Princesses are so last century
Call it tradition, sexism, or just cliched writing, but a large number of games are built around the fairy tale scenario of the hero saving the princess. If the damsel in distress isnt a literal princess, as seen in Super Mario Bros. or The Legend of Zelda, its often the male protagonists love interest, potential love interest, or sister. How vanilla. The tired trope is going strong in 2014, and if I cant stop it, perhaps I can direct game creators to some more diverse kidnapping options.
If you find saving a princess is as rote as I do, how about saving a baby kangaroo? Or a farting pig man? Or a damsel of your own choosing? These games show that even if the scenario is overly familiar, you can at least get creative when designing your hostages.
Jackie Chans grandfather (Jackie Chan Stuntmaster)
Though age has taken this living, breathing stunt machince out of the action movie limelight, the 1990s saw Jackie Chan become as famous worldwide as he is in his native country. His fame led to Jackie lending his name (and voice) to a PlayStation action game that was modestly successful at incorporating the martial arts and stunt action fans love in Chans films. The game also captured the goofily simplistic plots of his movies, with Jackie searching for his... kidnapped grandfather?
Stuntmaster sees Jackie as a modest, perpetually hungry delivery man working for a grandfather thats kidnapped by a group of goons--including a man thats both a clown and a boxer. Jackie respects his elders, so he runs through most of New York beating the crap out of an army of thugs, shouting Grandfather! about a hundred times. He finally saves the old man from the martial artist/art collector that kidnapped him (?), and Jackies only reward for his troubles is a familial pat on the back. Come on Grandpa, not even a $5 bill?
Donkey Kong (Donkey Kong Jr. and Donkey Kong Country 2/3)
Though it isnt very noble, theres an undeniable satisfaction in seeing a kidnapper become a prisoner himself, and the role reversal is even more satisfying when it happens to gamings original hostage taker, Donkey Kong. The plot of the first title saw Marios female companion Pauline get grabbed, and the sequel swtched things up with Mario locking up the angry ape in a small cage, all while he attempted to kill DKs son. This borderline animal abuse earns DK some sympathy, something he would parlay into his own spin-off series years later.
But this poor gorilla just cant catch a break. Following his starring role in the first Donkey Kong Country, DK spent the next two games imprisoned once more. This did allow the series playable cast to grow, but it also relegated Donkey Kong to cameo appearances in his own series. The Country franchise recently made a comeback with DK in the lead role, but Id expect hes got to be concerned that another trip behind bars is coming when he least expects it.
An entire town full of Slime (Rocket Slime)
Any gang boss can send his goons to kidnap your girlfriend, or your sister, or even your parents. But it takes a really powerful mobster to take an entire town of slimes hostage. Dragon Quest spin-off Rocket Slime sees 100 of the 101 inhabitants of Boingburg are kidnapped by the Don Clawleone, the Plobfather of the Plob. (Yes, this game really enjoys puns.)
Rocket, the gooey protagonist, goes on a Zelda-style adventure to save all 100 town people one by one, usually freeing the more important members of Boingburg in a massive tank battle. And developer TOSE made a real effort to make the dozens of gloopey hostages pretty distinct from one another, and some even unlock new abilities for Rocket. This lighthearted game never got the recognition it deserved, so heres hoping that publisher Square Enix some day gives new players a chance to rescue slimes on the upcoming DS Virtual Console for Wii U.
Your farting pig uncle (Beyond Good & Evil)
Beyond Good & Evil is a fairly progressive game when compared to its contemporaries. Its a non-sequel that starred a realistically proportioned female journalist, and it questioned a war that began under false pretenses. Still, for all the ground it broke, it fell into the old narrative trap of sending the hero, Jade, on a mission to save a loved one. Granted, that loved one was an anthropomorphic pig-man that had jet boots that ran on flatulence, but still.
Peij is Jades adoptive uncle and spends the first chunk of the game as a comic relief AI companion. Eventually, though, he gets taken hostage by aliens--the fate of most people that love a video game protagonist. One mechanical transformation and near-death experience later, Jade brings Peyj home, though the post-game stinger implies Peyj might have a lot more troubles in the sequel. Fortunately for him (but unfortunately for us), Beyond Good & Evil 2 will probably never see the light of day.
A baby kangaroo (Kangaroo)
Theres no two ways about it: Kangaroo is a rip-off of Donkey Kong. Created in an age where multiple arcade developers blatantly stole from one another (something that would NEVER happen in 2014, especially not on mobile), its hardly surprising that developer Sun Electronics would make a simple platformer about a hopping marsupial out to save its joey. Despite the obvious inspiration, this hostage situation is outside the norm, and not just because the main character punches monkeys in the face. Its one of very few games where you play as a mother.
So many contemporary releases focus on paternal relationships (The Last of Us, The Walking Dead, BioShock Infinite), but can you name any titles that have you take on the role of a protective mom? Yeah, didnt think so. Katys quest to return her baby to her pouch remains unique in the gaming world, and the character went on to briefly star in a Saturday morning cartoon on the Supercade series. Though the series is likely in legal limbo today, itd be nice to see Katy and Joey make an HD return to once again defy gamings gender expectations.
Mario (Super Princess Peach)
Bowsers reasoning for grabbing Princess Peach gets harder to pin down with each Super Mario title. But traditionally its part of some plan to take over the Mushroom Kingdom. The scheme never works out because grabbing Peach just sets Mario into action, eventually taking out King Koopa once again. Apparently Bowser decided he was going about things the wrong way, deciding instead to focus his efforts on first taking Mario hostage before enacting his plans of world domination.
Bowser tried this out a couple times, once in edutainment trash Mario is Missing, and then again in Super Princess Peach. The plan fell through both times thanks to Luigi and Peach respectively taking on the hero role, making for a refreshing scenario where Mario was the victim. Bowsers real mistake was the same one Bond villains have committed for decades: he didnt kill his captive when he had the chance. Then again, murdering a prisoner is a little too dark for Nintendo.
Luigi and other Nintendo babies (Yoshis Island DS)
Mario being taken captive is much more of a novelty than when it happens to his brother. Unfortunately for the man in green, Luigi gets victimized often, and not just in the aforementioned Super Princess Peach. When he was just an unlucky baby, Luigi got kidnapped no less than three times in the Yoshis Island spin-off series. And he wasnt always the only baby taken.
Stealing a newborn is pretty darn evil, but Bowsers right hand wizard Kamek did it as a preventive measure, plotting to kidnap Mario and Luigi after predicting theyd cause Bowser unending future grief. Luigi is held captive until the end of each Yoshis Island game, and Yoshi saves basically every Nintendo baby in the DS entry. Kamek mustve had a case of baby fever, because he steals infant versions of Donkey Kong, Wario, Peach, and even Bowser in a weird time travel mind screw.
Your easily caught sensei (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello are the most radical ninjas the world has ever known, so it would stand to reason that their trainer, Splinter, is even more formidable. Yes, Hamato Yoshi isnt as young or as human as he used to be, but the wise old rat surely had enough tricks to avoid getting kidnapped. (Seriously, watch him kick Shredders ass in the current animated series.) And yet
Splinter gets held hostage so often he should learn to tie himself up each day just to save time. Starting with the earliest Turtle game adventures, developers in no less than five releases followed the pattern of April ONeil getting kidnapped first and then Splinter getting taken immediately after that. I know that Shredder has a lot of resources, but Splinter even gets kidnapped by a bunch of Mousers, which have the relative toughness of a Ming vase. Clearly Splinter needs to get back in the dojo.
Choose your own damsel (Spelunky)
Spelunky's old school charm comes in both its challenging 2D gameplay and in its simple storytelling. You play as an adventurer searching caves for lost riches, and in the same retro style, you save damsels in distress to receive a healing kiss. That may sound too traditional to some, but Spelunky is open-minded enough to let the player decide just who they want to save.
A quick trip to the settings menu reveals one of three choices for the damsel in question. From the outset youre given the choice of a woman in a red dress, a man in his underwear, or for the more chaste players, a googly-eyed pug to give you sloppy kisses. Talk about progressive! (Theres also an unlockable sloth damsel if you love the mammal as much as Kristen Bell.)