animated television series which ran for two seasons from 1983-1984. Voiced by Judy Strangis, Pauline works alongside Mario as his assistant, and is often seen attempting to capture Donkey Kong along with her boss. Her role in the television series marked Pauline’s last appearance in anything related to Nintendo or the Mario franchise until the 2006 release of Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: March for the Minis, in which she is Mario’s guest of honor at the grand opening of the Super Mini Mario World theme park. While working at the Mario Toy Company, Donkey Kong sees Pauline in attendance and becomes infatuated with her. Hoping to gain her attention, he presents her with Mini Donkey Kong but she turns down his gift in favor of Mario’s, enraging the ape who kidnaps her. Mario rescues her at the end of the game, and Pauline makes peace with the parties by accepting Donkey Kong’s gift.
Pauline played the role as the damsel in the proceeding Mario vs. Donkey Kong games. Despite always being kidnapped by Donkey Kong, she’s friendly and warm, and eventually starts working with the ape in Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move when the two characters open an arcade in Mini Land. Pauline isn’t kidnapped in this game; instead she hosts several minigames and congratulates the player on their wins.
Over the next few years, Pauline would make cameo appearances as trophies or background art in various Mario and Donkey Kong games, but she wouldn’t have a substantial role in any Nintendo title until the 2017 release of the critically acclaimed Super Mario Odyssey. The game thrust Pauline into a role like never before. Not only is she the mayor of New Donk City, but she’s damn good at her job, with posters of her face hanging all over the city and commemorative parks named after her. In a Reddit AMA producer Yoshiaki Koizumi said the game developers wanted to give players something familiar to focus on while in a strange place.
“When we were deciding which Kingdoms to have in the game, we knew we wanted the city environment, and we wanted something that would have resonance with players,” Koizumi said. “We knew that players know Pauline so we of course wanted to make her the mayor of New Donk City. It’s important to note that thought they are called Kingdoms, they do not necessarily have royalty, and that’s why she’s the mayor.”
Of course, for someone as fantastic as Pauline, being mayor isn’t enough, and after Mario saves the city from Bowser’s schemes, she asks him to help rebuild her band–of which she is the lead singer–prior to the city’s upcoming festival. In fact, it’s Pauline’s vocals players hear in the songs “Let’s Do the Odyssey”/ “Jump Up Super Star” during which she performs dance moves similar to the way her character moved in her 1981 debut.
“As we were developing Pauline more as a character, we know that she was going to be interested in jazz,” Koizumi said. “It was interesting for us to have the first song in a Mario game with vocals.”
Following the festival, Pauline is forced to attend the wedding between Bowser and Peach, although Mario arrives at the nick of time to save his true love and stop Bowser’s insidious schemes from coming to fruition. In the post-game, Mario quizzes Pauline about facts of her life, and she states that while her capture at the hands of Donkey Kong was traumatic, it helped her grow as a person, and that her special red hat is one of her favorite things.
The 2018 release of Mario Tennis Aces marks the first time Pauline is a playable character (outside of a mod videogame developer Mike Mika created for the first Donkey Kong game so his daughter could play as Pauline instead of Mario), and wears a sports suit akin to the style of the ones worn by Daisy, Rosalina and Peach. Her emblem resembles a pair of red lips in the shape of heart, and she is classified as a speedy -type character. Players can also control Pauline in 2019 mobile game Mario Kart Tour in which her special item is a Lucky Seven, a rare power up that conjures up seven different special items at once that surround the player and their kart.
With her playable roles in both Mario Tennis Aces and Mario Kart Tour, as well as her popularity following her appearance and role Super Mario Odyssey, we may see more of the character in future Nintendo titles. Interestingly, the character holds the record for the most years–38– between her debut in Donkey Kong to her playable role in Mario Tennis Aces.
BY MACK VELTMAN
What do you think of Pauline? Would you like to see more of her in the future? Let me know in the comments and stay nerdy!
7 Replies to “An Ode to Pauline, Mario’s OG Girlfriend and Nintendo Rising Star”
I love your article so much. ❤️ It’s really impressive that after decades of obscurity and npc roles she’s finally playable and in the spotlight. Can’t wait to see her in future playable roles, she’s got my full support.
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Yes I am so excited to see her in future games! She’s the only character I play in Mario Tennis Aces (can’t help myself 🤣) and I would love to play her in the next Mario Kart. Thanks for reading my article!!
It was quite convenient for me to find this article on my birthday of all days. I’m a trans girl, just recently began transitioning, and I named myself after Pauline because I love her so much and strive to be as classy and beautiful as she is. This was a really nice read and I thank you warmly for putting it together.
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First of all, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!! 🎊🎁🎂 and secondly, CONGRATS WITH TRANSITIONING! That’s so exciting and Pauline is such a great character to draw inspiration from. She’s honestly the best, she’s just herself and happy for it, and she’s everything you mentioned. Best of luck on your journey and I hope you have an amazing birthday today! 💜
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