Heroines of Gaming: Samus Aran

Welcome to the second entry of Heroines of Gaming! Last week we discussed the late, great RPG Cetra, Aeris Gainsborough. But this week, we’ll be covering a character who was introduced to the world in a gender-concealing Power Suit way, way back in 1986.

Samus Aran [Metroid]

There would be no way for me to continue another chapter of this column in good taste without giving Samus her fair due. She is virtually the poster child of badass women in gaming. Back in the 1980s, a female character being the primary hero of a video game was extremely rare. On top of that, when female characters became more prevalent as the star of a title, they usually had to be sexualized to varying extents for the game to be marketed to fans. Samus managed to dodge all of these stereotypes, and her series of games went on to be hugely successful by and large.

It all started during Nintendo’s rise to fame in the mid to late 1980s. Super Mario Bros. had been released in 1985, followed by The Legend of Zelda in early 1986. Nintendo had been on a roll, and the primary characters in both games, Mario and Link, were already fan favorites amongst gamers already. Ever the innovator, Nintendo released Metroid later in the year, captivating gamers all over again. Nintendo players instantly fell in love with the game, and wondered more about this mysterious, badass Bounty Hunter who traveled to planet Zebes alone to take down fearsome Space Pirates. Later in the series, it’s revealed that their leader, Ridley, is responsible for the death of Samus’ parents. She was raised by the Chozo, a race of bird like deity-aliens, to combat more violent species throughout the galaxy, primarily the Metroids they created themselves.

“He’s so badass, you guys! He makes Boba Fett look like C3PO!”

Gamers all over the country were captivated by how utterly badass this new protagonist was. Much like her predecessors, Samus’ personality was largely left up the player to surmise. It was only revealed at the very end of the original game that Samus was in fact, female (if certain conditions were met, you could see more of her female-ness). But what kind of character would it take to lead a solo charge against the leader of the space pirates, Ridley, and the parasitic alien known as Mother Brain? Her personality began to be fleshed out a bit more in games like Metroid Fusion. When she discovers her superiors are interested in capturing the X and SA-X parasites that can, more or less, take control of their host before killing them. Samus, not giving many a shit about what the Galactic Federation wants, decides to take matters into her own hands. She resolves to destroy the BSL station where the X and SA-X parasites have taken control. Unfortunately, in order to defeat the Omega Metroid she finds there, Samus must fuse herself with the SA-X parasite, despite being infected with the X earlier into the game. She was consistently fearless and audaciously imposing to her enemies, letting nothing stop her from reaching her targets and eliminating them. Regardless of how intimidating or daunting the task she was faced with could be, she let nothing deter her. Samus was Nintendo’s certified badass, personifying these qualities in ways Mario and Link never could.

“This would make a nice trophy alongside Ridley’s head. /yawn.”

Metroid Fusion was released simultaneously here in the states with Metroid Prime. While Prime was a fantastic game, it left little room to reveal more to fans of the series about Samus’ personality. After Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Nintendo decided to take the series in a new direction, tailoring the experience to allow for a more descript narrative. Metroid: Other M was born, and drew a great deal of influence from the Metroid manga series released in Japan. Gamers who had grown accustomed to the 6’3” badass who defied orders from her superiors now had a new “Softer Side of Sears” Samus fill the power suit of. That is, as long as Adam Malkovich ordered her to do so!

Samus Aran: The Kevin Federline Era

Beginning his career as Samus’ backup dancer, Adam soon got promoted to boyfriend. More on this tumultuous relationship on VH1’s ‘Behind the Pixels.’

As mentioned above, Nintendo decided to take Metroid in a new direction. Our iconic heroine was now developed with the help of Team Ninja, rather than Retro Studios. The game was fleshed out with flashbacks and Metal Gear Solid levels of cut scenes. However, many fans were let down by the way Samus was “embellished” as a character. The stoic bounty hunter who called out her superiors on the madness of trying to control the SA-X and X parasites (for study) was long gone. In her place, we had a Samus who would allow herself to be incinerated alive in lava rather than defy orders to not activate her Varia suit.

Adding insult to injury, the woman who had fought and conquered Ridley so many times before, was suddenly having break down complete with Nam-esque flashbacks at the very sight of him. This deliberate ret con left fans feeling very disillusioned. The Samus we had known for over twenty years would have blasted Ridley’s face off without a moment’s hesitation. She had now been reduced to trembling, crying out “No!” while effectively pissing her power suit. Paired with the fact that the game, despite Team Ninja’s prowess with games like Ninja Gaiden, the game’s combat and depth of exploration wasn’t up to standard with previous titles. As a series, Metroid had effectively fallen onto hard times.

“Having fallen on the most difficult times of her career, Samus then decided to shave her head so the SA-X parasite usage could not be used against her in the custody battle for the children.”

Even the poor representation of Samus in Other M wasn’t enough to make fans lose faith in Samus Aran as a character. While they currently haven’t made any official announcements regarding the future of Metroid as a series, I think we’re all confident that they’ve hired some good PR reps and a new agent to get Samus back on her feet. Shigeru Miyamoto has recently stated, he’d love to see a Metroid title utilizing the new gamepad for the Wii U. Many fans have expressed interest in seeing Platinum Games collaborate with Nintendo on the next Metroid title. While I have enjoy Platinum’s IPs and their refined combat engines, I’m not too sure how I’d feel about campiness in my Metroid games. (It would also be pretty hard to suck a lollipop or eat pizza with her Varia suit helmet on.) Regardless of all this, we still love our fearless Bounty Hunter, and hopefully her next adventure won’t be such a misstep for the series, or a betrayal of what we’ve come to love about her.