EGM's Fighting Women of 1993: Where Are They Now?

It’s too easy to pick on old issues of Electronic Gaming Monthly. By the early 1990s it might have been North America’s biggest multi-format game magazine in both its influence and page count, but it was slapdash and banal, leaping from game to game without a consistent voice or memorable writing style. Competitors like Nintendo Power and GamePro might have skewed younger and narrower, but they were consistent in tone and editing. They knew what they wanted to be. Poor EGM had the awkward patina of a high-school newspaper.

Yet even the sloppiest early-90s EGM is fascinating to me. It documents a long-gone era in its scattershot coverage, its reader-sent “What-if” jokes, and its envelope art galleries full of Mortal Kombat characters killing Barney or Beavis and Butthead. With time and maturity on our side, we can enjoy ancient EGM as an amusing window into a time when just about every game wanted to be Street Fighter or Sonic the Hedgehog and no one dug very deep into anything.

For example, observe “The Top Ten Fighting Women” from the December 1993 issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly.

When halfheartedly tackling the game industry’s endemic sexism, EGM opted for the old comic-book approach: it’s fine for a woman to be sexualized and shallowly written just as long as she kicks ass. Who says women only sit around waiting for the hero to rescue them? They also stand around waiting for the all-important male gaze to wash over them! Well, at least it’s better than the magazine’s Hottest Game Babes feature, which I apparently wrote about here almost fifteen years ago. I must’ve been an embryo.

Most of the characters here did not become industry icons, but that’s OK. Let’s see if I can find nice things to say about them all.

Unholy Night: Fight Like It's 1995

My parents warned me when I asked for a Super NES back in 1991. It was a scam, they told me. Nintendo would quit making games for the Super NES in a few years, they said, and then I'd just have to buy another expensive console. Well, mom and dad, you were right about the general practices of the consumer electronics industry, but you were wrong about one point: somebody’s still making games for the Super NES.

Of course, the Super NES and other long-dormant game systems live on today through independent creators, not large companies and familiar series. Even so, Unholy Night: The Darkness Hunter has a pedigree. The developer, Foxbat, includes veterans from SNK's Neo Geo fighters and Eolith’s little-seen 2004 arcade release Chaos Breaker. However, their new fighting game is devoted to the Super NES, and they even began a Kickstarter to fund a run of actual cartridges.

Unholy Night is a throwback in its choice of console, but in many ways it’s a collection of every fighting game staple modern and distant. And those aren’t necessarily inventive or accomplished ways. The swordsman Blaze, ostensibly the hero, has weirdly oversized hands, and the knight called Reinhardt appears to wear his armored gown at nipple-height. The other fighters are less oddly drawn but no less cliché. We have a knife-packing maid named April, an older fencer named Chronos, and Nightmare, a woman who wields dark magic and wears even less than the half-naked werewolf.

Trouble Shooter's Third Strike

It’s a good time to be a fan of Trouble Shooter. Or Battle Mania. Or whatever you might call the two comedic Sega Genesis shooters that put heavily armed heroines named Madison and Crystal in a blend of Forgotten Worlds and Dirty Pair. I am a fan, because I know of no other game that drops you into a giant claw machine so you can fight a farting pig robot.

Hardcore Gaming 101 recently put up an entry on the series, and it covers the first game, which we knew here as Trouble Shooter, and the second game, which we never saw here and thus knew only by its Japanese title, Battle Mania Daiginjou. The article also mentions Madison and Crystal’s cameo in Segagaga. Of course, they would go by their Japanese names, Mania Ohtorii and Maria Haneda, respectively. I would be annoyed at having to explain that every time I talk about Trouble Shooter, but I like talking about Trouble Shooter too much.

The big attraction in the article is a set of design documents for the never-made third game in the series, Battle Mania N.Y. Gankutsujou. The scans come from the fourth volume of Nazo no Game Makyou, which printed them small and in black-and-white. I bought this very issue about a month ago, but I dragged my feet on scanning it, restrained by that new-purchase aura that congeals when you spend twenty bucks on a little book about old video games. Fortunately, Hardcore Gaming 101 stepped up and scanned them as nicely as possible, considering that the original images were only slightly larger than Wheat Thins.

Those design documents show what could’ve been an amazing game. You can check out the entire set at Hardcore Gaming 101, but I picked out my favorite things from this game that never was.