It’s easy to work on the mistaken assumption that, these days, super-cute female characters are the exclusive preserve of Asian developers, while Western developers prefer the more “gritty, realistic” angle.
That, however, is emphatically not the case, as WayForward demonstrates on a fairly regular basis. Not only do they have the wonderful Shantae and her friends in their portfolio, but they also have the cast of the delightful puzzle-platformer series Mighty Switch Force! to draw upon.
Today we’re going to take a look at the lead from that series, one Patricia Wagon. Stop, in the name of the law!
Patricia tends to go by the name Patty, because this makes her name more of a pun — “paddy wagon” is, after all, a slang term to refer to a police van. She’s also a cyborg; this part might not be immediately obvious from just looking at her, but second game Mighty Switch Force! 2 confirmed it with the death animation for her secret “gym clothes” costume; rather than the loss of a life causing her to strip down to her underwear, as is the case under normal circumstances, death in gym clothes causes her entire human facade to disintegrate, revealing the metallic monster beneath. But try not to think too hard about that; it’ll be Teenage Queen all over again. (Bonus points if you understand that reference.)
Unlike the Shantae games, which are all quite story-heavy, the Mighty Switch Force! games are very gameplay-centric, so we don’t get a ton of opportunity to truly learn about Patty and the sort of person she is — at least, not through dialogue. Rather, we can infer quite a bit from her appearance, her animations, and the lines that her voice-over artist Stephanie Komure delivers with extreme glee over the course of the various games in the series.
Patty’s most commonly seen form is in a one-piece leotard-style bodysuit (blue for her police work, red for her work with the fire service) coupled with the block-switching Siren Helmet that provides the main mechanical hook of the series. The helmet completely covers her hair and, as the name suggests, features an appropriately “policey” (or, in the second game, “fire brigadey”) flashing light on the top. In both the first game’s remake Mighty Switch Force! Hyper Drive Edition and series spinoff Mighty Switch Force! Academy we do occasionally see her take her helmet off to wipe sweat off her brow; this is one of the only times we actually see her hair in her normal outfit.
When dressed in her “on-duty” clothes, Patty inevitably has a look of grim determination on her face. It’s clear that she takes her job seriously and sets high expectations for herself. This is further backed up by her sprite animations; when running forward, she almost looks like she’s charging down a football field rather than just heading from place to place, and would doubtless cut quite an intimidating figure if you happened to be a ne’er do well seeing her bearing down on your position.
Patty is mostly unfazed by the variety of ridiculous situations she finds herself in over the course of her various adventures. When fired out of “cannon blocks”, for example, she keeps that same steely-faced determination, regardless of whether she’s being fired into the sky or directly at a very hard floor; indeed, one of the only times we see her show any obvious emotion is when she hurts herself, either through contact with an enemy or by getting bashed “out” of the screen by an ill-timed block switch. Even then, though, her expression is more “huh, that happened” than “ARGH, THE PAIN”.
We see a more cheerful, playful Patty in the promotional artwork for Mighty Switch Force! Academy; this reflects a more youthful Patty keen to prove herself and looking like she’s having a good time doing it — that said, once into the levels themselves, she takes on that same look of determination and dedication to her duty that, by this point, will be well familiar from the previous games. Evidently Patty is someone who knows how to let her hair down (quite literally) when the time is right, but focuses completely on the job at hand when she needs to. An admirable trait for anyone, and some might say essential for one working as part of the emergency services.
The overall design of Patty reflects an iconic and immediately recognisable aspect of the character design in many of WayForward’s games from over the years — a combination of huggable cuteness, undeniable sex appeal and spectacular mastery over pixel art. This combination of factors has helped many of the company’s characters appeal to a broad audience over the years — particularly when the games in which they appear are so easy to get to grips with. Yes, the challenge factor certainly ramps up in the later stages of the Mighty Switch Force! games in particular, but it doesn’t take long for a newcomer to get to grips with the simple controls and clear objectives.
At the same time, the appeal of the character likely encourages many players to stick with the games even when things get tough; while Patty may not get a lot of character development through dialogue or cutscenes, she’s still a lot of fun to be around; she’s an enjoyable character to control, an immediately recognisable icon of the Mighty Switch Force! series and simply a memorable video game character in general.
Helmets off to WayForward, then; while the Mighty Switch Force! series might not have quite the same reach as the company’s universally beloved Shantae franchise, I doubt anyone would complain if we were to see more of Patricia Wagon in the future. And in the meantime, Shantae in Patty’s outfit in one of the additional game modes for Shantae: 1/2 Genie Hero is pretty hot, just so you know…
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