For any of my readers on EmptyLifeBar.com who have been wondering where I’ve been these past two months – that is, of course, assuming I’m actually good enough to have fans or otherwise this sentence makes me sound rather full of myself, doesn’t it – I’ve been doing what any college kid would do in the summer: slacking off. Most of my slacking off was devoted to reliving my childhood vicariously through Nintendo, from NES to Wii. I suppose with all the rewind reviews and throwbacks to classic games I’ve done thus far on the site any reader would consider me a very wistful person, longing for simpler times with simpler graphics with simpler controls that didn’t require a noose wrapped around your wrist to use without breaking your television screen. I won’t deny that I am wistful, but truthfully I cannot be the only one who does this. After all, it’s healthy to immerse yourself in the nostalgia of your younger years from time to time and reflect on how such small comforts like video games have had an impact on your life.
Reflecting is exactly what I did this summer, but more specifically I reflected on the history of Nintendo’s number one femme fatale, Samus Aran. As I’ve played through every installment of Samus’ space adventures in the Metroid series, I began contemplate how much she’s changed in style and appearance, for the better and, unfortunately, for the worst in many regards. Since her introduction to the gaming world in 1986, Samus has trampled upon the corpses of both alien foes and gender stereotypes. Samus is a woman that never needed a hero of time or a plucky plumber to save her from some douche bag with an ego complex; in fact, people needed her to rescue them. She’s a tough, silent, arm cannon-totting heroine in heavy armor whose battled hordes of alien creatures and supernatural horrors that would have made Lovecraft wet his sheets.
Over the years, many critics have proposed Samus as an icon for feminism in the civil politics of video games; others have argued that she is hardly a beacon for feminist ideology since she strolls around in clunky armor that completely hides her femininity until the end of the game when she strips down to her underwear. Whatever side you take – if you take one at all – the hard facts are this: Samus Aran is a hero, an extremely talented warrior, and the first empowered female to break through the male-dominated protagonist role without an unrealistically sexualized design. Sure, you could glimpse the actual woman beneath the some-odd layers of armor, but you really had to work for it (i.e. beat the game at 100% and in some games beat it under a certain amount of time). Samus Aran is not one of those bimbos bouncing around in most video games who flash the goods for free: if you want to see some skin, you have to bust your ass for it. Even when you do get your fan service it’s brief and nowhere near as risqué as other video game heroines that strut around all the time either in skimpy outfits that would make their father’s cry or forgo clothes altogether.
Of course, that was before the introduction of the Zero Suit in Metroid: Zero Mission. Don’t get me wrong: it was a great reboot for the original Metroid game: the graphics and artwork were exceptional, the cut-scenes built up the plot, and the additional levels after defeating Mother Brain provided a greater gaming experience and linked up nicely to the events in the Metroid: Prime series. What bothered me was that the Zero Suit distorted the mystique of Samus, which derived from the fact you barely ever saw the woman beneath the power suit unless you went out of your way to do it. It defined both her heroic presence and sex appeal. The inclusion of the Zero Suit stripped her of that mystique and put her on a level with the other females in video games with skin-tight outfits for the sole purpose of fan-service. It’s honestly insulting. Some would argue that the Zero Suit is actually a better choice, showing far less skin compared to the two-piece she was in between the original Metroid and Super Metroid. This argument is hollow though since the two-piece can be reasoned as normal underwear or even a swimsuit that you would see advertised in newspaper inserts or on the television. In short, the two-piece is nothing really that racy when placed alongside the leather-like bodysuit that accentuates every curve she has.
Things only worsened in Super Smash Brothers: Brawl and Metroid: Other M, which showcased Samus in her new form-fitting attire more so than before. Both games did offer some very positive attributes to Samus: Brawl gave the bounty hunter some much needed versatility and speed while Other M delved deeper into Samus’ story, fleshing out elements in her characterization that portray her as an actual human character beneath the metal, an aspect that was lacking in the previous games. The positives aside, the games unfortunately brought about so many negatives to Samus’ characterization that they venture into sexism, perversity, hypocrisy, and the just plain nonsensical.
Let’s start with Super Smash Brothers: Brawl and how it essentially converted our favorite gaming heroine into a dominatrix. The Zero Suit continues to diminish her previous character portrayal to that of a fan-service poster-girl, but it is her Zero Suit movesets that practically do the most harm. If you think about, most of Zero Suit Samus’ movesets involve some suggestive poses and serious stretching that makes the already skin-tight spandex seem tighter on her. That she runs around lashing everybody with her electric whip like she just caught them breaking into her fetish dungeon goes without saying. I suppose these movesets fit her tough girl personality, and some can even argue that her moves are nowhere near as suggestive (or hilarious) as Peach throwing her hips (or her butt if you want to think about it that way) out to knock opponents off the screen, but there is a noticeably sexualized design in her movements that conflicts with the tough exterior that Samus has always presented in her games. And if you’re going to complain about Peaches hip-bounce you might as well go back to the 70s and complain to Van McCoy for popularizing “The Hustle.”
Some of this is forgivable though…mostly since I’m sure censors would complain more if she ran around in her old-school two-piece, so I won’t harp on it as much as I will on Metroid: Other M and how it’s sappy soap opera script and dialogue made a female stereotype out of Samus. I won’t spoil too much if you’ve haven’t played the game – which actually is pretty good if you look past the corny plot and overcome switching between first and third person perspectives – but suffice to say Samus is portrayed as immature and prone to panic attacks. Where’s the tough-as-nails bounty hunter that killed off an entire species of soul-sucking jellyfish and obliterated an entire criminal organization (twice, mind you)? Where’s the woman that told the Galactic Federation to sit-and-spin before crashing an entire space station into a planet? The shadow of that woman we’ve all come to know and respect is there in the background, but this new portrayal of Samus in front of the screen is a real letdown. Her hesitation in several scenes in the game is completely out-of-character for her and her immaturity is inconsistent with her character growth represented in both the manga and previous installments in the series. While I did enjoy experiencing multiple sides of Samus’ personality, Metroid: Other M seemed to me to abandon her established character image for one that many critics along with myself perceive as sexist.
Whether Samus’ portrayal in recent years is sexualized or not, the popularity of Nintendo’s number one female bounty hunter is going strong. She’s still powerful female protagonist and it’s my hope that in future games that these issues would be addressed. Until then, so long as she still cleanses the galaxy of space pirates and metroids one charged shot at a time I can’t complain too much.