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 looked at things too deeply.
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, a 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.
(Final Fight 2)
Maki is the most interesting entry on the list, for she missed fame by the narrowest of hairs. So you’ll have to indulge me if she gets the most verbiage.
Street Fighter II was more popular than certain world religions by the early 1990s, though it could’ve used a second female character and at least one ninja-like World Warrior. Maki filled both of these quotas in top Capcom style, but she didn’t show up in a Street Fighter II expansion. She showed up in Final Fight 2.
While Street Fighter and Final Fight share a universe, there was no question as to which of them ran the show by 1993, and Final Fight 2 didn’t even walk the arcade path of its predecessor. It went straight to the Super NES like a direct-to-video sequel, and Super Street Fighter II added Cammy as its second female character. In fact, the Autumn 1993 Issue of the short-lived Club Capcom magazine has Maki and Cammy on the cover. It’d be the last time they were on equal ground. Super Street Fighter II was a smash, and Final Fight 2 was a rental at best.
Capcom neglected Maki after that, denying her even a spot on the roster for their Final Fight Revenge fighting game (though that might’ve been a mercy in disguise). It wasn’t until the next decade that Maki finally appeared in a full-blown fighting game, joining Capcom vs. SNK and, years later, the PSP version of Street Fighter Alpha 3. In all fairness, the games did her justice; the updated Maki has tonfa attacks, a brashly amusing demeanor, and that superb, detailed sprite animation Capcom did so well.
Maki was finally where she belonged, but it was a long and unrewarding road. Had Capcom saved her for Street Fighter back in 1993, Maki would’ve been in the many subsequent Street Fighter games, the uproariously bad Street Fighter live-action movie, the surprisingly not-bad Street Fighter anime movie, the heavily recycled Street Fighter action-figure line from G.I. Joe, and, of course, the Street Fighter cartoon. Maki has only a background cameo in one episode, and that barely counts.
Someone at EGM was banking on Maki’s stardom back in 1993. The same issue includes this edited shot of her and Rocky (of Pocky and Rocky) beside a “What-If” gag apparently contributed by an EGM staffer. Someone put a lot of work into a screenshot that ran smaller than a postage stamp. But take heart, anonymous Maki fan. She made a comeback, and most of this list didn’t.
Jaleco’s American branch never made up their minds about the Rushing Beat series. The first game was dubbed Rival Turf! and given hilarious cover art, while the second became Brawl Brothers and renamed the original’s main characters. And then the third game received the title The Peace Keepers, just to confuse everyone.
In 1993, however, this much was true: Brawl Brothers was one of the better Super NES games in the Final Fight and Double Dragon mold. A team of vigilantes thrashed street punks as usual, but the characters had extensive attacks and each landed blow gave off a little Batman-style effect.
Pro wrestler Wendy Milan pulls double stereotype duty as both the game’s speedy woman character and grappler. Like Brawl Brothers on the whole, she’s fun in gameplay terms but not resoundingly memorable. The Peace Keepers replaced most of the Brawl Bros. cast, and I suspect EGM got few letters complaining about Wendy’s absence.
Well, here’s a success story. SNK’s Samurai Shodown was the second fighting game to truly break away from the Street Fighter mold in the 1990s, right behind Mortal Kombat. Samurai Shodown had an 18th-century, slower-paced combat that relied on weapons, and beautifully drawn backdrops and characters. Nakoruru was one of the most prominent of the initial lineup, and over the years she became the star of the series. Technically, she died in her Samurai Shodown II ending, but that’s nothing prequels and retconning can’t fix. She even crossed time and space to guest in The King of Fighters XIV! Look!
Granted, that’s an unfortunate rendering of her. The King of Fighters XIV is still a work in progress even though it came out six months ago.
Nakoruru remains a likeable enough character, well-designed and enjoyable to play alongside her pet hawk, Mamahaha. She’s also something rarely seen in video games: an Ainu character. All of that must’ve put her in front of her Samurai Shodown co-star Charlotte when this list took form. Charlotte has a cool fencer style and hilariously translated battle quotes, but she doesn’t have a pet.
(Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters)
Video games weren’t alone in suffering a shortage of female characters. The Ninja Turtles canon was so male-dominated that Konami had trouble finding an obligatory woman for Tournament Fighters on the Super NES. They could have turned April into a ninja (as the Genesis version did) or used Karai as more than a boss, but instead they went for a half-original character named Aska.
Digging through the code suggests that she was initially Mitsu from the third live-action Ninja Turtles film, but that ended up such a fiasco that it’s hard find even a dedicated old-school Turtles fan who likes it. Try and see.
So Aska emerged as a cheerful if standard-issue underdressed ninja girl, and Tournament Fighters would be her only appearance in a Ninja Turtles anything. Perhaps she was too risque for a kid-friendly property. The American version of the game changed her suggestive victory pose and gave her tiny shorts instead of what’s barely a thong, all to meet Ninja Turtle standards. After that traumatic Oprah interview, they had to protect their younger fans.
Asuka’s origins might extend outside the Turtles, however. She shares an outfit and a ninja background with Racheal, a blonde American ninja from Martial Champion. It was Konami’s earliest attempt at imitating Street Fighter II. How did it fare? Well, you won’t see Racheal on this list, even though Martial Champion also hit arcades in 1993. Everyone just forgot about it by the end of the year.
In a curious footnote, Racheal has a surprisingly strong following among fan artists both normal and smutty, even though she hasn’t appeared in a game for over two decades. And yes, her name is spelled “Racheal.” Don’t blame me for what turns up if you Google it.
5. FEMALE SABER
Female Saber? FEMALE SABER? Her name is SHEENA. I realize that this issue of EGM was nearly 400 pages long and thus prone to typos and placeholder copy, but c’mon. If you’re writing a list about strong, take-no-guff women from various video games, it helps to remember their actual names.
Sheena has no dialogue or personality throughout Run Saber, a decent action game that owes a bit to Capcom’s Strider (including, perhaps, Sheena’s name). Still, she’s a touch more stylish than her similarly silent compatriot Allen, and that’s largely due to Sheena’s enemy-freezing ice sword. Hey, it was 1993, and every little detail helped a game.
This might seem like another lazy designation, but Kunoichi is her official name, even though it’s a term for female ninja in general. The other two robot heroes of Ninja Warriors are called “Ninja” and “Kamaitachi” (which is the name of a sickle-wielding demon), just so everything’s fair.
Taito’s Ninja Warriors began as a 1987 arcade game with a display three screens wide, but the Super NES remake stands prouder. While it’s stuffed into a conventional display, the varied characters and enemies are much more impressively animated (and reminiscent of other Natsume-developed Super NES titles). The American version actually cut female characters, replacing enemy women ninja for the same reason Final Fight's Super NES port ditched the street punks Poison and Roxy. Women can fight, but on the Super NES they often couldn't be fought.
(Tuff E Nuff)
Tuff E Nuff is the most disposable game on this list. It’s a middling Super NES one-on-one fighter with a post-apocalyptic backdrop Fist of the North Star mollified enough for Saturday morning television, and it’s known today only for its magnificently off-putting cover art. I can’t lie: I remembered just about every character on this list, but I had to look up Kotono and the rest of the Tuff E Nuff cast.
Really, Kotono? No exposed cleavage or bared thighs? Your outfit verges on the practical! Are you even trying to assuage the coveted and undeniable 15-year-old straight male demographic?
In all fairness, there are other reasons why Kotono faded fast. Tuff E Nuff’s blandness extends well into its characters, leaving Kotono a ninja-like warrior fighting to avenge her father’s death at the hands of a warlord. You won’t even see her story arc resolved in the North American version of the game, as Jaleco stripped out all of the endings. And if they didn’t care that much about Kotono, I’m surprised EGM did.
(Super Street Fighter II)
Among this list’s two or three success stories, Cammy is the most recognizable. The amnesiac British assassin became a staple of the series upon her introduction in Super Street Fighter II, and rarely does an installment pass without her. Even those who’ve never touched a Street Fighter game might have glimpsed her in the Street Fighter movie, played by Kylie Minogue. Or maybe they just glimpsed their nephews enjoying Street Fighter IV and were aghast because my goodness that woman’s not wearing any pants and I can't believe Rita lets her children play this thing.
Cammy’s entry gets the blurriest screenshot in the bunch, and I suspect that’s because Super Street Fighter II was only an arcade game in 1993. At that point, though, she was already big news. A spot in Street Fighter II was like a speaking role in the original Star Wars trilogy. Even the worst of fates guaranteed some fame.
(Zombies Ate My Neighbors)
EGM pushed the definition of “fighting” women here. Every other spot on the list went to someone from a fighter or belt-scrolling brawler, but Julie hails from Zombies Ate My Neighbors, an overhead shooter. It’s a good game, of course, but if we’re venturing outside of fighting games, I can think of plenty of better choices. How about the heroine from Secret of Mana? Her official name is Primm, but I’m sure EGM would dub her THE GIRL.
Zombies Ate My Neighbors is still a cult-favorite among Super NES games, but Julie put in few appearances beyond the sequel, Ghoul Patrol, and a background cameo in the amazing mecha-action game Metal Warriors. Being in Metal Warriors in any way scores points with me.
And hey, there’s a Zombies Ate My Neighbors movie in the works, right along with films based on Rampage, Missile Command, Rent-A-Hero, and Tetris.
10. MAI SHIRANUI
(Fatal Fury 2)
Cammy might be the most popular character on this list, but Mai Shiranui might take the crown when it comes to the sheer weight of merchandise she inspired. Debuting in Fatal Fury 2, Mai drew notice for her noticeably animated… er, ladyparts, to use the scientific term. These made her a regular in both Fatal Fury and its successor, The King of Fighters. When the twelfth numbered game in the latter series arrived without her, fan responded with “No Mai, No Buy!” and a bunch of them might have been serious. In many respects, the video-game culture of 1993 is still with us.
SNK realized their mistake, of course, and Mai re-appeared in The King of Fighters XIII, apparently with an incipient case of severe back pain. Surgery is available for that, you know.
Not that Mai is entirely a mobile lump of pandering. SNK’s habit of giving their fighting games cursory narratives grants her an amusingly vain personality and a web of relationships with other characters, most prominently her boyfriend (but not yet husband) Andy Bogard. And she has a decent range of moves and easy combos. Yet if you offer those as reasons for liking her, no one will ever believe you.
And there you have EGM’s Top Fighting Women of 1993. It’s an inane little time capsule, but I’m fascinated by the way it maps the game industry’s narrow characterizations of women and just hard how we tried hard to look on the bright side.
So which of these Fighting Women is your favorite of 1993? Feel free to suggest superior alternatives. And if you’re wondering why Rosa from Undercover Cops and Janne from World Heroes didn’t make the list, remember that both games debuted in 1992. EGM and Sunsoft also had a multi-issue slapfight over World Heroes’ mediocre review scores, and that’s an odd story in itself.