According to the Entertainment Software Association, 41 percent of video-game players are girls. Consider your typical game hero: a gun-toting, muscle-bound lunk with all the personality of a side of beef. Where are the heroines?
There have been a few: Lara Croft in Tomb Raider, Samus Aran in Metroid, Jade in Beyond Good & Evil. A handful of games - Knights of the Old Republic and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion come to mind - let you choose your character's gender.
Most of the women in video games, however, serve as eye candy for the presumed audience of adolescent boys.
Younger heroines are even harder to find. Yes, there are familiar characters such as Barbie and Nancy Drew, who have their own computer-game franchises. But why isn't there a Super Mario Sister? Let's look at a few potential role models for the girl gamer in your family.
GURUMIN: A MONSTROUS ADVENTURE: (Mastiff, for the PlayStation Portable, $39.99): Anyone who's ever been accused of having an overactive imagination will identify with Parin, the heroine of Gurumin. Stuck in a boring town without any playmates, Parin finds a secret passage to Monster Village, a town under siege by evil phantoms. Armed with the "Legendary Drill," the girl ventures into a series of vibrant, colorful landscapes to rescue the friendly monsters. The levels will look familiar to fans of games like The Legend of Zelda, with pits to jump over, doors to unlock and treasures to unearth.
Though it looks like a kids' game, players of all ages will be happy to discover that it's got a lot of depth, with plenty of ways to enhance Parin's skills - not to mention her wardrobe. Gurumin is filled with a Japanese sense of whimsy that translates well into English, and it's one of the nicest surprises of the year so far. *** out of ****
IZUNA: LEGEND OF THE UNEMPLOYED NINJA: (Atlus, for the Nintendo DS, $29.99): Izuna is a sassy teenage ninja who loses her job during a flurry of feudal downsizing. After wandering into a small village, she inadvertently riles up the local gods, who drop some curses on the townsfolk.
To lift the curses, Izuna has to venture into a series of increasingly deadly caves, where the game suddenly becomes a lot less cute. A warning for parents: Despite its adorable appearance, Izuna is really difficult, and will tax the patience of young players who aren't accustomed to long, methodical dungeon crawls. On the other hand, older players who relish a challenge will enjoy exploring its unpredictable mazes. ** out of ****
KIM POSSIBLE: GLOBAL GEMINI: (Disney, for the Nintendo DS, $29.99): Parents of young girls are no doubt familiar with Kim Possible, the Disney Channel cheerleader who moonlights as a globe-trotting crime fighter.
As her latest game begins, Gemini has escaped from jail and is bent on rebuilding his criminal empire. Kim's mission to stop the evil genius takes her around the world, but most of the time you'll find her jumping around obstacles or battling Gemini's minions in fairly nondescript locales.
This game plays smoothly enough and has some decent snowboarding and driving sequences, but doesn't offer anything special to anyone who isn't a die-hard fan of the TV show. ** out of ****