By now you’ve noticed her in preview footage for Super Mario Odyssey. The long, lush brown hair. The doey blue eyes. The odd likeness to Princess Peach. Just who is Pauline, what is her connection to our old pal Mario, and how did she end up the mayor of New Donk City?
Once upon a time, we didn’t even know Pauline’s name. We were first introduced to her as Mario’s love interest — his first sweetheart, predating Nintendo’s introduction of Princess Peach. This is canon, as Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto himself has stated in interviews that Pauline is Mario’s “old flame.” Pauline, sporting a tight-fitting red dress, made her debut as “Lady” or “Beautiful Girl” in the original 1981 arcade classic Donkey Kong. Back then she was blonde, and her appearance was inconsistent during the first few games in which she appears.
In Donkey Kong, she was kidnapped by the titular Kong and Mario (then called Jump Man) had to rescue her by climbing the scaffolding of a tall building. Along the way she’d lose nearly all of her belongings — her purse, hat, umbrella — and Mario could collect them for bonus points. Once Donkey Kong was defeated, Mario and Pauline would share a romantic moment.
Pauline continued to play this damsel-in-distress role in future Donkey Kong games, including the Game Boy version of Donkey Kong (in which Donkey Kong Jr. gets in on the action). In each instance, Mario would come to Pauline’s rescue. Pauline even showed up in episodes of the Saturday Supercade cartoon in which Donkey Kong was involved, tying her presence to the gorilla’s.
In 1985, Princess Toadstool, now Princess Peach, made her debut in Super Mario Bros. and the rest was history. She became Mario’s number one and went on to have major roles in every Mario game, as well as be a playable character in every sports and kart-related spin-off Nintendo released. Pauline, it seems, had been sidelined.
We wouldn’t see Pauline until nearly 12 years later, where she had a major role to play in the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series: the same old song and dance of being a pretty girl that gets captured. Donkey Kong seemed to have taken on a role similar to what became rote for Bowser and Princess Peach, with the former becoming infatuated with and constantly kidnapping the latter.
A Dysfunctional Couple
In 2006, Pauline’s look had evolved into the one we see today, with brown hair and the red strappy dress. In Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis, Mario invited Pauline as his guest of honor — a possible make-good after unceremoniously dumping her over a decade earlier — at the opening of a Super Mini Mario World theme park. Even the game manual for this game calls the two “good friends,” insinuating the pair are at least on friendly terms. Donkey Kong is hanging around and sees Pauline, immediately falling in love and offering her a gift. She says no to Kong but accepts a gift from Mario instead, prompting the gorilla to kidnap her. Eventually Mario rescues her and she accepts Donkey Kong’s gift just to end the conflict. Talk about bullying.
In 2009’s Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again!, Pauline is again helping Mario with a theme park project — the Super Mini Mario World — and again Donkey Kong kidnaps her. This time, we learn the kidnapping was an elaborate ruse orchestrated by Pauline and Donkey Kong to test the mini toys for the theme park. A confused Mario seemingly accepts this, but we as the audience know there’s something weird going on here.
2010’s Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem! again portrays Pauline as some kind of theme park mogul and again has Donkey Kong kidnapping her. This time it’s because the Kong can’t get a toy version of her so he takes the real one instead. In the end Pauline, Donkey Kong and Mario reconcile and hang out together. But at this point it’s become clear there’s a thing happening with Donkey Kong and Pauline that you can’t quite put your finger on.
In 2013, Pauline and Donkey Kong worked together in Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move, running a series of arcade games. And two years later in Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars, Pauline and Donkey Kong once again stage a fake kidnapping — to lure Mario into a surprise party.
But perhaps all that chumming around with Donkey Kong was part of an ulterior motive on Pauline’s part. After years of playing a minor role or being completely absent, Pauline shines in Super Mario Odyssey as the mayor of New Donk City. Think about it: she went from being kidnapping endlessly, to a theme park mogul, to agreeing to work alongside her harasser, to harnessing all of that into a job at the head of a major city. You go, girl.
In Super Mario Odyssey, it’s implied that Pauline earned the role after helping rebuild the city following a major disaster — with Mario’s help, of course. She governs New Donk CIty — based on the real-world New York City and filled with real-looking people and not Toads or anything weird — which is filled with references to the Donkey Kong games. So it seems her connection to Donkey Kong hasn’t diminished over the years.
Also, her whole reason for accepting the mayor’s job is pretty excellent: she feels a kingdom doesn’t necessarily have to be ruled by royalty, so she has accepted her humble beginnings and worked hard to make it as a lawmaker.
Pauline is also an accomplished singer, and in Super Mario Odyssey, she tasks Mario with helping her rebuild her band. She sings the game’s theme song, “Jump Up, Superstar.”
We’ll see more of Pauline and he sporty new pantsuit in Super Mario Odyssey on October 27.